Body elements

The FZ30 is powered by a new larger (7.2v, 710mAh) Lithium Ion pack that sits inside the grip under a sturdy spring-hinged cover. Battery life was impressive - Panasonic quotes 280 shots using the LCD (300 with the EVF, using CIPA standard testing). We certainly found it good enough for a whole day's shooting.
Above the battery compartment, on the side of the grip, is a sprung 'click in, click out' SD/MMC card slot.
The FZ30's ports are grouped together under a small, sprung cover on the left of the camera (viewed from the rear). Here you'll find a mini USB port, which also doubles as an AV out port using the supplied cable and the DC-in socket (for the optional AC adaptor). There's also a socket for the optional DMW-RS1 remote control.
The pop-up flash is activated manually by a small switch on its left side (viewed from the rear). It is fairly high - around 1.5 inches from the top of the lens barrel, which should help minimize red-eye, and fairly powerful. With auto ISO you can use the flash from around 30cm to 7m, and it recycles very quickly. All the usual flash options (on, off, red-eye reduction, slow synch) are available; the red-eye reduction system is a simple single pre-flash (around 0.8 seconds before the main exposure).
Serious photographers will be pleased to see that Panasonic hasn't abandoned the standard hot shoe for use with external flashguns. It's a non-dedicated shoe, so you can use any flash that conforms to ISO 10330 (trigger voltage of under 24 volts). The built-in flash cannot be used at the same time as an external unit.
Although it's the same size (2 inches) as the FZ20, the FZ30's LCD screen boasts around 75% higher resolution (230,000 pixels versus 130,000), and is much better at 'gaining up' and producing a usable image in low light. It's bright and clear and usable in all but the sunniest conditions.
Just as important as the increased resolution is the added versatility offered by the inclusion of a 'tilt and swivel' mechanism. The screen is hinged at the bottom and can rotate through 180 degrees when folded out. It's not as useful as the side-hinge system used by Canon on the S2IS, but it does allow waist-level shooting. The LCD can be turned face in to protect it when not in use (picture).
The electronic viewfinder (EVF) has also been improved over the FZ20, and now also boasts a full 230,000 pixels, and uses better optics, meaning it looks bigger as well as sharper. The viewfinder has also moved to behind the lens (closer to the center of the body), which feels better (though it does mean my nose now leaves marks on the LCD unless I turn it face-in).
One of the biggest selling points of the FZ series is that huge Leica 12x optical zoom. The lens on the FZ30 would appear to be a completely new design (for one thing it doesn't extend), and a slightly different focal length range (due to the change in the size of the sensor) - it's now 35-420mm (the FZ20 is 36-432mm), which is nice as any extra at the wide end is welcome. Less welcome is the reduction in the max aperture at the long end; F3.7 as opposed to F2.8 on the FZ20.
The fluid-damped manual focus ring on the FZ20 was one of the main reasons consumers chose it over the FZ5. The FZ30 takes things a step further with a mechanical zoom ring. This too is fluid-damped, and is quite simply a joy to use; faster, more accurate and less power-hungry than a powered zoom. The other welcome change is a real 55mm screw thread on the front of the lens, so filters can be attached without a cumbersome adaptor.
The autofocus/manual focus switch on the side of the barrel now has a third position, macro AF. There's also a 'FOCUS' button - press this in manual focus mode to quickly activate the AF.
Panasonic supplies a 'flower' lens hood for use with the FZ30, which attaches directly to the lens barrel. The hood reduces flare in bright light - especially at the wide end of the zoom. You can't leave it attached permanently, however, as it can interfere with the AF illuminator in low light, and block the flash at short subject distances.
The shutter release has finally made its way to the place it always should have been on the FZ20 - the front of the newly-enlarged grip. This small change has a huge effect, improving handling no end.
In a nod to SLR design the FZ30 now has front and rear control dials for direct access to, amongst other things, shutter speed and aperture. These are such an improvement on the button and menu system used by the FZ20 that they completely transform the use of the A,S and M modes.
The ubiquitous four-way controller offers quick access to self-timer, flash mode, review, AE compensation, bracketing, flash output level and white balance tuning.
The newly-reorganized top plate is home to the main mode dial, on/off switch and two small buttons (image stabilization and drive mode).