Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 Review

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Steve's Conclusion

The latest addition to the Panasonic "FZ" series Super-zoom family, the Lumix DMC-FZ30 includes many of the impressive features found on past models, like its Leica 12x optical zoom lens with Mega O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilizer), but adds even more powerful features such as an 8-megapixel imager, high-quality VGA (640x480) QuickTime movie mode, rotating "free-angle" 2.0-inch LCD and a manual Zoom ring for that true dSLR feel.

The ergonomics of the FZ30 are simply awesome. While it's not near as compact as past models like the FZ20 from last year, its larger body gives a more comfortable feel in your hands and I still had no problems carrying it around all day. Controls are positioned very well over the back and top of the camera and its menu system was logically organized and very easy to navigate.

The FZ30 features both a 2.0-inch "free-angle" LCD and an eyelevel EVF (Electronic ViewFinder) with diopter adjustment. This is a high-resolution EVF which we found worked very well, displaying a clear image in just about every lighting condition. Outdoors, the LCD has very few angles that reflect the sun, and its rotating abilities offer much more versatility over conventional "fixed" position LCDs. In low-ambient lighting neither display "gains up", however its exposure system is very sensitive to light and allows you to see in the dimmest of settings.

Like its predecessors, the FZ30 includes an exposure mode for just about every user in your household. It offers the less experienced users point-n-shoot simplicity when using its Program AE mode. At the same time addressing the needs of the intermediate to advanced users with exposure modes like Aperture priority, Shutter Speed priority and Full Manual. Settings are changed by rotating the handy command dials located on the front and rear of the camera, just like you'd find on a more expensive interchangeable lens dSLR. Exposure compensation, Auto bracketing, and Flash compensation can also be adjusted quickly and easily in any exposure mode via the 4-way controller.

Shooting performance was very impressive. Power up to first image captured measured just 1.3 seconds. The all important shutter lag (time between depressing the shutter release to actually capturing the image) measured less than 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and only 3/10 of a second including autofocus. In single frame mode, the shot to shot delay averaged only 1.3 seconds without using the flash, and 1.7 - 3 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance. When using TIFF mode, it slows down to about 4 seconds between frames, while RAW mode measured about 3.6 seconds.

The FZ30 offers three burst (continuous) capture modes to choose from: High speed, Low speed, and No limit. Using High speed mode, I was able to capture 5 frames in about 1.2 seconds. In Low speed mode, I captured 4 frames in about 1.4 seconds. No limit mode allows you to continuously capture images at the same rate as Low speed mode, and is limited only by your memory card's capacity. In both burst and single exposure modes, it takes less than 2 seconds to process a full buffer. Like most cameras that feature a burst mode, the LCD and EVF "froze" during burst mode capture; you will be unable to follow the action while shooting in burst mode because there is no optical viewfinder. Our tests were done using a Sandisk Extreme III 1GB SD card, Program AE exposure mode, 8M Fine quality, preview off, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.

Lets face it, the most appealing feature of this model is its awesome Leica DC Vario-Elmarit 12x optical zoom lens. It covers a 35mm equivalent range of 35 - 420mm. Panasonic's Mega O.I.S technology reduces the effect of camera shake in your long telephoto shots, and makes the camera capable of taking handheld shots in lower light levels and at slower shutter speeds without using the flash. The lens is fast too, maintaining a maximum aperture range of f/2.8 (wide) to f/3.7 (telephoto). This further enhances the users ability to capture sharp images in dim lighting conditions. The lens is controlled manually with the zoom ring right on the lens barrel. We love this feature and wonder why Panasonic did not introduce it on earlier models. It operates smoothly thought its range and allows for very precise zooming. However, as always we recommend you use a camera support like a monopod or tripod whenever using the telephoto capabilities of a camera, even if they have some sort of image stabilization. This will ensure you don't see any effects of camera shake in your images. I noticed an average amount of barrel distortion at full wide angle, with slight pincushioning at the telephoto end of the zoom range. We also saw above average amounts of chromatic aberration (purple fringing around highlights) in high-contrast areas, however this is still a common issue with Super-zoom models, and it is very unlikely you will see it in your typical 4x6-inch to 8x10-inch prints.

The FZ30's image quality was very good when using its 8M Fine mode. You can also choose from a variety of image size choices to fit your needs, and there's even uncompressed TIFF and RAW formats. Outdoors it captured high-quality images with very little noise present in high/low contrast areas. Both our scenic and portrait shots were sharp with good overall exposure and color balance. Its white balance system was very accurate when using its Auto setting in a variety of different lighting conditions. Leica's 12x optical zoom lens offers a great deal of versatility in composing your shots. The 35mm wide angle extreme will allow you to produce pleasing landscape and group portrait shots, while its telephoto end will help bring distant subjects up close and personal. Its Mega O.I.S. image stabilization works very well, which allowed me to capture handheld images without flash at shutter speeds as low as 1/13 of a second.

Indoors it also performed well. The flash has an above average range of approx. 22 feet (ISO Auto), which I found was very accurate when shooting at wide angle. The more you zoom the more its effective range drops off. We had no problems shedding adequate light on subjects in medium to large sized living rooms, however don't expect to illuminate large open rooms like gymnasiums, chapels, etc. When you need even more power, the FZ30 includes a flash hot shoe, allowing you to use any non-dedicated automatic type flash unit. Overall, our indoor portraits were awesome with good flash exposure, facial detail, and skin tones appear very natural.

There has been alot of fuss about the FZ30's noise levels when using ISO speeds of 200 or higher. When we first posted our review of this model, we did not comment much on this subject as we did not feel that the levels were dramatically higher than similar models. Overall the noise levels do increase as the ISO sensitivity is raised - just like you see on almost any camera - with ISO 400 being the worst. Therefore, we do not feel that the FZ30 suffers from "horrible noise issues" like many people have been saying. Judge for yourself by looking out our set of samples from ISO 80 to 400 at both f/8.0 and f/11.0, on our samples page.

Its AF system did very well in almost any lighting condition, thanks mostly to the AF-assist lamp. One thing I really like about Panasonic's "FZ" series models is the Manual focusing ring. To focus manually, you simply slide the lens focus switch to MF, then rotate the focus ring on the lens. As you rotate the ring, the camera enlarges the center of the image, which enables you to check for critical focus. You can also momentarily activate the autofocus system, providing a good starting point for your manual focus efforts.

You can record QuickTime movies at either VGA (640x480) or QVGA (320x240) resolutions with a frame rate of 30 or 10 frames per second. Sound is also recorded, and the length of a clip is limited only by available memory. Because the FZ30's zoom is silent and controlled manually, you can use the zoom during recording. I was pleased with our movie samples, compression noise levels were very low and its AF system did an excellent job while zooming. However, if you are going to use the zoom while recording, do it slowly.

The FZ30 is powered by a proprietary 7.2v 710 mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack and it does a pretty good job when you consider that either the EVF or LCD is always on when using the camera. Panasonic also includes their handy DE-993 rapid AC charger that features fold-away prongs for easy storage. It will fully replenish a depleted battery pack in 90 minutes or less, and because these packs are charged outside of the camera, you can charge one while using another. Panasonic claims a battery life of approx. 240 still pictures when using the color LCD and approx. 270 still pictures using the EVF (based on CIPA standards.) I found that to be very accurate, having no problems capturing all of our sample images (over 230 shots) before the battery was exhausted. As usual with any camera that uses a proprietary battery pack, we recommend that you purchase at least one extra and keep it charged at all times; there's nothing more aggravating then missing pictures during family events and holidays due to a dead battery.

Bottom line - Panasonic has done it yet again with a model that offers great image quality and awesome performance all with a multitude of powerful exposure modes and features. Therefore, we feel the Lumix DMC- FZ30 will make a great choice for any user that wants a consumer digital model that offers powerful features like that found on more expensive dSLRs, regardless of their experience. All of this without having to deal with purchasing and changing lens. With a street price of around $699, it offers a good overall value for an 8- megapixel Super-zoom model and is sure to be on many holiday gift lists this season.

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