Massive zoom range
To counteract any potential camera shake, the FZ30 employs Panasonic's Mega Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) technology. A button on the top surface of the camera allows you to choose between two modes or to disable it altogether. In use, OIS certainly worked effectively, allowing us to handhold sharp exposures at 420mm using shutter speeds as slow as 1/15 of a second. It's not just useful for long focal lengths either. With the lens at it's widest position, OIS allowed us to handhold a 1/3 second exposure at f8 in order to achieve a large depth-of-field at a market stall.
While OIS prevents the need to increase the ISO to prevent camera-shake at slower shutter speeds, it should be noted no amount of Image Stabilisation will freeze subjects which are in motion. As seen in the examples below, OIS allowed static subjects like the flag and background to remain sharp with a 420mm 1/15 exposure, but the people walking by became blurred. This may or may not be the effect you were after.
In contrast, Fujifilm has opted for a simpler electronic solution for its S9500/S9000: simply increase the ISO to allow faster shutter speeds. So where most all-in-ones peak between 400 and 640 ISO, the S9500 offers sensitivity from 80 right up to 1600 ISO. This will certainly let you achieve the kind of shutter speeds required to avoid camera shake under most conditions. Of course by increasing sensitivity though, you also suffer from higher noise levels.
To illustrate the different approaches to combatting camera shake we took handheld photos of the same subject with both the FZ30 and Fujifilm S9500 / S9000 zoomed-in to their maximum focal lengths; the photos were taken within moments of each other. We've taken 1410x1060 pixel crops from each image to show similar areas, then reduced them by five times for 20% reproduction below. Each crop represents approximately 2/5 of the original image coverage. The FZ30 shows a smaller area because its focal length was longer and the resolution slightly lower. Despite slightly different resolutions, the reproduction of both crops from the original images is roughly equivalent and adequate to illustrate this example.
Panasonic DMC-FZ30 - 7.4-88.8mm at 88.8mm, f8 (420mm equivalent)
80 ISO, 1/13th
Fujifilm FinePix S9500 Zoom - 6.2-66.7mm at 66.7mm, f8 (300mm equivalent)
1600 ISO, 1/350th
Set to 80 ISO, the FZ30 required a shutter speed of 1/13th of a second, but amazingly its optical image stabilisation allowed us to hand-hold the shot without any camera shake - and this was at a longer equivalent focal length of 420mm. At 80 ISO, the Fujifilm S9500 / S9000 also required a shutter speed of 1/13th, which for a focal length equivalent to 300mm was far too slow to handhold without considerable camera shake. Fujifilm's answer is of course to increase the sensitivity, and once we'd set the camera to 1600 ISO, the exposure had shortened to 1/350th, allowing a sharp handheld result.
As explained earlier though, both approaches have their pros and cons. The high sensitivity demanded by the S9500 may have resulted in high noise levels and also some smearing of detail, but any motion has been frozen. In contrast, the stabilisation of the Panasonic may have allowed us to handhold at 80 ISO and enjoy a noise-free image, but the long zoom and slow shutter speed have resulted in blurring of motion. Which is better depends on your style of photography. If you shoot moving subjects, the S9500's higher sensitivity has the edge. Conversely if you shoot mostly static subjects the FZ30 will be more suitable. Either way, you can't help but be impressed by the stabilisation of the Panasonic FZ30.
The FZ30's autofocus system also feels quick and rarely do you find it searching for something to lock onto. Like other all-in-ones with long zooms, the FZ30 is manually focussed by an electrically-assisted ring. As you turn this ring, the central portion of the composition is magnified to allow easier focusing.
Again like other all-in-ones, manual focusing systems like these are simply not as accurate nor lend the same confidence as manually focussing on a true optical SLR. That said, the high resolution display on the FZ30 coupled with the magnified central portion allows you to manually focus about as accurately as you're going to get with this kind of camera.
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