The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 is darn close to the perfect ultra zoom camera. It has a fast 12X optical zoom lens (though not as fast as on its predecessor), optical image stabilization, full manual controls, a high resolution LCD and electronic viewfinder, and a VGA movie mode. The big disappointment on the FZ30 was the higher than average noise levels, especially at high ISO sensitivities.
Camera performance is excellent. The FZ30 is ready to shoot in under a second, and its new high speed focusing system is VERY quick. Shutter lag was minimal, and shot-to-shot times were very good, even when shooting in RAW mode — just remember to use a high speed memory card for best performance. The camera has a full suite of manual controls, ranging from the usuals like shutter speed and aperture to white balance fine tuning. Those seeking some automatic modes will be pleased to see a large number of scene modes on the camera. The FZ30’s burst mode is one of the best out there, with unlimited recording at 2 frames/second (with a high speed SD card) and more limited low and high speed modes as well. And the FZ30 finally brings a modern movie mode to the FZ-series of cameras, with unlimited recording at 640 x 480 / 30 fps (again with a high speed memory card) and the ability to use the zoom lens during filming.
The FZ30’s weak point is its image quality. On the positive side, photos were well exposed, with accurate color and low purple fringing levels. Redeye was not a problem. Unfortunately, noise levels are above average, especially at ISO 200 and 400. If you’re printing your photos at 4 x 6 and 5 x 7, you really don’t need to worry about this issue. If you’re printing larger than that, or you enjoy looking at your photos at 100%, then you’ll probably be disappointed. The best solution to the problem that I could find was to use noise reduction software to clean things up a bit. I did this with several of my gallery photos and I got very nice 8.5 x 11 inch prints with just a quick run through NeatImage. I strongly encourage you to print my sample photos to see what you think about the noise levels, since ultimately this is a subjective thing.