Introduction and features
The Panasonic FZ330 builds on the success of the ground-breaking FZ200 bridge camera, launched back in 2012. The FZ200 set the bar high with its 24x zoom lens, constant f/2.8 aperture and its ability to capture raw files as well as JPEGs.
Whilst its relatively small sensor size may be regarded as a handicap, the FZ330 boasts SLR-rivalling functionality, and is designed to appeal to both enthusiasts and users of compacts and beginner bridge cameras looking to step up a level.
The FZ330 shares the same Leica 25-600mm lens (a hood is included), with its impressive constant aperture of f/2.8, as well as the 1/2.3-inch high-sensitivity MOS sensor with 12.2 million effective pixels.
Some welcome new features include the 4K video and photo modes, a new processing engine with increased native sensitivity of ISO 100-6400, a high-resolution touchscreen and a bigger and better viewfinder with eye sensor.
The Leica DC Vario-Elmarit lens has an impressive zoom range of 25-600mm equivalent (24x), and an equally impressive close focussing distance of 1cm at its widest setting in macro mode – even at 600mm, a distance of just 1m is achievable. The f/2.8 maximum aperture enables fast shutter speeds to be achieved even in low light, with the improved five-axis hybrid image stabilisation coming in handy here too. Digital zoom increases its range to 48x.
Sensitivity ranges from ISO 100 to 6400, with Auto ISO enabling you to set an upper limit of ISO 200 to 6400, and intelligent ISO enabling a maximum sensitivity of ISO 3200. Disappointingly, though, there’s no option to choose a minimum shutter speed.
A wide range of shooting modes are included: aperture and shutter priority, manual, program, intelligent auto, custom, scene-based picture modes and panorama. There are also 26 creative modes, along with multiple exposure and time-lapse options.
As with the FZ200, both raw and JPEG formats are available, with a maximum image resolution of 4000 x 3000 pixels, when used in its native 4:3 format; 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1 crops are also available. There’s an impressive array of movie options, with both 4K and HD video at up to 50p.
The FZ330 has three 4K Photo modes: 4K Burst Shooting, 4K Burst (Start/Stop) and 4K Pre-burst. In these modes the FZ330 records 4K footage at 30 frames per second, but it’s possible to extract 8Mp still images in-camera.
In 4K Burst Shooting mode the camera records for as long as the shutter release is pressed, while in 4K Burst (Start/Stop) mode recording is started and stopped with a press of the shutter release; in 4K Pre-burst mode the camera records 30 images immediately before and after the shutter button is pressed (it starts scanning from the moment the mode is selected), giving 60 shots from a two-second burst.
Multi, centre-weighted and spot metering are all available, along with exposure bracketing by up to three stops, over up to seven frames. Exposure compensation can be adjusted by plus or minus tree stops, in 1/3-stop increments.
Single autofocus (AFS), flexible autofocus (AFF), continuous autofocus (AFC) and manual focus (with focus peaking) are all available, and the FZ330 boasts improved autofocus performance, with a 240fps AF drive which Panasonic claims can achieve focus in 0.09 seconds.
Several other autofocus options are also available. including tracking, face/eye detection, touch shutter and a Touchpad mode, which enables the AF point to be set via the screen while using the viewfinder.
Wi-Fi functionality enables camera operation and image playback via your smartphone/tablet, using Panasonic’s excellent Image App. Add to this the 4K burst modes, which enable you to extract 8-megapixel still images from your 4K video footage, and the FZ330 seems to offer a pretty compelling list of features and functionality.
Build Quality and Handling
The Panasonic FZ330 is a fair bit larger than the FZ200, measuring 131.6 x 91.5 x 117.1mm (5.2 x 3.6 x 4.6 inches). It’s also close to 20% heavier, at just over 690g or 1.5lbs including battery and SD card. It’s certainly not something to slip into your coat pocket but, when you consider the features and functionality that are packed in, neither the size nor the weight are unreasonable. It’s also dust- and splash-proof.
Overall the camera feels well made, if obviously plastic. Its textured, slightly rubberised coating is comfortable to hold and the deep front grip is nicely moulded. I found the ergonomics very good, with my index finger easily able to access the shutter button and zoom lever, as well as the various top plate controls.
The top mode dial feels a little insubstantial, but its textured side surface makes it easy to use and it’s quite stiff in use, so there’s no danger of switching modes by mistake. The on/off lever below this is also reassuringly firm in use. The camera starts up quickly, with the lens extending slightly.
The control dial at the rear of the top plate is similar in feel to the mode dial; this isn’t quite as smooth in use as similar dials on some other cameras, but I found it well positioned for my thumb when changing aperture and shutter speeds.
The zoom lever is easy to operate; it’s a little noisy, and initially it felt a bit jerky too, although once I got used to it I found that I was able to zoom in and out in small and precise increments. The pop-up flash feels solid, and opens and shuts with a reassuring click.
There’s no multi-function lens ring on the FZ330. A second zoom lever is located on the side of the lens, although I found this much less convenient to use than the top lever. A macro button and a small manual focus dial are also located on the lens – I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the dial was to operate when focusing manually.
The rear of the camera boasts an impressive 3-inch, 1,040,000-dot vari-angle touchscreen. Another improvement is the 1,440,000-dot OLED electronic viewfinder, with 0.7x magnification and an eye sensor for automatic switching between viewfinder and LCD.
I wear glasses, but I still found the viewfinder clear and bright, and a pleasure to use – having it is a huge bonus when you’re shooting in bright, sunny conditions. That said, the vari-angle screen gives you plenty of options when you don’t want to use the viewfinder – I found that I could almost always manipulate it so that I could see the screen pretty clearly, even in difficult conditions.
Panasonic’s touchscreen technology also works beautifully, giving you quick access to many useful features including the quick menu. The ability to change the focus point via the screen while looking through the viewfinder is a very welcome feature, and it’s quick and easy to do so. The screen housing is also reassuringly solid.
Four partially recessed buttons (two of which are customisable) are handily placed around the screen, and an AF selector switch and AE/lock button are situated just to the right of the viewfinder. The AF selector switch was easily adjustable with my thumb, even when looking through the viewfinder.
The four-way function switch to the right of the screen was a little awkward in use, but again it’s probably something you’d get used to. Having a quick menu button with customisable settings is a very welcome feature.
As I expected based on my experience of the FZ200, the Leica f/2.8 25-600mm lens performs very well across its focal range, particularly when you consider the camera’s small 1/2.3-inch sensor. Unsurprisingly, the lens loses a little quality at its longest end, but the fall-off is negligible, and I was pleasantly surprised by just how well it performed at 600mm, even at f/2.8.
The only real weakness I could find was the lens’s susceptibility to flare, so care needs to be taken when you’re shooting towards the sun and the included hood is particularly welcome.
At all focal lengths the sweet spot tends to be between about f/3 and f/5, although sharpness at the centre of the frame is very good even wide open. Diffraction does set in towards the upper limit of f/8, but it’s still a usable aperture, particularly at the long end of the lens where you may sometimes need it to get sufficient depth of field.
At wider apertures, particularly f/2.8, a really lovely bokeh can be achieved, enabling you to isolate subjects against a soft, dreamy background.
Distortion is very well controlled throughout the zoom range. Some slight chromatic aberration was noticeable in the highlights at times, for example when photographing trees against a bright sky, but it’s not that bad, and it can be easily fixed in software if you shoot raw, or by in-camera processing if you’re shooting JPEGs.
Sample image: In good light the FZ330 gets exposure and colours spot on, with in-camera JPEGs displaying pleasing colours and good detail. Click here for a larger image.
Sample image: In-camera JPEG, Standard setting with a little added contrast and sharpness. The background is beautifully blurred and the flower has excellent detail – impressive performance from the lens maxed out at 600mm and wide open at f/2.8. Click here for a larger image.
The myriad creative filter modes are fun to use if you’re the kind who likes to experiment – my favourite was Silky Monochrome. The multiple exposure and time-lapse modes are easy to use, and the panorama function works very well too.
The optical image stabilisation works superbly – I found that I could get pretty consistent results with shutter speeds as low as 1/40 sec at 600mm, although I’d recommend erring on the side of caution and allowing yourself a little more room for error.
In most AF modes, autofocus is remarkably responsive and accurate, rarely failing to lock onto subjects. Tracking works well, and did a pretty good job of remaining locked onto my dog as it ran towards me. Focus peaking for manual focus also works well, with your subject automatically enlarged on the screen to assist fine adjustments.
There’s a huge array of focusing options, with some arguably a little more complex than many users will want. However, the amount of customisation on offer is welcome, enabling you to change the shape, area and size of the focus point or area.
The one mode I really could not get to work properly, though, was pinpoint focusing – this is meant to enable more precise focusing but I found that it struggled to lock onto my subject and, even when it could, it was extremely slow to do so.
Sample image: In-camera JPEG, Standard setting with a little added contrast and sharpness. Underexposing by 1/3-stop to retain highlights there’s plenty of detail in this backlit ash. Click here for a larger image.
Sample image: The FZ330 at its widest 25mm setting. Raw file processed in Lightroom and Photoshop. I had to lift the shadows here, which increased luminance noise, and then reduce the noise in Lightroom. Click here for a larger image.
Panasonic has really upped the stakes by including 4K as well as HD video in the FZ330, and the three 4K burst modes, which enable you to extract stills from the 30fps footage, will be of real interest to wildlife and action photography enthusiasts. The resulting JPEG files are reduced in size to 8Mp, but the quality is very good and this is certainly no gimmick.
As we’ve come to expect with this line of Panasonic cameras, metering is mostly very accurate, with auto white balance (AWB) also working very well to produce true-to-life colours in most conditions; in more overcast conditions AWB may be a touch on the cool side for some tastes, but if so a quick change to Cloudy will give you subtly warmer images.
Dynamic range is, not surprisingly, a little limited given the small sensor size, with negative exposure compensation sometimes required to avoid highlight clipping. At lower sensitivities there’s enough latitude to open up the shadows somewhat to compensate, without causing excessive noise, even in the JPEG files.
The high dynamic filter option does a very good job of controlling shadows and highlights, albeit producing a rather more saturated image than I’d choose.
Sample image: Raw file processed in Lightroom and converted to monochrome with Silver Efex Pro. This image has retained good structure despite fairly aggressive processing. Click here for a larger image.
Sample image: The Silky Monochrome creative filter produces a lovely soft-focus JPEG image with high-key processing and a pleasing glow. Click here for a larger image.
In-camera JPEG quality is very good, particularly at lower sensitivities. There are a range of picture modes to choose from, and I found the Standard setting, which gives a very slight boost to saturation, contrast and sharpness, produced perfectly good results.
I also set noise reduction to its minimum, which does a good job of controlling luminance noise whilst retaining ample detail. Raw files show a finer level of detail, as we’d expect, but the real-world difference is minor at lower sensitivity settings.
Having kept the sensor at 12.2 million pixels for the FZ330, Panasonic has ensured that noise is handled relatively well for a 1/2.3-inch sensor. Luminance noise is noticeable in raw files even at ISO 100, but only when they’re viewed at 100%, and it’s easily minimised with a little software noise reduction; both raw and JPEG files are still reasonably detailed at ISO 1600 in good to average light.
In-camera noise reduction is quite aggressive even at its lowest setting, but even images shot at ISO 6400 would make acceptable small prints.
Sample Panasonic FZ330 ISO test results
We shoot a real-world scene to get a visual indication of the camera’s noise levels across the ISO range. The right side of the scene is darkened deliberately because this makes noise more obvious.
ISO 200: Click here for a full-size version.
ISO 6400: Click here for a full-size version.
I found the Panasonic FZ330 a thoroughly enjoyable camera to use. It feels good to hold and handle, its menu system is intuitive, and its superb viewfinder and vari-angle touchscreen allow you to use the camera comfortably in all kinds of light. Autofocus is snappy and responsive in almost every mode, and the 25-600mm f/2.8 zoom lens gives impressive results across its range.
The camera packs in so many features, and so many different ways of working, that beginners in particular may feel a little overawed. However, the intelligent auto mode works very well, giving the more cautious user a great fallback option.
Given the relatively small 1/2.3-inch sensor that’s typical of this kind of bridge camera the image quality is surprisingly high, and much of the credit must go to the excellent Leica lens. However, I couldn’t help wishing the sensor was just a little larger, in particular when using higher sensitivities.
The FZ330 performs well in all areas, and offers more than enough functionality for most users, with the 4K video and three 4K burst modes for action stills a real bonus. It’s a definite step up from the FZ200 and, while it may lack the 1-inch sensor and resultant image quality of the Canon G3 X and Sony RX10 II, it comes at a much lower price. Unlike the G3 X its f/2.8 maximum aperture is constant throughout the zoom range, and it has much greater reach than the RX10 II.
The FZ330 looks to be very good value for money, particularly when you consider the excellent inbuilt viewfinder and constant f/2.8 aperture. Whether FZ200 owners will feel the need to upgrade depends on how swayed they are by the FZ330’s new features, while the smaller sensor size may deter those hoping to print reasonably large; but for those wanting a versatile and feature-rich compact camera, the FZ330 ticks many boxes.
This is a bridge camera that appears to lack nothing. Its lens is class-leading and image quality, for a small sensor, is excellent. JPEG files look great quality straight out of camera, particularly at lower sensitivities, while raw shooting is available for those who want maximum quality and editing flexibility.
Image quality isn’t up there with the 1-inch sensor mega-zoom bridge cameras, and high ISO performance, while decent, also falls behind some of the competition. Dynamic range is also a little limited, with highlights being lost relatively quickly and shadows becoming noisy at higher sensitivities.
The FZ330 is an intuitive and fun camera to use, is packed with features and boasts an excellent f/2.8 zoom lens with incredible reach; the bright, high-resolution viewfinder and vari-angle touchscreen add to its ease of use. Image quality is excellent, given the sensor size, even if it doesn’t match that of more expensive 1-inch sensor rivals – the inclusion of a larger sensor might just have made this camera irresistible.
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