Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330 Review

August 27, 2015 | Mark Goldstein | |

Introduction

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330 (also known as the FZ300 in the USA) is a weather-proof super-zoom camera featuring a wide-angle 24x Leica zoom lens with a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture throughout its 25-600mm range. Successor to the FZ200 model, the bridge-style Panasonic FZ330 compact offers 4K video recording at 25/24fps including the ability to extract high-resolution 8-megapixel images, brand new Venus Engine, 3-inch 1040K-pixel rotating LCD touch-screen, 1.44-million-dot OLED electronic viewfinder with 0.7x magnification, 12.1 megapixel high-sensitivity MOS image sensor and 12fps continuous shooting without autofocus and 6fps with autofocus. Other key features include Light Speed auto-focus with new Depth from Defocus (DFD) technology, a port for an optional stereo microphone and an accessory shoe for an external flash, the latest 5-Axis Hybrid O.I.S + system, full range of manual shooting modes, RAW format support, 1cm macro mode, built-in wi-fi connectivity, and an ISO range of 100-6400. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330 is available in black and retails for £499.99 / $599.99.

Ease of Use

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330 is very similar in terms of its external design to its predecessor, the FZ200, so a lot of the comments that we made in that review apply equally to this latest model. once again, the FZ330 looks to all intents and purposes just like a proper DSLR camera, albeit one with a large fixed lens and an electronic viewfinder. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330 is dominated by the non-interchangeable 24x zoom lens that provides a very versatile focal range of 25-600mm. While this isn't as big as some of the FZ330's key competitors, in real-world use it provides enough width and reach to satisfy most photographer's needs.

The maximum aperture of F/2.8 throughout the entire zoom range is still very rare for this class of camera. This is a big advantage for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330 as it allows you to get sharper results and capture more "keepers" at the extreme ends of the zoom range - in our view, we'd rather have a shorter, faster lens than a longer, slower one. Whether Panasonic can convince people that a faster lens makes more difference to their photography than a longer lens remains to be seen though.

Panasonic's latest 5-Axis Hybrid O.I.S + system is on-board to help combat any unwanted camera shake, although you'll still need to use either a fast shutter speed or a tripod at the telephoto end of that massive zoom. When shooting video, Active Mode is automatically added to the O.I.S. system. This compensates for the extra blur that can occur when you're walking and shooting video at the same time. A stubby barrel encases and protects the optic when not in use. Note that the lens extends by 6cms when it's fully zoomed and the DMC-FZ330 measures almost 15cms in depth, making it quite conspicuous.

To help avoid lens flare, a petal-shaped detachable lens hood is supplied in the box, and there's also a clip-on lens cap that you can attach via a thread to one of the available catches for a shoulder strap. Panasonic have also applied a Nano Surface Coating coating to the lens, which should further help to avoid any unwanted ghosting or flare effects.

On the side of the lens barrel is a button marked AF Macro/Focus. If AFS/AFF or AFC is selected via the new switch on the rear of the camera, this button allows you to toggle between the three Macro modes (AF Macro, Macro Zoom and Macro Off). There is also a new rocker switch above the AF Macro/Focus. When the MF focus mode is selected, this allows you to quickly focus manually using your left forefinger, a bit like using a conventional manual focus ring on a lens. When MF is selected the focus range can be manually set between 1cm and infinity with the central portion of the frame enlarged so sharpness can be more accurately determined.

Focus Peaking is also available on the DMC-FZ330. When enabled, it graphically shows the peak of focus in the MF and AF+MF modes by displaying an outline around the subject. The detection level can be set to 'High' or ‘Low’ and a colour can be selected In ‘High’ these are light blue, yellow or green and in 'Low' blue, orange or white can be selected.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330
Front of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330

The FZ330 also has a vertical zoom rocker on the side of the lens barrel, which provides an alternative way of zooming to the main fore-finger operated lever. It proves very useful for hand-holding the camera when shooting video, or for operating the shutter button with your right hand and zoom with your left.

The front of the FZ330 is very sparse looking, save for a lamp for the AF assist light/self timer to the left of the lens (when viewed head on). A good-sized hand-grip with tactile, leather-effect detailing houses the battery pack in its base. It's good to see a chunky lithium-ion rechargeable battery fitted as standard when some bridge models seem to think that four standard-quality AAs will suffice to get you going out of the box. Above the lens is a swift access pop up flash with a dedicated activation switch sitting alongside it, and there's also a hot shoe for mounting an external flashgun. The flash coverage offers a maximum range of 13.5m at wide-angle. On top of the pop-up flash are two small holes for a very useful built-in stereo microphone which is retained from the FZ200.

While this is not a camera for slipping into a pocket by any means, measuring 131.6 x 91.5 x 117.1 mm (slightly bigger than the FZ200) and being more at home in a small shoulder bag, the all-plastic Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330 certainly feels like it could withstand the odd knock or two. The camera feels solid and rugged in the palm, while at the same time portably lightweight at just over 600g. It's also very pleasing to find a viewfinder – here electronic (EVF) – which is now 0.39" in size, offers 100% field of view and has an improved resolution of 1440k dots and a magnification of 0.7x, a big advance on previous FZ models. There's also a prominent eye relief that juts out clear of the LCD so that you don't automatically smear your nose all over the monitor when you put your eye close to it. A dioptre adjustment wheel is immediately adjacent, enabling the short sighted to use it without clashing spectacles.

Moving to the top of the FZ330, we find a comprehensive shooting mode wheel with 11 shooting options. This demonstrates a nice firm action as you twist it around to your chosen setting, and a definite click as you line up each one. Ranged around the wheel are the usual suspects of program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual modes, movie mode, Custom modes for for attributing your own customised settings, panorama mode, scene modes, creative controls and Panasonic's much talked about and copied Intelligent Auto Mode.

There's a handy Motion Picture button on the top of the FZ330 that can be operated with your forefinger. As you'd expect, it allows you to start recording a movie with a single push of a button, and then stop recording by pressing the same button, regardless of which shooting mode is currently selected. This is much quicker and more intuitive than having to select the movie mode then press the shutter button, as on most cameras. Also present are customisable Fn1 and Fn2 buttons and an activity LED for the new wi-fi functions.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330
Rear of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330

The Wi-Fi function (IEEE 802.11 b/g/n) lets you use your smartphone to change the DMC-FZ330's settings (focus setting, exposure compensation, ISO, WB and Photo Styles) and even fire the shutter button remotely (including interval video recordings), while the auto transfer function automatically backs up your photos onto a tablet. You can also use GPS data from your smartphone to record the shooting location onto your images. The FZ330 offers a time lapse function in which you can set the time interval and the number of images to take, plus a multi-exposure option that lets you combine up to four exposures in a single frame.

The DMC-FZ330 offers both AVCHD video capture and MP4, with the latter offering 4K recording at in 3840x2160 at 25p (50Hz) or 24p in MP4 with full-time auto-focusing. Interestingly, if you want to shoot the maximum 4K video – i.e twice as high quality as Full HD – then a switch to MP4 mode is required before you can implement that setting on the Panasonic, with the choice of 25 or 24 frames per second capture speed. In other words 4K shooting is not available with AVCHD compression. You can also extract a still image from a 4K sequence, ending up with the equivalent of an 8 megapixel photo at 30fps. Two high speed options are also available - 100fps in 720p or 200fps in VGA quality.

There are three 4K Photo functions - 4K Burst Shooting, 4K Burst (Start/Stop) and 4K Pre-burst which all record continuous 8 megapixel stills at a 30fps shooting rate. 4K Burst allows you to continuously record 8 megapixel images at 30fps, 4K Pre-Burst does the same but for one second prior to and one second after pressing the shutter button in order, giving you 60 frames to choose from, and 4K Burst (S/S) allows you to playback your video, pause at the chosen moment, and use the shutter button to mark a chosen frame from the video and save it as a single 8 megapixel frame.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330 is an intriguing prospect for would-be videographers, providing access as it does to the same creative exposure P,A,S,M modes selectable when shooting stills. You also get access to all the Photo Style and Creative Control modes when shooting video. ISO settings, white balance and AF tracking are also all accessible when shooting movies. The normal bugbear of exterior location shoots is also dealt with thanks to a wind cut option among the four screen's worth of menu settings in motion picture mode.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330
Top of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330

The DMC-FZ330's Intelligent Auto mode works for movies as well as for still photos. Simply select the iA shooting mode on top of the camera, then the Movie Record button. The Intelligent Scene Selector automatically determines the most suitable Scene mode from five options - Portrait, Scenery, Low Light and Close-up or Normal modes. Face Detection automatically detects a face in the frame and adjusts the focus, exposure, contrast, and skin complexion. Intelligent Exposure continually checks the ambient light level and adjusts the exposure setting as conditions change to prevent blown highlights and blocked shadows. The Image Stabilizer helps prevent blurring from hand-shake when using a compatible lens or via the camera body. One great benefit of the touch-screen control system is that Touch Auto Focusing is available in movie recording, enabling pro-level rack-like focusing simply by pointing at the subject on the LCD screen.

Adjacent to the shooting mode dial is an Off/On slider switch. Flick this to On and the camera powers up in just under 1 second, the rear LCD bursting into life and the zoom extending to maximum wide angle setting, slightly proud of its protective barrel. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330's Light Speed auto-focus system lives up to its name and is very fast to determine focus at around 0.09 seconds, plus there's virtually no shutter delay to speak of when you take a shot, with full 12 megapixel resolution JPEGs committed to memory in just over a second. Located just in front of the slope that forms the top of the camera grip is the main shutter button. Springy to the touch, this is encircled by a lever for operating the zoom, the action of which is impressively smooth and mechanically quiet.

The FZ330's high-speed MOS image sensor allows for some impressive continuous shooting speeds. Enabled via the Burst mode button on top of the camera, you can take 12 frames per second. Note that continuous auto-focusing isn't available at the 12fps rate, only single auto-focusing, which can make it tricky to keep fast-moving subjects sharp. AF-Continuous is only available at 6fps, which still pretty fast! An even faster rate of 60fps is available, albeit at a reduced resolution 2.5 megapixels. Perhaps most impressive of all, these continuous rates apply equally to both JPEG and RAW images, so there's no speed penalty when shooting in RAW other than having to wait longer for the camera to process all the images.

Moving to the rear of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330, the left-hand side is dominated by the 3.0-inch, 1040K-dot free-angle LCD screen. The rotating, free-angle LCD monitor, which is hinged on the left side of the camera (looking from the rear), can be flipped out and twisted through 270 degrees. You can use the screen as a waist-level viewfinder, holding the camera overhead, and even for turning the FZ330 on yourself for arm-length self-portraits. There's also the added benefit of folding the screen away against the camera body to protect it when stored in a camera bag, preventing it from becoming marked or scratched. The high-res, free-angle LCD screen is much more than just a novelty - it's a lot more versatile than the usual combination of optical viewfinder and fixed LCD, providing new angles of view and enhancing your overall creativity. Above all, it's a fun way of composing your images. The screen is bright and clear as a means of composition whether shooting inside or out, and if visibility does suffer in sunlight there's the option to switch to the electronic viewfinder via the LVF button on the camera's rear.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330 Zoomed Out

The most immediately noticeable touch function is the ability to use the 1-area AF mode to focus on your main subject simply by touching it on the LCD. If the subject then moves, the DMC-FZ330 cleverly follows it around the screen using the the AF tracking function. If the subject exits the frame entirely, simply recompose and tap it again to start focusing. Impressive stuff that makes focusing on off-center subjects fast and intuitive. It is a little too easy to accidentally press the screen and set the focus point to the wrong area for the current subject, but a simple tap in the middle of the LCD will center the AF point (or you can turn this feature off altogether).

The size of the AF point itself can also be changed via an interactive onscreen slider. If Face Detection is enabled, the 1-area AF point can be manually set to a person's eye to help ensure that the most important part of a portrait is in focus. If Multi-area AF rather than 1-area AF is enabled, then you can select a group of 4, 5 or 6 AF points from 9 different areas, again providing some manual control over what is traditionally a rather hit and miss affair.

When Intelligent Auto is switched on, the DMC-FZ330 changes the scene mode used when you touch the subject, for example selecting portrait mode if you touch a face and macro mode if you touch a close-up flower. If you prefer to manually focus rather than use the snappy AF, you can magnify any part of the subject by 1x, 5x or 10x by simply dragging the image around the screen. The final touchscreen ability from an image composition point of view is the ability to release the shutter, with a small icon on the right hand screen enabling this functionality, and then a single on-screen tap all that's required to take the picture.

All of the menu options can now be changed via the touchscreen interface. You can also control image playback by touching the screen, with the ability to tap a thumbnail to see the full-size version, scroll through your images by dragging them from side to side, and magnifying them up to 16x.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330 In-hand

On the right of the electronic viewfinder is the aforementioned Focus switch with is a a useful AF/AE lock button at its centre. Alongside and falling naturally under your right thumb is a very welcome rear control dial for easily changing the aperture and shutter speed. Beneath the control dial are the Playback and Display buttons. A quick press of the later button either activates or deactivates the number of shooting settings displayed on screen, calls up a live histogram alongside them or displays a nine zone compositional grid for those experimenting with the Rule of Thirds.

Underneath is a familiar four-way control pad that you'd expect to find on most digital cameras. At its heart is a Menu/Set button, for calling up the user-friendly regular menus on the LCD screen. The menus comprise three separate folders; the first for shooting/playback options – dramatically pared down if you're using Intelligent Auto mode – the second for Motion Picture options and the third for the generic set up menu. A subsequent press when you've located the various options goes on to effect any changes, which are quick and precise. Ranged around this central menu/set button are four pads. Although these are used for tabbing through menu options or captured images, press them when in capture mode (and you haven't summoned up a menu) and, starting from the top, you find a button for accessing the ISO speed, second for the white balance settings, a third for the self timer/4K options, and a fourth for setting the AF point.

Underneath the four-way control pad is a combined Quick Menu / Fn3 / Delete button. This opens a pull down Quick Menu containing a smattering of useful settings appears on screen to save you having to delve into the main menus for similar. This enables on-the-fly access to an Aladdin's cave of options, including the likes of film mode, flash modes, metering (spot, centre weighted and average), auto focus areas (or opt for face detection mode), white balance, aspect ratio, image resolution and image quality, movie recording quality and LCD mode. Like other Panasonic Lumix compacts you get the choice here to brighten the overall display ('power LCD' mode) or opt for the more useful high-angle setting, which aids screen visibility when you're holding the camera at arm's length for a shot over the heads of a crowd. The same button is also marked with the familiar trashcan icon for deleting unwanted shots quickly.

At the base of the FZ330 we find a metal screw thread for a tripod, alongside which is a sliding compartment that houses both the chunky rechargeable battery – necessarily providing a good long life as there's no optical viewfinder to fall back on as a power saver – and a slot for an optional SD / SDHC / SDXC card. The right-hand side of the camera has a slot for threading through a strap (as does the left) and also houses a Remote Control port, AV Out / Digital port and an HDMI socket for connecting the FZ330 to a HD television or monitor. There's also a small compartment for the optional Microphone accessory on the left-hand side of the FZ330.

Entry Tags

hd video, review, 3 inch LCD, 1080p, movie, wi-fi, 12 megapixel, video, wireless, wifi, RAW, super-zoom, touch-screen, touchscreen, tilting, touch, 1920x1080, super zoom, f2.8, 4k, wideangle, evf, 4k video, mega-zoom, 12fps, Panasonic, Lumix, 24x, tilting lcd, uhd, fz330, DMC-FZ330, dmc fz330, ultra-zoom.

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