Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28
Written by Gordon Laing
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 design and controls
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 shares the same dimensions and styling as its predecessor, and like most super-zoom cameras is designed to look like a miniature DSLR with a decent grip, raised viewfinder head, and protruding lens barrel. The major difference of course is the optical range with the FZ28 housing a massive 18x zoom compared to the typical 3x ranges of most DSLR kits. We’ve pictured it below alongside its major rival, Canon’s PowerShot SX10 IS, which sports an even longer 20x zoom range.
Measuring 118x75x89mm, the FZ28 is exactly the same size as its predecessor, which makes it 6mm narrower and a considerable 13mm shorter than the PowerShot SX10 IS, although the Panasonic is 2mm thicker. While the photos above and below illustrate how the Panasonic is a little smaller than the Canon, they don’t reveal their surprising difference in weight. The FZ28 weighs 417g with its Lithium Ion battery pack compared to the 680g of the SX10 IS when fitted with four typical AA batteries. Indeed the PowerShot SX10 IS’s operational weight is only 20g lighter than Canon’s own EOS 1000D / XS DSLR complete with its battery and (admittedly only 3x) kit lens.
It’s surprising how much lighter the FZ28 feels compared to the SX10 IS. Pick up both models fitted with their batteries and the FZ28 feels almost empty as if some part were missing, but power it up and you’ll realise this really is its operational weight. In contrast the SX10 IS feels quite heavy, and more akin to handling a budget DSLR. Some may prefer the light weight of the FZ28, and certainly it could be an advantage if you’re hiking or travelling. Others may prefer the relative heft of the SX10 IS and the confidence this weight instils. It’s entirely personal, so we strongly recommend picking up both – with their batteries fitted – to see which feels best to you.
The Canon may be comfortably heavier, but the build quality of the two models is roughly the same. Both share similar plastic exteriors with good joins and no creaking or flexing to worry about. So the SX10 IS may be denser than the FZ28, but it’s not quite attained the battleship build of Canon’s flagship PowerShot G10.
Viewed from above, it’s clear both cameras are equipped with decent-sized grips. Canon’s is slightly larger, and indeed roughly the same size as one of its entry-level DSLRs, but Panasonic adds a touch of class with the rubber coating around the FZ28’s grip. Again it’s a personal choice, but both models are comfortable to hold and use.
Like its predecessor, the bulk of the FZ28’s controls are on its upper right surface and to the right of its screen on the rear. The upper controls are essentially identical to the FZ18, with the same shutter release, zoom rocker, power switch and buttons for AF / MF and Macro. The mode dial also looks the same, although there’s been a couple of minor changes.
As before, there’s PASM, Intelligent Auto, Movie and a SCN position to access an extended array of presets (17 on the FZ28). Like its predecessor, the FZ28 offers full manual control over both the aperture and shutter, and we have full details below. The single CUSTOM position of the FZ18 has been swapped for two custom modes on the FZ28, and the four direct scene presets complemented by an additional Close-up option.
The biggest change though, as also seen on other 2008 Lumix models is the sensible removal of the Play mode from the dial. This has now been relocated to a switch on the rear thumb rest which sets the camera between play and record.
Moving onto the rear surface, this switch is the only major control change between the FZ28 and its predecessor, although there has been a little tweaking to the labelling and functions of others. As before there’s a button to switch the composition between the screen and EVF (sadly no proximity sensors here), alongside an AF / AE lock button that’s now circular rather than rectangular.
Below this is the same tiny joystick, although now labelled Q.Menu in line with other 2008 Lumix compacts. This is used to adjust all manner of settings including the aperture, shutter and manual focus, or pushed-in to fire-up a superimposed menu, and we have full details coming up in a moment.
Below the joystick is a Display button, now lacking the LCD Mode which has been relocated to an option in the superimposed Q.Menu. Occupying the lower right corner are the traditional cross keys with a Menu / Set button in the middle. As before pushing left, up and right sets the self-timer, exposure compensation and flash options respectively, although the down button has now become a more useful programmable Function key rather than being fixed for review only.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 exposure and metering
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 offers shutter speeds from 1/2000 to 60 seconds, along with 10 apertures from f2.8 to f8 (when zoomed-out), and you have complete control over both settings in its Manual, Aperture or Shutter Priority modes. Exposure bracketing is also available, but pretty limited with three frames at up to only 1EV apart.
Like many non-DSLRs, there’s some restrictions concerning the faster shutter speeds with certain apertures. With the lens zoomed-out, the fastest shutter speed of 1/2000 is only available at f8. Between f5.6 and f8, the fastest speed drops to 1/1600, while at f4.0 to f8 it’s 1/1300. Finally at the maximum apertures range of f2.8 to f8, the fastest shutter speed becomes 1/1000.
While testing the FZ28 we found its Program line would only select shutter speeds faster than 1/500 under extreme circumstances. Consequently we found the camera often sitting at 1/500 and forcing itself to select smaller apertures under very bright conditions. We have many examples at f5.6 and even some at its minimum aperture of f8.
Diffraction is an issue for compact cameras at such small apertures, and while the FZ28 still delivers acceptable results at f5.6, there’s a noticeable drop in quality at f8. Since f8 was automatically selected on numerous occasions while testing the FZ28, we’d recommend keeping an eye open for it under bright conditions, and over-riding with a larger aperture using Program shift or Aperture Priority.
For example, while the restrictions above limit your options, an exposure of 1/500 at f8 could still be shifted to 1/1000 at f5.6 for much better results. We should note the Canon SX10 IS had a more sensible Program line which aimed for larger apertures where possible, increasing its shutter speed to cope with bright conditions.
Luckily shifting the shutter and aperture in Program is easy on the FZ28 by simply prodding the joystick up or down. The joystick is also used to adjust the aperture and shutter in their respective modes. In Aperture or Shutter Priority modes, simply push the joystick right, then up or down to adjust the settings, or push it left to adjust the exposure compensation instead. In Manual mode push left to select the f-number, then up or down to adjust it, or push right to select the shutter speed, and again up and down to adjust it. The value the joystick will change is always shown in yellow.
Once you understand the on-screen icons indicating you need to push left or right first, it works well, although the joystick can be fiddly for those with larger hands. Personally we preferred the ergonomics of the large tactile thumb wheel on the back of Canon’s SX10 IS, not to mention its on-screen graphics indicating the setting, but would again advise trying both for yourself.
Note the FZ28 like other Panasonic compacts has a menu option to set the lowest shutter speed available in the automatic modes. By default this is set to 1/8, but you can reduce it to one second, or increase it to 1/250 if desired. If you’re shooting in low light at lower sensitivities in one of the auto or semi-auto modes, remember to set this to a lower value than the default 1/8 or your images could be underexposed; obviously you’ll need to be aware of potential camera shake though.
If you prefer an easier life, the FZ28 offers direct access to five popular scene presets from its mode dial, or turn to the SCN position to choose from a further 17 on-screen. These include high sensitivity and burst modes which we’ll talk more about later.
Last but not least is the FZ28’s Intelligent Auto mode, labelled iA on the dial. Like other 2008 Lumix compacts, the FZ28’s Intelligent Auto mode employs Intelligent Scene Detection, Intelligent ISO and Intelligent Exposure, along with the Optical Image Stabiliser, face detection, quick AF, digital red-eye correction and backlight compensation. Intelligent Scene Detection first identifies if the composition falls into the Portrait, Scenery, Macro, Night Portrait or Night Scenery categories, and if so, selects that scene preset. If it doesn’t match any of them, a standard shooting mode is used.
Next Intelligent ISO detects any motion in the frame and if necessary increases the ISO to achieve a shutter speed which will eliminate any unwanted blur. Finally, the latest Intelligent Exposure mode, new to the 2008 range, actually adjusts the ISO over different portions of the frame. This first divides the frame into around 3000 areas, then finds the brightest portion and exposes for it using the lowest sensitivity. Then it increases the gain in the darker portions of the frame to boost detail in shadow areas.
While the idea of having different sensitivities on the same image sounds unusual, it’s not actually that different in practice to other dynamic range optimisation systems which digitally increase the brightness in darker areas. The result is also similar, where shadows are boosted, but at the cost of more visible noise in those areas. Note Intelligent ISO and Intelligent Exposure (adjustable by three levels) are optionally available in some of the FZ28’s normal shooting modes; they’re off by default though.
In practice the combination of technologies which comprise the FZ28’s Intelligent Auto mode work uncannily well. We repeated a test used on previous Lumix models and found the FZ28 seamlessly switched between Landscape, Macro and Portrait presets when pointed at mountains, close objects then people respectively. It continues to be by far the cleverest fully automatic mode we’ve tested, exploiting the camera’s full range of technologies, and we’d happily recommend it for day-to-day use and spontaneous shots.
Then when you want to be more specific or creative, simply select from one of the 17 scene presets on offer or of course switch to Program, Manual, Aperture or Shutter Priority. Either way, the FZ28 has it all covered. Just one more thing: there’s also a colour bracketing option which takes two or three photos using the Standard, Black and White and Sepia modes.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 Flash
The Panasonic Lumix FZ28 has a built-in flash that must be manually popped-open by a push of a button to the left of the electronic viewfinder. Once open you can press the right cross-key button to choose between Auto, Auto with Red-eye reduction, Forced on, or Slow Sync with Red-eye reduction options. The Red-eye reduction modes employ a double flash, before applying digital correction. If you don’t want the flash to fire, simply push it down – it won’t popup on its own accord.
Pressing the exposure compensation button three times presents a flash compensation menu, and there’s a further option in the main menu system to switch the flash curtain from first to second for rear-curtain effects at the end of exposure.
Sadly there’s no flash hotshoe on the FZ28 for mounting an external flashgun. It’s a key difference between the FZ28 and its main rival the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS which lets you mount one of Canon’s proper Speedlite flashguns. If you want an external flash on a Lumix model, you’ll need to go for the LX3. While this capability better-suits the LX3’s target audience, the FZ28 is better shaped to support an external flash comfortably with its bigger grip. Indeed we found using an external flash was easier on the PowerShot SX10 IS than the flagship G10 with its minimal grip.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 viewfinder
Like most super-zoom cameras, the Panasonic Lumix FZ28 is equipped with an electronic viewfinder (EVF) as an alternative means of composition to the main screen on the back. Pressing the EVF / LCD button to the right of the viewfinder switches between it and the screen.
Like other EVFs, you’ll see exactly the same information and graphics as you would on the main screen, including framing guides, the live histogram, shooting details and even the menu pages, along with a 100% view of the image itself.
The EVF on the FZ28 has 201.6k dots which is slightly more detailed than the 188k dots of its predecessor, but as a 0.2in type, the new model looks much smaller than the 0.44in of the FZ18. It’s also much smaller than the 0.44in type on the PowerShot SX10 IS which shares the same 201.6k dot resolution.
Since the EVFs on the FZ28 and SX10 IS share the same degree of detail, Canon’s larger view suffers from a coarser appearance. In contrast, the smaller view of the FZ28 may look more cohesive, but is like looking down a tunnel. Ultimately it’s another case of swings and roundabouts with some preferring the large but coarser view of the Canon and others preferring the smaller but less coarse view of the Panasonic.
One thing’s for certain though: the FZ28’s EVF is noticeably smaller than both the SX10 IS and the FZ18, so anyone upgrading from the latter may see it as a step back. That said, the EVF on the FZ28 is still a valuable alternative means of composition, especially when Sunlight is shining directly onto the screen or when framing at longer focal lengths.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 Screen and menus
The Panasonic Lumix FZ28 is equipped with a 2.7in monitor with 230k pixels. This is a small boost in size and resolution over the 2.5in 207k screen of its predecessor, although in use it’s also brighter and easier to see in bright sunlight.
A set of LCD Mode options duplicated in the main menu or the super-imposed Q.Menu allow you to choose Auto, Bright or High Angle settings, or Off for normal viewing. Bright unsurprisingly brightens the screen while Auto detects the ambient lighting and adjusts the brightness automatically – this works well in practice. Finally High Angle increases the brightness further for easier viewing with the camera held above your head. In use it’s certainly an improvement, but the viewing angle at high and low angles remains fairly average compared to the best screens out there.
We understand there’s obviously physical (and cost) restrictions to the size and type of screen which can be fitted to the FZ28, but it’s worth noting Panasonic’s TZ5 and LX3, along with Canon’s PowerShot G10 all both sport larger and more detailed 3in 460k screens. Then there is of course the FZ28’s arch rival, the Canon PowerShot SX10 IS, which may have a slightly smaller 2.5in screen, but one that’s fully articulated and can flip and twist to any angle. This is another key advantage of the Canon over the Panasonic.
But back to the FZ28’s screen. Pressing the DISPLAY button cycles between four viewing modes: first one with shooting information, followed by a clean view, then one with a choice of alignment grids, and finally a DSLR-style view which shrinks the main image and uses the right and lower borders to show shooting information. If the histogram is enabled in the menus, it’ll appear on the first and third modes.
Like previous models, Panasonic splits (and often duplicates) its various settings over the super-imposed Q.Menu and a more conventional paged menu system. Pushing the joystick in fires-up the Q.Menu which overlays a drop-down styled menu over your live composition with context-sensitive options.
With the FZ28 set to Program recording mode, you can adjust the Stabilizer mode, Metering mode, AF mode, White Balance, Intelligent ISO, Sensitivity, Intelligent Exposure, resolution and LCD brightness mode. The compression quality is now exclusively found in the main menu system. In use the Q.Menu works very well, giving quick and easy access to some of the more common settings, although the tiny joystick can sometimes prove slightly fiddly.
Pushing the Menu button in Program mode presents, five pages of recording options and six setup pages; many of the common options like sensitivity and white balance are duplicated in the Q.Menu system.
With the FZ28 switched into playback mode, the Display button cycles between a clean image, one with basic information and another with more detailed information including a brightness histogram if it’s been enabled in the Setup menu.
Pressing the Menu button during playback presents three vertical tabs for Mode, Playback and Setup. Mode lets you choose between Normal Playback, Slideshow or Category Play. The actual Playback tab itself presents a number of retouching options including resize, trim, rotate, and inherited from the LX3, apply fine rotation with the Levelling option – this lets you rotate by +/- 2 degrees in 0.2 degree increments with an overlaid grid to help with alignment.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 battery and connectivity
With the same exterior, it’s no surprise to find the FZ28 powered by the same battery as its predecessor, and the FZ8 before that: the CGR-S006E Lithium Ion pack, rated at 710mAh and good for 460 pictures under CIPA standards. That’s up from the 380 estimate of the FZ18, although again is a best-case scenario. If you regularly use stabilisation, the screen brightener and continuous or pre-AF modes, then you’ll eat through the charge much faster. So as always, carrying a spare is recommended.
The battery is still housed in a compartment under the camera where you’ll also find the SD memory card slot. This means both are blocked when the FZ28’s mounted on a tripod which could prove annoying in some situations. Canon recognised this and switched the SD slot on the SX10 IS to the side of the body. Speaking of the SX10 IS, Canon’s super-zoom is powered by four AA batteries, which some may prefer for availability to the FZ28’s pack.
Like its predecessor, a door on the left side of the FZ28’s body opens to reveal DC-in and a combined USB / video out port. New to the FZ28 is a second door on the right side of the body which houses its Component video port. When used with the optional DMW-HDC2 cable, this allows the FZ28 to deliver HD slideshows to an HDTV in the 1080i format – an upgrade from the FZ18 and an advantage over the Canon SX10 IS which both only offer standard definition composite video outputs.