This will be about the controls and other external features of the Panasonic DMC-FZ150. I'll start with the bad news. The FZ18 was the first of this intermediate series. It had a nice big electronic viewfinder (EVF), With the next model, the FZ28, they shrunk the viewfinder from about 1/2 inch to less than 1/4 inch. All of the models since then have had the same crummy viewfinder. Tiny. To make it look the same, they had to increase the magnification of the EVF by at least twice. The result looks great on paper, but it makes the viewfinder hard to use, especially if you're wearing glasses. That said, you do eventually get used to it, but it's not something that Panasonic can brag about.
The rest of the news is pretty good. I'm going to compare the controls and other features to the FZ35, since that's the last one I owned before the FZ150. One of the problems with the FZ35 was that the designers seemed to have placed the controls at random locations where you had to go searching for them, and they didn't always function in the way you expected them to. With the FZ150, they seem to have rethought the whole layout and the result is a set of controls that's where you expect them to be, and that function in an intuitive way.
Let's start at the top. First, there's the Mode dial, which still has more settings than you know what to do with. Most of the time I leave this set on P, as this provides the best blend of automation and tweakability. I also use the A, S, and M occasionally, if the situation requires it.
At the front is the shutter release, and around it is the lever for controlling the zoom lens. This is supposed to have two zoom speeds, depending on how hard you press the lever. I'm pretty ham-fisted, so I either press the lever all the way, or give it little jabs for smaller zoom adjustments.
Behind the shutter release is a separate shutter release for shooting videos. I'm not sure why they did this, because you can get the same result by setting the mode dial to the video setting and then using the regular shutter release.
Behind that is the button for setting the different burst modes, and then the On-Off switch.
On the top of the camera, there's now a hot flash shoe, that can hold an external flash unit or another accessory. Right now, there's a little bubble level in my FZ150's shoe.
The most interesting thing on the back of the camera is the swing-out, 3 inch LCD viewer. Like the LCD on the FZ35, it can be viewed from an incredibly wide angle without changing the image quality. Sometimes it's faster to use this aspect than to fiddle with swinging out the LCD and trying to line things up. The LCD flips over, so that you can put away your camera with the LCD facing inwards, safe from harm. Most of the time, though, I just leave it facing outwards, ready to use.
Over to the right, just where your thumb falls are the EVF/LCD switching button and the AF/AE Lock button. Thank you, Panasonic, for putting these back where they should be. Further to the right is a knurled jog-wheel that's used for a variety of functions, such as setting the ISO, adjusting the exposure, and for focusing when in manual focusing mode. The wheel can also be pressed inwards, where it acts as a switch, to switch between shutter speed and aperture, when adjusting exposure. Below the jog wheel is a resting place for your thumb that gives a much more comfortable grip than in previous models.
Further down are the Display button, which changes the amount of info displayed on the finder, and the Playback button, which lets you review what you've shot. This replaces the Playback up-down slide switch on the FZ35, which caused a number of problems, being a great catch-all for dust and dirt, and something you could leave in the wrong position. While all of the other button protrude slightly from the camera's surface, The Playback button is flush; probably so you won't accidentally press it.
Further down is the Menu button, surrounded by four keys that can either select functions (according to their labels) or act as cursor keys when working with other functions. The ISO is now set with the rightmost of these buttons, along with the jog wheel above it.
At the bottom is the new Quick-Menu button, which replaces the old Quick Menu joystick control. You navigate through the Quick-Menu items by using the cursor keys that surround the Menu button. This simplifies things somewhat, and replacing the joystick eliminates a control that a lot of people had problems with.
But wait, there's more. There are some new controls on the side of the lens where you can reach them with your left hand. At the front is a lever, moving up and down, that zooms the lens. This duplicates the action of the zoom lever around the shutter release. Try them both and see which you prefer.
Behind that is a switch that controls the focus modes. It replaces the annoying camera-top-button-plus-menu arrangement on previous models and is much easier to use. In the upper position, it's normal autofocus mode. In the center position, it's macro autofocus, for close-up work. In the bottom position, it sets the manual focus mode. The nice thing about this switch is that it works even if the camera is not turned on. Manys the time that I've had to turn the camera on just to check if it was in macro mode.
When you're using manual focus, the adjacent zoom lever can be set (through the Set-Up menu) to focus the lens instead of zooming. In the manual mode, you can also focus by using the jog wheel at the back of the camera. Again, try both and see which works best for you. There's a Focus button just beneath the focus mode switch. Pressing the button shifts the camera to autofocus mode, which can be a help when you're using manual focus.
And the FZ150 is more alive. No matter what you're doing -- deep within the menus, or playing back your pictures -- pressing the shutter release instantly returns the camera to picture taking mode.
The main takeaway from this is that there are now fewer controls, and that they're in places and layouts that let you activate them without looking, solely by touch. (It's a pain to have to take the camera away from your eye to look for a particular button.) But it's still important to spend a lot of time playing with the camera and familiarizing yourself with the controls. That way, the camera becomes more of an extension instead of an impediment.
Here's another change. On the older FZ models, you could open the battery compartment cover by just sliding it and letting it spring open. Now there's a separate lock, recessed into the cover, which should make this a bit more secure.
Overall, examining the various controls, their functions and their locations, you get the feeling that the engineers finally got it right. They gave a lot of attention to the details. Perhaps they even used the cameras themselves, and learned from their experiences.
And now, as a reward for sitting through this entire lecture, here's another sampling of FZ150 images, with varying amounts of post-processing applied.