Panasonic
DMC-FZ30
Information

by Jim Zimmerlin

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 digital camera

I bought a Panasonic DMC-FZ10 in the Fall of 2003, and then upgraded to the DMC-FZ20 in the Fall of 2004.  Now, here in 2005, the new-and-improved DMC-FZ30 is finally available.  Let me tell you what's so special about it!

The greatest feature on the FZ30 is that big image stabilized zoom lens!  I'll tell you more about what that huge image stabilized Leica lens can do for you...  a little further down the page.  Before we get in to that, let's look at what's been improved on the FZ30 over the previous Lumix cameras.

The FZ30 has an improved CCD imager which produces a whopping 8 megapixel image!  That's more resolution than you'd get from many very expensive digital SLR cameras from the last several years.  The FZ30 also features a new high-speed autofocus system that does a much better job of quickly locking the focus on your subject.

Panasonic DMC-FZ30 digital cameraAnother cool improvement they've made in the FZ30 is the flip-down, rotating LCD display on the back of the camera.  Imagine yourself trying to hold the camera high over your head to shoot over the heads in a crowd...  just flip down the LCD and you'll be able to frame your shot with ease.  It's also great for when you want to hold the camera down low to shoot kids or pets.

 

The FZ30 uses a new higher capacity battery...  which gives it the ability to shoot about 40 more photos per charge than the FZ20 can.  At first, I was a little turned-off by the fact that the Lumix cameras use a proprietary battery rather than standard AA batteries...  but after much use of my original FZ10 and later the FZ20, I realized that I was able to get literally hundreds of photos on a single charge, and then all I had to do is pop in a spare battery pack while the original battery recharges.  It's been no problem at all.  The benefit of not using AA batteries is that the proprietary battery is smaller and lighter.  The camera would have to be much larger and heavier if they had designed it around AA batteries.  So, while before I owned a Lumix camera I thought the proprietary battery thing was a negative for Panasonic...  after personal experience with two of their cameras, I've come to realize that it's a positive.

Another improvement on the FZ30 is the ability to shoot in RAW format.  With the FZ10 and FZ20 you could shoot in uncompressed TIF format, but now with the FZ30 you also have a RAW mode in your arsenal.  For best possible image quality, when shooting pictures that have to be absolutely perfect, shooting in RAW mode gives you the ability to tweak a photo in ways that you just can't do to a JPG or a TIF file.  It's not for everyday shooting, though, as it hogs up a LOT of disk space and really slows down both your camera and your image editing software since the images are so large.

Panasonic DMC-FZ30k digital cameraA new addition to the FZ30 is a manual zoom ring on the lens.  If you've spent a lot of time with 35mm SLR cameras, you'll find the manual zoom and focus abilities on the FZ30 to be very comfortable.  Speaking of the lens, on the FZ10 and FZ20, when you first turned the camera on you would have to wait for the lens to extend before you could take your first shot.  On the FZ30, the lens does not need to extend...  so you can take your first shot almost instantly after powering up the camera.

They've also made small improvements in the arrangement of the controls.  For example, it's a little easier on the FZ30 to make manual adjustments of shutter speed or aperture settings.  Basically, what you're looking at is the third generation Panasonic Lumix...  and each one has been a little more user-friendly and little easier to operate than the previous one.  Another small improvement...  they finally arranged it so that even if you have your camera mounted on a tripod, you can get to the SD memory card and change it!  The design of the FZ10 and FZ20 was kind of dumb in that regard.  Thanks for finally getting it right, Panasonic!

One of my favorite improvements on the FZ30 is an increase in the resolution when in movie mode.  I like to use my Panasonic camera to make movies of our puppies.  Seeing the little guys move around is a lot more fun than a still picture.  On the FZ10 and FZ20, the movie mode only had resolution of 320x240...  but on the FZ30 it's now 640x480.  But they did more than just increase the resolution of the movies...  they made some technical improvements which result it a big overall improvement in the picture quality when you use movie mode.  Frankly, the movies on the FZ20 and FZ10 always looked kind of flat and dull to me.  The movies on the FZ30 look MUCH better now.  Thanks again, Panasonic!

I'd also like to point out one huge advantage that the entire Panasonic Lumix line of big-zoom cameras has over digital SLR cameras such as the Canon Digital Rebel...  because the lens is permanently attached to the camera and can not be removed, dust can never get inside the camera and on to the imaging device.  One of the biggest problems experienced by owners of digital SLR cameras with interchangeable lenses is that dust gets inside the camera when they change lenses.  At first, that may not sound like a big problem, but when you consider the size of a speck of dust relative to the small size of a digital camera's imaging device...  you can see why a small piece of dust can be a big problem.  There have been huge discussions in the online digital SLR forums about how to deal with this problem...  it's one problem you'll never experience with a Panasonic Lumix digital camera.

Now let me give you a little demonstration of the #1 greatest feature of Panasonic Lumix digital cameras...  the big image-stabilized zoom lens.  Keep in mind that this big zoom lens comes standard on not just the top-of-the-line DMC-FZ30, but also on some of the lower priced Lumix cameras, all the way down to the budget-priced DMC-FZ4.

To demonstrate the big zoom, I took a DMC-FZ20 to a football game, and snapped these three pictures as one of the coaches gave a pep-talk to his team:

A fully wide shot -- no zoom used:

Full 12x optical zoom:

Full 48x digital zoom:

I think those three pictures show an amazing zoom capability.  Sure...  the the last picture is a little fuzzy, but the thing you have to keep in mind is that the picture was taken with 48x zoom from 25 yards away.  I'd like to see you try to get better focusing on something that small at that distance.  I was amazed the camera did that well.  Yes, it's not perfectly sharp...  but if you need perfect sharpness on shots like that from 25 yards, you're going to have to buy a $1000 camera and a $2000 lens for it!  It's not perfect...  but try that same shot from any other camera in this price range and you won't even get anything close to that good!

Here's another demonstration of what the built-in zoom lens of the Panasonic Lumix cameras can do:


No zoom
A shot of the Harford Pier from the hills overlooking San Luis Bay

 


Full 12x optical zoom

 


Full digital zoom
Even more amazing considering that I took this shot handheld...  no tripod!

 

Want to see yet another good demo of the zoom capability of these cameras?
click here!

One other thing to point out about the FZ30 zoom capability...  and this is a change from the FZ10 and FZ20...  if you turn on the FZ30's new "extended optical zoom" feature, your 8 megapixel camera with a 12x optical zoom can become a 3 megapixel camera with a whopping 19x optical zoom.  That's equivalent to a 668 mm zoom lens on an SLR film camera!  Holy cow!


 If you've decided that the DMC-FZ30 is the camera for you, and you appreciate the information that I've taken the time to share on this page...  you can say "thank you" by ordering your camera through my link to Amazon.com.   Click here to order your camera, and Amazon will give me a small referral fee...  which is the nicest way you can thank me for the effort I've put in to this page. Lumix DMC-FZ20 with lens hood attached
Please note:  after you click the link to Amazon.com, look for the blue box on the right side of the screen which says "MORE BUYING CHOICES".  This may contain links to Amazon's partners with the DMC-FZ30 at lower prices.  Also, if Amazon.com is out of stock of the camera, the "more buying choices" link may point you to some of their partners that do have it in stock.  If you see a link to Vanns.com, that's a very good choice...  I bought both my FZ10 and FZ20 cameras through Amazon and their partner Vanns...  and they delivered exactly what they promised at a very fair price. Panasonic DMC-FZ20 in stock now

Also...  if you like the big image-stabilized zoom lens on the FZ30, but you don't want to spend that kind of money and you don't need 8 megapixels...  check out the other Panasonic Lumix cameras such as the DMC-FZ5 or DMC-FZ4.

One other thing to point out is that the FZ30 comes in your choice of two exterior colors.  The DMC-FZ30K is the FZ30 in a black case...  the DMC-FZ30S is the same camera with a silver exterior instead of a black one.


May I give you a suggestion regarding memory for the DMC-FZ30?

The camera comes with a 32mb Secure Digital memory card...  but at over 2mb per picture, that won't get you very far!  So, you're going to want to buy a larger SD memory card for it.  I'd suggest a 1gb card, which will allow you to shoot well over 200 pictures in the 8 megapixel mode before you'll have to connect to your computer and download them.

Here's the thing that most people don't understand about memory cards...  they come in different speeds.  The cheap ones can't read and write data to and from the card as fast as the more expensive high-speed cards can.  So, it takes longer to download your pictures from a cheap memory card than it will if you shell out the few extra bucks for a high-speed card.

Lexar high speed 1gb SD memory card But most importantly, a high-speed card will allow the DMC-FZ30 to work much better when you are using the camera's high-speed burst mode.  In boost mode, the camera can take a series of five pictures back-to-back extremely quickly.  I've found this to be VERY handy when shooting kids and animals since they tend not to sit still!  But if you buy a slow memory card, the burst mode won't work very well because the camera is sitting around waiting for the card to finish writing the pictures to the card.  The memory card ends up being a bottleneck to the flow of data simply because it's too darned slow to keep up with the camera!

So my strong advice to you is to spend a couple of extra bucks when you make your memory card purchase and get yourself a high-speed card such as the 32x Lexar SD memory card.  There are cheaper memory cards on the market, there's even a cheaper line of Lexar cards...  but the 32x card is what you really need to allow the Panasonic camera to work at full potential.  Click here to order a 1 gigabyte high-speed Lexar card through Amazon.com...  and once again, you'll be giving me a nice "thank you" for the information because Amazon.com will send a small commission check my way.

Why do I recommend a 1 gigabyte card instead of a 512mb or 256mb card?  Trust me on this one...  you're going to LOVE taking pictures with this camera, so you'll be taking LOTS of pictures.  You have to remember that since the FZ30 is a 8 megapixel camera, each picture can take up as much as 4 megabytes of disk space.  It's so frustrating to be shooting pictures and then to run out of disk space on your memory card!  If you use the burst mode...  which fires off multiple shots back-to-back...  or the TIFF mode which shoots a 23mb uncompressed image...  it doesn't take long at all.


One of the reasons that I like my Panasonic Lumix camera is the hot-shoe which allows you to use an external flash unit.  Most digital cameras do not have a hot-shoe, so you're stuck with only the built-in flash.  By adding an external flash on to the FZ10 or FZ20, you will find that you are able to get much better results in many situations where you are shooting indoors...  especially if the room has a white ceiling you can bounce the flash off of.

I purchased a Sunpak 383 flash for well under $100, and it has made a big difference in the quality of my indoor photographs.   Here is a little demonstration.  The following 3 photos were all taken in my living room with my DMC-FZ20.

This first photo was shot using natural light only.  It was mid-day and there was light coming in through the windows, but because the light was uneven you can see we had major shadows.  Not a good picture.

 

Look at how harsh that lighting is.  Yuck.  It's very un-natural looking.  And since the flash was so close to the lens, she got some red eye, too.

 

Click here for Sunpak 383 flash from Amazon.com This is why people who are really in to photography make sure they have a camera with a "hot-shoe" so that they can use an external flash unit.  Finally, we have evenly distributed light...  and it gives the picture a nice soft look.  I doubt you could get much better lighting than that without spending a ton of money on studio equipment!

You get the soft lighting effect by not pointing the external flash directly at the subject...  you swivel it up towards the ceiling and let the light bounce off the white ceiling and fill the room.  This is called "bounce flash".  So, if you're going to buy an external flash, make sure it can swivel!  Some lower-priced external flashes can not.  And make sure it can swivel both vertically AND horizontally, so you can bounce it off the ceiling regardless of whether you are shooting in portrait or landscape orientation!  The Sunpak 383 is a good match for the Panasonic Lumix FZ10 FZ20 or FZ 30 cameras and will swivel in both directions.

My advice to you:  if you've got a Panasonic Lumix digital camera with a hot shoe, get yourself a Sunpak 383 external flash.  I highly recommend it.  If you click on this link you can order a Sunpak 383 for well under $100, and Amazon will give me a small sales commission...  which is the nicest way you can thank me for taking the time to give you this little lighting demo.

Note:  These Sunpak flashes are very popular and go in and out of stock at Amazon.com.  If you see an announcement at Amazon that they no longer have these units...  just check back in a week or two.  They keep getting them, selling out, and then getting more.


I've been getting a lot of email from people who have bought the Sunpak 383, and would like some tips on the best settings to use it with their Panasonic Lumix digital camera.

For best results, turn on the "external flash preset" mode on the camera.  With external flash preset mode turned on, the camera will automatically go to F2.8 and ISO100 any time it detects an external flash unit has been attached to the camera.  Then all you have to do is set the Sunpak 383 to ISO100, put the Sunpak 383 in automatic mode, and you should be good to go.  The Sunpak 383 has a little sensor in the front that detects room conditions, and when set to automatic mode it will adjust the flash power output accordingly.

My advice is to take a test shot as outlined above, and see how it looks.  If the lighting is not quite right, you can experiment with several other options.  First, you can try bouncing the flash off the ceiling at different angles.  Different angles will produce more or less light on the subject, which may improve your picture.  The other thing you can fiddle around with if the automatic mode isn't giving good results is to throw the Sunpak 383 in manual mode, and try the various manual flash power settings...  full power, 1/2, 1/4/ 1/8, 1/16.

A lot of times the automatic setting will be just fine, but as you can see there are lots of other things you can try if you're not happy with the automatic results.  Because getting top quality results from the camera and an external flash can sometimes take a little bit of experimentation, I recommend using it primarily in situations where you have the luxury of being able to re-take the shot several times if necessary.  For situations where you get one chance to take the picture, and that's it... I'd recommend using the camera's built-in flash.

While we're talking about external flash units...  I want to explain one other thing to you:  TTL flash metering.  Some camera/flash combinations can take advantage of TTL flash metering, and some can not.  TTL flash metering is where the camera can tell the flash how much flash power to use.  The camera's metering system checks out the situation and based on what it sees, it tells the external flash whether to flash at full power, 1/2 power, 1/4 power, etc.  In other words, the camera and the flash truly work together to get the correct exposure. 

TTL flash metering is generally only available on fairly expensive cameras such as high-end digital or 35mm SLRs.  The Panasonic Lumix cameras do not have TTL flash metering, so there's no point in trying to use an external flash with TTL flash metering as they both need to have that capability for it to work.  The reason that the Sunpak 383 is such a good match for a Panasonic camera is that the little sensor on the front of the Sunpak, which is used to determine flash power when you have the Sunpak in automatic mode, is a great way to get around the fact that the camera can't do TTL flash metering.


While I've got you here, may I show you our Cocker Spaniels?

A montage of several photos of our dogs

We own several parti colored Cockers and breed them as a hobby.  In fact, I've owned Cockers on and off for over 40 years!  If you would like to see more pictures of my Cockers, including cute puppies from some of our previous litters, please visit our main page


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