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ePHOTOzine tester, Matt Grayson reviews the slinky Panasonic Lumix FS30 digital compact camera.
Pushing the envelope on the smaller compacts, Panasonic have unveiled the FS30 which boasts an 8x optical zoom and 14.1Mp resolution crammed into a slinky metal body. Priced at £174, the camera seems very competitive in the market with 14Mp, 8x optical zoom and intelligent automatic systems. But what have Panasonic done to keep the price so low? The absence of a Leica endorsed lens which is usually fitted to a Panasonic compact is a clue.
Panasonic Lumix FS30: Features
It's a sexy little camera that will appeal to anyone looking for a camera small enough to fit into a pocket or purse on a night out and that's a great thing about the FS30: it's not limited to just men or women buying it. It looks good to everyone and I certainly had no issues with whipping it out and grabbing a snap of the kids.
The wide-angle lens offers a 35mm equivalent focal length of 28mm which isn't the widest available but will cover most things you need. In fact, I found that for most shots, I had to zoom in to get a decent composure. Thankfully the 8x optical zoom is fast and responsive so I had no problems in getting the shot I needed.
The camera layout is simple and adheres to the traditional Panasonic style of a large screen to the left of the body with small command buttons on the right. A small switch to flick between shooting and playback is located in the top right corner which has its pros and cons. The benefit is that you can look at images taken without having the lens stuck out by powering the camera up while it's switched to the green arrow. The downside for me is that I kept forgetting this and tried to take pictures while my last shot glared out at me.
| Above left & above: The wide-angle end lets you get plenty of the scene in the frame, while the 8x optical zoom can pick out areas of interest.
Left: Diverse lighting is handled well and the camera shows a good dynamic range.
On top of the camera is a small button with a red icon and at first glance I thought this was a dedicated video button just like the one found on the Panasonic GH1 Micro FourThirds camera. It is, in fact, the iA button which essentially switches everything into simple mode so you don't have to think about taking pictures at all. Perfect for a night out, but you may wish to retain control for more important pictures.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS30 is one of the first Panasonic compacts to come out with SDXC compatibility. This means that the camera will have a theoretical storage capacity of up to 2Tb (2048Gb) when the cards become more readily available.
Panasonic Lumix FS30: Handling
The FS30 is a really easy camera to use. In most situations I could simply switch it on and let the camera control exposures. It does this well and I'm surprised how well it controls problem areas such as noise which is a blight to small sensors with high resolution.
The typical Q-menu is present giving quick access to your most used features while the mode button will switch between your shooting modes such as standard shooting or a particular scene mode you'd like to use.
It's a well constructed little camera and feels solid and despite having quite large hands, I have no trouble operating the relatively small controls of the FS30.
Panasonic Lumix FS30: Performance
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS30 is only a basic camera aimed at users who are unlikely to have an interest in controlling exposure, instead allowing the camera to handle everything.
To this end, the FS30 doesn't have any over-riding metering functions it simply incorporates a multi-zone metering system that will cope with most situations. In diverse lighting it does quite well managing to retain detail in shadow areas as well as prevent highlights from being blown out.
I found that if I photographed a backlit item, the subject would underexpose slightly but I'm happy with the fact that it certainly tried its hardest to retain detail and did do to an extent.
Luckily, Panasonic have allowed some extra options in the focusing section and as well as the multi-target mode which uses nine points in the frame to select the subject from, you can also choose face detection or one point in the centre of the frame. The focusing options are found in the Q-menu but if you want to focus closer, you need to select the macro modes on the navigation pad on the back of the camera. There are two macro modes, one which allows the use of optical zoom and one that doesn't. The latter incorporates the digital zoom to crop into the image in case the close focusing distance isn't good enough. It's a useful feature but will degrade the quality of the image the more you zoom in.
The entire focusing system has been upgraded for the new batch of compacts and now boasts a system called Sonic Speed AF. Panasonic say that the new system focuses in 0.35sec because of a new high speed actuator, parallel software processing and optimisation of the algorithms.
What does this mean in realistic terms? Well, the Panasonic tests will have been done in a laboratory under strict clinical conditions so they might not be relevant in the real world. However, the zoom system does seem more responsive and quicker to lock. Focusing and taking a shot takes around 0.450sec. A different compact I tested took 0.499sec which doesn't sound like a lot, but it could be the difference between getting the shot or not. It's also nice to see the companies investing in a feature other than resolution or gimmicks.
As with any camera, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS30 works well at low ISO, producing beautiful smooth images whether in natural or artificial light. The way the noise attacks the images on the FS30 is a way I'm unfamiliar with. There's no gradual degradation of the image, no breaking down of sharp, steady lines. Instead, green and purple colour starts to invade the image in the low key areas. It's subtle but when the images get up to the higher ISOs of ISO800 and ISO1600, the whole frame is awash with a green colour cast.
Panasonic ISO80 test.
Panasonic ISO200 test.
Panasonic ISO200 test.
Panasonic ISO400 test.
Panasonic ISO800 test.
Panasonic ISO1600 test.
The same happens regardless of whether you're in controlled or natural light and in a way I like the way it hides the usual sharpening of noise but unfortunately, it lets in the coloured noise that lets the photo down. There's no noise reduction options on the FS30 so it's all automatic and mostly it does a decent job but at around ISO800, the drop in quality is significant as though the walls of a castle have been breached and the marauding invaders are swarming inside.
Panasonic outside ISO80 test.
Panasonic outside ISO100 test.
Panasonic outside ISO200 test.
Panasonic outside ISO400 test.
Panasonic outside ISO800 test.
Panasonic outside ISO1600 test.
I love the way that the Panasonic handles primary colours. It appears to favour cooler tones over warmer ones with primary blue, pale blue, turquoise and aqua all benefiting from a boost whenever they're in the shot. While warm tones such as reds, oranges and yellows do look nicely saturated, they appear modest by comparison. I like the richness of the earth colours such as browns and greens and tricky colours, such as purples are recorded relatively faithfully. I think there's room for improvement on the darker purple tones, but the lighter ones always come out well. Subtle tones look acceptable, but I think they're a little too pale for my tastes.
In the light of day and skies are recorded really well, even with a contrasting colour in the frame. Foliage looks good and mono tones are nicely balanced.
Daylight casts such as the natural blue hint of shade or the warmth of the sun are handled effectively even in the auto mode. I'm always surprised at how compacts react in stronger artificial light though. The FS30 does what all other compacts seem to do and gives a better result in auto white-balance when shooting in tungsten. This strong light source gives off an orange tone and the auto setting seems to give a better reaction to it than the preset. Still, the preset is set at that level with no room for change whereas the auto setting will adapt to its surroundings and scenario.
|Auto white-balance in fluorescent lighting.||There's no preset fluorescent mode on the Panasonic FS30.|
|Auto white-balance in tungsten lighting works well.
||The preset tungsten mode isn't as effective as auto.|
There's no fluorescent mode on the Panasonic Lumix FS30 which is a little odd but again the auto setting appears to work quite well without it anyway. There's a slight yellow tint on the image in auto and if you have time, it's always best to do a manual reading of the light source you're shooting simply by selecting the manual mode and aiming the camera at a white source such as a piece of paper.
Buffer read/write times
The Panasonic has two types of continuous shooting, the unlimited shooting is found in the main menu and runs at 1.5fps which is ok for a compact. The high-speed burst mode in the scenes will shoot at a much more impressive 4.6fps but the resolution is sacrificed and in this mode, it will drop to 3Mp.
In my tests, I only got 1.1fps from the camera in the continuous mode and in the burst mode I got 46 images in ten seconds which does equate to 4.6fps which is what's stated.
I tested the camera over several weeks and took around 300 – 400 images. By the end of the test, the camera was down to its last bar. Not a bad performance from such a small cell. It's a rechargeable lithium-ion type CGA-S/106C. They're not available at the moment to buy extra but they should retail for around £25-30 if the other Panasonic batteries are anything to go by.
Panasonic Lumix FS30: Verdict
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS30 costs £165 if you get it in silver, red or blue but expect to pay £175 for the black model.
For that price, I'm not expecting a revolutionary camera that will blow me away with an immense performance and market leading features. However, for the money, I'm really impressed with what it does. I like the colours it records and it handles really well apart from trying to use it too soon after start up when it blatantly ignores your commands until it's ready to work. However, the features are smart, it handles well and I got good shot after good shot with it.
I think if the camera was over £200 it wouldn't be worth the cash but at the price it is, it's really good value for money. If you need a small compact that's light and easy-to-use and won't break the bank, I recommend this one.
Panasonic Lumix FS30: Pros
Slim and small
Nice colour rendition
Panasonic Lumix FS30: Cons
Noise problems appear early
Panasonic Lumix FS30: Specification
|Max image size||4320x3240|
|Aspect ratio||4:3, 3:2, 16:9|
|Focusing system||Super Sonic AF system|
|Focus types||Normal, macro, face detection,|
|ISO sensitivity||ISO80 - 1600|
|Metering system||Intelligent multiple|
|Metering types||face, 9-point, 1-point|
|Exposure compensation||+/- 2EV in 1/3 step increments|
|Shutter speed range||8sec - 1/1600sec|
|Frames-per-second||4.6fps (high burst mode), 1.5fps (unlimited consecutive)|
|Monitor||2.7in TFT LCD|
|Media type||SD, SDHC, SDXC|
|Interface||USB 2.0, HDMI|
|Weight||160g (inc. battery and card)|
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS30 costs around £165 and is available from Warehouse Express here:
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS30