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Old Nov 10, 2005, 5:31 PM   #1
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I now own my FZ30 for about four weeks and took about 2,500 pictures. Before, I was also considering KM A200, Fuji S9500 and Samsung Pro815 and diverse SLRs.

In advance, I collected a lot of information for my decision. I want to share the results of my research and some general thoughts with you, maybe they help someone to decide which camera to get.

I decided to get a FZ30 and would buy one again because:

- It seemed to be the best-crafted camera compared to other models. Especially the extending zoom lenses of KM A200, S9500 and Pro815 did not seem very tough to me. The housing feels solid as well.

- Speed: The FZ30 is pretty fast (power-on till ready, focus, shutter lag, continous shooting) compared to the other cameras in question. Some of them are faster in one of these points, but the FZ30 offers the best performance in total (IMHO).

- Weight and dimensions: it provides 12x zoom without beeing as heavy and large as the Pro815.

- Great Zoom (I've been shooting pictures that wouldn't even have been worth a try with less than 200-300 mm telephoto.)

- LiIon Battery
I appreciate a LiIon Battery much more than standard AA's (rechargables) for one reason: Flash recharging.

The FZ30's flash is ready again after about 3 seconds. I've seen AA-based cameras that took 10-20 seconds to get the flash charged again. That might really spoil the fun.

The battery's capacity is not too high, but it is enough for one day of shooting or 1 Gig of pictures. I will get an additional battery for the next vacation, though.

- Non-extending zoom construction
The lens does not extend at all when zooming (E.g. the lens on a Pro815 extends extremely).

While an extending lens is as well a question of weight and lever which has to be held steadily by hand, it does also mean that you have to turn back the zoom until the lens is at max wideangle before you can put the camera back in a bag - my FZ30's zoom can be left at 420 mm while it's in the bag, and is ready at max tele immediately if needed.)

Another advantage: Converters (wide, tele, macro ...)are not attached to a moving plastic lens tube, but to the non-moving lens housing. A 300 gramms tele converter on a moving plastic tube lens doesn't seem stable to me.

And further on, that part of lens of the FZ30 where filters are attached does not rotate while zooming or focussing. On some cameras, it does rotate - I find this extremely unconvenient when using a polarizer that has just just been turned into the right position.

- Image stabilizer:
This one thing is frequenly omitted when talking about image noise.

The FZ30's stabilizer allows to use about 2-3 steps slower shutter speeds. You can find this fact in many reviews and I experienced the same with my FZ30. That is, instead 1/400, you can use 1/100 or even 1/60. This is not much of an advantage as long as there is enough light to use 1/400.

But if light conditions get worse, it may become difficult to use 1/400. It will most probably require to turn up ISO speed. Concerning the captured amount of image information on the sensor, using 1/100 instead of 1/400 is the same as switching from ISO100 to ISO400.

This makes an even bigger difference if the minimum aperture is taken into account, especially at the telephoto end. The FZ30 has F3.7 at max tele, while e.g. the S9500 has F4.9 (Pro815: F4.6). To get a properly exposed picture, this requires another step slower in shutter speed, or another step up in ISO! (I know, this is an extreme example, but it is theoretically correct).

As an example, imagine a situation where light conditions would allow a shot at medium zoom or wideangle with ISO100 and 1/100 sec at F3.5, for example. No problems so far.

Now take a shot with maximum zoom in the same light:

An S9500 as an example (300 mm focal lenght, 35 mm equiv.) will require about 1/400 sec shutter speed to prevent camera shake. That means, at the minimum aperture of F4.9 you'll have to use ISO800 to get enough exposure when using 1/400.
(ISO sensitivity 2 steps up to allow the shorter shutter speed and another step up to compensate F4.9 vs. F3.5 ==> ISO800)

The FZ30 would be able to take the shot at max telephoto with 1/100 (2 steps slower due to the stabilizer) at F3.7 (min aperture at max zoom) with ISO set to 100.

This is what an image stabilizer can bring togheter with that fast LEICA lens.

And now, compare the noise levels ;o) Maybe the S9500 still wins, but I doubt it.

Of course, there are situations when an image stabilizer doesn't help and High ISO is just needed. But it does enable you to take much more pictures bevor beeing forced to turn up ISO.

- Fast continous shooting:
The FZ30 can do 2 shots per second forever (until no more card space is left), and 2,5 shots per second at high speed mode. Especially the 'forever' mode seems important to me. A buffered mode (like the high speed mode or the continous modes of many other cameras) is faster, but it has its disadvantages:

If the maximum number (e.g. 5) of shots is reached, the camera will not respond until the buffered files where written to the card. That means about 15-20 seconds of waiting. This is about exactly the time your desired object needs to disapear ;o) Think of an animal or a car passing by - you either have it until your camera's buffer is full, or it's gone.

- Sharpness is great.
... while the Autofocus is still relatively fast (about 0,5 sec. As far as I've read, the S9500 sometimes takes up to 3 seconds).
Manual focussing works fine as well with the LCD screens.
- Colour is great
- Movie mode allows 640x480@30fps with sound (NO SLR can do that)
- The 2" screen can be flipped and turned.
This was very usefull when taking shots with a tripod. It would be even better if it would flip down 180 degrees (instead of only 120), so you could do self-portraits easier. But it is still much better than the S9500's screen (that can be flipped up and down about 60 degrees, but not turned around) and the two Pro815 screens which are completely fixed.

The screen can be turned around completely and flipped in again, to protect it from scratches. Only the Minolta A200 (of the above mentioned cameras) has such a flexible (and even more flexible) screen.

With an SLR's optical viewfinder, I think shooting macros with the camera pointing down to a table from a tripod would have become difficult and really painful for my back ;o)

About Pro815's three screens: A 3,5" screen is huge and really cool, I tried it. But I'm not quite sure if it really makes life much easier. Engineers had to move all buttons aside to fit the large screen onto the camera's back. The viewfinder as well has moved to the left side of the cam. This is a fine feature that guarantees great pictures - printed by your nose on this huge 3.5" screen ;o)

Before buying my FZ30, I decided that a turn/flip-screen is also better in terms of heat: A fixed built in screen will heat up the sensor permanently (which is sitting only a few millimeters behind it). Put your hand on top of your PC's TFT screen to understand what I mean. And a hot sensor produces more noise.

The tiny screen on top of the camera is better that nothing, but it is not of a big advantage. How can one take a picture with the Pro815 held above your head? Turn it upside-down to see the top-mounted screen?

These are the reasons why I got an FZ30 and I really enjoy using it.

Finally, one further aspect I learned when reading about digital cameras, just in case someone doesn't know (as I did before):

Non-SLRs vs SLRs, larger vs. smaller sensors:

The main difference between DSLRs and Non-SLR digital cameras is the size of the sensor. And there is a vast variety of sensors sizes among the Non-SLRs.

Sensors size is an important criterium for digital camera, that is true. But what I read in many reviews and forums is that "small sensor is bad", "bigger sensor is good". What I often read were things like "I wish Panasonic used the 2/3" Sony Sensor to reduce noise of the FZ30, then it would be the perfect camera".

This is far too simple to be true.

Due to laws of physics, there is a direct correlation between sensor size and other camera characteristics:

sensor size small <=> large
lens size small <=> large
depth of field higher <=> lower
dynamic range lower <=> higher
noise higher <=> lower
necessary lens quality lower <=> higher

That means, using a 2/3" sensors in the FZ30 would not (only) lead to less noise, it would be a completely different camera.

It would ...

- be larger and heavier for the same zoom (longer lens, probably as well either higher lens diameter or higher min. aperture) => bad
- have a smaller depth of field => bad, DOF can be reduced by post-processing, but not increased. DOF depends on the real focal length.
- have a higher dynamic range => good
- have less noise (if sensor design was similar) => good
- require a better and more expensive lens => bad (price)

As an example, take the Sony R1:
It has a much larger sensor, and this brings great improvements in terms of image noise and dynamic range. But, as well, it is similarily sized like the FZ30 while providing a maximum of 120 mm zoom (35 mm equiv.) To have 420 mm as well, the lens would become aprox. three (3!) times as long. And the depth of field must be much smaller compared to the FZ30.


I got the camera for EUR 589 (Germany), and ordered the following accessoires as well:
- a Raynox DCR-150 macro converter lens for EUR 30
Great lens, works (only) at almost exactly 180mm focus distance and from about 100mm to 420mm zoom. Magnification is about 20:1 (object size to image on the PC screen at 100%) or even above. A marble will be about the size of a football on the screen ;o)
There are stronger macro converters on the market, but they require to move closer to the object. Less than 180 mm seemed a bit close to me, especially for insects. Depth of field is rather narrow at maximum zoom (sometimes only about 5 mm), with a stronger converter it would be worse.
- a Hoya linear polarizer for EUR 14
Yes, the FZ30 uses a TTL autofocus system. No, you DO NOT NEED a circular polarizer, because the AF system does not use any kind of mirrors (unlike SLRs). It works perfectly. A circular polarizer IS a WASTE of money (at least 35 EUR)
- a little tripod.
- an UV filter (EUR 4)

All this stuff together is about 1,5 kgs and fits in a small camera bag. An equivalent SLR equipment will probably be above 10 kgs and this means I would NEVER have it with me all at once (and miss it when it's needed).

Planning to get:
- remote control
- additional battery for longer trips

FZ30's Limits:
- Capturing sports events with little indoor light might become difficult (higher usable ISO needed)
- Fast moving objects (race cars, planes ...) might be difficult to focus before the have passed by, since focussing takes up to 0,5 sec.
- Available light shots might be a bit to noisy if you want to produce really large prints (40 x 30 cm or above)
If you plan to do these kinds of shots mainly, better get a (fast) SLR.

PS: I do not work for Panasonic or anything.

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Old Nov 10, 2005, 6:05 PM   #2
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Let's make one thing perfectly clear: I do not know you, we have never met, money has never been exchanged between us. Because of this wonderful thesis you have given us, your stature is on par with the exalted S T E V E (of Steve's digicams) himself! My thanks for saying everything that needs to be said about this brillaint piece of work, this Panasonic FZ 30. I couldn't have said it better myself, and thanks to you, won't have to! Yes, the spectrum is wide, there are indeed countless things to consider when buying a digital camera. Your fact finding, enlightening report is something all FZ 30 owners will enjoy reading, over and over. Sincere thanks,

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Old Nov 10, 2005, 6:17 PM   #3
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Really nice report, thanks for taking the time to share it with us.
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Old Nov 10, 2005, 7:11 PM   #4
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Thats a great job of putting it the way it is...The FZ30 is the best Ultrazoom available and for some of us it may be the best camera ..period.

For people that do not want an ultrazoom they can do better , but it can not be beat for those of us that do want an ultrazoom.

And you nailed the part about a higher ISO vs IS.

If people would just pay attention to how seldom noise may effect the photo they have taken.

I really believe I use any NR less with the FZ30 than any camera I have owned.
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Old Nov 10, 2005, 7:54 PM   #5
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Very well detailed report on a great camera! I only found one area where I would have to disagree. That is under the "FZ30's Limits" where you stated that "fast moving objects, racecars, planes etc might be difficult to focus before they have passed by". I have not found that to be the case. I have shot many fast moving people, animals and planes and found that the camera was able to focus and capture shots that I never thought would be possible. Check http://www.stevesforums.com/forums/v...mp;forum_id=23

Anyway other than that it was an excellent report that I know required a lot of time and effort to compile. Thank you! Jim
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Old Nov 10, 2005, 11:15 PM   #6
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I would also add that the FZ30 has the best corner sharpness of these Ultrazooms and the least Chromatic Abberation (CA) of them.

I think my only gripe would be that I wish there was a super macro mode that would get me an inch from the lens to subject. But I'll live without it to have this wonderful camera. With 8 mp and lots of sharpness, I can always crop a macro.

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Old Nov 11, 2005, 1:23 PM   #7
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Hi Eddie, Just wondered if you had tried one of the add-on super macro lens, like the Nikon 6T or the Raynox 250 ? Jim
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Old Nov 11, 2005, 2:11 PM   #8
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No, I haven't. Probably won't spend the dough on any of them. I like having the ability to do macro, but, on the other hand, when I had my Olympus C-750, which has great macro capability (0.9"), I found that I didn't use it too much.

Maybe someday.

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Old Nov 12, 2005, 6:15 PM   #9
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Nice extensive summary, thanks!! Especially highlighting the value of the non-extending lens (looks really awkward on the Pro815).

I would still :-)add a few things that made me come to the same conclusion:

* the FZ30 LCD screen, larger and with higher resolution than S9000

* a dSLR can't use the LCD for composing which is really valuable when shooting candids.

* the Pro815 with the 2/3" sensor makes worseregarding noise than the FZ30 (see the dpreview of S9000 where thease cameras are compared)

* fast handling when shooting RAW. RAW images are fun to postprocess and can provide better regarding noise levels, try it!

:idea:It's a great piece...

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Old Nov 17, 2005, 3:33 PM   #10
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Thanks to all of you for your comments!

I enjoyed writing the review and wanted to put some things clear that are rumored around the net.

@eddie and all macro photographers
I really can recommend the raynox 150 macro converter I described above. I does not allow to get as close as an inch, but I enables you to use the maximum zoom from its focussing distance (180 mm, about half a foot I guess). This gives you much more magnification than using max. wideangle at a distance of one inch. Remember, that camera has a 12x zoom, that means 12x magnification. You can shoot two fingers next to each other and the whole picture is filled. I didn't know about the surface structure of my finger nails before.

And since you're using (or at least can use) max zoom with the converter, you have virtually NO distortion, unlike at max wideangle. I really like that thing ;o)


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