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DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30  

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: August 18, 2005
Last Updated: March 13, 2012

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The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 ($699) is the latest addition to Panasonic's family of ultra zoom cameras. It replaces the DMC-FZ20, which was my favorite ultra zoom camera of last year. New features on the FZ30 include:

  • 8 Megapixel CCD (versus 5MP)
  • Slightly slower lens (F2.8-3.7 versus F2.8)
  • Manual zoom ring
  • Flip-down, rotating LCD display
  • Extra optical zoom feature can boost zoom power to 19.1X
  • New high speed autofocus system
  • Support for RAW image format
  • Two command dials for adjusting aperture and shutter speed
  • Improved battery life

There are a few more differences between the FZ20 and FZ30 that I'll mention in the review.

Now here's a look at how the FZ5, FZ20, and FZ30 compare:

Feature DMC-FZ5 DMC-FZ20 DMC-FZ30
Street price $396 $453 N/A
Resolution 5.0 MP 5.0 MP 8.0 MP
Focal length 36 - 432 mm 36 - 432 mm 35 - 420mm
Maximum aperture F2.8 - F3.3 F2.8 F2.8 - F3.7
Rings around lens None Focus Zoom, focus
Extended optical zoom No No Yes
High speed focusing system Yes No Yes
Image formats supported JPEG, TIFF JPEG, TIFF JPEG, TIFF, RAW
Movie mode quality 320 x 240, 15 fps 320 x 240, 15 fps 640 x 480, 30 fps
LCD size 1.8" 2.0" 2.0"
LCD position Fixed Fixed Flip-down, rotating
LCD/EVF usable in low light No No Yes
Hot shoe No Yes Yes
Supports conversion lenses No* Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA standard, using LCD) 300 240 280
* While Panasonic doesn't offer conversion lenses for the FZ5, third-party lenses will work

Please note that those street prices were accurate at the time I wrote this and are subject to change. I'll compare the dimensions and weight of these cameras a bit later in the review.

Enough comparisons -- let's get into the meat of the review now!

What's in the Box?

The DMC-FZ30 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 8.0 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-FZ30 camera
  • 32MB Secure Digital card
  • CGR-S006A lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • Lens hood w/adapter
  • Lens cap
  • Shoulder strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring ArcSoft software, Lumix Simple Viewer, and drivers
  • 147 page camera manual (printed)

Inside the box you'll find a 32MB Secure Digital (SD) memory card, which holds just seven photos at the highest JPEG quality setting (and just one RAW or TIFF image). So, with that in mind, you should definitely buy a larger memory card if you pick up the FZ30, and I would suggest 512MB or even 1GB as a good starter size. A high speed SD card is recommended if you plan on taking advantage of the camera's continuous shooting and movie mode features. While the FZ30 can also use MultiMediaCards, SD cards are preferable.

The FZ30 uses the new CGR-S006A lithium-ion battery, which gives the camera 17% better battery life than its predecessor. The S006A has 5.1 Wh of energy, which is average. Here's how the FZ30 compares with other ultra zoom cameras in terms of battery life:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Battery used for test
Canon PowerShot S2 IS 550 shots 2300 mAh NIMH
Fuji FinePix S5200 500 shots 2500 mAh NIMH
Kodak EasyShare P850 290 shots KLIC-5001
Kodak EasyShare Z7590 275 shots KLIC-5001
Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z5 420 shots 2500 mAh NiMH
Nikon Coolpix 4800 240 shots EN-EL1
Nikon Coolpix 8800 240 shots EN-EL7
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5 300 shots CGA-S002A
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20 240 shots CGA-S002A
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 280 shots CGR-S006A
Samsung Digimax Pro815 450 shots SLB-1974
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H1 290 shots 2100 mAh NIMH

As you can see, the FZ30 is sort of in the middle of the pack, with some of the competition doing a lot better in this area.

The usual caveats about proprietary batteries apply here. First, they're really expensive -- Panasonic batteries typically cost around $50 a pop. Secondly, if you're ever in a jam, you can't just pop in some alkaline batteries to get you through the day like you could on an AA-based camera. Several of the cameras on the above list use AA batteries.

When it's time to charge the battery, just snap it into the included charger. The charger plugs right into the wall -- no power cord is needed. It takes about two hours to fully charge the CGR-S006.

Panasonic includes a lens cap without a retaining strap as protection for that big lens. If you don't want to risk losing your lens cap, pick up one of those retaining straps with the sticky piece at one end at any camera store.

Something else you'll find in the box is a plastic lens hood, which comes in handy when you're shooting outdoors. Just snap it on and you're set to go.

Wide-angle conversion lens

Telephoto conversion lens
Images courtesy of Panasonic

There are a number of accessories available for the FZ30, and I've compiled them into this handy list for you:

Accessory Model # Price Why you want it
Wide-angle lens DMW-LW55 $250 Brings the wide end of the lens down by 0.7X to 24.5 mm
Telephoto lens DMW-LT55 $230 Boosts focal range by 1.7X to a whopping 714 mm; -- wow!
Neutral density filter DMW-LND55 $35 Reduces the amount of light hitting the lens, allowing the use of larger apertures
MC protector DMW-LMC55 $35 Protect your lens from scratches or worse
External flash DMW-FL28 $150 Get better flash photos and less redeye
Remote shutter release cable DMW-RS1 $25 Trigger the shutter release without laying a hand on the camera
AC adapter DMW-CAC1 $80 Power the camera without wasting your batteries

That's not too shabby. It's worth mentioning that Panasonic accessories tend to be difficult to find for some unknown reason.

PhotoImpression 5 for Mac OS X

Panasonic includes ArcSoft's camera suite with the FZ-series cameras. This includes PhotoImpression 5, PhotoBase, and Panorama Maker for Mac and Windows. PhotoImpression (shown above) lets you view, enhance, and share images. The interface is unique and easy-to-use, and the whole product is well designed. PhotoBase is a less impressive product that you can use for organizing and performing basic edits on your photos. Panorama Maker will stitch together several shots into one big photo.

Lumix Simple Viewer for Windows

Windows users get two additional products on the software CD. Lumix Simple Viewer (shown above) does just what it sounds like: it imports and views photos. You can't do any editing -- just rotation, printing, and e-mailing. The version of Simple Viewer that came with my FZ30 could NOT open RAW images.

PhotoFunStudio for Windows

For slightly more complex tasks there's PhotoFunStudio, again for Windows only. This can do all the things Simple Viewer can do, plus it can also resize and batch rename images, and it can also convert RAW images to JPEG format. None of the bundled software actually lets you manipulate the RAW image properties, which sort of defeats the purpose of the whole format.

The RAW format, for those who don't know, is a lossless image format consisting of raw image data from the CCD. You must process it on your computer before you can convert it to other formats. Because it's raw data, you can change things like white balance, sharpness, and saturation without lowering the quality of the original image. So if you screwed up the white balance you can fix it -- it's like taking the shot all over again. At this time, however, there's no way to do that with the FZ30's RAW files (Photoshop CS2 does not support the camera yet).

Panasonic's manuals leave much to be desired (just like Sony's -- consumer electronics companies just don't make good manuals). Much like the manual that came with your VCR or DVD player, there's tons of fine print and bullet points, and finding what you're looking for can be difficult.

Look and Feel

The Lumix DMC-FZ30 is a large, SLR-style camera made of a mixture of plastic and metal. It's very well constructed, and it feels at least as solid as the budget D-SLRs on the market. The large right hand grip makes it easy to hold, and all the controls are in the right places.

The FZ30 comes in your choice of silver and black bodies.

Now, let's take a look how the FZ30 compares in size to other ultra zoom cameras in this class:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot S2 IS 4.4 x 3.1 x 3.0 in. 40.9 cu in. 405 g
Fuji FinePix S5200 4.5 x 3.3 x 4.4 in. 65.3 cu in. 371 g
Kodak EasyShare P850 4.3 x 3.3 x 2.8 in. 39.7 cu in. 403 g
Kodak EasyShare Z7590 3.9 x 3.2 x 3.2 in. 39.9 cu in. 350 g
Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z5 4.3 x 3.1 x 3.3 in. 44.0 cu in. 340 g
Nikon Coolpix 4800 4.2 x 2.6 x 2.1 in. 22.9 cu in. 255 g
Nikon Coolpix 8800 4.6 x 3.3 x 4.8 in. 72.9 cu in. 600 g
Olympus C-770 Ultra Zoom 4.1 x 2.4 x 2.7 in. 26.6 cu in. 300 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5 4.3 x 2.7 x 3.3 in. 38.3 cu in. 290 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20 5.0 x 3.4 x 4.2 in. 71.4 cu in. 520 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 5.5 x 3.4 x 5.4 in. 101.1 cu in. 674 g
Samsung Digimax Pro815 5.2 x 3.4 x 5.7 in. 100.8 cu in. 850 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H1 4.3 x 3.3 x 3.7 in. 52.5 cu in. 438 g

The FZ30 is now the largest ultra zoom camera market, though it's not the heaviest. If you're used to the smaller ultra zooms the FZ30 will be quite a change. I personally find the size to be just right.

Okay, let's begin our tour of the FZ30 now!

The DMC-FZ30 uses a newly designed 12X optical zoom Leica DC Vario-Elmarit lens. Unlike the lens on the FZ20, which was F2.8 throughout the zoom range, the maximum aperture on the FZ30 is F2.8 at wide-angle and F3.7 at telephoto. In layman's terms, this means that the FZ20's lens allows more light in than the FZ30's when it's at or near the telephoto end of the focal range. Also, unlike on the FZ20, the lens does not extend out of the body -- all the moving parts are internal.

The focal range of this particular lens is 7.4 - 88.8 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 420 mm. The lens is threaded for 55 mm accessories, and they go right onto the lens barrel without the need for an adapter.

Image courtesy of Panasonic

Buried deep inside the FZ30's lens is an optical image stabilizer. If you look toward the middle-right side of the cutaway above, you can see the part of that lens that actually moves to counteract the effects of "camera shake". You know the phenomenon: you take a picture indoors and it's blurry. Or, you're at the full telephoto end of the lens and your photo just isn't sharp, despite a seemingly fast shutter speed. By moving that lens element around, the FZ30 can get sharp photos at slower shutter speeds than on an unstabilized camera. Now it won't work miracles or anything -- you can't take sharp pictures with a 1 second exposure or anything like that. But where most cameras won't produce a sharp photo below 1/30 sec, the FZ30 can still do it at 1/8 sec, and maybe slower if you're really steady.

Don't believe me? Here's the first of two examples:

OIS on (mode 2), 1/8 sec

OIS off, 1/8 sec

That's not a Photoshop trick -- those are two real photos! If you still don't believe me, then check out this movie that I took with and without image stabilization. As you'll see, OIS helps a lot, but it won't stop camera shake entirely.

Let's get back to the tour now. Directly above the lens is the pop-up flash, which is released manually. This flash is the same as the one that was on the FZ20, with a working range of 0.3 - 7.0 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 5.3 m at telephoto at Auto ISO, and 0.3 - 3.2 m (W) and 0.3 - 2.4 m (T) at ISO 80. Regardless of which way you measure it, the FZ30's flash packs a powerful punch.

By using the hot shoe on the top of the camera, you can get even more flash power and flexibility, plus there's less redeye to boot.

Above the Panasonic logo is the camera's AF-assist lamp, which doubles as the self-timer lamp. The AF-assist lamp is used by the camera for focusing in low light situations.

The last thing on the front of the camera is located on the top of the grip, and it's one of two command dials. As you may know, the FZ20 didn't have any command dials, so now adjusting the aperture and shutter speed is a lot easier than the old method of using the four-way controller.

Image courtesy of Panasonic

One of the new features on the FZ30 is a flip-down, rotating LCD display. The screen can be flipped up to 120 degrees away from the back of the camera, and the screen can also rotate 180 degrees. The screen can also be put in the "traditional" position, and it can be closed entirely if you want.

This style of LCD isn't as useful as an one that flips out to the side in my opinion, but it's still better than a fixed LCD.

Not only can the FZ30's LCD rotate, but the screen itself is also a heck of a lot better than the one on the FZ20. Where the FZ20's LCD had 130,000 pixels, the FZ30's screen has a whopping 235,000. Not only is the screen sharper, but it's brighter too, thanks to something Panasonic calls nine-pixel mixed readout. Continuing the good news, I am pleased to report that the LCD is finally usable in low light conditions.

The electronic viewfinder also got an upgrade on the FZ30. The EVF has just as many pixels as the main LCD -- that's 235,000 -- and it is just as usable in low light conditions. The EVF shows the same things as the LCD and there's no parallax error to worry about, both of which are helpful. The bad news that no matter how sharp, no electronic viewfinder is a substitute for a real optical viewfinder. On the left side of the viewfinder is a diopter correction knob, used to focus what's on the screen.

To the right of the viewfinder is the AE Lock button, a new addition to the FZ30. The exposure is locked until the button is pressed again.

Below the AE lock button are four more buttons, including:

  • EVF/LCD - switch between the two
  • Display - toggle what is shown on the LCD and EVF
  • Menu
  • Delete photo

To the right of those buttons is the four-way controller. It's used for menu navigation and also:

  • Up - Backlight compensation, exposure compensation, flash exposure compensation, white balance fine-tuning, auto bracketing (see below)
  • Down - Review (quickly jumps to playback mode)
  • Left - Self-timer (2 or 10 seconds)
  • Right - Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, slow sync w/redeye reduction)

I want to talk about the options that appear when you press the "up" button on the four-way controller. Backlight compensation is something you can toggle on and off while in the automatic shooting modes: use this if your subject has a bright light source behind them. Exposure compensation is the usual -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments like on every camera. Flash exposure compensation lets you adjust the flash strength using the same range. Auto bracketing takes three shots in a row with each shot having a different exposure. You can choose from ±0.3EV, ±0.6EV or ±1.0EV increments. White balance fine-tuning lets you adjust the preset or custom WB that you've selected in the red or blue direction, with a total range of ±10 (in 1-step increments).

Above the four-way controller is the speaker, with the second command dial to the upper-right of that. Since I haven't said it so far, I should mention that the dial on the grip is for adjusting the aperture, while the dial on the back is for the shutter speed.

The first thing to see on the top of the camera is a hot shoe -- just like on the FZ20. Here you can attach Panasonic's DMW-FL28 external flash, or any third party flash that you may have. As with the FZ20, the hot shoe does not support TTL operation, so you may need to manually select settings on the flash and the camera. By default the camera will lock the aperture at F2.8 and the ISO at 100, but you can adjust these by using manual override. The maximum flash sync speed is 1/250 sec.

To the right of the hot shoe is the mode dial, which has the following options:

Option Function
Auto mode Point-and-shoot operation with most menu items locked up; slowest shutter speed available is 1/4 sec, so it's not for long exposures
Program mode Still automatic, but with full menu access; a program shift feature lets you use the rear command dial to select from various aperture/shutter speed combos; slowest shutter speed available is 1 second
Aperture Priority mode You pick the aperture, the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed; aperture range is F2.8 - F11
Shutter Priority mode You choose the shutter speed and the camera picks the correct aperture. You can choose from a range of 8 - 1/2000 sec; Do note that the 1/1300 sec speed is only available at F4.0 or higher, the 1/1600 at F5.6 or higher, and 1/2000 at F8
Full Manual mode You pick the aperture and shutter speed. Same aperture range as above; shutter speed range expands to 60 - 1/2000 sec
Movie mode More on this later
Scene mode 1/2 You pick the scene and the camera uses the appropriate settings; choose from portrait, sports, food, scenery, night portrait, night scenery, baby, soft skin, candle light, party, fireworks, snow, starry sky, panning
Playback mode More on this later

As you can see, the FZ30 has the full set of manual exposure modes. I'm pleased to see that there's no longer a macro spot on the mode dial. It's been sent to its proper place -- on the focus mode switch that you'll see in a minute.

Part of the scene mode menu

Each item has a help screen

The scene mode has been expanded quite a bit since the FZ20. Notable additions include food mode, baby mode, and panning mode. Baby mode is pretty silly: you set the date of your baby's birthday and then the information is embedded in the EXIF headers for all photos taken in that mode. The baby's age at the time of the photo is shown in playback mode and in the bundled software as well. The new panning mode can be used to track a moving subject.

Oh, and in case you're wondering why there are two scene mode positions on the mode dial, here's the answer: both contain the same options, and you can set a default scene for each position on the dial for faster access to your favorite scene modes.

To the right of the mode dial are two buttons (OIS mode, burst mode) and the power switch.

The OIS button lets you switch the image stabilizer mode from Off to Mode 1 to Mode 2. When the "mode 1" setting is used, the stabilizer is always running, which helps you compose your photo without any camera shake. Mode 2 only activates the stabilizer when the picture is actually taken, which actually does a better job of eliminating the blurring caused by camera shake. You can also turn the whole thing off, which is advisable under certain situations, such as when you're using a tripod.

There are three burst modes on the FZ30: high speed, low speed, and infinite. In high speed mode I was able to take five pictures at the highest quality setting at 2.6 frames/second. Low speed mode also took five photos, but this time at 2 frames/second. Infinite mode will keep shooting at about 2 frames/second until the memory card is full -- a high speed SD card is required for this. You cannot use record in the RAW and TIFF formats while in burst mode. Also, the LCD and EVF don't "black out" between shots (though there's a slight pause), so you should be able to track a moving subject.

At the top right of the photo is the shutter release button.

One of the great new additions to the FZ30 can be found in the above photo. While the FZ20 had a manual focus ring, the FZ30 has that plus a new manual zoom ring. This is a mechanically linked control -- unlike the focus ring -- so you're actually moving the lens elements as you turn the dial. The dial has a nice feel to it and is reminiscent of the zoom ring on a SLR lens.

Manual focus mode; the enlarged portion of the image can actually be moved around

The focus ring is used for setting the focus distance while in manual focus mode. To do that, just flip the focus mode switch (center of photo) to MF and turn that ring -- it had the perfect level of precision in my opinion. The center of the frame is enlarged on the LCD/EVF, but unfortunately there's no guide showing the current focus distance. Oh, and you can even move the enlarged area of the frame around using the four-way controller, which is handy for when the camera is on a tripod. You can also choose to have the entire frame enlarged on the LCD/EVF by changing the MF Assist option in the setup menu.

The items on the aforementioned focus mode switch include autofocus, macro mode, and manual focus. Pressing the focus button while in MF mode will force the camera to autofocus -- giving you a little help if you're having trouble setting the focus yourself. When the camera is using either of the two one-point AF modes, holding down the focus button will let you manually select one of nine focus areas in the frame.

At the top-center of the photo is the release for the pop-up flash. Down in the lower-right corner you'll find the FZ30's I/O ports, which are protected by a fairly sturdy plastic door. The I/O ports include:

  • Remote - for optional wired remote control
  • USB + A/V out - one port for both
  • DC-in (for optional AC adapter)

The FZ30 supports the USB 2.0 Full Speed protocol, which is unfortunate, as it's the "slow USB 2.0". The one we really want is USB 2.0 High Speed.

On this side of the camera you'll find the SD/MMC card slot, which is covered by a plastic door of average quality.

As I said before, the lens does not protrude from the camera.

On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount (inline with the lens) and the battery compartment. The battery compartment has a sturdy plastic cover with a lock, so that battery isn't going anywhere.

If you remember the FZ20, you'll recall that you couldn't swap memory cards when the camera was on a tripod. As you can see here, that's no longer a problem on the FZ30.

Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30

Record Mode

Startup times have been drastically reduced on the FZ30 when compared to its predecessor. Where the FZ20 took over four seconds to start up, the FZ30 takes just one. You can thank the FZ30's non-extending lens for most of the difference.

There's a live histogram in record mode

|Here's an alternate view you can use

The FZ30 has inherited the two high speed autofocus modes that were first seen on the DMC-FZ5. If you've used that camera then you know just how fast it is. When either of the high speed AF modes are used the camera focuses as fast as most digital SLRs that I've used, or darn close. Focusing times in these modes are usually 0.1 - 0.3 seconds -- even at the telephoto end. In the regular AF modes the focus times are practically twice as long.

You're probably wondering "why even use the regular AF modes when there are the high speed modes?". Well, I'm glad you asked. The "catch" with the high speed modes is that the image on the LCD and EVF freezes briefly when focusing occurs. This does not happen in the regular modes, which is why they take longer. Personally I'll deal with the freeze for the superb focus times in the high speed modes.

Low light focusing was very good, thanks to the FZ30's AF-assist lamp.

As for shutter lag, it was not noticeable, even at the slower shutter speeds in which it can sometimes occur.

Shot-to-shot speed is excellent, with a delay of a little over a second before you can take another shot, assuming the post-shot review feature is turned off. Shooting in RAW or TIFF mode increases the delay to three seconds. And that's with a high speed memory card too -- with my designated "slow SD card" (sorry Kingston) it took six times longer to record a TIFF image.

There is no easy way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you must use the Review feature first.

Now, here's a look at the resolution and quality choices on the FZ30:

Resolution Quality # images on 32MB card (included) # images on 512MB SD card (optional)
3264 x 2448
RAW 1 27
TIFF 1 19
Fine 7 120
Standard 15 240
2560 x 1920
TIFF 1 30
Fine 12 195
Standard 24 380
2048 x 1536
TIFF 3 48
Fine 19 300
Standard 37 590
1600 x 1200
TIFF 4 78
Fine 30 480
Standard 59 940
1280 x 960
TIFF 7 120
Fine 46 730
Standard 86 1370

The FZ30 is the first of the FZ-series cameras to support the RAW image format. I told you why RAW was cool earlier in the review. The TIFF format is also supported -- this is a standard, lossless image format that doesn't require post-processing on your computer. Be warned that TIFF file sizes are quite large when compared to regular JPEGs.

I suppose this is as good a place as any to talk about the FZ30's new "extended optical zoom" feature, since it's directly related to image resolution. I'll illustrate this feature first with an example, and then I'll explain how it works.

8MP / 35 mm (1X) - View Full Size Image

This first picture shows you what I'll be zooming in on. The arrow is pointing to the activities building of a condo complex in Foster City, CA. The lens as at full wide-angle here at the 8 Megapixel resolution. Let's zoom in to full telephoto now:

8MP / 420 mm (12X)
View Full Size Image

That's a lot closer! Now I'm going to lower the resolution to 5MP and start taking advantage of extra optical zoom:

5MP / 535.5 mm (15.3X)
View Full Size Image

Getting closer, but we can do better! Let's lower the resolution to 3MP and get even more zoom power:

3MP / 668.5 mm (19.1X)
View Full Size Image

We have now maxed out the extra optical zoom at 19.3X -- a whopping 668 mm!

So how does this work? I have some helpful charts from the folks at Panasonic to explain things:

Image courtesy of Panasonic

Here's what's happening. When extended optical zoom is activated and the resolution is lowered, the camera uses a smaller area of the CCD sensor. This translates to a narrower angle of view (see the chart above), which increases the focal length. The full area of the sensor is used at 8MP, a smaller area at 5MP, and an even smaller area at 3MP (going lower doesn't give you any more zoom). So, at wide-angle the focal length is 35 mm at 8MP, 44 mm at 5MP, and 55 mm at 3MP. At the tele end those numbers are 420 mm, 535 mm, and 668 mm respectively.

If it sounds like the camera is just cropping the center of the 8MP image to do this, you're correct -- it's basically the same concept. You can do exactly the same thing in Photoshop with the same end result -- this just saves you a step.

Image courtesy of Panasonic

You may think that you're stuck at 44 mm when shooting in 5MP mode (or 55 mm at the 3MP setting), you're wrong -- the 35 mm focal length is still available, and here's how. When the camera is at the wide-angle position it will start using a larger area of the sensor again and the image will be downsized to the selected resolution. Thus, at the 5MP setting you have an effective focal range of 35 - 535 mm, and at 3MP it's even better -- 35 - 668 mm!

Well, I sure hope that made sense. Let's continue now with the rest of the review!

The camera saves images with a name of PXXXYYYY.JPG, where X = 100-999 and Y = 0001 = 9999. The camera will maintain the file numbering, even as you erase and switch memory cards.

The FZ30 has the same menu system as the FZ5 and FZ20. When in the auto and scene modes many of these options are locked up. Here's the full list of menu options, which are available in the P/A/S/M modes:

  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, halogen, flash, white set 1/2) - see below
  • Sensitivity [ISO] (Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400)
  • Aspect ratio (4:3, 3:2, 16:9) - for printing 4 x 6 inch prints, using the 3:2 ratio will allow you to print without cropping
  • Picture size (see chart)
  • Quality (see chart)
  • Audio recording (on/off) - record a 5 sec audio clip with each picture
  • Metering (Multiple, center-weighted, spot)
  • AF mode (9-area, 3-area high speed, 1-area high speed, 1-area, spot) - here are the two new focus options I mentioned above
  • Continuous AF (on/off) - camera is always focusing, which reduces AF delays; puts extra strain on batteries
  • AF-assist lamp (on/off)
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - it's best to keep this off
  • Color effect (Off, cool, warm, black & white, sepia)
  • Picture adjust
    • Contrast (Low, standard, high)
    • Sharpness (Low, standard, high)
    • Saturation (Low, standard, high)
    • Noise reduction (Low, standard, high)
  • Flip animation - see below
  • Conversion lens (Off, wide, tele)

The FZ30 has the ability to store two custom white balance settings. Just go to the white balance option and choose the "custom set" option, point the camera at something white, and press the "right" button on the four-way controller. If that doesn't do the job you can use the WB fine tuning controls that I mentioned earlier.

The flip animation feature lets you take up to 100 shots in a row and then throw them together into a 320 x 240 movie up to 20 seconds long. You can choose from a frame rate of 5 or 10 frames/second. This feature can be used for making "stop motion" animation.

There's also a setup menu, which is accessed from the record or playback menu. The items here include:
  • Monitor/viewfinder brightness (-3 to +3 in 1-step increments) - you can have a different brightness setting for the EVF and LCD
  • Auto review (Off, 1 sec, 3 sec, zoom) - the zoom option shows the picture for a second, then enlarges it by a factor of four for a second
  • Play on LCD (on/off) - photo is always shown on LCD after it is taken or in playback mode, even if you're using the EVF
  • Power save (Off, 1, 2, 5, 10 mins)
  • MF assist (Off, MF1, MF2) - MF1 enlarges the center of the frame while MF2 enlarges the entire frame
  • Beep (Off, soft, loud)
  • Shutter sound (Off, soft, loud)
  • Volume (0-7)
  • Clock set
  • File number reset
  • Reset
  • USB mode (PC, PictBridge/PTP)
  • Highlight (on/off) - overexposed areas of your photos flash in review and playback mode
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
  • Scene menu (Off, auto) - if set to auto, scene menu opens automatically when you turn the mode dial to one of the two scene mode positions
  • Language (English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese)

I've just about had it with menus, so let's move onto the photo quality discussion now!

The FZ30 did a very nice job with our three inch tall macro test subject. The image is sharp, and the colors are spot-on. There's some noticeable grain in the image, and I'll cover this subject in more detail in a little bit.

You can get as close to your subject as 5 cm at wide-angle and 2 m at the telephoto end in macro mode, which is pretty good for an ultra zoom camera.

The night shot would've been excellent had there been less noise (this will be a recurring subject in this section). Thanks to the manual control over shutter speed, the FZ30 was able to taken in plenty of light to capture the San Francisco skyline on a foggy summer night. The buildings are all nice and sharp, and there is no purple fringing to be found.

Here's the first of two ISO comparisons in this review. For this one I'm going to use the night scene:

ISO 80
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ISO 100
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ISO 200
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ISO 400
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The noise levels aren't too much worse at ISO 100, but once you go any higher things go downhill rapidly. Detail is lost at ISO 200 and noise levels are very high at ISO 400. Enough detail is gone at that setting that even with noise reduction software you won't be able to get much of a print out of the photo.

Again, more on noise below.

The FZ30 performed admirably in our flash test, with almost zero redeye. That's great news!

There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the FZ30's lens. You'll notice what this does to your pictures when you photograph things like buildings: they appear curved. I saw no evidence of vignetting (dark corners) or blurry edges in this test chart or any of my real world photos.

Overall the FZ30's image quality is very good for the most part, but noise is definitely a problem. Before I talk about that, let me mention what I liked about the photos. They were well-exposed, with accurate color and low purple fringing levels. The FZ30's Venus Engine II actually removes purple fringing digitally, which is why there isn't much of it to be found. Sharpness was just about right, in my opinion.

Now let's talk about noise. With over 8 million pixels on a 1/1.8" CCD, the above average noise levels shouldn't be too surprising. Noise levels are a bit higher than other 8 Megapixel cameras I've seen thus far, and all of those had larger 2/3" sensors. At ISO 80 and 100, you'll notice some grain in your images. At ISO 200 and 400, things get rather nasty.

Before I give some examples and solutions, let me try to put things into perspective. Most people don't share photos with friends and family by viewing an 8 Megapixel image at 100% on their monitor. More than likely it's either printed or downsized. When either of those things happen, noise levels go down noticeably -- unless you're making huge prints, of course. What I'm saying is that the proof is in the prints. I printed out some of the test photos that I took at ISO 400 and they made very acceptable 4 x 6 inch prints. At 8.5 x 11 the noise was quite noticeable, but after a trip through NeatImage the print was greatly improved and most people won't even notice it. More on that in a second.

Here's the second ISO series that I promised:

ISO 80
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ISO 100
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ISO 200
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ISO 400
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While it's not as dramatic as in the night shot example, once again noise levels go up quickly above ISO 200. There's quite a bit of lost detail in the ISO 400 shot, and when I printed it out at 8.5 x 11, that was easy to see.

Now I want to talk about some workarounds, should you want to rid yourself of the noise at higher ISOs. I have recently become a big fan of NeatImage, a noise reduction plug-in for Photoshop (some other people swear by Noise Ninja, so it's worth a look -- I have no financial interest in either). I ran that ISO 400 image through NeatImage and got a much better photo after maybe 60 seconds of work:

Before NeatImage
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After NeatImage
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While the post-processed image still isn't crystal clear, it's much improved over the original and it made a very nice 8.5 x 11 inch print. If you want another example, check out this United 747 aircraft capture at ISO 80, before and after processing with NeatImage.

Another option is to just turn up the in-camera noise reduction to "high".

ISO 200, standard noise reduction
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ISO 200, high noise reduction
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The differences here are very subtle, and noise reduction software does a much better job. Of course, that requires post-processing the images on your computer...

The last workaround I want to mention doesn't actually work, and that's shooting at a lower resolution. Both photos below were taken at ISO 400, one at 8MP downsized to 5MP and the other at 5MP. The differences are, again, very subtle.

ISO 400, 8MP -> 5MP in Photoshop CS2
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ISO 400, 5MP
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That was a rather long discussion about noise, and here's the bottom line. Noise levels are higher than average on the FZ30, most notably at ISO 200 and 400. Smaller sized prints look fine, even with the noise. Larger prints will have noticeable noise at the high ISOs. If you're making large prints, the best option is to try one of the noise reduction products out there, like NeatImage and Noise Ninja. They turned my noise and grainy 8.5 x 11s into something much better, and without too much trouble.

Ultimately you need to evaluate the FZ30's image quality with your own eyes. Have a look at our extensive photo gallery and print the photos as if they were your own. Then decide if the photos meet your expectations!

Movie Mode

One of the many things improved on the FZ30 is its movie mode. Now you can record video at 640 x 480 (30 frames/second) with sound until the memory card is full. It takes just 16 seconds for the included 32MB SD card to fill up, so you'll want a larger card for longer movies (a 1GB card holds about 11 minutes worth). A high speed memory card with a 10MB/sec or higher transfer rate is recommended for this mode.

To record longer movies you can lower the resolution to 320 x 240, or you can reduce the frame rate to a very choppy 10 frames/second for either resolution.

Fans of movie modes will be very pleased to hear that you can use the zoom lens during filming. And why not -- it's mechanically operated by the zoom ring! A continuous AF option will keep the movie in focus as you zoom in and out. The optical image stabilizer is active during filming, as well.

Movies are saved in QuickTime format using the M-JPEG codec. A capture of the first frame of the movie is saved as JPEG along with the movie.

Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the highest quality setting:

Click to play movie (11.1 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The DMC-FZ30 has a pretty standard playback mode. Basic playback options include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode (choose from 9, 16, and 25 photos per page), audio captions (10 seconds), and zoom and scroll. The camera is also PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.

The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom in as much as 16X (in 2X increments) into your photo, and then scroll around. This feature is well-implemented on the FZ30.

You can also rotate, resize, and crop your photos in playback mode. An aspect ratio conversion feature lets you change images taken at 16:9 to either 4:3 or 3:2.

One feature that I always appreciate is the ability to delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all.

By default, the camera doesn't give you a lot of information about your photos. But press the display button and you'll see plenty of info, including a histogram.

The camera moves through each image in about half a second. No low resolution placeholder is shown between images.

How Does it Compare?

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 is darn close to the perfect ultra zoom camera. It has a fast 12X optical zoom lens (though not as fast as on its predecessor), optical image stabilization, full manual controls, a high resolution LCD and electronic viewfinder, and a VGA movie mode. The big disappointment on the FZ30 was the higher than average noise levels, especially at high ISO sensitivities.

The FZ30 is a large, SLR-style ultra zoom camera made of a mix of metal and plastic. It's very well built, and it feels solid in your hands. The camera features both manual zoom and focus rings which are a vast improvement over the rocker and four-way controller-based systems used by most of the competition. The FZ30's 12X zoom Leica lens isn't quite as "fast" as the one on the FZ20, but it's still very competitive. The new extended optical zoom function can boost the total zoom power by as much as 19.1X by lowering the resolution, though you can achieve the same result in photo editing software. One of the big selling points for the FZ-series of cameras is the optical image stabilization, and it works as promised on the FZ30 (see the examples earlier in the review for proof).

The FZ30 has a new flip-down, rotating 2.0" LCD display which offers increased flexibility over the fixed screen on the FZ5 and FZ20. The LCD and EVF both have 235,000 pixels for sharp images, and they're both very usable in low light situations (finally). The camera has a hot shoe for adding an external flash (though there's no TTL flash control) and it supports conversion lenses and filters as well.

Camera performance is excellent. The FZ30 is ready to shoot in under a second, and its new high speed focusing system is VERY quick. Shutter lag was minimal, and shot-to-shot times were very good, even when shooting in RAW mode -- just remember to use a high speed memory card for best performance. The camera has a full suite of manual controls, ranging from the usuals like shutter speed and aperture to white balance fine tuning. Those seeking some automatic modes will be pleased to see a large number of scene modes on the camera. The FZ30's burst mode is one of the best out there, with unlimited recording at 2 frames/second (with a high speed SD card) and more limited low and high speed modes as well. And the FZ30 finally brings a modern movie mode to the FZ-series of cameras, with unlimited recording at 640 x 480 / 30 fps (again with a high speed memory card) and the ability to use the zoom lens during filming.

The FZ30's weak point is its image quality. On the positive side, photos were well exposed, with accurate color and low purple fringing levels. Redeye was not a problem. Unfortunately, noise levels are above average, especially at ISO 200 and 400. If you're printing your photos at 4 x 6 and 5 x 7, you really don't need to worry about this issue. If you're printing larger than that, or you enjoy looking at your photos at 100%, then you'll probably be disappointed. The best solution to the problem that I could find was to use noise reduction software to clean things up a bit. I did this with several of my gallery photos and I got very nice 8.5 x 11 inch prints with just a quick run through NeatImage. I strongly encourage you to print my sample photos to see what you think about the noise levels, since ultimately this is a subjective thing.

A few other random complaints now. The camera supports the RAW image format, but Panasonic doesn't give you any software to take advantage of the format -- you can only convert them to JPEG format. A Panasonic source tells me that another option will be available this Fall. I would've also liked to have seen a focus distance guide shown on the LCD/EVF in manual focus mode. My only other complaint is that the camera does not support the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.

It's always a little disappointing you really love everything about a camera except for one or two things, and that's the case with the FZ30. If the noise levels were lower it would easily be one of the best cameras on the market, period. But they're not, so keep this in mind if you think you'll be shooting at the higher ISO sensitivities: if you're planning to print photos at smaller sizes, I can recommend the FZ30 without hesitation. If you're doing 8 x 10s or larger, decide if you want to deal with the noise in your prints, post-process them with noise reduction software, or move up to a digital SLR, which runs circles around the FZ30 at high ISO settings. If I was in the market for an ultra zoom camera, I would happily buy the FZ30 and use the noise reduction software for my large prints (I saw little-to-no need for it at smaller sizes). My advice, again: print the samples, try the camera in person, then decide if it's right for you!

What I liked:

  • Very solid SLR-style body
  • 12X optical zoom lens (though a little slower than on the FZ20)
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Robust performance, especially with a high speed SD card; new focus modes are awesome
  • Full manual controls plus the ability to fine-tune white balance
  • Handy zoom and focus rings around lens
  • AF-assist lamp; good low light focusing
  • Flip-down, rotating 2-inch LCD display
  • LCD/EVF usable in low light, at last
  • Redeye not a problem
  • Support for RAW and TIFF format (though see issues below)
  • Supports filters and conversion lenses
  • Hot shoe for external flash (though no TTL support)
  • Great continuous shooting mode
  • Very good movie mode; VGA, 30 fps resolution, zoom can be used during filming
  • Live histogram in record mode

What I didn't care for:

  • Images are too noisy, especially at high ISOs (see workarounds earlier)
  • No RAW image manipulation software included
  • No focus distance shown in manual focus mode
  • No USB 2.0 High Speed support
  • Would've preferred an LCD that flips to the side

Some other high resolution ultra zooms to consider include the Canon PowerShot S2 IS, Fuji FinePix S9000, Kodak EasyShare Z7590 and P850, Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z6, Nikon Coolpix 8800, Olympus C-770UZ, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5, Samsung Digimax Pro815, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H1.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DMC-FZ30 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Want to see how the photo quality turned on? Check out our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion?

Read another review of the FZ30 at Digital Photography Review.

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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