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Conclusion - Pros

  • Very high resolution and detail capture throughout the zoom range
  • Sharp results
  • Good, natural color
  • Superb 12x optical zoom
  • Effective image stabilization
  • Excellent handling - much improved over the FZ20
  • Comprehensive range of controls and improved control layout
  • Very fast operation
  • Well designed menu system
  • Nice handling and control layout
  • Easy to use
  • Excellent screen
  • Very usable EVF
  • Autofocus illuminator
  • Powerful flash
  • Good battery life
  • Program shift
  • TIFF & RAW modes
  • Improved movie modes
  • Fast startup, fast focus

Conclusion - Cons

  • Noise is even an issue at ISO 80, a real problem at ISO 400 or in very low light
  • Very occasional exposure problems
  • Max aperture at long end of zoom only F3.7
  • Limited dynamic range, highlight clipping in JPEGs
  • Pointless RAW converter produces worse results than JPEGs
  • Focus at extreme telephoto sometimes hunts, occasionally misses
  • Images can look a little soft viewed at 100%

Overall conclusion

In many ways the FZ30 is everything the FZ20 could (and maybe should) have been, and Panasonic must be applauded for implementing a huge raft of handling and control improvements, as well as speeding up overall performance. On the other hand you cannot help but wonder how much better this camera would be with a less noisy chip - the 7MP Sony CCD used in models such as the SD500 springs to mind (not that Panasonic would be caught dead using a Sony sensor of course!).

On the positive side this is as near as you'll get to a digital SLR with the equivalent image-stabilized lenses, without the cost or bulk, though also without the low light capabilities. Handling and control particularly have been improved almost beyond recognition, and for this alone the FZ30 can be considered a worthwhile upgrade from its predecessor.

But if the FZ30 represents a quantum leap in terms of handling and control it is little more than a tiny step forward in terms of image quality. Yes, there's more detail, but there's also more noise and a less effective image stabilization system. If you want a camera that can beat all the 5MP super zooms (including the FZ20), you'll be happy, but if you actually need the additional pixels to produce larger prints you may well be disappointed - it simply isn't that much better. The one saving grace is that ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) is - with a little tweaking - capable of getting far more out of the FZ30's RAW output than either in-camera JPEGs or RAW files converted using the stunningly useless utility supplied in the box (we have heard rumors that Panasonic is working on a better RAW converter, let's wait and see).

So, in the end this is a camera that improves on its predecessor in almost every aspect, and one that makes most of the current crop of 5MP super zooms look like toys in comparison, but it's also one that is frustratingly disappointing for anyone looking for a significant improvement in image quality over the (admittedly class-leading) FZ20. Buy one for it's handling, control, features and sheer class, but don't buy one if you want much better image quality than an FZ20 in anything but very good light, as you simply won't get it. A stunning camera, but not a perfect one.

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