We were pleased to see that the default settings on the FZ30 are not as over-sharpened, over-saturated or over-contrasty as many of its direct competitors, but if your personal preference is different there are some controls on offer; three levels (+1, 0, -1) each for contrast, saturation and sharpness. The images below show the extremes possible - setting everything to -1 produces a nice clean JPEG suitable for post-processing, whilst turning everything up to +1 gives a punchy result ideal for direct printing.
|Standard (default) settings||100% crop|
|Contrast -1, Saturation -1, Sharpness -1||100% crop|
|Contrast +1, Saturation +1,
Noise is the FZ30's achilles' heel, and Panasonic's noise reduction processes have been strongly criticized in the past for sacrificing too much detail, and producing an almost 'watercolor' like effect on higher ISO images. Perhaps a reflection of the complaints, the FZ30 now offers three levels of noise reduction, low, standard and high. Looking at the results it's obvious not only that noise at ISO 400 is always going to be a problem, but that the only way - in-camera - to get rid of it involves losing a significant amount of image detail (Panasonic's approach to noise reduction is simple; smudge the hell out of it).
I personally prefer the 'low' setting - the noise is a little more obvious, but you keep a lot more detail, and whilst noise can be 'processed out' using software such as Noise Ninja, you can't put back detail that's been smudged away. The alternative is to use RAW mode and ACR to convert the files, as then you can make your own judgments about how much noise reduction is required.
The MEGA O.I.S image stabilization system used on the FZ30 (and all other recent Panasonic models) works, though its effectiveness seems slightly lower than the FZ20 - due to the increased image resolution (i.e. you can see finer detail, so you can see finer levels of blurring). That said, Panasonic claims that the IS algorithms have been improved, and that it is as effective - if not more so - than the FZ20 at the same print size. At 100%, you will see some blur you might not see with the FZ20, but unless you're producing poster prints or cropping heavily you won't see it.
There are two modes: mode 1 (IS on all the time) and mode 2 (IS is activated at the moment the exposure is made). Mode 1 makes framing easier - the IS system steadies the preview image, but is less than 100% effective when it comes to actually taking the pictures. Mode 2, which minimizes the amount of movement needed by waiting until the actual moment you press the shutter is supposed to be more effective.
In our extensive testing of the FZ30 we found that - like other cameras using the system - the differences between mode 1 and mode 2 are not so clear cut. Overall mode 2 is still the most effective, allowing handheld shots at the wide end of the zoom down to around 1/4 of a second (if you're fairly steady-handed). But there were times when mode 1 seemed to work better (specifically with extreme shake; long exposures or when using 420mm the long end of the zoom). In either case the IS has demonstrable benefits - even at the wide end of the zoom, but there are limits to what it can do. Our advice when the shutter speeds falls below about 1/30 sec would be to take a few shots - at least one of them will be sharp enough to be a 'keeper'. It's also worth noting that using mode 2 increases shutter lag noticeably.
|IS off||IS mode 1||IS mode 2|
|1/30 sec, 420mm equiv.|
|IS off||IS mode 1||IS mode 2|
|1/20 sec, 420mm equiv.|