The Panasonic FZ150 has received many very favorable reviews since it first came out in Fall 2011. I own the FZ150 and have been very impressed with it -- my initial review is at: https://pbase.com/tconelly/panasonic_fz150
But many of these user assessments (including mine) are showing the FZ150's ability under good or even ideal shooting situations. What about when there is a very challenging dynamic range or the subject is moving rapidly and very quick auto focus and shot to shot speed are needed? Is the FZ 150 a realistic DSLR substitute under these circumstances? I decided to test this by comparing the FZ 150 with the Canon 7D (paired with the high quality Canon 70-200 f4 IS lens)at a rodeo in Las Cruces, NM that featured women's barrel racing.
Circumstances: A very bright and sunny day with very high contrast between deep shadows and brightly lit clothing, horses, and background. This very high dynamic range would be a challenge for most cameras including DSLRs. The Canon was set to highlight tone priority in order to help deal with these sharp contrasts so minimum iso was 200, the FZ does not have an equivalent setting. Movement of the horses is very fast but usually quite predictable as the horses follow a set pattern around three barrels arranged in a triangular shape.
FZ 150 performance:
The Panasonic was set to aperture priority at its widest open setting (which ranges from f2.8 at 24mm equivalent to f5.2 at the long zoom end). On this bright day shutter speeds were uniformly high (range 1/640s to 1/2000s)and so not a constraint.
Issues: The bright day and rapid movement of the subjects required the use of the FZ150's EV which is of average quality, not nearly as bright as a DSLR OV and much smaller than the Canon7D's OV. This made following the fast moving horses difficult and a significant minority of my shots ended up having the horse or rider partially out of the frame. This was never a problem with the optical view finder of the Canon 7D. As a result, I was not able to take much advantage of the very long maximum zoom of the FZ 150 (600 mm equivalent vs. 320mm equivalent for the 200m lens on the Canon) because I had to allow a significant margin of error (a wide frame around the subject to make sure it did not go out of frame). The only available shooting position was quite distant from the horses (perhaps 75 to 150 feet?) and the background was often cluttered with people, horses, and cars.
AF tracking and shot to shot speed:
Here i thought the Panasonic performed surprisingly well. It was set in burst mode with 5.5 shots\second with continuous AF (shooting Raw + jpeg). I was able to shoot five quick consecutive shots as the horses rounded the barrels and the large majority of these did come out in focus - impressive for this category of camera. However, after taking five quick shots in a row the buffer is very slow to clear. Shot to shot speed was not the cause of subjects sometimes being partially out of the frame, the real issue for me was the small size of the viewfinder making it difficult to keep track of the horses if I zoomed in close. This might improve with more practice.
Because the very bright conditions often required the use of exposure compensation to avoid badly blown out highlights many of the photos were shot at -2/3 to -1.0 compensation (especially with the FZ150). Dark shadows were brought out in Lightroom and with both cameras, although shot at low ISO, there was visible noise on faces and other skin surfaces that were in shadow, when viewing at 100%. The noise was easily manageable with the 7D but more difficult to handle with the FZ150.
Despite these problems I was able to get a decent percent of adequately framed, in-focus photos from the FZ150 (though a much lower percent than with the Canon, as expected). But how do these compare with the output of the canon 7D and the 70-200 lens?
The photos below are half from the FZ 150 and half from the 7D. I've stripped out the usual identifying information below the photos so it is not immediately obvious which camera was used (but the exif data is intact). For photographers experienced with both types of camera I think the identification of the cameras will be quickly obvious - differences in sharpness, color, the quality of details, handling of the high dynamic range, and background blur.
My opinion: Looking at these low resolution web images taken under harsh lighting may obscure some of the differences, but I think the Canon 7D and its 70-200 lens is clearly superior (as we would hope and expect) in both performance and quality of photos, but the Panasonic FZ150 did quite a bit better than I thought it would. For those who have neither camera it's good to keep in mind that the Canon camera and lens combined cost close to $3000 (vs. about $400 for the FZ 150) and the Canon gear is huge and weighs 1620g (vs. 530g for the FX150).
All images below were shot in raw and edited in Lightroom, many from both cameras are significantly cropped. The 'original 'size is 1600x1200 photos to better compare the images, but if this is too large for your monitor choose 'large' size from under the photos.
Remember, exif date is intact for all photos. What do you think?