I brought this after my 4 year old Fuji bridge cam packed it in. I was quite surprised by the technology on offer with this product. I am no expert on cameras, i tend to use one as a hoby and i am still very much learning, so seeing as i dont have a few £1000 for a DSLR with all the lenses i would like, this camera type is perfect for me, its a jack of all trades, not fantastic at one thing, but pretty good at everything.
The best feature (and perhaps the reason one might buy this) is the zoom, it is quite incredible what you can see. If you have steady hands/TRIPOD or are using the iA feature you can take max zoom photos with out too much loss of quality.
I took this camera up to a hill a few miles from where i live (where you can see for 10 miles all around to all the various towns/villages and land marks in my area) and I was quite startled by how close up i could get with photos and video! Being able to take a video and zoom in on a place 6 miles away so it fills a 19 inch monitor back home is quite astonishing if you never done it before.....although at that distance you get a fair amount of haze. I also tried it out on a passing plane about medium height up (for a plane) and could almost make out the number on the underside of the wing (i could see it was a Ryan Air quite easily).
When you take a photo at max zoom you might be thinking "meh cant see much more" when you look at the LCD display or the eye piece....but when you get home and see it on the "big screen" you really see the magic of how clear the photo is (i cant find how big 14 mega pixel images are if "printed" but its bigger than your monitor) so you can then go about cropping the photo with very little loss of quality! to a point
The buttons are really well placed and the ability to switch to video camera mode in a instant while still framing a shot is really handy feature.
The Intelligent Auto mode is quite something, the down side is you cant take RAW images in this mode, but then if your making use of the iA mode the chances are you dont have time to set up a shot or your not some one who might use RAW images. For a general use mode or when you want to quickly snap something you just spotted, this mode is the ticket. You cant take a bad photo unless you really try too, i took it to an outdoor festival with various lighting effects late at night and was able to take a large amount of good quality photos with no effort other than to point and shoot.I did have to watch out for exposure on some photos where the bright lights were causing the artists to have glowing faces, but this was easily solved by zooming out or in some more so the sensor i think could adjust its self, but on the whole i was impressed, especially with the close up shots of the artists face. When i got home i thought a few looked quite professional and would not look out of place in a music magazine, i even could pick up the pimples and wrinkles in their face despite being 30 or so meters back.
The macro mode works fine, i not noticed any real major advancement on my 4 year old Fuji, the obvious increase in megapixels does make a difference and i am getting quite clear shots compared to what i am use to, but to be fair to the FZ45 i have not taken many macro photos yet and the ones i have taken have been quite nice. I want to buy the lens enhancement at some point which should increase the ability of this.
This camera has a few "snazzy" modes like panaoramic (makes a shadow of your last image so you can line up the next) and a starry night mode that i have tried out. The starry night mode sets the shutter to 60 seconds, i have played about a little with this and had some quite interesting shots of the sky with very little noise (i did try this on my fuji but the images were so noisy you couldnt pick a star from noise). I am quite excited about having a play about with this feature as the nights get darker earlyer.
Downsides? Well so far only 2 noticable things, the first is the view finder is a digital one and it does not feel as crisp as you may want it to be. The other issue which is more than likely my memory card (its a cheap one i brought for my compact a few years old and its only a class 4) is that a few RAW images i took over the weekend appeared as blank files when i got home. Not a big issue as i tend to take quite a few shots, but i plan to buy a Class 10 panasonic "gold" one and will see if that makes any changes.
Oh and the other downside is that the cameras price has dropped quite quick over the past 2 weeks since it came out. It started at £350 on launch, then went down to £330, i brought it at £320, it then went to £310 the next day!... and now a week later i see its £275! typical eh! i could have brought that new memory card... hehe oh well, i have a weeks worth of photos i would never have taken if i didnt have this camera... and thats the joy of photography, you can capture a moment that will never happen again....and who can put a price on that?
EDIT: I thought i would also add that this camera is quite small and surprisingly light. Its not small enough to fit in your pocket but you can just about fit it in a large coat pocket. Another thing i wanted to mention was the use of its own battery like a DSLR rather than AA batteries like my old Fuji (and other cameras i seen) like to use. The battery life seems to last forever. It says you can take around 500 photos on one charge ....which i was sceptical of, perhaps quick shots i thought with auto focus off... but no! i taken over 300 shots and 10 mins + of video, messed about with various functions and shes still ticking away on 2 bars (out of 3)
Further Edit: I heard from a friend who brought a DSLR to take photos of the kids that although it was great,but it took a while to set up and get out of its case etc, and by then the kids had stopped doing what ever it was they were doing. I found this camera to be fantastic to just leave on the side and grab to take a quick photo (with iA mode), once you got hold of it you can turn it on and take a photo in say... 2-3 seconds? So if you ever need to take a quick decent photo, then this might be the job.
Edit (again!)(28th March 2011)
So i been using this camera 6 months now and i am still loving it, my friends marvel at how good the zoom is. Its fallen down some stairs with me, been to a few beaches, gotten quite dusty and it still works perfectly fine.
I have since this review taken some photos of Jupitar with a tripod on max zoom. The pictures i took impressed me a lot... sure the outcome was basically a big bright thing with 4 bright things around it (the 4 largest moons) but it was another planet and its moons!! I imagine if i had one of the fancy turn table type things to rotate the camera with the sky (its amazing at full zoom how quickly a planet will move out of the viewer) i could take a longer exposure etc and get a better shot, but i was quite pleased