It needs to be said from the start that that 24x zoom lens can be a mixed blessing.
In terms of optical performance, we were impressed. For the money there is minimal distortion and the DMC-FZ45 delivers sharp and punchy images from the box. The biggest problem, along with most fixed-lens super zoom cameras, is shake.
See full-res imageANTI-SHAKE: In decent light, the built-anti shake really helps keep things steady at full 24x zoom
To get the most from the impressive telephoto reach of this lens you must use a tripod, or at the very least select a fast shutter speed/higher ISO setting. As mentioned, the DMC-FZ45 is quite a light camera, so even braced against a wall, keeping that lens steady while shooting handheld would challenge an SAS sniper.
See full-res imageLOW LIGHT: But in trickier light, it struggles to beat camera shake – you'll need to get a tripod to get the most from this camera
And you absolutely must turn on the lens stabilization. For some reason this sensor-shift system is not turned on by default, which is really annoying.
The anti-shake system works well enough when you do turn it on, though we found we needed to activate the most powerful mode when shooting in low light at the full 24x zoom. A far better solution is to get a tripod and cable release (to be fair to Panasonic, it's wise to use a tripod when shooting with a long lens on a similarly priced interchangeable lens camera, too).
See full-res imageLENS: The quality f/2.8 lens and long zoom makes it easy to blur background
Otherwise, image performance is impressive. The large sensor and image processor deliver well exposed and colourful images and the metering system is flexible and intelligent.
We noticed the overhauled AF is faster too, though the maximum burst rate of this camera isn't as good as some of its competitors.
See full-res imageCOLOURS: Colours are rich and pleasing without being overblown or garish
Noise is pretty well controlled on the DMC-FZ45 (see ISO tests). Things start to get smudgy and smeary at ISO 800 but images are impressively clean below that. The DMC-FZ45 is also good for close-ups. The Macro enables you to focus on a flower, for example, that's just one centimetre away (remember to retract the lens to wide-angle mode though).
See full-res imageSHARPNESS: Lens performance is good for the money with minimal distortion
The much-vaunted Intelligent Resolution feature uses smart image processing technology and digital zoom to beef up the resolution of standard shots. As with so many of these clever widgets, we couldn't see a huge improvement, so if you want maximum detail and resolution from your shots, shoot in RAW.
See full-res imageMETERING: The smart metering system copes well with a variety of challenging light conditions though it's blown out some highlights here…
See full-res imageMACRO: Close up/Macro performance is also impressive for the money