Over the past few years, camera manufacturers have been consistently pushing the technological boundaries of their bridge cameras, loading them with longer optical zooms and re-worked image sensors to create cameras that provide a versatile, all-in-one solution. With the release of the Lumix FZ72, it’s now Panasonic’s turn to shake things up. Its huge 60x lens has the largest optical zoom range of any bridge camera on the current market, and it equates to a rather staggering 20-1200mm focal-length range in film terms. So, the FZ72 may have things wrapped up in terms of zoom reach, but how does it fare in all other areas of testing? Well, we got hold of a test sample to find out just that...
Features & build
At its heart lies a 16.1Mp MOS sensor that’s teamed with an LSI Venus Engine processor to allow it to capture 4608x3456px images at a native aspect ratio of 4:3 – though you can also select 1:1, 3:2 and 16:9 shooting options. The ISO range is from 100 to 3200, and this can be increased to 6400 using High Sensitivity mode – albeit at a lower resolution of just 3Mp.
At the business end of the camera sits the aforementioned 60x optical zoom, which is constructed from 14 elements in 12 groups, including six aspherical lenses with nine aspherical surfaces, as well as 3 ED (Extra-Low Dispersion) lenses to reduce flare and ghosting. At the widest end of the lens it enables a fast maximum aperture of f/2.8, though this closes down to f/5.9 when zoomed in to the telephoto end. There’s also a Power OIS (Optical Image Stabilizer) built-in to the lens to help reduce the effects of camera shake when shooting at the longest end of the zoom range.
If a maximum focal length of 1200mm isn’t long enough for you, then you’re in luck, as the FZ72 features an Intelligent digital zoom function that extends the zoom range to an equivalent of 120x, maintaining its 16Mp resolution. Alongside this, Panasonic has also released an optional DMW-LT55 optical telephoto conversion lens (£139), which, when attached to the FZ72, transforms the 60x optical zoom into a 102x for even greater reach.
On the back there’s a 3in, 460k-dot LCD screen, with options such as ISO, White Balance and Self-timer adjusted using the D-Pad just to the right. Directly above sits a 202k-dot Electronic Viewfinder (EVF), with a standard hotshoe mount and pop-up flash unit situated on top. Just in front of the hotshoe you’ll find a stereo microphone, which is able to ‘zoom’ with the lens to pick up audio at further distances, while a built-in windshield helps to improve sound quality in gusty conditions – great when capturing Full 1080p HD video footage via the camera’s Creative Video mode.
Performance & Handling
At 606g (with battery and SD card), the FZ72 feels pleasantly weighted in the hand. A chunky, rubberised hand grip offers plenty of purchase, while the main (and only) command dial sits just above the rear thumb rest, making it easily accessible. The command dial doubles as a confirmation button too – by simply pressing it inwards, it allows you to quickly switch between shooting parameters like shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation. The camera’s zoom lever is positioned around the shutter button, placing it comfortably within reach of your index finger, while the physical mode dial on the top plate is able to rotate around 360°, allowing the standard M, A, S, P shooting modes to be accessed quickly.
Although the rear monitor provides a bright and colourful display, it’s 460k-dot resolution appeared slightly pixellated under close inspection. The same can also be said of the EVF, which at just 202k-dots did feel a little lo-res. It did a good enough job nonetheless. It’s worth noting that switching the view between the EVF and rear monitor has to be done manually by pressing a dedicated LVF button on the rear; this is unlike most cameras which instead feature a small sensor near the viewfinder that automatically switches the view as the camera is held up to your eye. Although it’s not a huge issue, it did become frustrating after a while and certainly slowed down the pace of shooting.
Switching the camera to Manual or Shutter priority revealed a shutter speed range of 8secs to 1/2000sec, and without a Bulb mode to speak of, this meant that using shutter speeds slower than 8secs was seemingly off the cards. One work-around we found for this was to activate the Starry Sky scene mode, which allowed us to capture shots at either 15, 30 or 60secs exposures, though in practise this was a bit of a faff and we were unsure why this option was left out of the main creative shooting modes.
On the positive side, during testing the AF proved to be fast and accurate, locking on to targets with ease. For added help in low-light situations, a bright AF assist lamp allowed the camera to obtain sharp focus without any trouble.
Activating the camera’s 9fps high-speed continuous-burst mode, we were only able to capture three RAW or three JPEG images before the buffer filled. Slowing the pace down to 5fps bursts didn’t improve this, and the camera stuck to its three RAW or three JPEG limit.
When we reduced the burst rate to the slowest setting of 2fps we saw a slight improvement when shooting in JPEG, achieving six shots before the buffer filled, however, in RAW we were still stuck with just three frames.
In terms of write speeds, the FZ72 was able to write a single RAW to our PNY 16GB Pro-Elite Plus (95MB/s) test card in a reasonable 2.54secs, while a single, Large Fine JPEG took a much quicker 0.94sec to record to memory.
Value for Money
Within the £349 price range of the Panasonic Lumix FZ72 it’s also worth considering the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS (£349), which features a 50x optical zoom (24-1200mm equivalent) with built-in image stabilisation system, 12.1Mp sensor and an ISO range that spans from 80-6400. The Sony Cyber-Shot HX300 (£328) is also worth a look. It packs in a 50x optical zoom (24-1200mm equiv) with built-in image stabilisation, larger 20.4Mp sensor and an ISO that spans 80-12,800.
Although the Panasonic FZ72 can’t compete with the broader ISO range of these competitors, it certainly holds its own in terms of focal length, and while its 60x zoom equals their 1200mm at the long end, it gives much more scope at the wide-angle setting with a useful 20mm equivalent.
With such an extensive focal length range packed into one camera, the Panasonic Lumix FZ72 will certainly appeal to anyone looking for a do-it-all, all-in-one package. Overall it’s a nicely built, responsive camera that’s a pleasure to use, though it’s let down a little by a limited ISO and shutter speed range, and a rather pedestrian, three-shot burst mode. Similarly-priced rivals offer more in these stakes, but nothing else matches it for zoom range.
- Street price: £196 (As of June 2016)
- Resolution: 16.1Mp (4608x3456px)
- Sensor: 1/2.3-type MOS sensor
- Focal length: 60x optical zoom (20-1200mm equivalent)
- ISO range: 100-3200
- Maximum aperture: f/2.8-5.9
- Minimum aperture: f/8
- Image stabilisation: Yes
- Shutter: 8secs-1/2000sec
- Burst rate: 2fps, 5fps, 9fps (16Mp) or 10fps (3Mp, JPEG only)
- Monitor: 3in 460k-dot LCD
- Viewfinder: 202k-dot EVF
- Flash: Pop-up
- Video: 1080p Full HD @ 25fps
- Write speeds: 2.54secs RAW, 0.94sec JPEG
- Storage: 200MB internal memory, SD, SDHC, SDXC
- Weight: 606g (with SD card & battery)
- Dimensions: 130.2x97x118.2mm (WxHxD)
- Visit: www.panasonic.com/uk
This review was first published in the December 2013 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.