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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30

Panasonic's latest in the Lumix lineup, with an eight-megapixel sensor and high quality long-zoom Leica optics.

Review First Posted: 01/18/2006




MSRP $699 US

 

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Comparison With Earlier Panasonic DMC-FZ Models

As of this writing (in early January 2006), Panasonic currently has several long-zoom, optically-stabilized digicams on the market. While there's a steady progression of sensor resolution as you move up the line, other features are not so consistently distributed. Here's a table showing how the features of the different "FZ" models compare:

  DMC-FZ3 DMC-FZ15 DMC-FZ20 DMC-FZ30
List Price
(At introduction)
$399 $499 $599 $699
Megapixels
(Effective)
3.2 4.0 5.0 8.0
CCD Size 1/3.2" 1/2.5" 1/2.5" 1/1.8"
Size 108 x 68 x 85 mm
4.3 x 2.7 x 3.3 in
128 x 87 x 106 mm
5.0 x 3.4 x 4.2 in
128 x 87 x 106 mm
5.0 x 3.4 x 4.2 in
86 x 141 x 138 mm
3.37 x 5.54 x 5.44 in
Weight
(With Batteries)
323 g (11.4 oz) 556 g (19.6 oz) 556 g (19.6 oz) 746 g (1.64 lbs)
Body Material Plastic Metal Metal Metal
Lens Zoom 12x 12x 12x 12x
Lens equiv.
Focal Lengths
35-420 mm 35-420 mm 36-432 mm 35-420 mm
Max. Aperture f/2.8 f/2.8 f/2.8 f/2.8
Manual Focus
Option
No Yes Yes Yes
Supports Conversion Lenses No Yes Yes Yes
LCD Size 1.5" 2.0" 2.0" 2.0"
LCD Pixels 114,000 130,000 130,000 235,000
Stated Flash Range (Auto ISO) 4.6 meters 7.0 Meters 7.0 Meters 7.0 Meters
External Flash Connection No No Hot Shoe Hot Shoe
ISO Options Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400 Auto, 64, 100, 200, 400 Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400 Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400
Image Adjustment Options Sharpness Contrast, Saturation, Sharpness Contrast, Saturation, Sharpness Contrast, Saturation, Sharpness
Scene Modes 9,
One "SCN" mode setting
9,
Two "SCN" mode settings
9,
Two "SCN" mode settings
14,
Two "SCN" mode settings
Noise Reduction Adjustment No Yes Yes Yes
Shot to shot cycle times (Full res JPEGs) 1.56 sec. 0.54 sec. 0.86 1.20
Sound Recording Yes No
(Some question on this, but our eval unit didn't seem to record sound clips)
Yes Yes
Included Memory Card 8 MB 8 MB 16 MB 16 MB

 

User Report
by Shawn Barnett

Panasonic's Lumix FZ-series digital cameras have a long list of fans, and for good reason. They're not only fun to shoot, the images are satisfying. Every time I go out with a Lumix FZ I get great shots, and find myself turning the camera around to remind myself just what I'm shooting with. With a nod, I resume shooting, satisfied that I am probably getting shots as good as they seem on the LCD.

Last year's FZ15 and FZ20 were hot sellers, strong contenders for the also popular Canon S1 IS and S2 IS. With the advent of the Panasonic FZ30, I'd say the S2 IS is still a contender, but the FZ30 does have some important advantages that might sway me. Of course, they come at a higher price, so that must also be considered.

Composition control

Others will tell you its the SLR look, the build, and the resolution that will draw most buyers to the Lumix FZ30. That may be. But the reason I think they should be interested is the FZ30's manual zoom ring. When you want to compose your shot with speed and accuracy, you don't want to wait for a motorized zoom to catch up to your vision. Furthermore, you don't want to wait even longer while it stupidly lumbers past your desired zoom setting and then wait again while you try to force it back into your will. A motorized zoom is fine if you have time to compose a shot on a tripod; but honestly, if you're shooting the kids, or a sporting event, or just trying to get a good portrait, you want a responsive lens like the FZ30's Leica Vario Elmarit 35-420mm f/2.8-3.7.

I enjoyed shooting family and events with the Panasonic FZ30 primarily because it covered such a wide range of focal lengths in one lens, something impossible to achieve with an SLR with any quality. It was great for spanning a room in a hurry, and responded quickly so I missed fewer shots. I also can't believe how powerful it is to have a manual zoom when shooting video. There's no noise that makes it into the video; so long as you hold the camera with one hand on the zoom ring you can pull focus very naturally. With the help of the FZ30's Mega OIS (Optical Image Stabilization), and a little care, you can make some decent quality video.

The Panasonic FZ30 also has a fly-by-wire manual focus ring. It only changes the focus if you turn the option on. It's the only manual focus system I've seen in years that actually seems to work well enough that you can see when it's focused; and that's without a wonky magnification mode: The image just pops. To get into the ballpark in this mode, you press the manual focus button, then turn the MF ring until the object you want to emphasize is in focus.

Fit and balance

One aspect of the FZ15 and FZ20 that I wasn't crazy about was its smallish grip and the camera's small size when compared to its very large lens. Though it was light, it was lens-heavy. The Panasonic FZ30 is better balanced, with a grip large enough to counter the big lens.

Controls are thoughtfully arrayed, allowing easy adjustment without moving my hands from the shooting position. Most digital SLRs today have an array of buttons on the left of the LCD as well as the right. Activating them requires you to remove your left hand from the lens. It's not a huge nuisance, but the Panasonic FZ30's design is easier to use. With your left hand's fingertips on the zoom and focus ring, your thumb can move back to activate the sliding flash release or snick the focus switch.

Some aspects of the right hand's controls could have been refined a bit. I do like the shutter release. It has a very clear first and second stage switch that give excellent tactile feedback. But the location and function of the power switch is uninspired, requiring you to let go the grip to turn the camera on. I'm also disappointed that the Panasonic FZ30 is not a shooting-priority camera. The mode dial has a position for Playback mode, which requires you to switch out of that mode and into a shooting mode to take pictures. A helpful workaround is to use the camera's Quick Review function, accessed by pressing the down-arrow of the multi-controller while in record mode. This gives you a fair range of playback-mode options, but immediately switches back to record mode when the shutter button is pressed. You don't quite get the full set of playback mode functions, but it's a useful compromise.

The rest of the buttons and controls are just fine, easily accessible, and they even seem durable. The SD slot cover is sturdy, and the Panasonic FZ30's big battery is protected by both a switch-locked door and a spring-loaded latch.

I also enjoy digital cameras with a swivel LCD, but the FZ30's design is odd, and its motion somewhat limited. The 2.0 inch LCD can flip to face out and down, to the left, or up. Since most often it will be used to shoot over crowds, it's good that it first faces down. Other designs allow for self-portraits and easy family portrait composition when swiveled to face the subject, but that's not possible with the FZ30's design. Not a great loss, but good to know.

Shooting

The FZ30's nine-point AF is excellent and fast. Shutter lag performance is also very good, making for fewer missed shots of kids and pets. I was particularly impressed by how well the flash handled zoomed shots even from twenty feet across a room. The camera has to raise the ISO in such shots, but the result isn't bad (see our Test Results section for more).

You'll want to buy a fast card for this 8-megapixel super zoom camera, because images don't display quickly at all with garden variety 1x cards. It takes six to eight seconds to move between images with a "normal" SD card, and only two seconds with a SanDisk Ultra II 256MB. This is a camera where investing in a high speed card is wise.

For whom?

The Panasonic Lumix FZ30 enters a market where SLRs are emerging as a viable and affordable category. It's well equipped to compete in terms of looks and build, as well as optics. In addition, it offers a huge zoom range--all of which is image stabilized--fast autofocus, and a live digital LCD view that many prefer. It's easily a medium camera bag's worth of photographic equipment in one piece. Its price, however approaches many low-end, high quality SLRs, like the Konica Minolta 5D or the Nikon D50.

These latter cameras, however, have greater image quality at higher ISO settings due to their larger overall pixels, as our test prints bear out (again, see the Test Results section). Bottom line, if you're only shooting family pictures to enlarge to 8x10, you'll be very happy and well-served by the Panasonic FZ30. Compared to many others in this category, its image quality stands up as excellent. Add the refined image stabilization, manual zoom, solid build, and easy controls, and the FZ30 fairly shines. It will remain high on my list of recommended cameras, often taking the top spot (depending on individual need). I sure enjoyed shooting with it.

 

 

Design

Like the DMC-FZ20, the Panasonic's FZ30, combines the confident looks of a traditional 35mm SLR with an impressive Leica 12x optical zoom lens that lends a professional air. Measuring 3.37 x 5.54 x 5.44 inches (86 x 141 x 138 millimeters), the DMC-FZ30 is a little bigger than the FZ20, and weighs approximately 1.64 pounds (746 grams) with the battery and memory card installed. The Panasonic FZ30's use of lightweight metal panels helps keep the camera's weight down, somewhat compensating for the heft of the rather large lens. While it definitely won't fit into your shirt pocket, an accompanying neck strap makes it easy to tote, but I'd also recommend picking up at least a small camera bag to protect that Leica lens.

The front of the camera includes a 12x Leica zoom lens (with ridged focus and zoom rings for manual adjustment), a front adjustment dial, and a bright light emitter that serves double duty as the autofocus assist and the self-timer countdown indicator. The built-in, pop-up flash is just above the large lens, and is released by a sliding switch on the left side of the Panasonic FZ30's lens barrel (as viewed from the rear). A large handgrip on the right side features an indentation for your right forefinger, and is covered by a rubbery, textured wrap that clings to fingers.

The right side of the Panasonic FZ30 (as viewed from the back) features an eyelet for one end of the neck strap, as well as the SD/MMC memory card compartment. The hinged, plastic door slides toward the rear before opening to reveal the card slot.

The opposite side of the camera features the other neck strap eyelet, as well as the diopter adjustment dial on the side of the electronic optical viewfinder. A sliding Focus switch on the side of the lens barrel controls the auto and manual focus modes, with a Manual Focus (MF) button just below it for quick adjustments. The flash release switch is just below the FZ30's flash compartment, above the focus switch. Also on this side of the camera, beneath a hinged, plastic door, is the connector compartment, which houses the Remote Control, Video Out/Digital and DC In connector terminals. The compartment door opens from the rear panel, and features a pressure hinge that snaps it both smartly open and securely in place when closed.

The Panasonic FZ30 's top panel features a Mode dial on the right, along with the Shutter, Image Stabilizer, and Burst Mode buttons, as well as the sliding power switch. Also on the top panel is the pop-up flash (released by slider on its side) and the hot shoe for attaching an external flash unit. On the far left of the top panel is a series of small holes for the microphone.

The majority of the exposure controls are located on the camera's rear panel, along with the electronic optical viewfinder (EVF) and swiveling LCD monitor. The LCD monitor lifts out from the rear panel, and can swivel 180 degrees so that you can face it toward the camera and then close it for protection against scratches. You can also angle the monitor up or down, to help frame shots at odd angles. Lining the right side of the panel are the AE Lock, EVF / LCD, Display, Menu, and Erase buttons. A secondary control dial is at the top of the right side, and a Four-Way Arrow pad is in the lower right. The Panasonic FZ30's arrow pad accesses a variety of camera settings and features four arrows for navigating through camera menus and reviewing images. A small speaker rests just above the arrow pad, and a textured thumb grip reinforces the large handgrip on the camera's right side.

The Panasonic FZ30's bottom panel is flat, with a flip-open door to access the battery compartment, and a threaded metal tripod mount at the center of the lens. The tripod mount is far enough from the battery compartment to allow quick battery changes (something I'm probably more sensitive to than most users, given the amount of on-tripod shooting I do).

 

 

Viewfinder

The Panasonic Lumix FZ30 features both an eye-level electronic optical viewfinder (EVF) and a 2.0-inch, swiveling LCD monitor on the back panel for image composition. The EVF is essentially a miniaturized version of the larger LCD monitor, complete with all of the image and information displays. A button on the rear panel switches the view between the two monitors. A dioptric adjustment tucked on the left side of the eyepiece adapts the viewfinder optics to your vision, with a diopter range from -4 to +4 (an unusually wide range). The eyepiece has a high eyepoint, making it well-suited to eyeglass wearers.


The 2.0-inch, low-temperature, polycrystalline, TFT, color LCD monitor has a 235,000-pixel display that's bright and clear. (LCD brightness can be adjusted in seven steps via the Setup menu.) The LCD monitor can be "closed" for its protection, by pulling it out from the rear panel and swiveling it 180 degrees to face the camera before closing it. The swiveling LCD monitor also makes it possible to frame pictures at low or high angles, as you can open the monitor and swivel it to face upward or downward. The Display button on the right side of the monitor controls the image and information displays, accessing five display modes in Record mode, and three modes in Review mode. The Panasonic FZ30's main display shows the image area, center AF brackets, camera modes and settings, battery level, image resolution and quality, and the remaining image capacity of the memory card. Pressing the Display button enables the same display but with the addition of a small histogram. A third press enables the "Out of Frame" display, which puts the image area into the top left corner, and displays the camera stats in the right and bottom borders (useful if you're having trouble framing with the information overlay, but still need to refer to it). The remaining two displays are a framing guideline (which divides the image area into thirds horizontally and vertically), and the image area only (with just the central AF brackets).

In Review mode, the LCD monitor provides a full-frame display of captured images, which you can view individually by scrolling left or right with the arrow buttons on the Panasonic FZ30's arrow pad. Turning the front control dial toward the left brings up a thumbnail index display of nine, 16, or 25 images at a time, which you can also scroll through with the arrow buttons. Turning the dial toward the right allows you to enlarge an image up to 8x its normal size on the screen. This degree of enlargement is very handy, as it's sufficient to check focus accuracy and depth of field, something that's difficult to do on cameras with lower playback magnification. The arrow keys permit you to move around the enlarged image and check fine details and framing.

 

Optics

The Panasonic FZ30 boasts a high quality 12x, 7.4-88.8mm Leica zoom lens (equivalent to a 35-420mm lens on a 35mm camera). A removable, plastic lens cap protects the lens surface, but doesn't feature any type of eyelet to tether it to the camera body to prevent it from being lost. Lens caps are always a nuisance to keep track of, so be sure to stash it securely in a camera bag or pocket when not in use. Panasonic also included a lens hood with the DMC-FZ30, to help block annoying sun rays. Focus can be automatically or manually controlled, with a range of 0.98 feet (30 centimeters) to infinity in normal mode. Macro mode lets you focus as close as 0.16 feet (5 centimeters) in wide-angle mode and 6.56 feet (200 centimeters) in telephoto mode. A ribbed focus ring around the outside edge of the lens lets you manually adjust focus much as you would on the lens of a traditional 35mm SLR. A second ring controls the optical zoom. The lens aperture adjusts automatically or manually, with an f/2.8 to f/11 range.

A Focus switch on the left side of the Panasonic FZ30's lens barrel selects the main focus mode, offering Auto, AF Macro, and Manual. A MF Focus button just below this switch lets you prefocus the camera when in Manual focus mode. For example, if you want the camera to prefocus and then fine-tune the focus yourself, you press the MF Focus button. An indicator in the LCD display lets you know when focus is set, then you're free to fiddle the focus on your own using the focus ring. When Manual focus is selected, you can also turn on MF Assist through the Setup menu, which enlarges the center portion of the image area to help you fine-tune the manual focus.

The FZ30 offers nine active autofocus (AF) areas, but you can also limit the active area to three or one AF points through the Record menu. In nine-area mode, the nine AF points are arrayed in a 3x3 pattern in the center of the frame. The camera automatically sets the focus based on the part of the subject closest to one or more of the AF areas, and highlights each area that it's using in the display with a green box. Thus, you can photograph off-center subjects without having to lock the focus and then reposition the camera. In three-area mode, the three AF points stretch across the center of the frame, and the Panasonic FZ30 again bases focus on the portion of the subject closest to any of the points. One-area mode bases focus on a large area in the center of the frame. Both the three-area and one-area focus modes are high speed, but there's a normal speed one-area option as well. There's also a Spot AF mode, which employs a smaller central focus area. A Continuous AF mode is available through the Record menu, which continuously adjusts the focus for moving subjects, but only works with the single area AF modes.

If dim subject lighting requires it, a bright LED autofocus assist light on the front of the camera automatically illuminates whenever autofocus is active. (The AF-assist light can be turned off via a menu option.) Even without the AF assist light in play, the FZ30 focuses better in low light than most cameras, as it can achieve focus down to a light level of roughly 1/8 foot-candle, about 1/8 the brightness of a typical city street scene at night. With the AF assist beam enabled, it can focus in total darkness (on nearby objects).

The DMC-FZ30's 4x Digital Zoom is enabled through the Record menu, and is activated whenever you zoom past the maximum optical telephoto range with the Zoom ring. The DMC-FZ30 also offers something called "Extended Optical Zoom," only available at lower resolution settings. As you zoom from 35mm to 420mm optical, Extended Optical Zoom gradually crops the center area in from the sides, applying more and more optical zoom as you approach the maxiumum telephoto setting. You can see it step along as you zoom. It's quite ingenius, and a more honest way to employ digital zoom. In the 5 megapixel 4:3 ratio and 4.5 megapixel 3:2 ratio, the maximum zoom "enhancement" is 15.3x; in 3 megapixel and below modes, the maxiumum boost is 19.1x. The former settings turn the lens into a 35 to 535mm and the latter into a 35 to 668mm zoom.

True to its Leica heritage, the lens on the Panasonic FZ30 appears to be of very high quality, offering better corner to corner sharpness at most focal lengths than we're accustomed to seeing in digicam lenses, particularly those with long zoom ratios. (Its images get just slightly soft in the corners at the telephoto end of its range, but to a much lesser extent than we've seen with many long-zoom lenses.) Barrel distortion is lower than average at maximum wide angle (at 0.6%), and pincushion distortion at telephoto focal lengths is very low. Chromatic aberration is also quite low across the board. All in all, this is a really excellent long-zoom lens, one of the best we've seen to date.

Image Stabilization

Because of the Panasonic FZ30's long lens, Panasonic included Image Stabilization technology (Panasonic Mega OIS) to reduce blurring from camera movement, which is more noticeable at the full telephoto setting. You can turn Image Stabilization off via a button on top of the camera, or set it to Mode 1 or 2. In Mode 1, stabilization operates continuously, while Mode 2 keeps it in standby, activating it only when the shutter is released. Mode 2 generally gives better stabilization than Mode 1, although I personally like to be able to watch the stabilized image in the viewfinder to pick the best moment to trip the shutter. - In the case of the FZ30, this approach is to be avoided though.

We spent quite a bit of time evaluating the effectiveness of Panasonic's Mega OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) system back when we reviewed the DMC-FZ15. we compared the FZ15's performance with that of the Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3 ("KMZ3" for short from here on), another four-megapixel long-zoom camera with image stabilization built in. Since the lens and OIS on the FZ30 is identical to that of the FZ15, we didn't see any point in laboriously repeating our earlier experiments and tests. (And we also didn't have an eight-megapixel long-zoom optically stabilized digital camera on hand to compare directly with the FZ30 anyway.)

Since the OIS is such an important feature of the Panasonic FZ30 though, we're including the earlier comparison between the FZ15 and KMZ3 here in the FZ30 review. While the KMZ3 isn't a direct competitor of the FZ30, the comparison between it and the FZ15 give a good idea of how Panasonic's OIS technology stacks up against the competition, and also reveals the importance of choosing the right operating mode. Here's the scoop on the Panasonic OIS, taken from our Panasonic FZ15 review:

Image Stabilization Shootout: The Panasonic DMC-FZ15 vs the Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3
Initially comparing the viewfinder display of the FZ15 with that of the Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3 (a directly competing 4-megapixel long-zoom digicam, "KMZ3" for short from here on), I felt that the KMZ3 offered noticeably more effective anti-shake operation. I don't have a standardized test method for evaluating image stabilization effectiveness though, so it was hard to say definitively which system performed the best.

At the prodding of a number of staunch Panasonic fans though, I came up with a direct comparison between the FZ15 and KMZ3, that produced some very interesting results. First and foremost among these was the conclusion that, without absolutely rigorous controls to insure exactly consistent conditions, any sort of with/without sample pictures purporting to show the effects of image stabilization are misleading, to say the very least. (See the photos presented below for evidence of this.) Given the amount of interest that seems to have been raised about image-stabilization effectiveness, I decided to devote a fair bit of attention to the issue here, and will also copy this text into my review of the FZ3 (and eventually the FZ30, whenever Panasonic will condescend to send me a sample of that model), since all three of Panasonic's current FZ-series cameras use the same anti-shake technology.

To test the two cameras against each other, I physically strapped them together (as shown at right - ugly, but effective), and then shot a large number of images of text on a CRT, at the 12x maximum telephoto zoom setting, with a range of very slow shutter speeds (1/10-1/25 second), and in various combinations of the camera's stabilization modes.

With this setup, the amount of shaking the pair of cameras saw varied from shot to shot, but at any given moment, they would see essentially the same motion. Holding the cameras in both hands, it wasn't hard to press the two shutter buttons at nearly the same instant (I estimate that there was a good bit less than 1/10 second separation between the release of the two shutters), so in any pair of shots, the shaking seen by both cameras should have been more or less identical. (It should be noted though, that movement acting to rotate the pair of cameras about the shooting axis could result in one seeing more motion than the other, but inspection of the images that resulted seemed to show little or no rotational movement.)

One of the first things I observed when looking at the resulting images was just how much variation there was in the sharpness of the images from one shot to the next. I was deliberately shooting at very slow shutter speeds, to insure that I was stressing the cameras' stabilization systems enough to see noticeable differences between them, but the variation from shot to shot made it clear just how much the amount of shaking can vary over time with a handheld camera. Given this, it's clear that any A/B comparison showing image sharpness with/without a camera's stabilization system engaged will be completely meaningless unless you're capturing simultaneous frames with two cameras having the same optical characteristics and a common support structure, in the way that I was doing here. That is, you could get a sense of how much difference the FZ15's OIS made if you strapped together two FZ15's and captured simultaneous shots with them, as I did with the FZ15 and the KMZ3. Unless you used a calibrated "shaker table" though, images captured successively with the same camera would convey no meaningful information. - And then, even a calibrated shaker table wouldn't take into account phase and range-of-motion effects between the shaking and the camera's internal mechanics.

Here's an example of what I mean. The crops below are from shots captured at the same shutter speed (1/40 second) within a few seconds of each other, with image stabilization turned off on the FZ15. I tried to hold the camera as steadily as I could for all shots. As these images demonstrate, even though I was trying to be as consistent in my handling of the camera from shot to shot, there was nonetheless an enormous range of variation from image to image. This range of variation makes it clear that any sort of with/without examples of anti-shake effectiveness will be wildly misleading unless done with two identical cameras, being shot at the same moment.

Camera Shake Variation
(All shots handheld at 1/40 second, captured a few seconds apart.)

Given the extent to which the camera shake varied between shots, it became clear that I needed to look at a large number of shots for each combination of test anti-shake mode and shutter speed, and evaluate the amount of blurring produced by both cameras statistically. I looked at pairs of images shot with both cameras side by side, scored them based on the amount of blurring I was seeing, and then compared the average scores across a minimum of 10 or more shots for each test condition.

This proved to be a pretty laborious process: In the process of sorting out the performance of the two cameras, I shot, inspected, and scored about 250 images with each model. At the end of the day, the performance of the two image stabilization systems turned out to be surprisingly similar to each other, but a few facts became evident. Here's a digest of what I found:

1) Any with/without stabilization comparison images published by anyone (myself included) are bound to be hugely misleading. Results can vary wildly from one shot to the next, depending on just exactly how the camera is moving at the moment of exposure, and where the mechanical elements of the anti-shake system happen to be in their range of travel. The only way I could come to firm conclusions about how the various IS modes worked relative to each other was by looking at the statistics across a large number of shots. (Since I was comparing the two IS systems to each other, and given the wide variation I was finding between shots, I didn't bother to shoot any non-IS images. Based on what I saw though, I venture to say that I could find "without" shots that looked better than "with" ones, just according to the luck of the draw.) - So anyone who's showing with/without example photos without very rigorous controls on how they're being shot (exactly simultaneous shots from a common platform, or calibrated, mechanical shaker table, for instance) is misleading you at the very best.

1) In Mode 1 operation (anti-shake enabled all the time), the KMZ3 did indeed beat the FZ15 most of the time, especially at slower shutter speeds.

2) In Mode 2 operation however (anti-shake only enabled when the shutter is tripped), the FZ15 beat the KMZ3 quite handily.

3) Running the KMZ3 in its equivalent of Mode 1 and the FZ15 in Mode 2 (that is, running each camera in the mode in which it performed best), the FZ15 generally edged the KMZ3 in image sharpness, albeit not by a huge margin.

Overall, it looks to me like the Panasonic approach to OIS can respond better to higher frequencies of vibration/shake, but it has a smaller range of motion available to its elements. Thus, if you leave it running all the time, the chances are much higher that it'll end up hitting the limits of its travel, and produce a blurry photo as a result. It's quick enough though, that it can respond while you're pressing the shutter down, in which case it's less likely to run up against its mechanical limits, and so is more likely to produce a sharp picture. By contrast, the KMZ3's anti-shake system seems to take longer to get in sync with the camera's motion, but appears to have a greater range of travel within its elements. This is part of why it can handle lower-frequency vibration better, and also why it does better in its equivalent of Mode 1.

Bottom line, I'd give the Panasonic IS system a slight but noticeable edge in performance, but I personally like being able to watch the stabilized LCD display, so I can pick the best moment to fire the shutter. Running in their respective optimum modes though, the differences between the two systems are largely academic: Either does so much better than an unstabilized lens that the differences between the two probably aren't all that important.

So how much of a difference does image stabilization make? As I noted earlier, the only truly valid way to know exactly what sort of vibration a given camera is compensating for would be to strap together two identical models, turn the image stabilization on in one and off in the other, and then capture simultaneous images from both cameras while they're being subjected to the same shaking.

Not having duplicate units of any of the image-stabilized digicams in question available to me, I couldn't perform this sort of a test with the full rigor it deserved. I did feel though, that I could give readers at least a general idea of how well Panasonic's OIS worked, by comparing unstabilized images shot with one camera with stabilized ones shot with another.


This was the genesis of the image crops you see here: I again used my lashup of the FZ15 and KMZ3, this time with the FZ15 set to Mode II stabilization, and the KMZ3 unstabilized. Both cameras were set to 1/40 second, full 12x zoom, and ISO 200. All images were subjected to an "auto levels" adjustment in Photoshop, so they'd appear with equal brightness. (Hence, don't look at these images to compare image noise, they simply aren't comparable in that respect.) Each pair of shots were captured at as close to the same instant as possible, by my estimate within less than 1/10 second of each other. Hence, both cameras saw more or less identical movement at the moment of exposure. Even though different cameras were used for the with/without comparisons here, the fact that the images were shot at the same focal length, the same shutter speed, and within a fraction of a second of each other makes the comparison entirely valid.

While there's some variation between shots here, the results are pretty dramatic: There's no question that image stabilization is a huge boon for long-zoom digital photography. Even the shots in which the OIS didn't completely eliminate the blur would probably be considered usable, particularly if they were the only shot that you had of some special moment. These shots were captured at 1/40 second, a shutter speed at which the FZ15's OIS system produced usable images about 90% of the time for me. This "usability" threshold will vary from user to user, and even with an individual shooter's physical condition. For instance, I have a much harder time holding the cameras steady when I'm physically tired, or (obviously) if I'm at all winded or my pulse is racing. - All this is to say that you should experiment a bit with you camera, taking a large number of stabilized shots at a range of shutter speeds, to get an idea of just where the exposure-time cutoff is for your particular capabilities and physical condition.

Conversion Lenses
The Panasonic FZ30 accepts a range of high-quality Panasonic-branded accessory lenses and filters. Here's a chart listing a few of them and their list prices as of December, 2005. (Be sure you're sitting down before you check the price of the lenses: These are high-quality optics, much more than your typical $40 cheapie front-element adapter lens.)

Accessory Part # Price What it does
Wide-angle lens
DMW-LW55
$249.95
Extends wide angle range by 0.7X.
Telephoto lens
DMW-LT55
$229.95
Extends telephoto range by 1.7x.
ND filter

DMW-LND55

$29.95
Cuts light with no change in color balance. Useful for achieving slow-shutter effects in brighter lighting. (Misty-looking waterfalls and fountains, etc.)
"MC protector"
DMW-LMC55
$38.95
Just an optical-glass lens protector. Guards lens against scratches, without affecting image quality.

 

Exposure

The Lumix FZ30 offers excellent exposure control, with Auto, Program AE (P), Aperture Priority AE (A), Shutter Speed Priority AE (S), and Manual (M) exposure modes, and a selection of special settings for specific shooting situations. Full Auto mode puts the camera in charge of everything, except resolution, zoom, and the flash mode. Program AE mode controls shutter speed and aperture settings, but also provides access to other exposure controls including Exposure Compensation, Flash Exposure Compensation, Spot Metering, ISO adjustment, AE lock, Auto Exposure Bracketing, White Balance, Contrast, Sharpness, and Saturation, among others. Halfway pressing the Shutter button displays the selected aperture and shutter speed settings. You can shift the exposure by turning the rear control dial, biasing the exposure toward more or less depth of field.

Shutter Priority mode puts you in control of the Panasonic FZ30's shutter speed setting (from 1/2,000 to eight seconds), while the camera chooses a corresponding lens aperture. As with the Program AE mode, you maintain control over all other exposure options. Aperture Priority works along similar lines, except that you control the aperture (f/2.8 to f/11.0) and the camera chooses the best corresponding shutter speed. Both the shutter speed and aperture values are displayed on the LCD monitor. If the camera can't find an aperture or shutter speed to produce the correct exposure with the shutter speed or aperture you've selected, the LCD indicators will turn red, letting you know that you need to change the setting you selected.

Full Manual exposure mode lets you control both shutter speed and lens aperture independently, extending the shutter speed range to a 60-second maximum time. Pressing the Exposure button switches the four-way rocker control arrow keys from their normal functions to control aperture (the up/down arrows) and shutter speed (the left/right arrows). Tapping the Shutter button calls up an exposure-meter display on the LCD screen, showing the currently selected exposure level, across a range of +/- 2 EV; a nice touch. The exposure-meter display disappears after a few seconds of inactivity, or you can use the Display button to select a display mode without the on-screen information overlay.

No less than 14 preset "Scene" exposure modes are also available for shooting under special conditions, and include Portrait, Sports, Food, Scenery, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Baby, Soft Skin, Candle Light, Party, Fireworks, Snow, Starry Sky, and Panning (following a moving subject) modes. These modes preset a variety of camera options, helping novice photographers capture good-looking pictures in challenging situations without requiring a full knowledge of the camera. Two positions on the Panasonic FZ30's Mode dial access the scene modes, "SCN1" and "SCN2." Through the Setup menu, you can set the camera to automatically display the Scene menu in either mode, or set it so that the previously selected scene is enabled whenever switching to the other mode. With the latter option, you can have two different scenes ready to go and accessible at a moment's notice. For example, you can switch from Scenery to Party modes when photographing at a wedding, easily moving indoors and out without a lot of camera setup. Most of these modes are fairly self-explanatory, each dealing with specific lighting or subject conditions.

Exposure compensation can be adjusted from –2 to +2 exposure values (EV), in one-third-step increments. The FZ30's metering system offers three operating modes, which include Multiple, Center-Weighted, and Spot, selectable through the Record menu. Multiple metering measures brightness throughout the entire frame, and determines the best overall exposure. Center-weighted averaging is based on an averaged light reading of the overall scene, but places more emphasis on the center of the viewfinder or LCD monitor. Spot metering reads only a specific point in the viewfinder. You can lock the exposure (and focus) by halfway pressing and holding the Shutter button, and then reframing the subject. An AE Lock button on the rear panel also locks the exposure, independently of focus, until the button is pressed a second time or the shutter is released.

The Panasonic FZ30 offers six White Balance modes, including Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Halogen, Flash, and White Set. The White Set mode allows you to manually set the white balance by holding a white card in front of the camera to set the value in the setup mode. You can fine-tune the white balance by adding more red or blue to the color balance in all of the modes except Auto, using the WB Adjust feature (accessed by pressing the up arrow of the arrow pad until WB Adjust appears on the LCD monitor).

ISO film speed equivalents on the Panasonic FZ30 are set in the Record menu, with choices of Auto, 80, 100, 200, and 400. The higher the ISO setting, the more you can extend the camera's exposure range in low-light situations. Just keep in mind that higher ISO values have progressively lower quality levels, with increased image noise. On that note, the DMC-FZ30 does feature long-exposure Noise Reduction, which uses dark frame subtraction to reduce the amount of image noise in longer exposures. What this means is that after the initial exposure, the camera takes a second exposure with the shutter closed, and compares the two images to subtract the noise pixels from the main image.

In perhaps its most unusual feature, the Lumix FZ30 offers a noise-reduction adjustment through its Record menu, with options of High, Normal, or Low Noise Reduction settings. This setting adjusts how aggressive the camera is about trading away subtle subject detail for reduced image noise. Digicam anti-noise systems basically look for regions of the image where there's relatively little local contrast between adjacent pixels, assuming that wherever the local contrast is lower than a certain threshold, whatever's left there must be noise. When that condition occurs, the camera "flattens" the contrast further, suppressing the noise. This is fine if you're dealing with a part of the subject that has little or no detail of its own (a blank wall or the sky for example), but if the detail in the subject has only subtle contrast (hair is an excellent example), the camera can mistakenly flatten-out the subject detail along with the image noise.

The Panasonic DMC-FZ30 also offers a Color Effect setting with Cool, Warm, Black and White, and Sepia color options. A Picture Adjustment menu option features additional adjustment tools, including Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation, and the above-mentioned Noise Reduction options.

Auto Exposure Bracketing
The Auto Exposure Bracketing mode is accessed by pressing the up arrow of the Four-Way Arrow pad until "Auto Bracket" appears on the LCD monitor. It automatically captures a series of three images, each at a different exposure setting. You can manually set the Panasonic FZ30's exposure variation between shots in one-third-step increments, up to as much as +/- 1 EV. The camera makes all three exposures in rapid succession with just one press of the Shutter button. Unfortunately, this function cannot be used with flash photography. If the flash fires, only one image will be recorded. (The likely reason for this is that the onboard flash recharges too slowly to be usable in a multiple-exposure application like this.)

Burst Shooting
The DMC-FZ30 has three Burst shooting modes, which are accessed by pressing the Burst button on the top panel. Low Speed mode captures a maximum of nine consecutive low-resolution frames at two frames per second, while High Speed mode captures the same number of images at bit under three frames per second, as long as you hold down the shutter release. (Burst length will depend on the subject you're shooting, and how well the resulting images compress.) There's also an Infinity mode, which limits the number of images only by memory card capacity, and shoots at approximately two frames per second. The number of images and actual shot-to-shot speed depend on several factors, including the amount of memory remaining on the flash card and the size/quality of the images being acquired.

Movie Mode
The Panasonic FZ30 also offers a Movie mode, which is accessed by turning the Mode dial on top of the camera to the miniature film frame symbol. The Motion JPEG files are recorded at 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 pixels, at either 30 or 10 frames per second. Recording times are limited by frame rate and memory card capacity. Recording stops and starts with a full press of the shutter button, and the amount of available recording time appears in the upper right corner of the LCD monitor. The camera's exposure is set and fixed at the beginning of the recording interval. Movies are recorded with sound. Unlike its "INF" continuous shooting mode, the FZ30's Movie mode appears capable of recording movies continuously to the limit of card capacity.

Flip Animation Mode
Enabled through the Record menu, the Panasonic FZ30's Flip Animation Mode lets you connect a string of images together to make a 20-second movie that resembles a flip animation. You can record as many as 100 consecutive images to create the animation. To capture the series, select "Picture Capture" under the Flip Animation menu option, then snap away. Once you've captured all of the files you need, select "Create Motion Image" and select the frame rate (either five or ten frames per second) to string the images together into a motion file. Once the animation has been created, you can opt to delete the still images to save memory space. (This can be a fun mode. Sony had a Flip Animation option on their cameras a couple of years back, but that feature was limited to a much shorter sequence of images.)

Self-Timer Mode
The Self-Timer is set by pressing the left arrow key on the Four-Way Arrow pad, and offers a choice between a two- or 10-second countdown. When set to Self-Timer, the camera displays the standard self-timer icon (a clock counting down) in the LCD display, and depressing the Shutter button activates the countdown, during which a lamp on the camera's front panel blinks. The two-second option is very handy when you're shooting long exposures with the camera on a tripod, and want to avoid jiggling the camera and blurring the shot when you press the Shutter button with your finger. The two-second countdown is enough time for any vibrations to die down before the shutter opens, but not so long as to seriously slow your shooting. - I also find myself using a short self-timer for shots in low light or macro situations, where I just prop the camera on a convenient rock, fence post, or water glass (at a restaurant, for example) to avoid hand-held jiggles. Very convenient, when you don't happen to have a tripod along.

 

Flash

The Panasonic FZ30's built-in, pop-up flash operates in one of six modes: Auto, Red-Eye Reduction (Auto), Forced, Red-Eye Reduction (Forced), Slow-Sync (with Red-Eye Reduction), and Flash Off. The Auto mode tells the camera to determine when flash is necessary, based on existing exposure conditions. Forced means that the flash fires with every exposure, regardless of lighting conditions, and Flash Off completely disables the flash. The three Red-Eye Reduction modes fire a small pre-flash one second before the full flash, to reduce the redeye effect in portraits. Slow-Sync mode combines the flash with a slower shutter speed, letting more of the ambient light fall on the camera's sensor, brightening background objects.

The flash exposure can be adjusted from -2 to +2 EV in one-third-step increments by pressing the up arrow of the Multi controller until the Flash Exposure Compensation adjustment appears. Panasonic rates the DMC-FZ30's flash as effective from 0.98 to 22.9 feet (30 centimeters to 7 meters) depending on the zoom setting and ISO. In my own tests, the camera's flash easily reached out to the 14-foot limit of my test setup, at ISO 100.

Unlike the FZ15, a hot shoe on the top of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 allows attachment of an external flash. The company lists the Panasonic PE-20ST, PE-28S, and PE-36S units on the accessory list, but it looks like any basic thyristor-driven single pole flash will do.

 

Shutter Lag and Cycle Times

When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time or delay before the shutter actually fires. This corresponds to the time required for the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is rarely reported on (and even more rarely reported accurately), and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, I routinely measure both shutter delay and shot to shot cycle times for all cameras I test, using a test system I designed and built for the purpose. (Crystal-controlled, with a resolution of 0.001 second.) Here are the numbers I collected for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30:

Panasonic DMC-FZ30 Timings
Operation
Time
(secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
1.0
LCD turns on and camera is ready to shoot. Very fast.
Shutdown
1.9 - 6
First time is time it takes for the rear-panel LCD to turn off, indicating camera has shut down. Second time is worst-case buffer-clearing time.* Quite fast, but odd that it takes any time at all when not processing a just-shot image, given that the lens doesn't need to retract.
Play to Record, first shot
0.5
Time until first shot is captured. Very fast.
Record to play
2.4 / 1.1
First time is that required to display a large/fine file immediately after capture, second time is that needed to display a large/fine file that has already been processed and stored on the memory card. Fairly fast.
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.56 / 0.57
First time is at full wide-angle, second is full telephoto. A good bit faster than average. (Average is 0.8-1.0 second)
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.131
Time to capture, after half-pressing and holding down the shutter button. Pretty fast.
Shutter lag, continuous autofocus
0.63
As usual, no benefit from continuous focus with stationary subjects, and we have no way to test reliably with a moving subject.
Shutter lag, manual focus
0.27
Fairly fast.
Cycle Time, max/min resolution 1.20 / 0.99 First number is for large/fine files, second number is time for small/basic images. Times are averages. Shoots this fast regardless of resolution and clears the buffer after each shot. Very fast, especially for an 8-megapixel camera.*
Cycle Time, Flash exposures 6 (Flash at maximum power output) Average to a bit slower than average for this class of camera, but the FZ30's flash is quite powerful, has excellent range.
Cycle Time, TIFF / RAW, max resolution 4.32 / 3.72 First number is for TIFF files, second number is time for RAW files. Times are averages. Shoots this fast in either mode and clears the buffer after each shot. Quite fast, given the large size of these cards.*
Cycle Time, continuous High mode, max/min resolution 0.37
(2.73 fps)
Shoots at the same rate regardless of resolution. Times are averages. Shoots a burst of 5 large/fine images this fast and clears the buffer in about 2 seconds.* Shoots a burst of 9 small/basic images this fast and clears the buffer in about 1.2 seconds.* Very good shooting speed, and buffer clearing is very fast, given the size of the images.*
Cycle Time, continuous Low mode, max/min resolution 0.50
(2.00 fps)
Shoots at the same rate regardless of resolution. Times are averages. Shoots a burst of 5 large/fine images this fast and clears the buffer in about 1.8 seconds.* Shoots a burst of 9 small/basic images this fast and clears the buffer in about 1.2 seconds.*
Cycle Time, continuous "infinite" mode 0.50
(2.00 fps)
Shoots at the same rate regardless of resolution.* Times are averages. Shoots at this rate until card fills. Buffer clears in about 2 seconds for large/fine files, almost immediately for small/basic files. Very fast, particularly in light of the large image sizes and lack of a buffer-size limitation.
* NOTE that buffer clearing times and cycle time in "infinite" continuous mode will be very dependent on the speed rating of the memory card in use. The numbers shown above were measured with a very fast (133x) Kingston Memory SD card. Slower cards would produce correspondingly longer clearing times.

The DMC-FZ30 showed very good overall performance, starting with a quick 1.0-second startup time. Shutter lag is a fair bit better than average at both wide angle and telephoto. Prefocusing the camera (by half-pressing and holding down the shutter button prior to the shot itself) drops the shutter delay to 0.131 second, a little on the slow side of average these days. Shot-to-shot cycle time for large/fine files is also fairly zippy at 1.20 seconds. In Continuous-mode, at the High setting, cycle times average 0.37 second (2.73 frames per second), fairly average for this class of camera. The flash takes about six seconds to recharge after a full-power shot, also about average, but quite good considering the power of the FZ30's flash. Connected to a computer, download speeds are fast enough that you probably won't feel the need for a separate card reader for faster downloads. Though not speedy enough for professional sports photographers, the DMC-FZ30 is a responsive camera, suitable for family and kid portraits as well as sporting events.

 

Operation and User Interface

The Panasonic FZ30's user interface is straightforward and should present a short learning curve if you read through the included manual. (Although there are a lot of features here, so I'd imagine that novice users could spend a couple of hours learning them. Experienced digicam users should be able to come up to speed on the major functions in under an hour though.) I generally prefer to see external access to as many exposure controls as possible, and the DMC-FZ30 does provide a fair amount of control without resorting to the LCD menu system. The camera's Four-Way Arrow pad controls a wide variety of functions independently of the LCD menu, though the menu itself is straightforward. As noted earlier, I also found the FZ30's menu system unusually fast to navigate.


Front Control Dial
: At the top of the right hand grip on the front of the camera, this ridged dial adjusts the aperture setting in Manual and Aperture Priority modes. In Playback mode, turning the dial to the left enables the nine, 16, and 25-image index display modes, while turning it to the right enables playback zoom, up to 8x.


Shutter Button
: Located on the right side of the camera's top panel, the Shutter button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and when fully depressed, it trips the shutter release. In Self-Timer mode, fully depressing the Shutter button triggers a two- or 10-second countdown before the shutter is released.


Image Stabilization Button
: Behind the Shutter button on the top panel, this button displays the Image Stabilization menu, which lets you shut the function off entirely, or choose between two operating modes.


Burst Mode Button
: Directly behind the Image Stabilization button, this button accesses the three Burst modes (High, Low, or Infinity), or returns to the single-shot mode.


Power Switch
: Behind the Burst Mode button, this sliding switch turns the camera on and off.


Mode Dial
: Sitting just right of the Panasonic FZ30's hot shoe on the top panel with a notched dial, this control selects the camera's shooting modes as follows:


Flash Release Switch
: Located on the left side of the pop-up flash compartment, this sliding switch releases the pop-up flash from its closed position.


Diopter Adjustment Dial
: Hidden away on the left side of the optical viewfinder eyepiece, this dial corrects the viewfinder optics for eyeglass wearers, with a range from +4 to -4.


Focus Switch
: Tucked on the left side of the lens barrel (when viewing the camera from the rear), this switch selects between Auto, Macro, and Manual focus modes.

MF Focus Button (see image above): Directly below the Focus switch, this button lets you quickly set the autofocus in manual focus mode, so that you can fine tune it with the focus ring.


AE Lock Button
: Topping a series of buttons that lines the right side of the LCD monitor, this button locks the exposure independently of the focus when pressed.


EVF/LCD Button
: Below the AE Lock button, this button switches the viewfinder display between the EVF and LCD monitors.


Display Button
: Just below the EVF/LCD button, this button controls the image and information displays in Record and Playback modes. In Record mode, pressing the button cycles between the display modes, which include the image with information, image with information and histogram, "Out of Frame" display, alignment grid, and image with no information.

In Playback mode, pressing the button cycles between the image with information, expanded information and histogram, and no information displays.


Menu Button
: Next in line below the Display button, this button calls up the settings menus on the LCD display in all camera modes. A second press of the Menu button cancels the menu display.


Erase Button
: The final button in the series lining the LCD monitor, this button pulls up the Erase menu in Playback mode.


Rear Control Dial
: At the top of the thumb grip on the camera's rear panel, this notched dial adjusts the shutter speed setting in Manual and Shutter Priority exposure modes. In Playback mode, turning this dial left and right scrolls through captured images.


Four-Way Arrow Pad
: Located in the lower right portion of the Panasonic FZ30's rear panel, these four arrow keys are arranged in a circle, with each arrow facing either up, down, left, or right. The arrow keys navigate through menu options and adjust camera settings. In most record modes, the up arrow accesses the Exposure Compensation, Auto Exposure Bracketing, Flash Exposure Compensation, and White Balance Adjustment tools. The right arrow cycles through the available flash modes, while the left arrow cycles through the Self-Timer modes. The down arrow activates a quick review of the most recently captured image.

In Playback mode, the right and left arrow keys navigate through captured images and movie files. When an image has been digitally enlarged, the four arrow keys pan around within the image.


Zoom Ring
: The first ridged ring encircling the outer edge of the lens, this ring controls the optical and digital zoom.


Focus Ring
: Just behind the Zoom ring on the outer edge of the lens, this ridged ring twists left and right so you can manually adjust focus.

 

Camera Modes & Menus

Record Menu: The following options are available by pressing the Menu button in any record mode, though some menu options aren't available in all modes:


Scene Menu: If designated through the Setup menu, this menu automatically appears in the SCN1 and SCN2 modes. If turned off, pressing the Menu button calls up this page. You can select separate options for SCN1 and SCN2.


Play Menu: This menu is only available in the Review mode. It lets you scroll through captured images; erase, protect, and rotate them; or set them up in a slide show or for printing on a DPOF compatible device. The Play menu offers the following selections:


Setup Menu: The Setup menu provides universal camera control options that remain the same in both Shooting and Review modes. This menu is accessed by depressing the Menu button once and scrolling to the right with the arrow pad. Following are the available settings:

 

 

Image Storage and Interface

The DMC-FZ30 uses SD/MMC memory cards for image storage. A 16MB SD memory card is supplied with the camera (far too small for a camera like this), so you'll want to immediately purchase a larger capacity card to accommodate the eight-megapixel maximum resolution. Entire SD cards can be write-protected to guard against accidental reformatting, but in this mode you won't be able to save any photos to the card either. The DMC-FZ30's Play menu does allow you to write-protect individual image files though, protecting them from accidental erasure, unless the card is formatted.

Still images can be saved at one of six resolutions (3,264 x 2,448; 2,560 x 1,920; 2,048 x 1,536; 1,600 x 1,200; 1,280 x 960 pixels or 16:9: 1,920 x 1,080 pixels), while movie images are recorded at 320 x 240 pixels. Still images also have two JPEG compression levels available: Fine and Normal, plus an uncompressed TIFF setting that records the RGB image with no compression at all, and a RAW option.

A full complement of interface software comes with the DMC-FZ30, as does a USB cable for speedy connection to a PC or Macintosh computer.

Following are the approximate resolution / quality and compression ratios for the furnished 16MB card. (Compression numbers are based on my own computations.):

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
16 MB Memory Card
Fine Normal
TIFF
RAW
3,264 x 2,448 Images
(Avg size)
3
4.1 MB
7
2.1 MB
0
26.9 MB
0
19 MB
Approx.
Compression
6:1 12:1 - 1.3:1
2,560 x 1,920 Images
(Avg size)
6
2.5 MB
12
1.3 MB
0
16.5 MB
-
Approx.
Compression
6:1 11:1 - -
2,048 x 1,536 Images
(Avg size)
9
1.7 MB
18
849 KB
1
10.7 MB
-
Approx.
Compression
6:1 11:1 - -
1,600 x 1,200 Images
(Avg size)
15
1.0 MB
30
533 KB
2
6.5 MB
-
Approx.
Compression
6:1 11:1 - -
1,280 x 960 Images
(Avg size)
23
683 KB
43
366 KB
3
4.1 MB
-
Approx.
Compression
5:1 10:1 - -

 

Download Speed

The Panasonic DMC-FZ30 connects to a host computer via a USB interface. Downloading files to my Sony desktop running Windows XP (Pentium IV, 2.4 GHz), I clocked it at 770 KBytes/second. (Cameras with slow USB interfaces run as low as 300 KB/s, cameras with fast v1.1 interfaces run as high as 600 KB/s. Cameras with USB v2.0 interfaces run as fast as several megabytes/second.)

Video Out

The Panasonic FZ30 has a video-out port that supports both PAL and NTSC timing formats. The video output can be used for reviewing previously recorded images or running slide shows and videos from the camera.

 

Power

The Panasonic FZ30 is powered by an internal Panasonic CGA-S002A rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack. The camera ships with one battery pack and a charger. An AC Adapter Kit is sold separately, with a power adapter, DC coupler, and power cord.

Because the DMC-FZ30 relies on its LCD display for viewing and selecting some of its settings, it can be somewhat of a drain on the power supply. Fortunately, the camera has an automatic shutdown mode to help conserve battery power, and you can save power by relying on the electronic optical viewfinder whenever possible.

Here are the power consumption numbers I measured for the FZ30 , along with the projected run times for various camera operating modes:

Operating Mode
Power
(@8.4 volts on the external power terminal)
Est. Minutes
(710 mAh LiIon cell)
Capture Mode, w/LCD
250 mA
146
Capture Mode, no LCD
240 mA
152
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
260 mA
140
Half-pressed w/o LCD
250 mA
146
Memory Write (transient)
396 mA
n/a
Flash Recharge (transient)
635 mA
n/a
Image Playback
145 mA
252

The Lumix DMC-FZ30 uses a custom rechargeable LiIon battery for power. The table above shows maximum run times based on our power measurements and the rated capacity of its battery. These aren't terrible run times, but by the same token aren't nearly as good as some of its competition. Given the fairly short run time with or without the LCD enabled, you should definitely consider purchasing a second battery to pack along on extended outings.

 

Included Software

The Panasonic FZ30 comes with an very nice complement of software on the included CD. Compatible with Windows and Macintosh operating systems, the ArcSoft software suite applications provide a well-rounded offering of image organization and editing tools. The CD also features USB drivers for both Macintosh and Windows computers, and the Lumix Simple Viewer and PHOTOfunSTUDIO applications for image viewing.

 

"Gallery" Photos

For those readers interested in a set of less "standardized" photos from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30, we've put together a "photo gallery" of more pictorial shots captured with the FZ30.

 

Test Results

We ran the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 through our usual battery of tests, and have summarized our findings here. To see the full set of our test images, with explanations of what to look for in them, see the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 Sample Pictures page. For a complete listing of all our test and "gallery" shots, go to the Thumbnails page.

A collection of more random, pictorial images can be found in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 Photo Gallery.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the DMC-FZ30 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

Lens

Zoom
A broad, 12x optical zoom range. Pretty good performance overall.

35mm
420mm
4x Digital Zoom

The DMC-FZ30 zooms over the equivalent of a 35-420mm range, which is quite a large range, and very flexible. Performance is good at both wide angle and telephoto, though a moderate amount of coma distortion is visible at wide angle. The 4x digital zoom takes it out to 48x total, though with significant blurring and loss of detail.

Macro
A small macro area with good detail and high resolution. Flash is blocked by the lens though.

Standard Macro
Macro with Flash

The DMC-FZ30's macro setting performs well, capturing a small minimum area of 2.10 x 1.57 inches (53 x 40 millimeters). Detail is strong and resolution high, though with fairly strong blurring in the corners of the frame from lens distortion. (Most cameras have some softening in the corners in macro mode, but the FZ30 is a bit worse than average.) The flash was blocked by the camera's long 12x lens, so plan on using external lighting for your closest macro shots with the DMC-FZ30.

Distortion
Lower than average barrel distortion, very low pincushion.

This is the tendency for the lens to bend straight lines outward (like a barrel--usually at wide angle) or inward (like a pincushion--usually at telephoto). The Lumix DMC-FZ30's 0.6% barrel distortion at wide angle is lower than average among the cameras I've tested, but I'd still prefer a little less visible distortion. At the telephoto end, the DMC-FZ30's 0.03% pincushion is very low by any measure.

Barrel distortion at 35mm is 0.6%
Pincushion at 420mm is 0.03%

Chromatic aberration
Low, minimal effect on images at edges.

Wide: very slight, top left @ 200%
Wide: same at top right @ 200%
Tele: brighter but low, top left @200%
Tele: same at top right @200%

Chromatic aberration is very low at wide angle, showing only about 2-3 pixels of very slight coloration on either side of the target lines. At telephoto, the brightness level increases, but the number of pixels is about the same, the net result still being lower than average chromatic aberration. (This distortion is visible as a very slight colored fringe around the objects at the edges of the field of view on the resolution target.)

Corner Sharpness
Moderate softening in the corners of the frame at both wide angle and telephoto.

Wide Angle: Slight blurring,
most in upper left corner.
Wide Angle:
Sharp at center.
Telephoto:
Moderate blurring in all four corners.
Telephoto:
Very slightly soft at center.

The DMC-FZ30's lens produced slight to moderate blurring in the corners of the frame at both wide angle and telephoto positions. The amount of blurring was slightly greater at telephoto, the center of the frame was also slightly soft.

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Pretty good color with the Manual white balance, about average positive compensation required. (Auto white balance is much better than most.)

Auto White Balance +1.0 EV Incandescent WB +1.0 EV
Sony DSC-T33 digital camera image  
Manual White Balance +1.0 EV  

The DMC-FZ30's Manual white balance setting handled the difficult incandescent light best overall. The Auto setting resulted in a red cast and rather ruddy skin tones, but the color balance was still quite a bit better than most cameras manage with this tough light source. The Incandescent setting produced much warmer results. Overall color is pretty good, though Marti's skin tone is a little too pink, even with the Manual setting. Additionally, the blue flowers are quite dark and purplish, though this is very common on this shot. The camera required a +1.0 EV exposure compensation boost to get a good exposure, which is fairly typical for this shot. Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulb, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the US.

Outdoors, daylight
Good color balance, very bright colors (though oversaturated reds). High contrast, but still pretty good exposure accuracy.

Click to see YP1020303.JPG Click to see YP1020331.JPG
Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure
Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure

Outdoors, the DMC-FZ30 generally exposed well, though with slightly high contrast and strong highlights. Still, the highlights and shadows held onto some detail, with moderate to moderately high noise. Overall color accuracy was also good, though the camera tends to push the bright reds and blues quite a bit.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
High resolution, 1,400 lines of strong detail.

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,400 lines. Extinction occurred closer to 2,000 lines. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail. Beware that while you might be able to make out what looks like distinct lines at numbers higher than those we've mentioned here, the camera is just doing its best to continue interpreting the lines. If you zoom in and follow them from the wider portions, you'll see the lines converge and reappear several times, so the "lines" are really only artifacts generated by the camera's imaging system.

Strong detail to 1,400 lines horizontal
Strong detail to 1,400 lines vertical

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Sharp images overall, though some edge enhancement and moderate noise suppression.

Good definition of high-contrast elements and fine detail.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail in areas of subtle contrast, as in the darker parts of Marti's hair here.

Overall, the DMC-FZ30's images are pretty sharp, with good definition in the finer details. However, some edge enhancement is visible in high-contrast areas, as in the foliage above, though the effect isn't overly strong. (Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.)

Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears. The crop at far right shows moderate suppression, as the darker areas of Marti's hair show limited, mottled-looking detail.

ISO & Noise Performance
Low noise at the low sensitivity setting (softness was caused by subject movement), higher noise but fairly good preservation of subtle subject detail at the higher settings.

ISO 80
ISO 100
 
ISO 200
ISO 400 

The DMC-FZ30's lower ISO settings produced relatively low noise levels, although some noise will still be visible to those with sharp eyes for such things. (The blurring in the image linked above is due to subject movement, not the camera's anti-noise processing.) At the higher ISO settings of 200 and 400, the noise pattern appeared much stronger and brighter, although fine subject detail was preserved quite well by the camera's noise-suppression algorithms. The noise level at ISO 400 is higher than some of its competition, and 8x10 inch prints definitely look rough, although probably still usable for display on a wall, where they'd not normally be viewed any closer than 20 inches (~50 cm) or so.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with good overall detail, though high contrast limits detail in both highlights and shadow areas. Very good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images under average city street lighting and darker conditions.

Normal
+0.3EV
+0.7EV

Sunlight:
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)

The DMC-FZ30 required less positive exposure compensation than average on this shot, at +0.3 EV, although there was an odd decrease in brightness, in going from 0.3 to 0.7 EV of adjustment. Contrast is high, with strong highlights and deep shadows. (And yes, the lighting was absolutely constant between the three shots shown above.) Detail is limited in the deepest shadows, with moderately high noise, and the highlights also lack detail in the hottest spots. (In "real life" though, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.)

  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
ISO
80
Click to see FZ30LL0803.JPG
2 sec
f2.8
Click to see FZ30LL0804.JPG
4 sec
f2.8
Click to see FZ30LL0805.JPG
10 sec
f2.8
Click to see FZ30LL0806.JPG
25 sec
f2.8
Click to see FZ30LL0807.JPG
50 sec
f2.8
ISO
100
Click to see FZ30LL1003.JPG
2 sec
f2.8
Click to see FZ30LL1004.JPG
4 sec
f2.8
Click to see FZ30LL1005.JPG
10 sec
f2.8
Click to see FZ30LL1006.JPG
20 sec
f2.8
Click to see FZ30LL1007.JPG
50 sec
f2.8
ISO
200
Click to see FZ30LL2003.JPG
1 sec
f2.8
Click to see FZ30LL2004.JPG
2 sec
f2.8
Click to see FZ30LL2005.JPG
5 sec
f2.8
Click to see FZ30LL2006.JPG
10 sec
f2.8
Click to see FZ30LL2007.JPG
25 sec
f2.8
ISO
400
Click to see FZ30LL4003.JPG
1/2 sec
f2.8
Click to see FZ30LL4004.JPG
1 sec
f2.8
Click to see FZ30LL4005.JPG
2.5 sec
f2.8
Click to see FZ30LL4006.JPG
5 sec
f2.8
Click to see FZ30LL4007.JPG
13 sec
f2.8

Low light:
The DMC-FZ30 performed very well on our low-light test, capturing bright images at the lowest light levels we test at, at all four ISO settings. The camera's Auto white balance setting performed well, capturing good color even at the slower exposures. The camera's autofocus system worked well, able to focus on the subject down to the the 1/8 foot-candle light level with the AF-assist light turned off, and well past the lowest light level with AF assist enabled. Do keep in mind though, that the DMC-FZ30's very long shutter times absolutely demand the use of a tripod or other camera support to get sharp photos. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)

Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Highly saturated color, with very strong reds and blues, and rather warm skin tones.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.
Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life. The DMC-FZ30 oversaturates color more than average, with particularly strong reds and blues. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc. The DMC-FZ30 does have a tendency to reproduce skin tones with a stronger reddish cast than I personally prefer.

The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is. Here, the DMC-FZ30 doesn't do too badly. It shows the usual slight shift of cyans towards blue, a common tactic to produce more appealing sky colors, but also shifts orange hues slightly towards red, and purples a bit towards blue. Images of real-world subjects for the most part look pretty hue-accurate though, just brighter than real life.

Click to see YP1020286.JPG Click to see YP1020298.JPG

Our random "Gallery" shots showed very pleasing color across a wide variety of subjects. (See our Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 Photo Gallery for more shots taken with the camera.)

Viewfinder

Coverage
Good accuracy with both the electronic optical viewfinder (EVF) and LCD monitor.

35mm eq., EVF 420mm eq., EVF
35mm eq., LCD monitor 420mm eq., LCD monitor

The DMC-FZ30's electronic optical viewfinder (EVF) and LCD monitor showed identical results here, at over 100% frame accuracy at wide angle, and 99% at telephoto. (These shots serve the dual purpose of showing flash coverage, so the telephoto example is rather dark, the FX30's long zoom placing the target beyond the flash's range at maximum tele.)

Flash

Coverage and Range
A fairly bright flash, with good coverage and good range. About average positive exposure compensation required.

35mm equivalent 420mm equivalent
Normal Flash +1.0 EV Slow-Sync Flash +1.7 EV

Flash coverage was only a little uneven at wide angle, with slight falloff in the corners of the frame. At full telephoto, the camera is too far for the flash to be of any real use. In the Indoor test, the DMC-FZ30's flash underexposed our subject at its default setting, requiring a +1.0 EV exposure compensation adjustment for the best results. Though flash coverage isn't too bad at +0.7 EV, the dimmer exposure has a stronger orange cast that becomes less evident at +1.0 EV. The camera's Slow-Sync mode actually required more exposure compensation, at +1.7 EV, though more for decreasing the orange cast than brightening the exposure. Coverage is a little more even with Slow-Sync mode, though results are still pretty good in the normal mode.

8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft
Click to see FZ30FL08.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.6
ISO 100
Click to see FZ30FL09.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.6
ISO 100
Click to see FZ30FL10.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.6
ISO 100
Click to see FZ30FL11.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.6
ISO 100
Click to see FZ30FL12.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.6
ISO 100
Click to see FZ30FL13.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.6
ISO 100
Click to see FZ30FL14.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.6
ISO 100

In our flash range test, the DMC-FZ30's built-in flash produced bright, consistent results all the way to 14 feet from the target, doing much better than most cameras we test.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Excellent print quality, bright but appealing color, unusually sharp 13x19 inch prints. ISO 400 images are rough at 8x10, but quite acceptable at 5x7.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5000 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)

The Panasonic FZ30's images produced unusually sharp 13x19 inch prints, and would likely hold together well enough even at considerably larger print sizes, or with a fair bit of cropping. Its high-ISO performance was less stellar, as its ISO 400 shots were rough at 8x10 inches, albeit acceptable when viewed at arm's length (that is, they'd probably be OK for display on a wall, where they wouldn't be closely scrutinized, but you almost certainly wouldn't want viewers squinting at them up close). At 5x7, ISO 400 noise was visible, but at a level likely to be acceptable to most users. ISO 200 shots were a little rough at 8x10 inches, but would probably be acceptable to most people at that size.

Timing and Performance

Lumix DMC-FZ30 Timing
Very good speed overall.

Startup/Shutdown:
Power On to first shot
1.0 seconds
Shutter response (Lag Time):
Full Autofocus Wide
0.56 second
Full Autofocus Tele
0.57 second
Prefocused
0.131 second
Cycle time (shot to shot)
Normal large/fine JPEG
1.20 seconds
Flash recycling
6 seconds
Continuous mode
0.37 second
2.73 frames/second
(5 large/fine frames)
Download speed
Windows Computer, USB 2.0
770 KBytes/sec

The DMC-FZ30 showed very good overall performance, starting with a quick 1.0-second startup time. Shutter lag is a fair bit better than average at both wide angle and telephoto. Prefocusing the camera (by half-pressing and holding down the shutter button prior to the shot itself) drops the shutter delay to 0.131 second, a little on the slow side of average these days. Shot-to-shot cycle time for large/fine files is also fairly zippy at 1.20 seconds. In Continuous-mode, at the High setting, cycle times average 0.37 second (2.73 frames per second), fairly average for this class of camera. The flash takes about six seconds to recharge after a full-power shot, also about average, but quite good considering the power of the FZ30's flash. Connected to a computer, download speeds are fast enough that you probably won't feel the need for a separate card reader for faster downloads. Though not speedy enough for professional sports photographers, the DMC-FZ30 is a responsive camera, suitable for family and kid portraits as well as sporting events.

Battery and Storage Capacity

Battery
Moderate battery life with the LCD on or off, definitely consider buying a second battery.

Operating Mode
Battery Life
Still-image capture mode
LCD on
146 minutes
Still-image capture mode
LCD off
152 minutes
Image playback
LCD on
252 minutes

The Lumix DMC-FZ30 uses a custom rechargeable LiIon battery for power. The table above shows maximum run times based on our power measurements and the rated capacity of its battery. These aren't terrible run times, but by the same token aren't nearly as good as some of its competition. Given the fairly short run time with or without the LCD enabled, you should definitely consider purchasing a second battery to pack along on extended outings.

Storage
A 16MB card is included with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30.

Image Capacity with
16MB SD Card
Fine
3,264 x 2,448 Images 3
File Size 4.1 MB
2,560 x 1,920 Images 6
File Size 2.5 MB
2,048 x 1,536 Images 9
File Size 1.7 MB
1,600 x 1,200
Images 15
File Size 1.0 MB
1,280 x 960
Images 23
File Size 683K

I strongly recommend buying Large capacity SD/MMC memory card, to give yourself extra space for extended outings (These days, 128 - 256 MB is a good trade-off between cost and capacity.)

 

Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Excellent optics, 12x zoom is tack-sharp, with low distortion, very low aberration
  • Available tele/wide adapters and filters
  • Loads of detail, a worthwhile step up from the FZ20
  • Excellent image stabilization system
  • Better than average shutter response
  • Fast processing, short buffer-clearing times, good continuous-mode speed
  • Beautiful handling, manually-actuated zoom is a joy to use
  • Very fast startup time
  • Excellent ergonomics: Comfortable grip, rational control layout, very clear menu system
  • Program shift capability
  • Excellent range of exposure control, from full-auto to fully manual, with a good assortment of scene modes
  • White balance settings can be manually tweaked to better match lighting conditions
  • Good electronic viewfinder (EVF)
  • Handy tilt/rotate LCD
  • Bright AF-assist light
  • Better-than-average low light focusing, even with AF-assist light off
  • Good 640x480 30fps movie mode, zoom can be used while recording
  • Excellent flash range
  • Hot shoe for external flash (albeit with no option for camera-based metering)
  • Both TIFF & RAW file formats
  • Image noise is higher than many competing models, particularly at ISO 200 and 400. Some users may find this a show-stopper, others may be less bothered by it
  • Color may be too bright for some users, particularly strong reds and greens
  • While good, EVF/LCD viewfinders are still limited to ~1 foot-candle, equivalent to typical city street lighting at night (camera can focus and expose much darker though)
  • Constant-aperture f/2.8 lens of prior models is missing, current lens is only f/3.7 maximum aperture at full telephoto
  • Contrasty tone curve, even when contrast adjustment is set to "low" - Dynamic range is a little limited as a result
  • No RAW converter software shipped with the camera in the US (Adobe Camera Raw can handle the format though)
  • USB connection only supports low-speed version of USB 2.0

Without a doubt, the Panasonic FZ30 is one of the stronger entries at the top end of the "enthusiast" all-in-one digital camera range. Its performance and specs may not quite match those of typical digital SLRs, but when you consider the superb optical quality of its image-stabilized 12x Leica zoom len, you'd have to pay literally a couple of thousand dollars to match its reach with a SLR body and kit of two or three zoom lenses. (You could certainly match the zoom range for less money than that, but matching the optical quality and image stabilization capability of FZ30's lens would be expensive indeed.) Image quality overall is very good, with excellent resolution and sharpness and bright, saturated but hue-accurate color. (If you like more understated color, you could find the FZ30's color a bit too much of a good thing, particularly in the blues and reds, but we suspect most consumers will find it very appealing.) The one negative point against the camera is its somewhat higher than average noise levels. As always though, we need to emphasize the importance of judging image noise in printed photos, rather than 1:1 on a computer display. Noise that seems dramatically obvious on-screen can become a non-issue at normal print sizes. The FZ30's ISO 400 photos are a little rough when printed at 8x10 inches (albeit usable for wall display), but look just fine when printed at 5x7 inches. ISO 200 shots look fine at 8x10. With a full range of exposure control modes, including a full manual setting and no less than 14 preset "Scene" modes, the DMC-FZ30 is an approachable camera for both novices and more experienced users alike. Bottom line, the Panasonic Lumix FZ30 is a very strong player at the upper end of the all-in-one digital camera field, and represents an excellent bargain for anyone interested in a long zoom range, optical stabilization, high resolution, and responsive performance. We'd like to see less image noise at higher ISOs, but the FZ30 is a virtual shoo-in for a Dave's Pick.

<<FZ30 Sample Images | Additional Resources and Other Links>>

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