Panasonic FZ300 Field Test

Numerous improvements make this an excellent all-around camera

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 02/26/2016

500mm equivalent (90.1mm), f/5.0, 1/320s, ISO 100
This image has been modified. Click for original image.

Introduction

In 2012, Panasonic released the FZ200 bridge camera, and then last October, just over three years later, Panasonic released the FZ300. During those three years, some things have remained the same between these two models, such as the sensor and lens, but many other things have changed, such as autofocus performance and video features. Not only that, but the camera body itself has seen an overhaul. Ultimately the FZ300 won't blow you away with resolving power or zoom capabilities but it is a versatile all-in-one camera that, overall, does nearly everything well.

Key Features

  • 12.1-megapixel 1/2.3-inch sensor
  • 25-600mm equivalent f/2.8 Leica-branded lens
  • Newly designed camera body
  • Five-axis Hybrid Optical Image Stabilization Plus
  • 100-6400 ISO range
  • Shutter speeds as fast as 1/16,000s
  • 4K video recording at up to 30fps
  • 4K Photo modes

SLR-like feel with a solid design

Built similarly to a DSLR, the FZ300 is far from compact. What it lacks in mobility it makes up for in versatility and overall build quality. This FZ200 successor has a completely redesigned camera body and even includes weather-sealing. Compared to its predecessor, the 24.4 ounce (691 grams) FZ300 is a bit bigger and is 3.6 ounces (just over 100 grams) heavier. The front grip is slightly larger, and the body is slightly taller. The ergonomics of the front grip have changed too, making the camera more comfortable to hold.

Other improvements to the camera body include enhancements to both the rear display and the electronic viewfinder. The 3" rear touchscreen display has a higher resolution, now 1,036,800 dots and is brighter overall. I found that the display worked well, especially with its tilt-swivel capabilities. Where the FZ200 had only a 0.46x magnification for its EVF, the FZ300's EVF has 0.7x magnification. The 0.39" OLED viewfinder has a very nice picture and is sharp (it has 1,440K dots). I found it to be a very nice EVF that worked well in the field, even when photographing fast-moving subjects or capturing continuous images.

There are a lot of external controls on the FZ300, including four customizable function buttons and a convenient focus mode switch surrounding an AF/AE lock button on the rear of the camera. The command dial is conveniently-located and rotates well, although it can be difficult at times to make precise selections.

Small sensor packs a punch

Using the same 12.1-megapixel 1/2.3" High Sensitivity MOS sensor as the FZ200, the FZ300 delivers good image quality across a wide range of ISO speeds and situations. Given the small size of the sensor, I'm glad that Panasonic has opted to keep the megapixel count relatively low for the sake of image quality. Although this limits your ability to crop images from the FZ300, its 600mm equivalent telephoto lens does help to compensate for this limitation.

70mm equivalent (12.5mm), f/2.8, 1/80s, ISO 640. Even at ISO 640 I was able to recover a lot of shadow detail in this image, particularly within the tree at the top of the frame. This was a difficult scene to photograph because the late day sunlight was hitting the snow in the background and also parts of the water. I was impressed with how much processing I could do with this file.
This image has been modified. Click for original image.

JPEG files from the FZ300 are sharp, although this sharpness brings with it some artifacts. Around fine details in particular, JPEG files straight from the camera appear over sharpened. On the other hand, RAW files come out of the camera quite dull, but they process easily. You will be able to rescue highlights and shadows to some extent when working with RAW files, but the FZ300 does not provide the dynamic range you would find from a camera with a larger sensor. Overall, considering the class of the camera, I was impressed with the FZ300's sensor and image quality.

200mm equivalent (36.1mm), f/2.8, 1/500s, ISO 160.

100% crop of JPEG file straight from the camera. You can see quite a few artifacts around fine details in this JPEG image. I've circled an area of particular concern, although you can find artifacts in other areas of the image.
Click for original image.

Built-in lens provides 24x optical zoom and good performance

The built-in Leica-branded DC Vario-Elmarit 25-600mm-equivalent lens has an impressive constant f/2.8 aperture. This fast lens has an actual focal length of 4.5-108mm but remains a relatively compact lens, all things considered, thanks to the camera's small sensor size. The lens has a multistage iris diaphragm and a minimum aperture of f/8, which, unfortunately, causes considerable diffraction.

This image shows the power of the FZ300's 24x optical zoom. The larger image was shot at 25mm f/2.8. The inset image was captured at 600mm f/2.8. .

I was happy to find that the lens accepts screw-in 52mm filters as well. The lens' build quality seems quite nice. The lens hood does its job, and the switch on the lens for zooming and small dial for focus both work well. The zoom toggle on the lens itself provides more fine-tuned focal length adjustments than the rotating switch surrounding the shutter release.

I found the focusing dial to be somewhat unusual, but helpful once I got used to it. Rather than being a more traditional focus ring, the FZ300 features a small dial on the lens body (about half an inch in diameter) that you rotate with your thumb. On some other all-in-one cameras I've used, manual focusing has been handled using navigation buttons on the back of the camera. The FZ300's dial, while small and unlike other dials I've used, allows for fairly precise manual focusing.

Panasonic FZ300 25mm Comparison 100% center crops from RAW images (click images for full-size files). RAW files processed, cropped, and exported as JPEGs in Photoshop with default sharpening applied.
Full scene (f/2.8)
f/2.8
f/4.0
f/5.6
f/8.0

With fourteen elements in eleven groups, including five aspherical lenses, three ED lenses, and one lens with Nano Surface Coating, the FZ300's built-in lens performs well across the entire focal length range. At the wide end of the lens, corners are a bit soft at f/2.8, but stopping down to f/4.0 alleviates this. Chromatic aberrations and purple fringing aren't a particular issue at 25mm. At 600mm, however, there is moderate purple fringing when shooting wide open, but stopping down to f/4.0 rectifies the issue. At all focal lengths, I found that diffraction started to rear its ugly head around f/5.6. At f/8, the entire frame becomes noticeably softer, even when viewing the image at smaller sizes.

Panasonic FZ300 600mm Comparison
f/2.8
f/4.0

Both exposure and white balance metering is good

The FZ300 meters both exposure and white balance well. Exposure metering options include intelligent multiple, center-weighted, and spot. Multiple covers the whole frame and does a good job providing balanced exposures in typical scenes. Spot metering can be paired to an autofocus point, which is very handy. In situations when exposure compensation is needed, pressing the Fn1 button on the top of the camera provides fast access to exposure compensation, which is available up to +/-3 stops.

89mm equivalent (16.1mm), f/5.6, 1/4s, ISO 100
Click for original image.

Likewise, white balance metering was good with the FZ300. I found auto white balance worked very well in almost all situations. When auto white balance isn't delivering the expected results, or if you just want to fine-tune the white balance, pressing the Fn2 button on the top of the camera allows you to quickly change the white balance setting by using the focus dial on the lens.

Dependable and quick autofocus in low light

Autofocus performance is good with the FZ300 overall. At less than extreme telephoto focal lengths, focus is very quick, even in low light, despite being contrast-detect only. The FZ300 is rated to autofocus down to an impressive -3 EV. The new Light Speed AF autofocus system includes Depth from Defocus technology and Panasonic states that it is twice as fast as the autofocus system found in the FZ200 with a refresh rate of 240 fps. Autofocus algorithms have also seen improvement, which according to Panasonic should double the tracking autofocus performance of the camera.

600mm equivalent (108mm), f/3.2, 1/125s, ISO 160
This image has been modified. Click for original image.

In my experience, AF-S performance was very good. In dim lighting conditions, the autofocus rarely skipped a beat. In difficult situations, however, such as ones with small subjects or a lot of complexity (like branches obstructing a bird, for example), the FZ300 did struggle somewhat, particularly at longer focal lengths.

600mm equivalent (108mm), f/3.5, 1/640s, ISO 100.
This 100% crop from a JPEG file straight from the camera shows that the FZ300 did a good job focusing, even at 600mm. Click for original image.

Continuous autofocus performance was impressive as well, particularly when shooting stills. However, the continuous autofocus can get jittery when trying to focus on a small subject as the camera is unsure if focus has been achieved, and it has a tendency to not lock onto a subject very well in difficult conditions.

Autofocus modes include face/eye detection, tracking, 49-area, Custom Multi, and 1-area. There is also a pinpoint AF function which allows you to zoom in further on a selected AF point to fine-tune the focus. Full area AF covers approximately the entire frame, which is excellent and allows you to select an autofocus point across virtually the entire image. Utilizing the new touchscreen for autofocus point selection is much faster than using the camera's physical controls, so I recommend turning the touchscreen feature on.

90mm equivalent (16.1), f/4.0, 1/2s, ISO 100. Even in low light, the FZ300 was able to autofocus accurately on this piece of ice, which is itself a difficult autofocus subject.
Click for original image.

When you want to manually focus, you can select 'MF' on the autofocus drive mode switch on the back of the camera (which includes AFS/AFF, AFC, and MF options) and adjust focus with the small dial on the lens itself. There is a real-time focus scale on the display, and the camera magnifies in on the select area of the image. Unlike the FZ200, the FZ300 also has focus peaking to help achieve sharp manually focused images.

With recent firmware upgrades, the FZ300 now has the ability to Post Focus. Post Focus lets you capture a series of images with different focal points and then select your point of focus after capture. This works by using 4K Photo so images are not full resolution. The feature does work well, though, so if you're okay with 3840 x 2160 (8MP) images then it is certainly worth checking out.

Decent high ISO performance, but heavy-handed noise reduction

As is often the case with compact cameras, the FZ300's noise reduction is aggressive and limits the usability of JPEG files captured at higher ISOs. With that said, the high ISO performance of the camera when looking at RAW files is quite good.

Panasonic FZ300 Noise Comparison
100% center crops from RAW images (click images for full-size files).
RAW files processed, cropped, and exported as JPEGs in Photoshop with default sharpening and noise reduction set to zero.
ISO 100 Full Scene
ISO 100
ISO 200
ISO 400
ISO 800
ISO 1600
ISO 3200
ISO 6400

When considering RAW files, noise starts to become an issue when viewing images at full size around ISO 800. Here, a lot of color noise starts to appear, but it is manageable with only cursory noise reduction. The amount of noise at ISO 1600 is quite a bit greater than at ISO 800, but again the results after simple noise reduction during post-processing are better than what the camera produces with its JPEG files at ISO 1600. Beyond ISO 1600, I found the noise to be excessive. ISO 6400, the FZ300's maximum ISO sensitivity, is very noisy, lacking contrast, and lacking any real detail or sharpness.

JPEG files up to ISO 1600 look fine (although I maintain that processed RAW files can look better). At ISO 3200, the in-camera noise reduction goes overboard and gives files a very artificial and blocky appearance. Transitions aren't smooth, details are lost, and the image just looks poor when viewed at large sizes. With that said, considering how noisy RAW files are at ISO 6400, I was surprised that JPEG files at ISO 6400 look decent at small viewing sizes despite the heavy noise reduction.

25mm equivalent (5.5mm), f/2.8, 8s, ISO 100
Click for original image.

The FZ300 has a built-in flash with a good range when using auto ISO: 0.3 - 8.8m at the wide end of the lens and 1.0 - 8.8m at telephoto focal lengths. Using the flash is as easy as sliding the button on the top left of the camera. It is a good design that feels sturdy. The FZ300 also has a hot shoe, so you can attach an external flash if you need more power. The constant f/2.8 aperture helps make the flash feel more powerful than it really is, providing a fast lens across the entire focal length range. That said, the flash is capable of providing illumination even in instances of bright ambient light. With a max flash sync of 1/4000s, the FZ300's built-in flash will work well at fast shutter speeds as well.

25mm equivalent (5.5mm), f/4.0, 1/60s, ISO 1600, flash fired.
Click for original image.

Using the FZ300 in the field is an enjoyable experience

Out in the field, the Panasonic FZ300 handles well. When you're trying to make an image, any shortcomings of the camera body show up quickly. I thought that the FZ300's camera body itself performed well; the weather-resistance is a welcome addition, too. The new, larger electronic viewfinder is really nice, providing a sharp image even when looking at a moving subject. An area of weakness was the camera's overall menu system, which felt somewhat confusing and slow to navigate.

200mm equivalent (36.1mm), f/4.0, 1/500s, ISO 100
Click for original image.

The FZ300's fully automatic shooting mode works quite well, thanks to impressive metering and autofocus performance. All of the standard exposure modes are available on the top mode dial, including aperture priority, shutter speed priority, and a fully manual shooting mode. Given the lack of a second dedicated command dial, you're forced to press the Fn1 button to switch between aperture and shutter speed settings when shooting in full manual mode. Other than that, I always felt that the FZ300 provided me adequate control.

There are additional less serious shooting modes, such as panorama, scene guide, and creative control modes. Panorama mode works fine, although you're better off stitching your own panoramas if possible since the in-camera Panorama Mode saves images that are only 1,920 pixels tall. So manually-stitched panoramas are the only way to go for higher-resolution images.

25mm equivalent (4.5mm), f/2.8, 1/125s, ISO 1000
Click for original image.

Scene guide mode provides the user a large list of automatic settings to select from depending on what sort of subject you're shooting. One nice touch, which also applies to the creative control mode, is that you can change the display mode of the scenes (and creative effects) from normal (a slide show display), guide, and list display (which is the most efficient display option). Creative control gives the user a large array of different special effects to choose from. Which of these filters and effects works for your own photography is a matter of personal preference, but I was pleased to find that the camera can still record simultaneous RAW files in this mode, meaning that you can always go back and have a standard image to work with later.

25mm equivalent (4.5mm), f/2.8, 1/125s, ISO 800
Click for original image.

Another great feature of the FZ300 is its outstanding image stabilization. At 25mm, I was able to capture sharp images down to 1/2.5s shutter speeds. At 600mm, I was able to capture reasonably sharp images at shutter speeds as slow as 1/15s, although 1/25s provided more consistently sharp results.

Speedy continuous shooting and a fast shutter

The FZ300 is rated to shoot full-resolution JPEG images at up to 12fps, although during my testing, it was actually around 11fps. My testing showed a buffer of just under 80 frames. Individual results may vary, however, as your SD card can impact performance. Nonetheless, the FZ300 is quite speedy when it comes to recording JPEG files.

Speeds do decrease slightly when recording RAW files, but not significantly. The FZ300 recorded RAW files at around 10fps during my testing -- which is certainly not bad -- with a buffer of 22 frames when recording RAW only. When recording RAW+JPEG files, the speeds remain essentially the same while the buffer decreased slightly to 20 frames. Clearing the RAW+JPEG burst took just under 25 seconds.

600mm equivalent (108mm), f/2.8, 1/200s, ISO 100
This image has been modified. Click for original image.

In addition to quick continuous shooting performance, the FZ300 has a new electronic shutter mode that allows it to shoot at shutter speeds up to 1/16000s. In contrast, the FZ200's shutter speed was capped at 1/4000s.

Menu navigation and single frame processing is fairly quick overall, although some of the real-time special effects can dramatically slow the camera's live view performance. Also, there were three instances during my testing where the FZ300 randomly locked up and forced me to power cycle the camera.

4K Video, 4K Photo, and more

Headlining the video features on the FZ300 is the capability to record 4K video, which was absent on the FZ200. In addition to 4K video recording, the FZ300 also gains Panasonic's 4K Photo modes.

Panasonic FZ300 1080p Video Sample, 1920 x 1080, 60 frames-per-second
Download Original (44.9 MB .MP4 File)

Full HD video is present, allowing 1080p video at up to 60fps. 1080p video quality is nice, with good continuous autofocus and exposure metering performance. The FZ300's five-axis Hybrid Optical Image Stabilization Plus system is fully-operational when recording 1080p video and works well, although handheld video is still difficult to keep steady, even at the widest angle.

Panasonic FZ300 1080p Handheld Video Sample, 1920 x 1080, 60fps
Download Original (58.0 MB .MP4 File)

When recording 4K video, five-axis image stabilization isn't available so a tripod or other platform is necessary for smooth, stable footage. 4K video quality is quite good when recording at lower ISO settings. At higher ISOs, the noise reduction can become excessive and reduce the fine detail that you desire from a 4K video.

Panasonic FZ300 4K Video Sample, 3840 x 2160, 30fps
Download Original (343.6 MB .MP4 File)

Interestingly, despite being a 25-600mm-eq. lens, you can actually zoom to 648mm when recording 4K video. Due to the 16:9 aspect ratio of video, the zoom range changes to 27-648mm-eq. for 4K video mode or unstabilized Full HD/HD video. For Full HD/HD video with O.I.S. enabled, the focal length range changes yet again to 30-720mm-eq. as there is some additional image cropping for the stabilization. Zooming is quite fast when using the switch around the shutter release, but I found that using the switch on the lens itself provided smoother zooming performance.

Panasonic FZ300 4K Video Sample - ISO 800, 3840 x 2160, 30fps
Download Original (182.1 MB .MP4 File)

Video recording can be started in a variety of shooting modes by pressing the dedicated movie record button on the top of the camera, but there is also a dedicated movie mode on the mode dial. When in the dedicated movie mode, you can select between automatic, shutter speed priority, aperture priority, and fully manual exposure video recording. During my testing, I found that the fully automatic movie mode setting did a good job, although it is excellent to have the option to go fully manual.

4K Photo Mode is a neat feature that allows you to capture a series of 4K resolution still images at up to 30fps. An additional cool video feature is a built-in stop motion animation creator. There are a few different options associated with this mode, including automatic shooting on an interval and choosing output frame rate and quality.

Panasonic FZ300 Stop-Motion Animation Sample, 1920 x 1080, 15 fps converted to 30fps
Download Original (6.6 MB .MP4 File)

I found the FZ300's overall video performance to be quite good. Its 4K capabilities are a welcome addition and its a mic input is a nice touch for the more advanced videographer.

Wireless connectivity comes to the FZ-series

With its new Wi-Fi connectivity, the FZ300 works well with the Panasonic Image Share mobile application. After connecting to the camera via my iOS device's Wi-Fi settings, the app quickly connected to the camera. Once connected, I was given options such as remotely controlling the camera, transferring images to my iOS device, or geotagging images.

Panasonic Image Share application screen shots

The remote control offers a large amount of control over the camera, including changing the photo style, picture size, recording quality, metering mode, and more. You can control focus mode, white balance, exposure compensation, and ISO as well. By tapping in the live view screen area in the app, I was able to quickly focus and capture an image. Changing settings on the camera itself, such as exposure mode, didn't disconnect the camera but instead required only a short loading period on my mobile device. The app works really well and provides the user a lot of control, all with a stable connection and good live view performance.

Panasonic FZ300 Field Test Summary

Good image quality and a great lens make this a very good bridge camera

What I like:

  • Comfortable and easy-to-use camera body
  • Large, sharp electronic viewfinder
  • A solid 25-600mm built-in lens with fast constant f/2.8 aperture
  • Dependable and fast autofocus performance
  • Good 4K features
  • Weather sealing

What I dislike:

  • Menu system can be difficult to navigate
  • Default sharpening and noise reduction are both excessive
300mm equivalent (54.1mm), f/4.0, 1/400s, ISO 100
This image has been modified. Click for full-size image.

For just under $500 USD, you get a lot of camera for your money. With that said, you can find DSLRs for similar money and you can find smaller cameras that provide similar or better image quality, so what makes the FZ300 worth your consideration? The FZ300 is an all-encompassing camera system. Its built-in lens provides more than enough reach for most applications, but doesn't compromise overall quality. Its sensor may be small, but it delivers good images across a decently wide range of ISOs. The Panasonic FZ300 is good at nearly everything that it does.

 



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