In addition to the auto white balance mode the FZ30 offers four presets (daylight, cloudy, incandescent and flash). There is no preset for fluorescent lights (though the AWB does a good job under such lighting), but there is a manual white balance mode that allows you to point the camera at a white or gray card and create - and save - two custom settings.
In use - especially outdoors - the FZ30 delivers consistently accurate color (and appears to be slightly better than the FZ20 in this respect). Under artificial lighting the results are more patchy. You'll need to use manual white balance under mixed lighting or when light levels drop (such as indoors at night).
Outdoor - Auto WB
|Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red -0.2%, Blue -0.7%
|Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 2.7%, Blue -4.0%
The FZ30's powerful built-in flash, along with the bright F2.8-F3.7 lens, gets a lot further than most (especially at the wide end of the lens) - it's good for at least 7m (23 feet), and it works very well at close distances too, throttling down well until you get to about 25cm (2 feet) or so. Exposures are generally excellent, as is white balance, and of course you can add an external flash or use studio lighting easily thanks to the hot shoe.
Excellent color and exposure
Excellent color and exposure
Unlike the FZ20, the FZ30 has a dedicated macro switch on the side of the lens barrel, and can get down to around 5cm at the wide end of the lens (capturing an area around 5.5cm across). At the long end of the zoom the macro is, inevitably, less impressive, focusing down to around 200mm and capturing an area just under 15cm across. At the wide end there is inevitably some distortion, and you can see some chromatic aberration (CA), but it's good for this class of camera. The FZ30's macro mode is slightly less capable than the FZ20.
Barrel and Pincushion Distortion
The wide end of the FZ30's zoom is marginally wider (35mm equiv.) than most of its competitors, and the range - 12x - is greater. So it is a tribute to the designers at Leica (who presumably had some say in the design of the lens) that distortion is kept fairly low. The 1.1% barrel distortion is only just enough to be visible in wideangle shots, but not enough to be a problem, whilst there is virtually no measurable distortion once you start to move into the middle and long end of the zoom.
|Barrel distortion - 1.1% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 35 mm
|Pincushion distortion - 0.1% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 420 mm
Here for visual comparison are four identical shots taken at 80, 100, 200 and 400 ISO settings in our studio. ISO 80 and 100 are not significantly noisier than the results we see from most of the current crop of 5MP super zoom cameras, or most of the 8MP non- SLR cameras on the market today - mainly due to some fairly hefty noise reduction. Examination of ISO 80 RAW files shows the Panasonic chip to be inherently fairly noisy, which may explain the slight lack of 'crispness' seen in FZ30 images, due to noise reduction blurring detail. ISO 200 and 400 are noisy, and the noise reduction has a visible detrimental effect on images viewed at 100%, especially at ISO 400, which is hardly usable for anything except small prints. Note that noise - especially chroma noise (colored blotches in darker areas) gets progressively worse as light levels drop and shutter speeds increase.
|ISO 80 100% crop||ISO 100 100% crop|
|ISO 200 100% crop||ISO 400 100% crop|
Specific image quality issues
Aside from unacceptable noise at all ISO settings when light levels drop (which is either a problem for you or isn't - it will depend to some extent on your target print size) and fairly restricted dynamic range, which can cause highlight clipping in JPEGs shot on very bright days, the FZ30 has a very high 'hit rate' and is a worthy successor to the hugely popular FZ20. There are some occasional problems with slight underexposure in such circumstances (which I guess is designed to preserve highlight detail), and the usual occasional missed focus at the very long end of the zoom (which to be fair is pretty rare compared with some competitors), but overall the default settings produce bright, warm and vivid images that have bags of detail, even low contrast stuff like foliage and hair. If you find the default settings too 'over the top' you can turn them down using the in-camera parameters, or switch to RAW mode if you've got a copy of Adobe Camera Raw.
We found virtually none of the purple fringing we've come to expect from long zooms and small sensors - perhaps because one of the functions of the Venus II engine is the removal of such problems. Even in areas of extreme overexposure the only problem was a little purple fringing associated with blooming - and this was visible in less than 1 in 500 of the gallery shots we took during the preparation of this review.
|100% crop||67 mm equiv., F3.2, 1/30th sec|