Panasonic Lumix FZ72 hands-on: We go on safari

The Panasonic Lumix FZ72 - better known as the Lumix FZ70 outside of Europe - is the company's latest superzoom, or bridge camera, model. It brings with it a DSLR-style design, but packs in a huge 60x optical zoom lens.

This class of camera often appeals to those looking for an all-in-one solution, the sort of camera you can use for everything, but particularly useful when you want to zoom right in on stuff. The FZ72's 20mm equivalent wide-angle lens means you can shoot what's right in front of you. At the same time, with a 1200mm equivalent available at the other end of the spectrum, you can also get right in on the action some distance away.

We packed ourselves into the back of a Land Rover and headed into Longleat Safari Park to see what we could capture with the Panasonic Lumix FZ72, and bring you our first impressions of this camera.

Get a grip

The Lumix FZ72 is designed very much like a DSLR. It's a fairly substantial lump in the hand, although it's lighter than you might at first expect. Pick it up and there's that slight desire for it to be a little heavier. The build and finish is a little plasticky, but that's typical of this type of camera. It is, after all, only £365, so you can't complain too much about the quality of the finish.

However, the size brings with it an advantage. It's not only necessary to fit in that lens's focal range, but it also makes it easier to support for two-handed operation. There's a decent handgrip on the right-hand side that will help keep it steady, something that's essential for those long-range shots.

The size also means that everything can be spaced out across the body. If you have larger hands, or don't like the sort of tightly packed buttons that seem to prevail on many cameras, then something like the Lumix FZ72 brings distinct advantages when it comes to using the controls.

Point and shoot

With a mode dial situated on the top of the camera it's easy to move yourself out of Panasonic's intelligent Auto (iA) shooting mode and explore some of the more advanced options on offer and here you'll find that full manual controls are offered as well as the normal run of other options. It's an easy-to-use camera whichever settings you opt for.

Of course the 60x zoom will be the centre of attention. It's pretty fast to move from one end of the range to the other and it comes with Panasonic's Power Optical Image Stabilisation. This is a tried and tested solution which really does work. However, if you are shooting at longer lengths, you need to keep the camera as steady as possible for the best results - something that the built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF) can be handy for.

The camera's fast enough to focus, although that tends to slow down a little as you zoom. There is a manual focus option, although this needs to be changed using the controls rather than being able to twist the lens. We managed to get it under control, but our first impression is that it's a little fiddly.

The shot of the tiger's eye, above, was taken handheld at the 1200mm equivalent and shot through glass. Many zooms lose a lot of quality at the far end and that's true to an extent here with some loss of saturation and sharpness, but we still think it's an impressive result from an affordable camera.

Inside the FZ72 there's a 16-megapixel 1/2.3-inch size sensor, which is the sort of sensor you'd find in a compact camera and that limits the performance to a certain extent when it comes to more refined quality, but that's acceptable within the price - not to mention essential for form factor with a lens of this capacity. It's certainly not as advanced as the Lumix FZ200 which, despite a shorter maximum focal length, offers a maximum f/2.8 aperture throughout its zoom range. 

READ: Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review

As mentioned earlier, the FZ72 comes complete with a built-in 202k-dot electronic viewfinder in addition to the 3-inch 460k-dot display on the rear. The viewfinder offers typical performance at this price range - the physical size and resolution mean it isn't all too nice to use and it's not a patch on a DSLR's optical finder, but the Lumix's electronic build does mean you get a lot more information straight to your eye, including image previews once you've taken a shot.

The rear display also isn't super-high resolution, but it's fairly standard for a compact camera these days and does the job well. There's no automatic switching between the EVF and rear LCD, however, which means it's a case of pressing a button to toggle from one to the other each time. We'd have preferred a sensor to do the job automatically.

On safari

Many of the animal-featured tests shots throughout this initial review text were taken from inside a Land Rover, so are shot through glass. This means there's an extra layer between us and the subject that will have affected the results – either by being dirty, or because of the reflections off the inside.

However, we still managed to get some impressive results. The length of the zoom is really impressive for getting in on the action here. Things can get a little slow at the long end as the aperture is restricted - it dips down from f/2.8 at the widest-angle to a lesser f/5.9 at the 1200mm equivalent - so we found that the FZ72 boosted the ISO level to compensate.

As a result, a number of our daylight shots at full zoom are taken at ISO 800. This adds some mottle-patterned image noise, with a loss of detail due to the camera's JPEG processing. The sensor size, again, is all part of this - but that probably won't affect the kind of customers interested in this camera, as you'll be more likely to be viewing at normal sizes, rather than wanting to blow your pictures up to poster size. DSLR it isn't, but enabling at a fair price point it certainly is.

The length of the lens is also a consideration, especially in the environment we were in - as it physically extends through the zoom range we hit the window on a couple of occasions when zooming in. Oops.

Initial verdict

We had only limited time with the Lumix FZ72, so we can't draw too many definitive conclusions yet. But our initial feeling is that a camera like this is all about being able to do the whole shebang with minimal fuss: from wide-angle through to its super-long zoom the FZ72 delivers the numbers, even if it lacks the more pro-spec results of a pricier, better-spec camera. However, we got those distant zoom shots we wanted, as well as being able to grab those wide-angles too - something that a smartphone or compact camera with less of a zoom could only dream of doing. And it's that diversity that will appeal here.

The FZ72's body might feel a little on the cheap side because of its plasticky construct and there might be a limit on the quality of the results you're going to get, but for many, that will be offset by the price point. At £365 there's more than enough here to allow you to explore photography: manual controls, raw image file capture, a huge and varied zoom lens with decent optical image stabilisation, a build-in viewfinder and, even while not perfect throughout, the list goes on.

As an aside we'd also say that if you're considering whether a VIP tour at Longleat Safari Park is worth the price - Bronze VIP packages start at £85pp, rising higher for Silver, Gold and Platinum offerings - then we certainly think it is. Our driver was full of information, we could go off road to get much closer to the animals, and you're never jostling with other cars to get a good view.