Panasonic FZ300 Image Quality


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Below average mean saturation levels, with about average hue accuracy.

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 toward 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. Click for a larger image.

Saturation. Mean saturation levels are a little lower than average from the Panasonic FZ300 using default settings at base ISO, at 106% or 6% oversaturated. The FZ300 pushes dark blues quite a bit, but only oversaturates dark red and dark green by small amounts, and it undersaturates yellow moderately. Most other colors are close to accurate in terms of saturation. 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.

Skin tones. Here, the Panasonic FZ300 did a decent job, producing reasonably natural-looking Caucasian skin tones with Auto white balance in simulated daylight, though transitions between lighter and darker skin tones showed a noticeable color shift from pink to more yellow. 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.

Hue. The Panasonic FZ300 shifts cyan toward blue by quite a bit, but most other shifts like orange toward yellow, and yellow toward green are by smaller amounts. The cyan to blue shift is very common among the digital cameras we test; we think it's a deliberate choice by camera engineers to produce better-looking sky colors. The FZ300's handling of yellows is one of its weaknesses: Yellows are noticeably undersaturated, and shifted slightly toward green. With a mean "delta-C" color error of 5.35 after correction for saturation, hue accuracy is about average. Hue is "what color" the color is.

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

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
The Auto setting produced slightly cool results and Incandescent was quite warm. Manual was pretty accurate, just slightly cool. Average exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
+0.3 EV
Incandescent White Balance
+0.3 EV
Manual White Balance
+0.3 EV

Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance was a bit cool and magenta with the Auto white balance setting, though it performed better than most cameras. Results with the Incandescent setting were quite warm and orange. The Manual setting produced very good, neutral results. (Note: The FZ300 also has a Kelvin Temperature White Balance option, however we did not test that mode.) The Panasonic FZ300 required +0.3 EV exposure compensation which is about average for this scene. (Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.)

Outdoors, daylight
Natural colors overall, with a tendency toward high contrast under harsh lighting. About average exposure accuracy.

Auto White Balance,
+0.7 EV
Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure

Outdoors, the Panasonic FZ300 performed well for its class, with natural-looking though slightly cool colors in the Far-field shot. Skin tones are fairly realistic in our "Sunlit" Portrait shot, with a healthy-looking push of pinks and reds which is preferable to too flat and yellow, though transitions from lighter to darker skin tones showed a noticeable color shift. Exposure accuracy is about average, as the camera required +0.7 EV compensation for our "Sunlit" Portrait shot to keep facial tones reasonably bright. That's typical for this shot. Quite a few highlights were blown in the mannequin's shirt and flowers though, and there are some very deep shadows that are noisy and posterized, however that's to be expected from such a small sensor. The default exposure is quite good in our Far-field shot, with very few blown highlights, though again there are some very deep shadows that are noisy and discolored. Default contrast is on the high side, but that's how most consumers prefer their photos.

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

Resolution
~2,050 to ~2,100 lines of strong detail from JPEGs, a little higher from RAW.

In-camera JPEG:
Strong detail to
~2,100 lines horizontal
In-camera JPEG:
Strong detail to
~2,050 lines vertical
ACR converted RAW:
Strong detail to
~2,100 lines horizontal
ACR converted RAW:
Strong detail to
~2,050 lines vertical

An in-camera JPEG of our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns up to just under 2,100 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and to just under 2,050 lines per picture height in the vertical direction. Some may argue for more, but lines begin to merge at this resolution, and significant aliasing artifacts appear as early as 1,600 lines. Complete extinction of the pattern didn't occur until about 2,600 lines. Adobe Camera Raw produced very similar resolution results but with lower luminance moiré below the limits and higher color moiré above the limits. 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.

Sharpness & Detail
Fairly crisp images with good detail, but some sharpening artifacts are visible. Strong noise reduction already at base ISO.

Good definition of high-contrast
elements here with moderate
sharpening haloes.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast.

Sharpness. The FZ300 produces fairly crisp, sharp looking images but with some obvious sharpening haloes around high contrast transitions, as can be seen around the lines and text in the crop above left. The camera uses area-specific sharpening, which means sharpening varies depending on the subject matter, which can lead to more obvious artifacts especially where the subject matter changes. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.

Detail. The crop above right shows a decent amount of detail for the size of the sensor, though as you can see, strong noise reduction blurs many of strands in the mannequins's hair already at base ISO. This is typical of cameras with small sensors, though, and the FZ300 does a good job at suppression more objectionable chroma noise here. 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.

RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above the Panasonic FZ300 produces fairly sharp, crisp and clean images at base ISO. Let's see how an Adobe Camera Raw conversion compares.

Base ISO (100)
Camera JPEG, defaults
RAW via Adobe Camera Raw

In the table above, we compare an in-camera JPEG taken at base ISO using default noise reduction and sharpening (on the left) to a matching RAW file converted with Adobe Camera Raw 9.1 with no noise reduction and using strong but tight unsharp masking applied in Photoshop (in this case 350% USM with a radius of 0.5 pixels and a threshold of 0, as the FZ300's RAW files are quite soft).

As you can see, ACR revealed significantly higher detail than what is present in the JPEG from the camera, but also a lot more noise (remember, though, no noise reduction was applied to show what you'll need to contend with even at base ISO). The biggest increase in detail is in our tricky red-leaf fabric crop, and ACR also did a bit better reproducing fine detail in the pink fabric, as well as more accurate color. But as mentioned, noise is already quite high at base ISO from small sensors like the FZ300's, so you'll need to trade-off some of that detail for a cleaner image by applying moderate to high amounts of noise reduction depending on the sensitivity. Bottom line: As is almost always the case, you can do noticeably better than the camera with a good RAW converter, provided you're willing to apply your own noise reduction and sharpening to taste.

ISO & Noise Performance
About average high ISO performance for its class.

Default High ISO Noise Reduction
ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400
ISO 800 ISO 1600 ISO 3200
ISO 6400

ISO 100 is fairly clean, though as mentioned, lose of fine detail can already be seen at base ISO. ISO 200 is just a bit noisier and softer in areas, but fine detail is still pretty good. ISO 400 starts to show some purple and yellow chroma blotching in the lower midtones and shadows, but detail is still fair. ISO 800 exhibits noticeably stronger luminance noise with a slight peppering effect as artifacts of noise reduction. ISO 1600 is softer with much stronger color blotching, and image quality degrades rapidly from here to the point where ISO 6400 looks more like a watercolor painting than a photograph when viewed at 100% like this.

We're of course pixel-peeping to an extraordinary extent here, since 1:1 images on an LCD screen often have little to do with how those same images will appear when printed. See the Print Quality section below for our evaluation of maximum print sizes at each ISO setting.

Extremes: Sunlit, dynamic range and low light tests
High default contrast with limited dynamic range. Fair low-light performance.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

Sunlight. The Panasonic FZ300 struggled with the deliberately harsh lighting of this test, though that's to be expected from a small 1/2.3"-type sensor. Contrast is quite high at its default setting, and dynamic range is limited. We felt the +0.7 EV exposure is the best compromise here. Although skin tones around the eyes are a bit dark, we prefer it to the +1.0 EV exposure overall, because there are fewer clipped highlights, and +0.3 EV was too dim. It's really the photographer's choice here as to which direction to go in. For those Panasonic FZ300 owners that are going to want to just print an image with little or no tweaking, the +1.0 image would probably produce a better-looking face uncorrected. The bottom line though, is that the Panasonic FZ300 struggled with the wide dynamic range of this shot, though that's typical of the class, and using features such as Intelligent Dynamic Range (see below) helps to mitigate the limited dynamic range offered by the small 1/2.3" sensor.

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.)

 

A note about Panasonic DFD autofocus and sparkly objects

A key element of Panasonic's technology arsenal is their Depth from Defocus (DFD) autofocus technology. Basically, cameras with DFD use a detailed knowledge of exactly what out of focus objects look like through a given lens to determine how far the lens is out of focus for any given subject, and in what direction (near or far-focused). Normally, cameras using contrast-detect autofocus (CDAF) can only decide whether a subject is in focus or not by looking at the image, changing focus and then looking again, to see if contrast got worse or better. Panasonic's DFD lets the camera adjust the focus to very nearly the correct value after just one "look" at the subject, speeding up the process considerably.

This is essentially the same thing that the phase-detect AF (PDAF) systems in digital SLRs accomplish. PDAF can determine focus error amount and direction with just a single "look" at the subject. Conveying much the same information, DFD does a lot to narrow the AF performance gap between SLRs and mirrorless cameras, and the technology also works for point & shoots like the FZ300.

As far as we can tell, DFD does what it's supposed to, as AF systems in cameras employing it are indeed fast and accurate. We've encountered an oddity with our Outdoor Portrait subject above, though, where some cameras with DFD have refused to focus accurately on it. It's only that one subject that we've had trouble with, but having seen it a couple of times now, we thought it worth mentioning.

After some head-scratching, we're pretty sure we've figured out what's going on, and it's interesting indeed. Right in the center of the frame which is where we focus, there's a little costume-jewelry brooch with some faceted glass "jewels" in it. It turns out it's the cause of the AF problem, and if we cover up the brooch with a piece of paper (with some lines on it, so the camera has something to focus on), the FZ300 autofocuses just fine. Thus, we ended up reshooting the above series with manual focus.

So what's so special about a little fake-jewelry brooch? It sparkles! Acting as a collection of tiny mirrors, the facets of the jewels reflect surrounding light into the camera lens, notably the light from the bright daylight-simulator light source overhead. The thing is, the lights are at a much different overall distance from the camera than the main subject is, so their out-of-focus appearance ("bokeh") is telling the camera that the subject is a lot further away than it actually is, causing the mis-focusing.

In normal usage, most times you could just shift the camera slightly to put any sparkly objects outside the active AF area, half-press and hold the shutter button to lock focus, and then reframe as needed. But you need to know that sparkly things can cause problems in the first place, so you can take measures to avoid them. Now you do :-)

Face Detection
Aperture Priority, 0 EV, f/4
Face Detection Off
Aperture Priority, 0 EV, f/4
Face Detection On
iAuto, 0 EV, f/2.8

Face Detection. Like most cameras these days, the Panasonic FZ300 has the ability to detect faces (up to 15 in a scene) and even eyes, and adjust exposure and focus accordingly. As you can see from the examples above, face detection made a huge difference to exposure in Aperture Priority mode at f/4. iAuto mode where the camera selected Portrait scene mode was also much improved, with smoother skin tones and lower contrast from automatically applied Intelligent D-Range processing (see below).


Far-field Intelligent D-Range Examples
Off
Low

Panasonic's Intelligent Dynamic Range
The above shots are examples of Panasonic's Intelligent Dynamic Range Control (or iD-Range) at work, with no exposure compensation. Note that the camera does not take multiple shots and merge them as HDR mode does (see below). It's a system that adjusts local contrast and exposure more akin to Nikon's Active D-lighting, Canon's Automatic Lighting Optimization or Sony's Dynamic Range Optimization.

There are three levels of iD-Range available on the Panasonic FZ300: Low, Standard and High, plus Auto and Off. It's automatically invoked in iAuto and some scene modes and manually selectable in PASM modes. Here, you can see darker midtones and shadows were progressively boosted as the strength was increased, without blowing any additional highlights in the process. Do be aware that boosting shadows and lower midtones can reveal more noise, though.


Far-field HDR Examples
Off

HDR mode
Here, you can see the Panasonic FZ300's High Dynamic Range mode at work with our Far-field shot. HDR mode takes three images at different exposures and combines them to increase dynamic range. Mouse over the links, and click on them the view the full resolution files.

Auto did a decent job, producing results similar to +/-1 EV, while +/-3 dimmed the entire image. Notice the double images and ghosting in the person, leaves and flag from movement between frames in some of the images. Also notice the angle of view is narrower in the HDR images, likely because the images have been cropped and upsized during the optional auto alignment process.

Dynamic Range Analysis (RAW mode)
While we once performed our own dynamic range measurements based on in-camera JPEGs as well as converted RAW images (when the camera was supported by Adobe Camera Raw), we've switched to using DxO Labs' results from their DxOMark website. As technology advanced, the dynamic range of modern high-end cameras in some cases exceeded the range of the Stouffer T4110 density scale that we used for our own measurements. DxO's approach based on RAW data before demosaicing is also more revealing, because it measures the fundamental dynamic range of the sensor, irrespective of whatever processing is applied to JPEGs, or to RAW data by off-the-shelf conversion software.

In the following, we use DxO's "Print" dynamic range results, which are scaled based on camera resolution. As the name suggests, this scaling corresponds to the situation in which you print at a given size, regardless of how many megapixels the camera might have. (In other words, if you've decided to make a 13x19 inch print, that's the size you're printing, whether the camera's resolution is 16 or 300 megapixels.) For the technically-minded, you can find a discussion of the reasoning behind this here on the DxOMark website. Also note that DxO Labs uses a signal-to-noise (SNR) threshold of 1 when defining the lower boundary of acceptable luminance noise in their dynamic range measurements, which corresponds to the "Low Quality" threshold of the Imatest software we used to use for this measurement.

Unfortunately, DxOMark has not tested the FZ300 at the time of writing. We'll to come back and fill this section in after they do.


  1 fc
11 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16fc
No NR
ISO
100
Click to see FZ300LL01003.JPG
2s, f2.8
Click to see FZ300LL01007.JPG
30s, f2.8
Click to see FZ300LL01007XNR.JPG
30s, f2.8
ISO
3200
Click to see FZ300LL32003.JPG
1/15s, f2.8
Click to see FZ300LL32007.JPG
1s, f2.8
Click to see FZ300LL32007XNR.JPG
1s, f2.8
ISO
6400
Click to see FZ300LL64003.JPG
1/30s, f2.8
Click to see FZ300LL64007.JPG
1/2s, 1 f2.8
Click to see FZ300LL64007XNR.JPG
1/2s, f2.8

Low Light. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 performed reasonably well for its class in our low light tests thanks in part to its fast lens, and was able to capture bright images down to the lowest light level we test at. The darkest level equates to about 1/16 the brightness of average city street lighting at night, so the Panasonic FZ300 should be able to take well-exposed photos in almost any environment in which you can see well enough to walk around in, though you'll want to steady the camera on a tripod or some other support to keep ISO sensitivity as low as possible.

Using default noise reduction setting, noise is low at ISO 100 but a little high at our standard ISO 3200 setting, particularly at the lowest light level. As you'd expect, noise is even higher at the maximum ISO of 6400. We didn't notice any significant issues with hot pixels, heat blooming or pattern noise.

Automatic color balance is quite good even at the lowest light level of 1/16 foot-candle, just a touch cool.

The camera's autofocus system was able to focus on our subject down to just above the 1/8 foot-candle light level unassisted with its f/2.8 lens, which is good, especially for a camera with contrast-detect autofocus and a small sensor. The Panasonic FZ300 also has a focus-assist light which allows it to autofocus in total darkness, as long as the subject is within range and has sufficient contrast.

How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good 16 x 20 inch prints at ISO 100; a nice 8 x 10 at ISO 800; a good 4 x 6 at ISO 3200.

Canon PRO-1000 Printer ImageISO 100 prints are good at 16 x 20 inches, with crisp detail and good color reproduction. This is about the largest sized print for a 12-megapixel camera before individual pixels begin to show, but the printed 20 x 30's are also fine for wall display purposes.

ISO 200 yields 16 x 20 inch prints that are fairly good, certainly fine for less critical applications. We'll give the 13 x 19 inch prints our official "good" seal here.

ISO 400 images at 11 x 14 inches begin to lose some contrast detail in our tricky red-leaf swatch, and there is a hint of noise in flatter areas of our Still Life target, but it's still otherwise a good print overall.

ISO 800 prints at 11 x 14 inches start to introduce a bit too much noise to warrant our good seal, though they're fine for less critical applications. The 8 x 10 inch prints here are actually quite good for this sensitivity and sensor size, and only have minor issues similar to the 11 x 14 at ISO 400.

ISO 1600 is where this small sensor size begins to show signs of real strain. We can call the 5 x 7 inch prints good here, though there is very little contrast detail remaining in our target's red-leaf swatch, and a hint of noise is visible in flatter areas of our target such as in the shadows. It's important to note that these issues are all very typical for smaller-sensored cameras as ISO sensitivity rises to this level.

ISO 3200 yields a 4 x 6 inch that just passes our good grade. There is some loss in overall contrast visible, but full color reproduction is still on display, and the print is actually quite good as compared to the 4 x 6 from the FZ200 (which did not pass our good grade).

ISO 6400 prints are not usable at any size and this setting is best avoided.

Given the same 1/2.3" sensor size as the Panasonic FZ200 from 2012, and the same lens, we were pleasantly surprised to see print quality fare noticeably better from the FZ300. The new processor is certainly performing its function well indeed, as print sizes have gone up across the board at almost every ISO except for 6400 (which is still not usable for printing purposes). When you combine weather resistance and other new features and enhancements with higher image quality from printed images, the Panasonic FZ300 certainly stands out against its predecessor.

About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"

Canon PRO-1000 Printer ImageTesting hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell 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 routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, which we named our "Printer of the Year" in our 2015 COTY awards.

The Canon PRO-1000 has a lot of characteristics that make it a natural to use for our "reference printer." When it comes to judging how well a camera's photos print, resolution and precise rendering are paramount. The PRO-1000's more than 18,000 individual nozzles combine with an air feeding system that provides exceptional droplet-placement accuracy. Its 11-color LUCIA PRO ink system delivers a wide color gamut and dense blacks, giving us a true sense of the cameras' image quality. To best see fine details, we've always printed on glossy paper, so the PRO-1000's "Chroma Optimizer" overcoat that minimizes "bronzing" or gloss differential is important to us. (Prior to the PRO-1000, we've always used dye-based printers, in part to avoid the bronzing problems with pigment-based inks.) Finally, we just don't have time to deal with clogged inkjet heads, and the PRO-1000 does better in that respect than any printer we've ever used. If you don't run them every day or two, inkjet printers tend to clog. Canon's thermal-inkjet technology is inherently less clog-prone than other approaches, but the PRO-1000 takes this a step further, with sensors that monitor every inkjet nozzle. If one clogs, it will assign another to take over its duties. In exchange for a tiny amount of print speed, this lets you defer cleaning cycles, which translates into significant ink savings. In our normal workflow, we'll often crank out a hundred or more letter-size prints in a session, but then leave the printer to sit for anywhere from days to weeks before the next camera comes along. In over a year of use, we've never had to run a nozzle-cleaning cycle on our PRO-1000.

See our Canon PRO-1000 review for a full overview of the printer from the viewpoint of a fine-art photographer.

*Disclosure: Canon provided us with the PRO-1000 and a supply of ink to use in our testing, and we receive advertising consideration for including this mention when we talk about camera print quality. Our decision to use the PRO-1000 was driven by the printer itself, though, prior to any discussion with Canon on the topic. (We'd actually been using an old Pixma PRO 9500II dye-based printer for years previously, and paying for our own ink, until we decided that the PRO-1000 was the next-generation printer we'd been waiting for.)

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 Photo Gallery .

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 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!



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