Panasonic Lumix FZ72 review

4 out of 5
£339

For

Massive zoom range available, decent image stabilisation, electronic viewfinder built-in, raw image quality worth the write-to-card wait, low-mid ISO settings can deliver decent image quality

Against

Almost always overexposes, shutter lag, 1200mm is too soft, slow for raw file writing, competition is strong (Canon SX50 HS), no eye-level-finder for viewfinder activation

The Lumix FZ72 - or the FZ70 as it’s known outside of Europe - is Panasonic’s answer to the superzoom that truly earns its super dues. With a top-end zoom of 1200mm equivalent it's the embodiment of a "do it all" zoom lens that can also cater for wide-angle snaps. On paper it reads as though there’s nothing this camera can’t handle.

However, it was over a year ago that we saw the best-in-class Canon Powershot SX50 HS clean up in this department. Is the Lumix FZ72 a little too late to the party when Panasonic is focusing on alternative, higher-spec - yet shorter-zoom - devices such as the Lumix FZ200?

Ever the ones to give a superzoom camera good run of its worth, we embarked on a day out at Barcelona zoo to see if the FZ72 was as super as it sounded.

Zooming nature

There’s one obvious reason to consider the Lumix FZ72: its significant zoom range. At its widest the 20mm equivalent is really, really wide-angle and fits a huge amount into the scene. It’s considerably wider than your peripheral vision, and even though it doesn’t sound much different to the 24mm or 28mm equivalent of most competitor cameras, it does makes a huge difference.

Now we’re not saying its wide-angle results are perfection, as there’s some distortion and other issues such as edge softness - but if you’re not looking to use the camera for giant printed images then this won’t necessarily be a huge bother to you.

At the other end of the scale, and as we've unavoidably already pointed out, the FZ72 can muster a 1200mm equivalent. Now that’s huge - it’s next to impossible to find a DSLR lens that can get make a subject so far away appear so close in the frame. One of the nearest top-end equivalents today is the Canon EF 800mm f/5.6 L lens - which costs north of £10,000. We’re not going to pretend that the Lumix FZ72 can deliver the same quality or fidelity - as it can’t by any means - but the sheer fact it’s possible to zoom that far is more than likely why you're reading this review and contemplating buying.

READ: Canon Powershot SX50 HS review

Put to the test and we found the results up to around the 1000mm equivalent to be pretty good. Go the full distance and the 1200mm equivalent was often soft, to the point that we’d rarely want to use it. In practice we rarely did use it, because it’s such a significant focal length it has relatively limited application.

Panasonic Lumix FZ72 (FZ70) review - sample image at ISO 160, 1200mm equivalent - click for 100 per cent JPEG crop

We’re not going to get too technical, but the longer the zoom gets the less light that enters the camera (in this particular lens) and that presents additional hurdles to jump and possible issues. That’s why something like the bigger brother Lumix FZ200, along with its 600mm equivalent maximum at a constant f/2.8, has huge benefits - even if its top-end focal length is significantly less.

READ: Panasonic Lumix FZ200

With the FZ72 trying to get a fast enough shutter speed at the long focal lengths for optimum stability will often require more than one shot to be fired off. Holding a camera steady at four-figure focal lengths is harder than it sounds, but the FZ72’s Power OIS (optical image stabilisation) works really well to counteract subtle handshake and motion to keep everything steady in the frame. Impressive and necessary.

Overall the FZ72’s star-of-the-show lens is as much its comeuppance as it is the camera’s main selling point. A lens that tries to do as much as this falls into difficulty if you’re looking for pixel-perfect image quality and sharpness, while at the same time it’s an enabling device that will see you snap shots you otherwise didn’t think were possible from a relatively compact camera. Shooting in good light left us impressed overall.

Fully featured

The FZ72 is designed to cover all bases. You can point and shoot without so much as thinking about the settings or, if preferred, flick the mode dial into one of the usual priority or manual modes to take full control. There might not be a huge aperture range for the ultimate in control, but it’s just enough to stay on top of things and f/2.8 at the widest-angle setting is good to see.

The rear LCD screen might not offer a tilt-angle mechanism, so you’ll always have to face onto it from near-eye-level, but its 3-inch scale and 460k-dot resolution is ample for previewing shots or looking back over what you've shot. When sunlight gets too much and reflections throw you off the exposure scent there’s a built-in electronic viewfinder as an alternative.

As is typical with superzoom cameras that viewfinder isn’t huge, nor as capable as higher-end (and pricier) cameras, but we still found it to be a lot of use. The 0.2-inch panel is small, and the 202k-dot resolution isn’t the sharpest we’ve ever seen, but it does the job and we used it a considerable portion of the time when shooting. There’s no automatic eye-level activation, however, and you’ll grumble each and every time you have to click the "LVF" button to manually select between the screen or finder.

In addition to the aforementioned image stabilisation in the lens, the viewfinder further assists on the stability front. If you’re zoomed right in then that additional support of resting the camera against the eye is a considerable benefit to keep shots as sharp as possible.

But there’s a slight issue with shutter lag. Press the shutter button and a moving subject may end up in a different position for the capture. And if the subject is moving and the shutter speed is too slow then that will result in blur. It's a fine balance of getting shots right. As we always do we shot and re-shot as much as possible - just as we do with any given camera - but there’s always the gamble that you’ll miss that magic moment.

Shoot raw - a feature that we always welcome in a camera - and there’s added delay as the camera needs to process the file. That means a temporary "blackout" where you're left unable to do much for a second. Not ideal if you need to keep shooting at pace to get that killer shot.

The video heads out there will also be pleased to know the FZ72 can capture 1080p HD footage and the zoom is available during capture. Useful.

Image quality

Compact cameras - we know, the FZ72 isn’t exactly a "compact" compact - tend to come with small sensors and the Lumix FZ72 is no different in this department. Under the hood is a 1/2.3-in MOS sensor with 16.1-megapixel output. And given the right conditions it delivers the goods.

Digital cameras are tied to processing, so if there’s not a lot of light available then they’ll need to boost sensitivity, otherwise known as ISO, which in turn diminished image quality. In the FZ72 this runs from ISO 100 to ISO 3200 and it’s possible to set the camera up to automatically select the sensitivity, including capping its top-end selection to ISO 800 minimum should you want. The long and the short of it: the higher the ISO sensitivity the softer, less detailed, less colourful and more image noise will be apparent in a shot. Although not to excess from this Lumix.

But in good light none of that is an issue. We were shooting at ISO 100 at the mid-zoom settings, all set to auto, and the results are sharp and detailed straight from camera.

Panasonic Lumix FZ72 (FZ70) review - sample image at ISO 1600, 986mm equivalent - click for 100 per cent JPEG crop

The only real problem we encountered was the FZ72’s obsession with over-exposure. In almost all cases we had to adjust the exposure compensation by -0.7EV to stop highlights blowing out. We wanted shots with a mixture of shadow and highlight detail, rather than some of the washed-out looking shots that we were getting. If you learn to counteract some of the FZ72’s apparent intuition, then the results are decent.

How decent you judge them to be will depend, in part, on what you intend to do with those images. As the ISO sensitivity rises so too does a subtle presence of colour noise, which - if you look up-close at 100 per cent scale - can be seen as a splash of green, red and blue colours throughout.

In fur, a common feature of many of the zoo animals that we were snapping, this can be problematic as there’s not really any way of getting rid of it. But, and here’s the thing, if you’re not using the full 16-megapixels to their maximum - and that is like stacking more than seven 1080p HD tellies next to one another in resolution terms - and instead upload to a service like Facebook then the shots will be shrunk down in scale and, therefore, look a lot better.

Panasonic Lumix FZ72 (FZ70) review - sample image at ISO 1600, 986mm equivalent - click for 100 per cent JPEG crop

And when it came down to it we were able to look at even ISO 1600 shots that were still usable. Which, from a compact camera, is no bad show. You’ll need to use the middle ISO settings in order to get away with shooting at the longer end of the zoom with sharp results. But there’s little to moan about.

What we also found is that the FZ72 is overzealous with its JPEG processing. The camera’s raw files show up considerably more image grain, but even at an ISO 2000 example there’s a lot more detail present. Shame Panasonic chose to go in so hard with the processing as there’s a lot of gain to be had from the raw shots - even if they are a little slow to write to card during shooting.

Panasonic Lumix FZ72 (FZ70) review - sample image at ISO 2000, 1200mm equivalent - click for 100 per cent raw file crop

Where the FZ72 falls into issues is with low-light conditions. It’s not so much the camera’s ability - it’s fast enough to focus throughout the zoom - but the mixture of settings required for an optimum exposure tend to not amass to an ideal solution. Slow shutter, high ISO, and limited aperture options will often mean you can’t shoot in low-light with decent results unless you’re at the wider-angle settings or the flash is up. And at 1200mm the flash is next to useless - it can only illuminate so far away.

Verdict

If you're after a big zoom at a fair price then the Panasonic Lumix FZ72 has a lot going for it. Premier to its feature set is that massive 20-1200mm equivalent zoom which offers more range than the competition out there. In practice we found above the 1000mm equivalent to be a bit too soft, but it was rare we needed to max out the zoom.

Even so, none of these long-zoom cameras are quite perfect, and while the FZ72 has its shortcomings - overexposure being among its most irritating - the likes of decent raw file shots and good results at the low-mid ISO sensitivities and middle zoom settings will see you snapping great shots in no time. 

If anything it's yesteryear's superzoom successes that cost the latest Lumix superzoom the most. The similar top-end zoom of the Canon Powershot SX50 HS remains a strong competitor at a similar price, while the alternative, shorter-zoom Lumix FZ200 already set Panasonic's superzoom standard.

In saying that, we've shot plenty of keepers using the FZ72. That in itself proves that the camera is well worthy of consideration, particularly if super-wide-angle and a considerable top-end focal length are a must have on your shopping list.