This image was taken Tuesday evening. It was one of the last with the Panasonic FZ150, Wednesday morning I returned it to my friend. So, I guess you want to know my conclusions, right? Will I buy it for myself?
The short answer is, no, I won’t. Why not, that’s the subject of the rest of this post.
Let’s begin by turning it around. Why would I consider buying a superzoom bridge camera at all?
One obvious reason is my desire to play with new toys, but obviously this has just been satisfied and does not count any more (Question to myself: “Do I know someone with an X100???”).
When I walk around, I often notice my subjects from afar, or at least from further away than the distance where it begins to fill the frame of my LX5. A typical situation is, that I see a bicycle leaning somewhere at a particular angle, and that I’m intrigued with the elegance of its lines and curves. Of course I can step nearer and take the image, but the laws of perspective prohibit me from taking exactly the image that I’ve seen in the first place.
With many subjects this won’t be a problem, but a bicycle is basically a set of lines, just like a wireframe, and due to this lack of volume, a small shift in the configuration of the lines can completely alter the image. Are two lines exactly parallel? Does one line hide behind the other? Is there a particular angle that is repeated between two other lines?
It’s not only bicycles, but bicycles are a good example. Some images can only be taken from a certain distance, and for some subjects this can be crucial.
Apart from pure reach, it is also the enormous versatility of such a camera, coupled with the fact that I don’t need anything else. The idea is, to have a camera that is compact, has a RAW mode, can give me the range that I need, is good enough for what I do with my images, is light and does not force me to use a multitude of lenses. After all, if I want to cover the range with interchangeable lenses, I can always do that with my D300. My longest lens is only 300 mm, but that’s equivalent to 450 mm on full frame, and if I want, I can always get a Tamron or Sigma with 500 mm for an acceptable price.
Oh yes, I really want to be able to compose in square format 🙂
Narrowing down the whole field with only three criteria, RAW, square aspect ratio and a reach of over 500 mm, leaves me only three cameras in the whole market to choose from, and interestingly enough all three are made by Panasonic. They are the DMC-FZ45, DMC-FZ100 and DMC-FZ150. The FZ45 is the poor brother of the FZ150, the FZ100 is the predecessor of the FZ150, and that’s basically how I arrived at the place where I am.
There is one single camera in the market that even has a chance to play my game, so let’s look at how it fulfills my other criteria.
Is it compact? Well, not like the LX5, but that can’t be reasonably expected. It feels good in my hand though and it is very, very light. Due to its shape you can’t easily pocket it, Not in your shirt, not in a coat, really not at all, but I don’t pocket cameras anyway. I hold them in my hand or, like the LX5, let them dangle from a wrist strap. The FZ150’s size may be too big for some people and their uses, but for me there is nothing to complain here.
Is it good enough? Well, maybe, but it is worse than the LX5, and that bothers me. Sure, I could carry both, use the LX5 for the low range and the FZ150 for the reach, but in a way that is almost as inconvenient as carrying the D300 and an extra lens. I wouldn’t have to change lenses, but it is still not an option that I consider. Therefore it has to be able to replace the LX5. Can it?
Quality-wise it is near but not equal, but I could be willing to trade off image quality for versatility. Let’s look at the range. Starting at 25 mm, it almost covers the range of the LX5. The one millimeter at the low end is precious, but I could live without it, at least much better than with something starting at 28 mm.
Of course there is more to “good enough” than simple image quality. I definitely can live with the way the user interface works. It is configurable, has decent defaults, but it is slow. Turning the camera on, taking an image and trying to display it on the LCD in full size, it all feels slower than on the LX5. The LX5 is no speed demon either, but the difference is noticeable.
One of the factors is the retractable lens. Both cameras have it, but due to the longer zoom range, the FZ150 feels much slower. It is especially pronounced when you activate “Lens Resume” in the settings. I always had it active on the LX5, but on the FZ150 it annoyed me so much, that I finally deactivated it on the LX5 as well. Funnily enough, although speed-wise the LX5 is much nearer to the FZ150 than to the D300, it does not bother me in the same way. I seem to have a tolerance threshold though, and the FZ150 may fall below it.
I always have the electronic viewfinder attached to my LX5, but I don’t always use it. I frequently compose by holding the LX5, as Michael Reichmann puts it, “like a baby in smelly diapers”. I like that. It works for me and it often lets me choose compositions that I otherwise wouldn’t. You can do that with the FZ150 as well, but due to its size and shape I don’t do it even remotely as often. What feels natural with one camera, feels smelly with the other.
Thus I rely mostly on the EVF, and therefore its inconveniences have more weight. One is the low resolution. I have seen the Olympus VF-2 on an XZ-1 camera and I have seen the viewfinders of Sony’s SLT cameras. Well, the Panasonic viewfinder is no comparison in image quality, but what even bothers me more, is that I have no way to automatically switch between EVF and LCD. Sony cameras have an eye sensor, and you just have to try it once and you’ll have a hard time going back. As I said, the LX5 and the FZ150 have basically the same viewfinder, one as an accessory, one built in, but while its deficiencies were less of a problem on the LX5, they bother me on the FZ150.
Are there alternatives, probably if I relax some requirements?
RAW format is not open for negotiation. I love using Photoshop, I love playing with white balance, thus RAW is needed. What about reach? Wouldn’t a light camera with a smaller range be fine? Well, yes, but the LX5 is exactly that, and in order to be interesting, a candidate would have to beat it in image quality.
I may have mentioned once or twice that I consider buying a Micro-Four-Thirds camera. I think stabilization of lenses is stupid in mirrorless cameras, thus Panasonic is out of the game and Olympus has to be it. I’m missing a fast standard zoom though. Due to the crop factor this would have to be something like a 12-40/2.8 or (may I dream?) even 12-35/2.0. I could use my Tokina 11-16/2.8 with a Nikon adapter, but the equivalent range of 22-32 mm is pretty restricted. The Tamron and Nikon 10-24 both start at f3.5 and all those lenses are rater big and heavy. Somehow that defeats the purpose. In essence, the lack of a decent standard zoom is what held be back from buying into Micro-Four-Thirds. One lens would suffice to change my opinion though.
Other mirrorless systems? Sony NEX has a wonderful electronic viewfinder, the best in the market, the NEX-7 seems to be very usable and the image quality is fine as well. Would I say no to 24 megapixels? Certainly not!
Sony has two problems for me. First is the sensor size. It’s APS-C, thus the lenses are as big as those for my Nikon system. Yes, the NEX cameras are smaller, but as a combination, it’s not what I consider a small, light camera. The other problem is the choice of lenses and the fact that Sony chose (contrary to their Alpha line) to stabilize lenses and not the sensor.
Samsung NX? Not really. It’s just the same as Sony NEX, only without the gorgeous sensor and viewfinder.
Pentax Q? Definitely pocketable but I suspect too small for my hands. For a system camera slightly limited in choices, pretty expensive for its image quality, maybe a niche product that won’t survive. Not much value over my LX5, maybe none.
But wait, wasn’t there an announcement recently? Let’s have a look at the Fujifilm X-S1. It won’t be out before February, but it is announced to be a luxurious superzoom camera with a comparatively high price in the range of $1000 and probably 700-800€.
Honestly, it has about every feature that I want, a zoom range from 24-624 mm, an articulated LCD (not as good as the FZ150’s tilt-swivel one but nevertheless), a non-retracting lens with manual zoom, the same very good sensor as the Fujifilm X10, an electronic viewfinder of the same resolution as the Olympus VF-2, it can shoot square, and there is only one tiny problem: its size and weight.
Not only is the X-S1 bigger than some entry level DSLRs, with 945 g / 33.3 oz (batteries included) it is also very, very heavy. It looks gorgeous though and I might consider it.
Here we are. I like the FZ150, but I don’t like it as much as I thought I would. None of the available alternatives can beat it in terms of versatility or price, the one alternative that seems to have enough sex appeal, the X-S1, is not yet available. I don’t know what to do, and therefore I’ll do nothing. This decision is also eased by the fact that in the meantime another friend has bought the FZ150, thus I guess I can have one for a few days if I need one. But then, I may still buy it if I begin to miss it.
In any case it is not a straight rejection at all, it’s more of a very near miss, and it is also clear that there is currently no viable alternative. Not a bad thing to be said about a camera.
Let’s close this rather long post with something completely different. The Song of the Day is “Lessons To Be Learned” from Barbra Streisand’s 1997 album “Higher Ground”. Hear it on YouTube.