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Great Little Camera
on May 23, 2013
I have had the Panasonic ZS30 about a week now. It is my 5th TZ/ZS Panasonic camera I've owned, including the excellent ZS20. However, the ZS30 is the best yet. I'm not a beginner. I've been making pictures since the 1960s or before with all kind of cameras, and I've sold a few pictures over the years too. Currently I have the ZS30, the ZS20, a couple of "enthusiast" compact cameras, and a fairly nice and complete DSLR set up - one of several I've owned. The DSLR gathers dust for the most part - too heavy with a bunch of lenses and other photographic "stuff."
Getting right to the heart of things: The ZS30 is a great little camera - takes great pictures in good light and also in low light. It also has a plethora of fun and useful features, and a great Leica lens. You can shoot on full automatic or take control with aperture, shutter, or full manual priority. There are 14 or so "art filters, plus about 16 "scene" modes. For the younger generation there is WiFi, and NFC, and, of course there is GPS. The camera is easy to carry, excellent build quality - and, did I mention, takes excellent pictures. I highly recommend it.
Some people may worry about the high pixel count (18 MP). Don't! The improvements in the sensor and the processor pretty much take care of that, and pictures are certainly as good as the ZS20, which I also have, and better than the other, older Panasonic super zooms that I have had. It is not a DSLR, but the pictures - good light and low light are certainly very good for this type of camera up to about ISO 3200 (Yes, there is some noise, but pictures are certainly "usable" for what most people who buy this kind of camera will use them for.) Generally speaking though, I'd use a top end ISO 1600 and below for normal, everyday use. I usually have it set to ISO 200 - works fine.
Everyone is worried about blurry pictures. Left to its own devices the ZS30 does not give blurry pictures. It is quite a capable little camera. That's not to say you can't take blurry pictures with the ZS30. You certainly can. Here are some ideas to minimize blurry pictures with the ZS 30 or any other camera for that matter: Most important of all - Be sure the image stabilization is ALWAYS turned ON - unless you are on a tripod - then turn it off. Then: 1. Neither the ZS30 nor the subject should be moving when you take the shot - i.e. hold the camera still, and shoot when the subject is not moving - (some exceptions when using very high shutter speeds, the tracking focus mode, fireworks, moving water, and other "creative" stuff). 2. To hold the camera still, hold on to it like you own it and are proud of it, with BOTH hands, and not with just the thumb and forefinger only. 3. Keep your elbows tucked in to your sides. 4. Lean against a wall, a table, a chair, and/or look for something to rest the camera on. 5. Shoot with the reciprocal of the lens extension for a shutter speed, i.e. At full extension of 480 mm (in 35 mm terms) - (You can estimate it if not at full extension.), keep the shutter speed no lower than 1/500 second OR 1/125 second (2 stops) if the image stabilization feature is turned on. If you have a REAL steady hand, maybe you can cheat down to 1/60 second. (You can adjust the aperture, the ISO, and/or the lens extension to achieve these shutter speeds, but anything less will almost undoubtedly result in a blurry picture.) 6. Wait for the camera to focus - when you hear the beep (if turned on) or when the focus area boundary turns green on the LCD. It doesn't take long with the fast Panasonic focus speed, but I've seen some folks beat even a DSLR to focus. 7. Press the shutter button gently, don't "stab" at it. 8. Don't let the camera pick the focus point. Do it yourself. I mostly use the center point only - smallest one - unless using tracking focus mode. 9. Shoot on aperture priority and set the widest aperture available (ZS 30 will adjust it as you zoom.) or shoot in "sports" mode to assure the fastest shutter speed for the ISO set and the light available. 10. Don't shoot ANYTHING with a shutter speed of less than 1/30 sec unless the camera is "braced." 11. Walk closer to the subject if you can, and retract the lens to fill the frame at the new, shorter distance. Long lenses, fully extended are much harder to hold still than "shorter " ones. Note: The 30X Sony HX50 may not be such a bargain at full extension unless braced or on a tripod - a 700 mm something lens, handheld - REALLY?! - and about that atmospheric haze... Note: You can easily have a 30X lens equivalent with th ZS30 - either by slightly lowering the number of pixels used (best way - all optical lens magnification) - or by using the "extended" optical lens mode at full resolution. I like the first way - pictures seem sharper, and there is still plenty of resolution for high quality prints. 12. If all else fails, use a tripod (Heaven forbid!).
Added November 22, 2013 - 13. Panasonic's "light speed" focusing is very fast and pretty much eliminates shutter lag. It is a FAST camera. Secondly - To eliminate blur from pictures of moving subjects - as in sports, if iA mode is not doing it for you, - shoot in "Sports" mode, and the camera will set the fastest shutter speed for the settings you already have on your camera (i.e. ISO, aperture for the zoom extension you are at, etc.) If you still get blur, or if the exposure icons on the LCD are showing red, increase the ISO or shoot in "Shutter priority" mode and set a fast shutter speed - up to 1/2000 sec. (Try 1/500 sec first.) Again, you may have to increase the ISO to get a properly exposed picture (green exposure icons) when you increase the shutter speed. Finally, in either case, set the focus mode to continuous/tracking, and shoot in burst mode. (Set these up before you go to sports or shutter priority) (I mostly use 5 fps burst speed - allows for focus on each shot in the burst.)
Added July 6, 2013 - One more little thing - (OK,OK. I forgot it!) 14. Shoot within the focusing distances of the AF setting you have set or you WILL have blurry pictures. "Standard" AF mode at full lens extension is about 6 1/2 feet to infinity. Closer than 6 1/2 feet and the picture WILL be blurry. With AF mode set to "Macro Tele" you can focus from a little over 3 feet to infinity at full lens extension. At "Super Macro" AF mode your focus distance is limited from about 2 inches to about 3 feet, ans it will NOT focus to infinity. The macro modes are found at the "down" press of the rotary dial. Hey! it's easy, but if you are having trouble focusing, check that you are in the "correct" AF mode.
Flash is another "scary" thing for many people. First remember the flash is only "good" to about 10 feet, so "be within range." You cannot adjust the flash output on the ZS30, but the camera will do that for you if using "fill" flash mode (always on) or full auto, within certain parameters (Read the manual.) The "sync speed" - about 1/200 sec - will "freeze" most "portraits," but if the subject is moving, you may still get a blurry picture. For best results, use "slow sync" or night portrait mode, just watch that the shutter speed doesn't get below what you can comfortably handhold, AND tell your subject not to move for one full second after the flash goes off. You can use the flash in bright sunlight also - to reduce the dark shadows that are characteristic of photos taken in bright sunlight. To get even better flash shots, use a diffuser - two or three layers of facial tissue held over the flash will do wonders - just make sure your fingers are not covering the flash. Another hint: Set the camera to "manual" mode, and set the correct exposure for the background. Turn the flash on normal or "always on" i.e. "fill" flash mode. In this case, NOT slow sync or you will overexpose the background). Then take your picture. The background will be nicely exposed, and most likely, so will your subject - if in range of the flash. Use the diffuser trick, and things should be really good.
Back to the ZS30. The ZS20 and the ZS30 are fairly comparable, but the ZS30 has some significant improvements IMHO. Better LCD - 920k dot resolution compared to 460k for the ZS20, and better touch screen capability. 18 MP compared to 14 MP for the ZS20 - Yes, there is more detail in the ZS30 picts. Cancel playback mode and return to shooting mode with a touch of the shutter button - something Panasonics' have needed for years. More movie choices. Added number of "art filters" - These are kind of fun. High Speed video shooting. Easier access to panorama mode. Better image stabilization - 3 way in stills, 5 way in video. "Starry Sky" scene mode back. - good for shooting fireworks and other creative stuff. The ZS30 can take a 13.5 MP still picture during video, compared to a 3.5 MP one with the ZS20. Longer lasting battery. In short, the ZS30 is just a more "complete" camera, although the ZS20 takes wonderful pictures also.
Both the ZS20 and the ZS30 have Panasonic's "light speed" AF. Solves a MAJOR problem with earlier compact cameras. Both cameras have no purceptable shutter lag, and being able to adjust the size of the focus area, not just the focus points is a big plus. Of course there is face detection/face recognition, and tracking focus mode, now with up to 5 frames per second WITH focus for each frame or up to 60 fps with initial focus and lower megapixels. Both cameras have vastly improved white balance compared to earlier Panasonic cameras. Both have in-camera editing - kind of hit and miss though, but fun. There are other neat things - too many to mention. Handheld night shot works wonders on both cameras as does HDR scene mode. Build quality of both cameras is excellent.
Yes, you CAN blur the background with a compact - set "macro telephoto" mode, largest aperature (smallest f/ number), extend the lens to maximun extension, move in as close as you can so that the camera still focuses, make sure the background is "some distance" behind the subject, etc. - or - shoot wide angle, lens fully retracted, f/3.3 (smallest numbered f/ stop - largest lens opening), set super macro mode, and move in to where the camera will just focus, background again "some distance" behind the subject, etc.
For travel, easy carry, long lens, and good pictures, the ZS30 really can't be beat. ZS30 has LOTS of travel features.
Finally, the best camera, as always, is the one you have with you. The Panasonic ZS30 is idealy suited for that, and it takes very good pictures on its own settings, and even better ones if the photographer is knowledgeable enough to adjust some of the settings to suit the situation and light. (Hint: Read the manual.) Beware of putting much stock in the review of anyone who simply blasts away in full auto mode (the camera picks the focus points in full auto, and it can't read your mind - YET - as to what you really want in focus.), and then condemns the camera. What shutter speed was used? If it was 1/60 second or less at full extension (480 mm equivalent) and no bracing, pictures probably will be blurry - with ANY camera, even a DSLR.
The Panasonic ZS30 is compact enough to carry easily, has an incredably long, compact Leica lens, more than enough low light capability for most people - unless you are a pixel peeping nerd or a pro who has to make a living off of his/her talent as a photographer, and it has more neat features that most people will ever use. Is it a DSLR? NO. Is it a darned good compact camera? Yes. Is it an excellent, full-featured, long lens travel camera? Absolutely, yes! Remember, taking "good" pictures is a duel effort between the camera and the photographer. Don't always blame the camera. Figure it out! Read the manual. Get the most out of your camera. It has lots to "give." Relax, quit worrying, and enjoy your ZS 30. Thus ends the "War and Peace" review.