Sunday, November 19, 2006

Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30

Adding this camera for review is a no-brainer; I have used it to capture VGA movie clips as "B roll" for my Panasonic HVX200. It makes a great addition to those who want to shoot both large-file stills and video. In addition to my own thoughts about the cameras mentioned here, added are links to other reliable reviews (and a couple accessories) that helped me choose the cameras that I have in my shooting arsenal.

Independent Camera Reviews:
Lumix DMC-FZ50
Lumix DMC-FZ30
Lumix DMC-FZ20
Nikon D2H
AG-HVX200 Note: I've found lots of techie HVX reviews, & hope to write one that's informative and not over- technical.

Feel free to check them out as well. Make an informed decision before you purchase!

The Good:
Easy menus
Quick format changes
Ability to shoot still images or video
Silent while shooting
Zooming during video
12x zoom range
Built-in flash and hot shoe
VGA (standard TV size) and QVGA video
People ignore you when you shoot
Manual override or point/shoot
1/2000th sec-60 second shutter range

The Bad:
Digital noise over 100 ISO
no external mic option
delay doubles when shooting over 1 second exposures
(a 1-minute exposure can take 2 minutes)
A thing called "chromatic aberration" or "color fringing."
Lack of widescreen video option (the newly-released FZ50 has this)

I've had the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 for about a year, now, and have had some grand successes. I had upgraded to the FZ30 after working with the Lumix FZ20, a smaller camera that survived with me through Hurricane Katrina. For its shortcomings, which included the lack of an exterior zoom lens, I was glad to have had it.

One of the biggest boons of this low-profile camera is its method of being largely-ignored by the subjects that are covered. How often have I been shooting (or recording video), and yet the subject rarely recognizes that I'm capturing images or movie clips. I have yet to figure whether the FZ30 can have a tally light turned on (the small red lamp that blinks or glows when recording film clips), but I'd rather have it that way. How often do I pick up a camera like the Panasonic AG-HVX200, and people recognize... or want to be recognized.

One of the great things is how this little big camera can be configured. Multiple preferences within the camera can be easily accessed, and it's user-friendly with no heavy depth of sub-menus, like the Nikon D2H or HVX200. A pro shooter can turn the camera into a manually-adjustable unit, or change to a variety of shooting styles like Aperture/Shutter priority and Program modes. The other thing that's sweet is how those who have the mindset, "don't think; just shoot" can turn the dial to an easier mode. The methods, which are combined by picking your preference in the settings inside the LCD viewfinder, can allow you to choose a host of options, including "Snow," "Food," and "Baby," which I haven't bothered. For some truly mixed light, like tungsten, fluorescent and daylight, the "Food" option has somehow delivered the best white balance than many of the other categories, so I have that one as an option.

I try to shoot as often as I can at ISO 80, but it can be really hard to keep this as an option, especially when many of my shoots are available light. If I'm forced to, I crank up the ISO and try to mildly tone down the extreme digital noise in Noise Ninja." I only use this camera in low-light situations when the job requires a quiet camera, since the D2H body screams for attention, every time the shutter fires. The FZ30 actually saved several photo shoots, like a live performance by the Annapolis Symphony. A reassurance to the director by firing the camera to demonstrate its silence when shooting allowed a rare chance to capture images during a performance, which was capable of being used as lead art in a newspaper front.

This truly sings when trying to capture an event or moment when not wanting to be noticed. As recently as 2 weeks ago, as two people argued during absentee voting, I banged off 50 images during a heated exchange. Try doing that with a large camera that makes the click-whirr sound, and one or both parties would have demanded that the photography stop.

And this chromatic aberration can make for an added amount of post-color-adjustments. There is some blue fringing with highlights, like a person wearing white, or a light point. The camera's images drift toward a blue base, and I've been known to desaturate the blues. I have also seen some red artifacts as well, and it can be a pain in the film canister to deal with this. If the FZ30 didn't have so much going for it, I'd divorce myself of it. But for everything it lacks - poor audio in noisy situations (what camcorder doesn't have that issue), I wouldn't like to leave this little bronco home. I keep it with or near me and take it on any out-of-town excursions. At any point, I can turn from tourist to multimedia shooter, able to cover virtually anything for news publication or web. The option of switching between QVGA and VGA video shooting is great for when you want to quickly web-post. QVGA (320x240 pixels) is half the size of VGA (the NTSC television standard, which is 640x480). So, get a few 1-GB or 2 gigabyte SD cards, and you're almost good-to-go. Purchase a few batteries (CGA-S006 and DMW-BMA7 work, and I've made several solid buys at and you can shoot until your cards fill up. But watch shooting in VGA. It can fill your 1GB card if you shoot it for 6 minutes straight. At the full 30 frames/second and audio, video always eats up card space. Many choose to shoot in half VGA, since a lot of people simply post to web, and that option offers around 12 minutes of continual video shooting.

You can turn the dial to "playback," which lets you edit your clips. You can delete one file, a host, or all of them at once. Scroll through images one-by-one, or look at them by thumbnails. This is why I call it a bronco; it's small but packs a wallop of a kick in features, way too many to add here. One added thing I got for the FZ30 is the Raynox HD-6600PRO-55mm wide angle adapter. You can purchase a ton of lenses for the FZ30 at Raynox. The 6600 I have doesn't provide "zoom-through," so you can only zoom about 3X before the image starts losing clarity. Other lenses allow full zoom-through. Again, make sure about what you want. And with any lens add-on, you can also add on a loss of clarity, but I enjoy the ultra-wide 23mm equivalent that the adapter provides.

If you've read THIS FAR, you're either having a boring day, or you've actually gotten something from my thoughts.

Adding some images of what the FZ30 has provided (these thumbs are clickable to see the larger size:

ISO 80, with wide angle adapter. Notice top left corner blur.

ISO 80, with Raynox wide angle adapter.

ISO 80, no lens adapter.

Long Range Binoculars
ISO 80, no adapter.

Keeping Watch
ISO 80, no adapter.

ISO 80, shot through a plane window

And if this works, I'll add some square thumbs that you can check out.

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