Friday, 1 March 2013

Practiced based research - Camera Panasonic FZ 150

Wanted to do a post about the Camera I have been using for this project since its the main piece of equipment. Been experimenting with it a lot more and becoming more comfortable with the settings but I wanted to look into it further. The camera I used for everything before the FZ 150 was the FZ 27 Panasonic which I've found to be a very reliable and user friendly brand. I did all my previous educational and artistic work with the FZ 27 as well as capturing lots of memories and family moments. The FZ 150 has a lot to offer and a huge range of settings that I still need to explore and thought researching it more was a fruitful option. This is looking into it at greater detail and the type of images it can capture.

The DMC-FZ150 features a 25-600mm f/2.8-5.2 LEICA DC VARIO-ELMARIT lens (35mm camera equivalent). The powerful 24x optical zoom can be used both in photo and video recording. Thanks to the Intelligent Resolution technology, the 32x Intelligent Zoom is also available. In addition, the new side lever enables you to concentrate your right hand on a shutter button and helps smooth zooming. The DMC-FZ150’s lens also features the Nano Surface Coating technology that minimizes ghosts and flaring.

The newly developed 12.1-megapixel MOS sensor improves by 4.7db at ISO1600 compared to the previous model, and allows shooting images up to ISO3200 in full resolution. In addition, the Venus Engine features multi-process noise reduction system for high quality image rendering.
The new MOS sensor helps you to realize the high speed burst shooting. The DMC-FZ150 can fire off up to approx.12 fps in full resolution with mechanical shutter and 5.5 fps with continuous AF. Even higher speed burst shooting is available if electronic shutter is used. In addition, the high speed video at 220 fps in QVGA size captures the motion of a subject. The fast and accurate Light Speed AF of approx. 0.1 second is another advantage of the DMC-FZ150. It enables you to focus on moving subjects, such as when you're shooting sports scenes.
The DMC-FZ150 records full HD 1,920 x 1,080 videos in astonishing smooth 60p (NTSC) / 50p (PAL) with 28 Mbps. It conveys about twice the information of 60i (NTSC) / 50i (PAL) recording. The DMC-FZ150 also features high quality sound of Dolby® Digital Stereo Creator and zoom noise canceller. The POWER O.I.S. Active Mode comes in handy when shooting while walking or playing with children. The DMC-FZ150 can also record full HD video in MP4 format, optimal for viewing or editing on a computer.
You can enjoy full-manual control in both photo and video recording. In the Creative Video Mode, the shutter speed and aperture can be adjusted. The Creative Control, featuring Miniature Effect, allows you to set artistic effect more intuitively. With Photo Style, finer control in contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction is available. The 3.0-inch 460,000-dot free-angle LCD enables accurate, dynamic framing for high-angle shots and low-angle shots. Photos taken with the 3D Photo Mode can be viewed via the 3D Image Viewer of VIERA TV.

•    25mm Wide-angle 24x Optical Zoom Lens Featuring Nano Surface Coating
•    High Sensitivity MOS Sensor Featuring ISO3200 in Full Resolution
•    12 fps High Speed Burst Shooting in 12.1-megapixel Full Resolution
•    1,920 x 1,080 60p (NTSC) / 50p (PAL) Full HD Video Recording
•    POWER O.I.S. Active Mode Suppressing Hand-shake Blur in Video Recording
•    Creative Video Mode, Creative Control, Photo Style and 3D Photo Mode

Panasonic Lumix FZ150 review

Panasonic's Lumix FZ150 is a 12.1 Megapixel super-zoom camera with a 24x stabilised range, 1080p video capabilities and a fully-articulated 3in screen. Launched in August 2011, it replaces the Lumix FZ100, and like its predecessor is positioned as a premium version of a simpler model with the same lens range, in this case the cheaper FZ47 / FZ48. Panasonic believes some people just want the big zoom, in which case the more affordable FZ47 / FZ48 will suffice, whereas others are happy to pay a bit extra for additional features, which is where the FZ150 comes-in.
Like the FZ47 / FZ48, the new FZ150 inherits the same 24x optical zoom of its predecessor, delivering a 25-600mm equivalent range, and therefore continuing to fall short of the whopping 35x and 36x ranges boasted by the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS and Olympus SP810UZ respectively. That said, while the Canon and Olympus undoubtedly reach comfortably further in the telephoto stakes, the 25-600mm range of the Panasonic continues to be extremely versatile, with few occasions when you'd want anything more. And to be fair, while the lens range may be unchanged, Panasonic has equipped the optics with nano-coatings to reduce reflectivity, added the Active Stabilisation mode seen on the ZS10 / TZ20 which better combats wobbling when walking and filming, and even fitted a new side-lever to allow easier zooming while filming.
The FZ150 also inherits its predecessor's articulated 3in screen and flash hotshoe while making a small boost to the already fast continuous shooting speed, making the external appearance and handling virtually unchanged. The major differences can be found inside with an upgrade in video recording from 1080i to 1080p, the ability to generate 3D images, and a new Creative Control mode with a selection of special effects which can be applied as you take photos or video, including the popular miniature effect; enthusiasts will be relieved to find RAW recording is still available. Perhaps most importantly of all though is a downgrade in resolution from 14 to 12 Megapixels.

The previous Lumix FZ100 was loved for its feature-set and handling, but suffered from poor image quality especially at anything above the base sensitivity. The problem was the 14 Megapixel MOS sensor generated a lot of noise and Panasonic cranked the noise reduction up a bit too much to compensate, with soft-looking JPEG images as a result. Enthusiasts discovered better quality could be achieved by shooting in RAW and applying less noise reduction and greater sharpening, but this approach only highlighted the increased noise levels at higher sensitivities. Panasonic hopes to improve matters with the new 12 Megapixel MOS sensor in the FZ150.

Since the new Lumix FZ150 shares so much in common with its predecessor, I'll be concentrating mostly on the new features in this review, especially the quality of the new 1080p movie mode and of course that new 12 Megapixel sensor. If you'd like more information on the previous model as a backgrounder, please see our Panasonic Lumix FZ100 review. But before starting, here's a couple of shots to illustrate the enormous zoom range of the camera in practice; it may fall short of the biggest zooms out there, but it's still an impressive range to have at your disposal. So if you were thinking it might limit you in some way, hopefully these two images should reassure you. I'd also like to add Panasonic includes a decent lens hood with the FZ150 (and the FZ47 / FZ48) which can be reversed over the barrel for transportation; both cameras also employ sturdy lens caps, which unlike some rivals, extend with the inner lens barrel, thereby not blocking the extension during power-up.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 coverage wide        Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 coverage tele

 4.5-108mm at 4.5mm (25mm equivalent)         4.5-108mm at 108mm (600mm equivalent)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 controls and screen

Externally the Lumix FZ150 is based on the same shell as the more affordable FZ47 / FZ48, but there a number of important differences. Most obviously, the FZ150 is equipped with an articulated screen, flash hotshoe and external microphone input, all of which are all absent on the FZ47 / FZ48. These three things, along with RAW recording, fast continuous shooting and 1080p video, are the headline differences between the two models and will easily justify the higher price tag of the FZ150 for most enthusiasts.

The microphone input is particularly interesting as it doubles-up as a socket for an optional remote control / intervalometer, giving the FZ150 another unique advantage over its rivals. The socket itself is 2.5mm in diameter and designed for use with a dedicated Panasonic microphone, but I can confirm it works fine with third party mics using a 2.5 to 3.5mm adapter; I tried it with a Rode SVM and VMP which slotted nicely onto the hotshoe, where the only problem was the messy adapter by the socket. Ultimately I wish the jack were 3.5mm, but it seems churlish to complain given it's the only super-zoom camera with any kind of external mic input.
Like the previous FZ super-zooms, there are also subtle differences in the position of some controls: the FZ150 employs a switch on the side of the lens barrel to choose between AF, AF Macro and Manual Focus, whereas they're selected using a button on the rear of the FZ47 / FZ48. Both feature a dedicated focus button, but on the FZ150 it's next to the switch on the barrel, whereas it's on the top of the FZ47 / FZ47. Meanwhile the focus button atop the FZ47 / FZ48 is dedicated to the drive mode on the FZ150.

So far so similar to the previous models, but new to the FZ150 is a zoom lever on the side of the lens barrel, alongside the AF switch and focusing button. You can still use the rocker around the shutter release to adjust the zoom, but the new side-mounted lever conveniently falls below your thumb and can be easier to control while filming. It's a minor but pleasant upgrade, and one which further differentiates the FZ150 from its cheaper sibling.

Moving onto composition, the major benefit of the FZ150 over the FZ47 / FZ48 is having an articulated screen, allowing you to twist and flip it to almost any angle. This is an absolute boon for grabbing both stills and video at unusual angles, but there's an additional difference I'd like to mention here.
Both cameras share the same screen specification - 3in, 3:2 shape, 460k dots - but look quite different in use. The FZ150's screen is blacker with higher contrast and much lower reflectivity. With the Sun shining directly onto each screen, the image on the FZ47 / FZ48 becomes almost entirely washed-out, whereas on the FZ150 it remains much more visible, while also obviously having the additional benefit of being able to twist to an angle to further avoid glare. Panasonic says the FZ150's screen has anti-reflection coatings, but it's also lacking the plastic covering of the FZ47 / FZ48. Whatever the technology behind both screens, the bottom line is the panel on the FZ150 is higher contrast and remains much more visible in stark conditions. Another nice benefit to the premium model.

Before moving on, it's worth noting the screens on the FZ150's two biggest rivals: the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS also shares a fully-articulated mount, but the screen itself is smaller and less detailed at 2.7in / 230k dots. Meanwhile, Sony's Cyber-shot HX100V matches the 3in size of the FZ150, but packs in more dots with 920k resolution, although it can only tilt vertically.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 Creative Control

Special filter effects are becoming a mandatory capability on today's digital cameras, so it's not surprising to find the FZ150 now offering a selection of the usual suspects including Sepia, Grainy, Pinhole and Miniature (tilt-shift) options. These can be previewed on-screen and applied to both still photos and video as you capture them.
To access these effects, turn the FZ150's mode dial to the icon of the painter's palette and brush. This enters the new Creative Control mode which lets you choose from Expressive (saturated pop-art style), Retro (a soft effect), High Key (biased to bright subjects), Sepia (applying the classic old-fashioned tint), High Dynamic (a punchy levels adjustment but not actual HDR), Pin Hole (the classic strong corner vignette), Film Grain (a grainy black and white effect), and finally the ubiquitous Miniature (which simulates a tilt-shift lens to blur everything on either side of a narrow, adjustable row or column).

Press the dedicated record button on the top of the FZ150 and you can start filming video with any of the effects applied live. The Miniature effect demands a degree of internal processing which reduces the recordable frame rate to around 3.5fps, but like other cameras which offer the same feature, instead of showing jerky motion in real-time, these clips are simply played back around ten times faster than normal speed, which further enhances the effect. Obviously this means you'll need to record for around eight times longer than you want the clip to last during playback - so if you want a one minute of accelerated Miniature footage, you'll need to film for about eight minutes.

Turn the mode dial to SCN and you'll find an important new addition tucked-away at the end of the list of options: 3D image capture. Like the TZ20 / ZS10 pocket super-zoom before it, this takes a burst of images while you move the camera around 10cm sideways, before automatically selecting two photos from the group and using parallax information to generate a 3D image. It's a similar approach to that pioneered by Sony.

Two files are subsequently recorded by the camera: a conventional two dimensional JPEG for normal viewing, and an MPO file which contains the depth information and typically measures around 2MB. When connected to an 'MPO-compatible' 3DTV over an HDMI connection, both files are interpreted into a single 3D image; all commercial 3DTVs I've seen are MPO compatible. Unlike commercially produced 3D content though, the images produced by Panasonic and Sony's single lens cameras only contain depth which extends 'behind' the screen, rather than in front of it.
The practical approach and image options from Sony and Panasonic are also slightly different. Sony's 3D Panorama function grabs its images in an arc, whereas Panasonic's 3D mode requires you to simply move the camera horizontally in a straight line; it recommends a shift of around 10cm in around four seconds for the best success.

While both cameras take a burst of images during the motion, Panasonic only takes the two most appropriate to generate a 3D image. The Lumix FZ150 can also only generate 3D images measuring 1920x1080 pixels (Full HD 1080), whereas the Sony models additionally offer wider panoramas which slide across the screen during playback.

In use, it's hard not to pan the FZ150 in an arc rather than shifting it horizontally as requested by the manual, but both approaches will generate a 3D image. Like Sony's single-lens 3D capture, you can peer around objects to a certain extent and there's certainly a convincing impression of depth conveyed on 3D TVs - although again the 3D effect only extends behind the screen, not in front of it.
Another option it shares with the TZ20 / ZS10 is Handheld Night Shot, which fires-off a quick burst of images before combining them into one to reduce noise.
Strangely though for such a potentially useful feature, Panasonic has hidden it away on the FZ150 and FZ47 / FZ48. Rather than finding it alongside other SCN presets, you'll first need to turn the mode dial on the FZ150 and FZ47 / FZ48 to Night Portrait, before then scrolling down to select Handheld Night Shot from the additional options.
Blimey Panasonic, you've hardly made it easy or intuitive to find, but after much searching I located it and compared it to the normal single-frame shooting modes. See my Panasonic FZ150 Handheld Night Shot page. Note the big advantage the FZ150 has over the FZ47 / FZ48 in this mode is the ability to capture the image at the full resolution; in contrast the FZ47 / FZ48 has to drop its resolution to 3 Megapixels to deliver the required capture speed.

Like other recent Lumix models, the FZ150 also offers Intelligent Resolution capabilities, which apply greater sharpening to images, and if i.ZOOM is also enabled, allows the camera to digitally extend its zoom from 24x to around 32x. To put this to the test, I photographed the same scene fully zoomed-in first with the normal settings, followed by Intelligent Resolution, then with i.ZOOM extending the range.

Panasonic Lumix FZ150                              Panasonic Lumix FZ150 Maximum zoom with IR and
Maximum zoom with IR disabled                                             i.ZOOM enabled
Uncropped image, 24x, 600mm equivalent         Uncropped image, 32x, 800mm equivalent.

Above left is an image taken at the maximum zoom with IR disabled, while above right shows the image taken at the maximum zoom with IR and i.ZOOM enabled. When viewed at the reduced size above, the latter certainly delivers an effective boost to magnification, but how does it look at 100%? To find out I took three sets of crops with IR disabled, IR enabled, and both IR and i.ZOOM enabled.

FZ150 normal shooting                                           FZ150 with Intelligent Resolution (IR)   

     FZ150 with IR and i.ZOOM      
Judging from the crops above, Intelligent Resolution with i.ZOOM certainly isn't delivering any greater detail, and if anything the scaled-up view just makes the noise and noise reduction artefacts more obvious - and lest we forget, the image here was taken at 100 ISO under bright sunny conditions. But when viewed at reduced size or on smaller prints, the output looks fine and the i.ZOOM feature certainly gives you more reach in-camera. Just don't look closely, that's all.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 Continuous Shooting
Like its predecessor, the FZ150 offers a wealth of continuous shooting options. The fastest quoted speed of 12fps at the full resolution is only slightly faster than the 11fps of the earlier FZ100, but both remain much quicker than their cheaper siblings. Note the FZ150's two fewer Megapixels than the FZ100 are certainly a factor in its fractionally quicker quoted performance.

It's definitely worth looking a little closer at the various burst modes of the FZ150 are there are important differences: you can shoot full resolution 12 Megapixel images at 2, 5.5 or 12fps, but the focus and exposure are locked at the first frame for the fastest 12fps rate. If you want to adjust the focus, exposure and white balance while shooting a burst, you'll need to choose the slower 2 or 5.5fps modes (ensuring you also go for those appended by AF). An additional limitation concerns the total images in the burst: up to 100 when set to 2 or 5.5fps, but only 12 at 12fps. So when set to 12fps, you can basically shoot a burst lasting one second.

Like the FZ100 before it, you can also choose to lower the resolution and shoot at even quicker rates: 40fps for up to 50 frames at 5 Megapixel resolution, or 60fps for up to 60 frames at 2.5 Megapixels. Then of course there's the High Speed Movie mode which captures QVGA frames at 220fps. When it comes to high-speed shooting, there's an option for every occasion.

To put the numbers to the test I fitted the FZ150 with a 16GB SanDisk Extreme Pro UHS-1 card rated at 45MB/s. When set to 12fps at the full resolution, the FZ150 fired-off the quoted 12 frames in one second, confirming Panasonic's quoted speed. While it subsequently indicated the card was being written-to, it seemed happy to fire-off more bursts at the same speed and similar depth without having to wait for the write icon to disappear; typically the total number of frames would only fall to 10 or 11. Impressively it could also shoot bursts of RAW files (with or without JPEGs at the same speed, albeit for 11 frames at a time, plus a wait of about 30 seconds before the buffer was completely clear again.

This is pretty impressive performance, albeit roughly similar to what rival CMOS-equipped super-zooms are delivering these days. The problem which faces all of them is a limited buffer which means at the top speed, you may only have sufficient room for one second's worth of action. In practice this can be quite hard to balance as many action sequences last two or three seconds, especially if you pad either end to ensure you don't miss anything. With just one second captured at 12fps, you have to time things extremely well with the FZ150.

No comments:

Post a Comment