Panasonic's new Lumix DMC-FZ28 has features that give it a jump on many of its competitors in the advanced point-and-shoot and megazoom categories. Its predecessor (the Lumix DMC-FZ18) was already a good camera, though not without a few flaws: It couldn't zoom in video mode, and it had disappointing battery life.
With the 10-megapixel DMC-FZ28, Panasonic has nixed those two problems entirely. The FZ28 lets you use that huge 18X optical zoom while shooting video (in HD, no less), and in the PC World Test Center's tests, its battery life maxed out at 500 or more shots on a single charge (up from just 420 shots with the Lumix FZ18). The sum of those improvements? The camera was a joy to use.
Similar to its advanced point-and-shoot competitors, the Lumix FZ28 boasts a whopping 18X optical zoom (27mm to 486mm in 35mm film equivalent) and a range of manual controls.
But unlike most of those competitors--except the Olympus SP-570 UZ and the Canon PowerShot G10 IS--the FZ28 is capable of shooting in RAW format. Not only does this eliminate any exposure and white-balance problems that arise during capture (since you can correct them after the fact), it offers complete post-production control over your images.
The FZ28 also boasts a Leica DC Vario-Elmarit lens: excellent glass, to say the least. But surprisingly, in the PC World Test Center's subjective tests, the Lumix FZ28 lagged some of the competition when it came to image quality.
In well-lit, indoor test shots, PC World Test Center jurors noted inaccurate color reproduction on the bright end of the spectrum. The jurors assessed overall image quality as "Good," on a par with Canon's highly-rated PowerShot SX10 IS and close to the PowerShot G10 IS, but trailing high-zoom advanced cameras such as the Casio Exilim Pro EX-F1 and the top-ranked Olympus SP-570 UZ.
In my own hands-on testing, the FZ28's most serious shortcomings were white balance and focus speed. When shooting inside with a flash (under tungsten light), the camera consistently produced overwarm images. Outside, however, the white balance was spot-on. Focus speed was noticeably sluggish when the lens was zoomed all the way in; on the wide-angle end, though, focusing was fast and accurate.
One standout feature is the FZ28's ability to shoot 720p HD movies (1280 by 720 pixels at 30 frames per second). Although to my ears the sound quality was less than stellar, the videos themselves were excellent, making the camera an acceptable substitute for a video camera when you want to travel lightly.
I found nearly all the camera's functions intuitive to use. A back-of-camera "joystick," which controls the FZ28's manual functions, threw me off at first, but it was a cinch to operate once I got used to it. The mode dial on the top of the camera makes switching easy between manual, program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and automatic modes. The dial also has five dedicated scene modes (portrait, landscape, sports, night-portrait, and close-up) and two custom modes. A final dial option is a gateway to 17 additional scene modes, giving you more shooting parameters than you'll probably ever use.
Overall, there was little I didn't like about the FZ28, except for a few very minor annoyances: When holding the FZ28 with two hands, my left thumb rested directly in front of the focus assist lamp, making focus difficult in low light (until I noticed what was happening and moved my thumb). Also, the flash does not automatically open; it requires pushing a button. Finally, I found the manual focus useless, although that seems to be par for most cameras in this class.
Given the price (about US$400), the Leica lens, the telephoto reach, the wide angle, and the camera's ability to shoot RAW, the Lumix FZ28 is a solid high-zoom point-and-shoot.