The FZ28 features a 27mm, 18x optical zoom lens that is also capable of shooting wide-angle shots. That's a lot of scope for such a compact camera, allowing users to capture highly-detailed long-range photographs as well as broad, inclusive close-up shots. The 18x optical zoom is a nice start, though slightly less powerful than the 20x zoom found on the Olympus SP-570 UZ from earlier in the year, or Canon's all new Powershot SX10 IS.
For me, any extended zoom camera must be compared to the superlative Olympus SP-570 UZ, which I reviewed a few months ago and was incredibly pleased with. The SP-570 UZ, with its 20x optical zoom and exceptional performance, sets the standard in the extended zoom category, and one can expect its updates (like this fall's SP-565 UZ) to follow closely to that winning formula.
The FZ28 is a well-designed, well thought out camera, and while it may not be as polished as the SP-570 UZ, it's an attractive (and slightly less expensive) option.
The first thing most people will notice when handling the FZ28 is how lightweight it is. The optics certainly adds some bulk, but it's well balanced. The FZ28 would make an excellent portable camera for travelers.
The FZ28 features both a large, 2.7-inch LCD display and an electronic viewfinder; while the LCD display is big and vivid enough to make previewing shots very comfortable, the viewfinder is narrow, cramped, and particularly difficult to utilize outdoors in bright environments. The EVF is also quite jittery and afflicted by image noise. The LCD is a user's best bet for hassle-free framing, as it can handle bright light fairly well.
There are a lot of buttons strewn about the back and top of the camera, but they're arranged in a very natural, easy-to-reach way. The big question is whether or not you can remember which of the many buttons does what without having to look at them constantly. The mode dial is solid and strong, sweeping in its orbit with a satisfyingly stable click.
The menus are clear and easy to understand, and each of the modes (Portrait, Macro, Landscape, etc) has a sub menu to account for different types of pictures. You can select Portrait for example, and then further optimize the mode by indicating that the subject has soft skin, is indoors, or outdoors. These refinements subtly alter the camera's settings to ensure a better photograph.
The Panasonic FZ28 is capable of taking still images in various aspect ratios: standard 4:3 photos are taken at 10 megapixels, smaller 3:2 photos at 9 megapixels and widescreen 16:9 photos at 7.5 megapixels. It provides a number of automatic modes (Profile, Landscape, Sports, Nighttime, Close-up), several manual priority modes (Shutter-Priority, Aperture-Priority, Program AE), and two custom slots on the mode dial (C1, C2) in which to save user-defined settings for quick, easy access, as well as a straight-up manual mode.
Overall, the FZ28 took great photos, though in some cases the colors appeared muted or dull. Our test photos are visible in the accompanying sidebar, so you can judge for yourself. The ability to make manual adjustments is very beneficial, with small refinements to aperture and shutter speed granting much more versatility in each photo.
The FZ28, like all of Panasonic's new slate of cameras, also has a high-definition movie mode that shoots video clips in 720p at 30 frames per second. The movie modes on digital cameras are great for quick clips, and the FZ28 performs adequately in this regard. While the video clips it shoots are technically high-definition, users shouldn't expect incredibly detailed footage coming from this camera. It's definitely an improvement, but not an adequate replacement for a dedicated video camcorder like Panasonic's SD100.
The Panasonic FZ28 isn't a blockbuster digital camera, but it's an excellent, reasonably priced option for consumers interested in a versatile, competent shooter. The FZ28's combination of a long-range zoom, wide-angle lens, and HD video mode (however slight) makes it a really strong contender for a great all-around option.