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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 06/02/06
Rating: Highly Recommended!
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Read reviews on: Panasonic DMC-FZ30K Lumix


Introduction: Announced on the 20th of July 05, the Panasonic Lumix FZ30 is a new 8 megapixel digital camera with a Leica 12x optical zoom lens - and built in optical image stabilisation called "Mega Optical Image Stabilisation". The cameras 12x optical zoom lens has a 35mm - 420mm film equivalent. The Panasonic Lumix FZ30 is available from around £370, this makes it good value for money for a high end 8 megapixel ultra zoom digital camera. The camera is enclosed in a black or silver metal body with a rubberised hand grip. The FZ30 records 640x480 movies with sound at 30fps and allows the use of the optical zoom during recording. The camera is quite large roughly the same size as a small Digital SLR, however with a much more powerful zoom. The camera takes a proprietry lithium-ion batter and measures: 140.75 x 85.5 x 138.1 mm (without protruding parts), and weighs Approx. 674g (excluding batteries and media).

Panasonic have this to say about the camera:

"Panasonic is proud to introduce the 8-Megapixel, 12x optical zoom LUMIX DMC-FZ30 inheriting MEGA O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilizer) as an up-and-comer to its creative super zoom FZ double-digit line. The DMC-FZ20, released in 2004, has been internationally acclaimed for meeting the needs of the market by realizing the ideals of users."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Panasonic Lumix FZ3)


Front - Camera off. Focus assist lamp on left.


Front - Underneath the shutter release is a control dial. (lens cap on)


Back - 2" swivel screen, dioptor corrector, EVF screen, AE Lock, EVF/LCD, Display, Menu, Delete, Speaker, 4-way controller, (far right) control dial.


Top: Flash hotshoe, Mode dial, On/Off, Continuous shooting, Mega O.I.S mode button, shutter, control dial (corner).


Bottom - battery compartment (open/close latch), metal tripod mount.


Left Side. Microphone (on top), zoom ring, manual focus ring, focus mode (AF, AF Macro, Manual), focus button.


Left Side. USB, Remote, DC in ports. Screen down enables low shots.


Lens strap loop. Memory card compartment. Screen facing camera (protects the screen).

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.


Size comparison.


Size comparison. (pop up flash up)


Size comparison, compared to the Fujifilm FinePix S5600 / S5200.


Size comparison, compared to another ultra zoom digital camera, the Panasonic Lumix FZ3 (taken with the Casio Exilim Z120).

Specifications / Features:

  • 8 Megapixel CCD sensor
  • Leica 12x Optical zoom lens with Mega Optical Image Stabilisation
  • (19x optical zoom available in 3 megapixel mode)
  • 2" swivel screen, 230,000 pixels
  • Electronic Viewfinder, 230,000 pixels
  • 2x / 4x Digital Zoom
  • ISO AUTO, 80, 100, 200, 400
  • Video mode: 640 x 480 pixels, 30 fps with sound, optical zoom can be used
  • Roughly 2cm Macro mode (away from front of lens)
  • Pictbridge support
  • RAW mode, Manual controls

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • 32MB SD Memory card
  • Battery pack
  • Battery charger (DE-994 - same as FZ3/FZ4/FZ5)
  • AV Cable
  • USB Cable
  • CD-Rom
  • Lens Cap
  • Strap
  • Lens hood
  • 135 Page Printed Manual

Average box contents - you will need to buy a larger memory card, and a case (as with almost all digital cameras).

Battery usage: Up to 280 pictures with supplied batteries, according to CIPA testing, 300 when using the EVF. Battery life seemed good, although not as good as the 500-shot Fuji F10 for example.

Menu Options / Modes: The camera mode is selected using the top dial.

Photo mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right below:

Photo mode Photo Menu

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown on the left) The screen resolution with 230,000 pixels is very good, and has a live histogram. The screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read. Optical Viewfinder: There is no optical viewfinder, instead there is an Electronic ViewFinder (EVF) - which is especially useful outside on bright sunny days - this has a diopter corrector and the size of the EVF means I'm able to use it even when wearing glasses.

Photo menu options: White balance (2 custom modes), ISO Sensitivity (80,100,200,400), Aspect Ratio (4:3, 3:2, 16:9), Picture size, Quality (RAW, Tiff, Fine, Standard), Audio record, Metering mode, AF mode, Continuous AF, AF assist lamp, Digital zoom, Colour effect (Off, Cool, Warm, Black and White, Sepia), Picture Adjust (Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation, Noise reduction), Flip anim, Conversion (Wide, Telephoto adapters available).

Scene modes Setup menu

Scene modes: There are two scene menus, so that it's possible to quickly switch between two favourite scene modes. The Scene modes are: Portrait, Sports, Food, Scenery, Night portrait, Night scenery, Baby, Soft Skin, Candle light, Party, Firewoks, Snow, Starry Sky, Panning. Pressing left with give a short description of what the scene mode does, for example, for 'Baby', the description is "Suitable for taking pictures of your baby. Age can be displayed with picture if you set the birthday."

Setup menu options: Monitor brightness, Auto review, play on LCD, Power save, MF Assist mode, Beep, Shutter, Volume, Clock set, Number reset, Reset, USB mode, Highlight, Video out, Scene menu, Language.

Playback (Review) mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the left, below:

Playback mode Playback menu

Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is fairly average, with initial display a bit sluggish. The zoom is fairly quick. There were four different playback views, normal, thumbs - showing 25, 16, or 9 thumnails. Further photo information was available by pressing the display button.

Playback menu options: Slideshow, Favourite, Rotate display, Rotate, DPOF Print, Protect, Audio dub, Resize, Trimming, Aspect convert, Clean up (defragments the memory card), Format.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number of images will fit on the 32mb memory card provided with the camera:

Image Size: Number of Photos Stored / Quality
 
Ratio
RAW
TIFF
Fine
Standard
5.5mp
16:9
2
1
11
22
2mp
-
4
28
54
7mp
3:2
1
1
8
17
4.5mp
-
2
13
27
2.5mp
-
3
21
41
8mp
4:3
1
1
7
15
5mp
-
1
12
24
3mp
-
3
19
37
2mp
-
4
30
59
1mp
-
7
46
86

As shown in the table above, you can fit a small number of images on the 32mb memory card - a large memory card is definitely recommended, unless you want to use the lower image sizes / higher compression options in order to fit more pictures in memory. There is a very good choice of image sizes and aspect ratios, and a very good choice regarding image compression.

A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 256mb memory card, and preferably a 512mb memory card, or larger, especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 128mb: £9.99, 256mb: £8.84, 512mb: £15.99, 1gb (1000mb): £29.99, 2gb (2000mb): £59.08.
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera is very quick to switch on and take photos, being ready in around one second. Focusing seemed fairly quick even in low-light thanks to the bright focus-assist lamp. The playback mode is also fairly quick. The camera shutter response seemed quick (0.1 seconds) when pre-focused - and shot to shot time was quick, with a delay of around 2 seconds between shots without flash. The flash recharge time was quite quick. The cameras menu's seemed quick. Continuous shooting is quick, at roughly 2fps for upto 6 shots at the highest resolution (without flash).

Ease of use: The camera is very easy to use, especially in AUTO mode, or one of the scene modes, even though the camera has a lot of options. The controls on the back of the camera are quite straight forward - the menus are responsive and easy to read and navigate. The menus are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly. The modes are easy to access, quick and simple, mainly thanks to the right number of dials and buttons on the camera (most options aren't hidden away in menus which makes it easier to use). Most functions can be worked out without having to refer to the manual. The manual zoom ring is very easy to use, especially if you are used to using SLR cameras.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The buttons are fairly easy to use, and they are in a good position. There seem to be the right amount of buttons and dials allowing easy access to the most commonly used functions and features. The buttons feel okay, although some may find them small. The shutter release is quite decent. The buttons are labelled fairly well - although the scrolling wheels can be confusing in playback mode - I expect with extended use I would have become used to this. I thought the camera felt very good ergonomically, with an excellent size rubbery handgrip, the rubberised cover will appeal to many, as will the SLR-styling and black colour. The camera feels like a very solid, robust and well built camera, with a metal body (whereas most budget Digital SLRs have plastic bodies).

Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower (ISO80) Group photo (ISO100)

Inside: The camera has very good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - there is no red-eye in the photo. It has a decent flash, and copes well with group photos, and on AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was kept quite low in these photos. The camera did a good job at focusing even in low-light. Colour is richly saturated.

Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels, and manual ISO settings (ISO: 80, 100, 200, and 400) - below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings.


ISO Noise Test Photo - Flash on unless otherwise stated

ISO80 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels

Noise is visible in photos taken at ISO80 and ISO100, however noise isn't a problem as these ISO settings and images are still good. At ISO200 and ISO400 noise levels are high / very high - these ISO settings are best avoided if image quality is your highest priority. However in some circumstances, especially when taking photos of dark objects, ISO200 is unusable even when images are resized, but in other circumstances, ISO200 produces acceptable results.

Outside:

Shops Red Berries, blue sky

Outside, the camera had very good (rich) colour, with good contrast and saturation. There was good detail although images did seem slightly soft. There seemed to be good dynamic range. Noise seemed quite low, especially on sunny days. I didn't notice jpeg artefacts in the images.

Zoom: The camera has a 12x optical zoom lens, a 4x digital zoom, and a 19x optical / smart zoom mode at 3 megapixels - I've included examples below to show what the zoom range of the camera is. Using the digital zoom degrades image quality and is best avoided.

Wide-angle 3x Optical zoom 12x Optical Zoom

Exposure / Metering on the photos of the clock tower seems good, with the dark areas of the photo not too dark, and the bright areas of the photo still visible. Purple fringing is well controlled.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens is very quiet, making almost no noise when switched on due to the lens already being in position. The manual zoom ring also means that zooming in silent. The shutter is quiet. There are probably an infinite number of positions between wide and telephoto due to the manual / analog zoom ring - this gives you very good control on how you frame your subject.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing seemed quite low - and seems well controlled.

Macro: You can use the flash in macro mode, although if the subject is too close, then there will be a shadow cast over some of the image due to the position of the flash and the long lens. The camera can be roughly as close as 2cm away from the subject from the front of the lens in wide setting, when set to macro focus mode.

Macro Timex Watch Actual Pixels (ISO100)

The macro mode is very good - colour and detail is good, and there apears to be fairly low noise at ISO100 (although quite high noise when I used ISO200 for the same photo). The camera allows you to get very close to the subject. Images did seem a bit soft - and may benefit from sharpening. Custom white balance helps acheive better results.

Movie: The movie mode on this camera is very good with VGA at 30fps, with sound and allows use of the optical zoom. The camera also has a 320x240 video mode with sound. The camera did well even in low light. Videos are recorded as .MOV files.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality is very good, the images have very good colour, with rich saturation, contrast, and detail, although with higher than average noise. Purple fringing was quite low, as was red-eye. The camera did a good job focusing even in low light thanks to the focus-assist lamp. I did not notice vignetting in photos, nor did I notice barrel or pincushion distortion. There is a very good range of image sizes, and a very good choice of compression options (including RAW and TIFF). The macro mode is good, and provides good detail and colour. Auto white balance and metering seemed to be good. The movie mode is good, providing 640x480 and 30 frames per second with sound, and optical zoom. The camera gives very good control over image quality, allowing you to change the colour warmth, saturation, contrast, sharpness and noise reduction in camera.

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is quite large, and definitely not pocketable. The camera is stylish with a black or silver metal body with black rubber hand grips styled much like a real Digital SLR. The camera has a very good swivel screen, and the EVF allows the camera to be used in bright sunlight. The camera feels very well built. The camera is easy to use, the menu system is easy to use and there is a good layout of buttons and controls, with the majority on the outside of the camera (rather than hidden in menus). The camera speed is good, with a good switch on time, good focusing time, good shutter response, good flash recharge time, fairly quick playback mode (although scrolling through photos could be quicker), quick menus, and quick continuous shooting.

Value for Money: The Panasonic Lumix FZ30 is very good value for money, providing a large 12x optical zoom lens with image stabilisation, an 8 megapixel sensor, a 2" swivel screen and a metal body. Cheaper than all Digital SLRs, the FZ30 is especially good value for money when compared to how much money would have to be spent to equal the zoom range with a Digital SLR. There are a lot of cameras to choose from with similar length zooms, however nearly all of them feature a lower resolution sensor - ultra zoom digital cameras worth considering include the Panasonic Lumix FZ5, Panasonic Lumix FZ7, Kodak Easyshare Z740, Sony Cyber-shot DSC H1, Olympus SP 500, Canon S2 IS, Konica Minolta Dimage Z6 , Konica Minolta Dimage Z5, or the Nikon Coolpix S4. Personally I'd be looking at getting one with built in image stabilisation, such as the Panasonic FZ5, Panasonix Lumix FZ7, Sony Cybershot H1, Canon S2 IS or the Konica Minolta Dimage Z5. See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: The Panasonic Lumix FZ30 is an excellent ultra zoom digital camera, offering excellent image quality, an excellent Leica 12x optical zoom lens with image stabilisation, and a manual zoom ring. The high resolution 2" swivel screen is very good, and the camera is very good value for money. The easy to use camera offers speedy performance, good battery life, with good controls and excellent build quality thanks to a solid metal camera body. I would highly recommend this camera, especially to people who like it's SLR styling, although be aware that noise is on the high side. If you can stick with the lower ISO settings or only wish to print small images then this camera should be high on your shopping list! I'd recommend trying the camera before purchase, as this camera is definitely large when compared to your average sized ultra zoom camera.

Panasonic Lumix FZ30 Rating: Highly Recommended!
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What I like:

  • Very good image quality
  • Very pleasing rich colours (however if this isn't to your tastes, saturation can be turned down in camera)
  • Leica 12x optical zoom lens with image stabilisation, manual zoom ring and manual focusing ring
  • Wide-angle / Telephoto adapters available!
  • Quick performance, quick switch on time etc
  • Black metal / rubbery SLR-style body
  • Good movie mode (VGA, 30fps, allows use of optical zoom)
  • Full printed manual
  • Well built, solid metal body
  • Good battery life
  • High quality / resolution 2" swivel screen
  • Good size electronic viewfinder (EVF) with diopter corrector (usable by people with glasses)
  • Very good choice regarding image size, aspect ratio (16:9, 3:2, 4:3), and image compression including RAW and TIFF modes.
  • Very good value for money (especially considering zoom range and image stabilisation)

What I don't like:

  • High noise, especially at ISO200 or above.
  • Playback mode could be quicker.

Remember to have a look at the test photos in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 Sample Photo Gallery.

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