I wanted an upgrade from my excellent Panasonic TZ3 compact, which would take better low light pictures and allow me more creativity into the bargain.
After a lot of thought, looking at various reviews of various bridge-type cameras, including whether I could afford a DSLR and appropriate lenses, I kept coming back to the FZ28. Having already had experience of the excellent 10x Leica lens in the TZ3 and being impressed with that camera's abilities I decided that the FZ was the camera for me due to it's 27-486mm equivalent lens and the generally good reviews.
So far I've only taken pictures in extremely difficult indoor conditions. My partner is a mobile DJ and part of the reason for getting a better camera was to try to get better pictures of his events. Now I know a DSLR would get better -noise free images (depending on the size of the sensor) but I have been pretty impressed with the FZ so far. Of course shooting in very low light with people moving (dancing) is always going to be very difficult. At ISO800 there is visible noise but the camera's processing keeps in under control enough to allow a decent image for upload to an online gallery or printing at 6x4. I have not yet tried boosting the ISO even more but expect that the image will be pretty noisy - the limitation of a more compact sensor.... and a tradeoff for price and portability!
At wide angle the camera has a relatively large aperture (for a compact type) of F2.8 and I have noticed how much better the camera is than the TZ3 indoors - the lens allows a lot more light in and the pictures are clearer and brighter than the TZ3 in low light. A test shot at ISO400 with shutter speed 1/8 in lowlight on both cameras proved that the FZ was far superior, as should be expected, producing a much brighter picture with much less noticible noise.
I have yet to really test out the zoom capability as I haven't really done any outdoor shooting, but certainly I have got some great candid indoor shots of people, with the long zoom. The low light ability in the less difficult situation of a normally lit room (rather than a dark disco) is great meaning that the flash is not necessary even at a relatively long zoom (the aperture reduces from F2.8- F4.4 as the zoom is extended) so candid shots are easier without the flash alerting the subject to the camera's presence.
I have tried taking some macro shot's as the reviews suggested that the camera was excellent as such. I took some shots of a penny, taken in low indoor lighting with the lens a distance of 1-2cm from the penny, used manual focus and got truely excellent detail on the penny. You can get an additional macro lens to add, but the in built macro facility is excellent. The only problem coming from the ability to focus so close to the lens being that unless the subject is lit from the correct angle the lens barrel throws a shadow, but this is inevitable and not a fault of the camera.
On occasion the auto focus hunts a little but I've not had a problem and it's still quicker than I would be using manual focus! Mostly the AF is spot on, and the powerful AF assist lamp helps it to find it's subject. Using AF single area HIGH speed gives quick focussing results. The AF tracking and face detection function on my camera works extremely well. Once the Face detection has located a face, it can be turned side on to the camera and it will still recognise it.
I've shot some video both at HD and normal widescreen format. The videos, especially on HD are very clear. The sound quality is acceptable but not great, but then it's not a video camera and I'm not expecting miracles. The file sizes on HD mode are HUGE though. A 10 second clip on HD took up 20MB space!
The manual focus method is tricky and I don't use it unless doing macro where the subject is still, or perhaps if I was anticipating some sporting action to happen in a certain spot I might use it.
I find the software on the camera very easy to use, partly as it's similar to the TZ3 though with more functions, but mostly because it just is easy to navigate. The buttons on the camera seem well placed and ergonomic. I normally don't have to look to select various features and the Q-menu joystick is very easy to use, meaning that you don't have to move your eye from the eyepiece (if used) to change settings.
One thing is that if I'm hand holding the camera, I'd like to rest the lens barrel on my left hand but my fingers then naturally fall in the way of the AF-lamp, so I have to adopt a slightly more uncomfortable two-handed hold. Mostly though the excellent shake-reduction features mean that this is perfectly ok, even at long zooms you can still hand hold, though keeping something small in the focus spot may be difficult!
Overall I'm pleased with my purchase having tested it in some extremely difficult situations for a compact type camera to cope with. A fuji might have been better in low light but I think the Panasonic -Leica Lens has it beat in most other areas, and I'm looking forward to finding out what it can do outdoors and on well lit days!
Getting the FZ instead of a DSLR means I got an excellent and versatile camera with a lens that would mean I would have to get at least 2 and possibly 3 DSLR lenses to cover it's capability. I've sacrificed some picture quality as a result but I'm perfectly happy with the quality of the pictures I'm getting and the price tag is also a big bonus compared to even an entry level DSLR and 3 lenses. Maybe oneday I will get that DSLR, but the FZ will be a great introduction to the photographic world and suits me fine just now.