capsule review

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30K

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30K is a sizable beast: At 1 pound, 8 ounces and just over 5 inches long, it’s bigger and heavier than many other advanced cameras I looked at. It feels more like an SLR than an all-in-one camera, and the SLR styling carries over to the controls, which include both a zoom ring and a focus ring on the lens—a combination I haven’t seen on this type of camera before.

The chunky body may be a blessing for people with large hands, who often find smaller-bodied cameras uncomfortable. You’ll definitely need both hands to use this model. You can rotate the flip-out, 2-inch LCD screen (similar to the screen on many camcorders)—convenient if you want to shoot from above or below. And you can store the screen out of the way when it’s not in use.

The dual control wheels near the shutter and at the rear of the camera are easy to use. This combination is a big plus for shooting in manual mode: One wheel changes aperture, while the other changes shutter speed; and both are much quicker than a series of buttons or an on-screen menu. Using the manual focus is a breeze: You get a focus ring on the lens barrel plus a switch on the side of the lens for toggling between automatic and manual focus. When the camera is in Manual Zoom mode and you move the focus ring, this magnifies the center of the image, allowing you to check focus more easily. The mode dial has two spots for pre-programmed scene modes, and you can choose the scene from any of the 14 available. The FZ30K retains the Program Shift mode of its predecessor ): If you hold down the shutter button halfway while in Program mode, you can change the balance of aperture to shutter speed. In addition, the FZ30K provides a fully Automatic mode for point-and-shoot operation.

The large body accommodates an impressively long 12X zoom, equivalent to a 35mm-to-420mm zoom on a 35mm camera—plenty long enough to peer close to distant action. The lens also includes an optical image stabilizer, which moves an element of the lens to keep images steady (other cameras include electronic image stabilization, which helps the camera compensate for movement after the image is taken; optical stabilization tends to be more effective). This worked extremely well, compensating for camera shake on longer exposures and when I used the zoom. It’s no substitute for a tripod, but it does keep images sharp.

The battery life is a little less appealing. In my tests, the rechargeable battery pack ran out after 330 shots, which is sufficient for a short trip but not enough to last through an extended trip without recharging. And since you can’t use any batteries other than the rechargeable one, it’s a good idea to purchase a spare to keep in the charger for use on short notice.

The FZ30K takes images at a resolution of 8 megapixels, and I found the pictures to be generally well-exposed and with accurate color. They were slightly soft, though: Despite the high resolution, some fine details got lost. Some images were a little noisy, too, especially when the ISO was above 200 (the camera’s maximum ISO is 400). This is a serious problem for shots taken at night or in dim light, where the noise quickly becomes very distracting. The camera does offer a noise-reduction mode, and upping this to high (from the default standard setting) did improve my images, but a lot of noise remained.

Shooters who want to control every aspect of their photography, and who don’t mind a bit of extra bulk, will welcome the FZ30’s excellent manual controls. And in most situations, the images look great, with good exposure and color. It’s just a pity that noise becomes a problem so quickly when you bump up the camera’s sensitivity.

jury tests

Color Quality—Accuracy Excellent
Clarity—Detail Very good
Clarity—Artifacts, Noise Very good

Scale = Excellent, Very Good, Good, Flawed, Unacceptable

To gauge picture quality, we take a series of shots, with and without flash, at the camera’s highest resolution. We photograph a complex still life and a mannequin using automatic settings in Program/Full-Auto Mode to see how well each camera captures subtle color and exposure under its default settings. We then photograph the same still life and a resolution moiré chart with semiautomatic settings using aperture priority, custom white balance, and exposure bracketing. We pick the best shots of each of those two subjects for judging. We also test the camera’s capability for minimizing noise using a range of ISO settings. We review the on-screen and printed photos and assign image-quality scores. The image-quality rating of the camera is based on five categories: exposure, color, sharpness, distortion, and overall.—Tested in conjunction with the PC World Test Center

Specifications

Resolution 8 mpegapixels
Zoom/Focal Length 12Xoptical (88.8mm)
Maximum Aperture f2.8
Size (wxhxd) 5.5 inches x 3.4 inches x 5.4 inches
Weight 26.4 oz

Macworld’s buying advice

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30’s SLR styling is well suited to photographers eager for manual controls, and its images look great when taken in good light, but noise is a problem at higher ISOs.

[ Richard Baguley is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in PC World, Wired, and JIWire.com . He also maintains a Camcorder blog. ]

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30K
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