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The independent source for study and review of camera ergonomics.

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    The FZ300 is compact  and reasonably unobtrusive.  AF is very fast and accurate and picture quality good enough in a wide variety of circumstances.


    Here are some examples from a day in Sydney, mainly in the tourist areas where someone taking photos can pass unremarked.


    All were shot as RAW then subjected to  work in Adobe Camera Raw.




    There are many tourists in Sydney.

    Most take photos with their smart phone.

    But of those carrying a camera I notice that many have a DSLR with a boring kit lens with short zoom range and an aperture of f3.5-5.6 or smaller.
    Opal card exchange

    Some appear to find their smartphones much more captivating than the city around them.




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    FZ300  No problem with the high subject brightness range when the original file is  a RAW.
    Like many others these people appear to have come to Sydney in order to peer intently at their smart phones.


    The FZ300  is an advanced model which can be configured to suit an individual photographer’s preferences. 


    This is a wonderful thing but it does require the user to make many choices.


    This series of posts is designed to help the new or no-so-new FZ300 user make the most of the camera’s considerable capabilities.


    Accessories

    In no particular order here are some hints about accessories.


    * Follow the prompts from ‘Support” on any main regional Panasonic website and download the PDF  Operating Instructions for Advanced Features.

    This 363 page document contains a wealth of information and is easy to navigate with the jump icons provided.


    The answer to most questions can be found in there somewhere.


    * Carry bag.  I use and recommend the Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 10. I remove the rain cover as it takes up space which I want for spare batteries.  This bag provides a nice fit for the camera with space in the front pocket for 2 spare batteries, microfiber cloth and several memory cards.


    * Batteries.  Battery life is highly dependent on usage patterns. I have been able to capture 800 RAW+JPG shots on one battery in a day’s outing provided that  I do not chimp shots on the monitor and do not use flash.


    I have found both Panasonic and aftermarket brands are satisfactory although I get more shots from the genuine Panasonic ones.


    * Memory cards. Page 29 of the Operating Instructions details which cards are required for various service requirements.


    * Neck strap. One of these is supplied. I leave mine in the box and attach a slimline budget wrist strap to the right side D bracket.


    I feel like a dork if I walk around with the camera on a neck strap. In addition doing so can accidentally bump the dioptre wheel, buttons and dials.


    * The lens takes standard 52mm screw in filters. I always fit the best protect filter I can find. Top of the range B+W or Hoya HD models are fine. They protect the front element of the lens and I have never dected any loss of image quality.


    * Outdoors I also always deploy the lens hood.  There are two little notches on the near rim of the hood. I fill these with liquid paper applied with a toothpick. This makes the bayonet fitting a little easier by providing an easily visible guide.


    FZ300


    * The finger pads on the front of lens cap are slippery. I roughen them with coarse sandpaper so they are easier to grip.  Some owners use a small piece of coarse self adhesive material here.


    * Night time photos means long exposure times so if these are contemplated a tripod and Shutter Remote RSL1 or equivalent might be required.  Timer delay can be substituted for the remote cable.

    The camera is very suitable for night shots as the longest shutter speed available is 60 seconds, much longer than other small sensor cameras can offer.

    * The FZ300 is also compatible with a teleconverter lens LT55, close up lens LC55 and the adapter LA7.


    An external microphone MS2 is available.

    The FZ300 enables extensive flash control including multiple wireless off camera flash units if desired.


    These optional accessories are described on pages 213 and 318-319 of the Instructions.


    I have no experience with the accessory lenses and flash units.








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    Sydney icons


    Before starting on the Setup Menu you should adjust the EVF diopter with the little wheel on the left side of the eyepiece.


    Press the Disp button repeatedly until the screen is cluttered with the maximum amount of data. Use this rather than the subject to judge the optimum diopter setting.


    I find it best to keep both eyes open and relaxed while finding the best dioptre setting.


    Rotate the wheel each way until the camera data look sharpest.


    The Setup Menu is the same  for iA or P, A, S, M  Mode settings so let’s start there.


    * Clock set (page 34) , world time (page 64)  and Travel date (page 65)  are all covered in the Operating Instructions for Advanced Features.


    * Wi-Fi is covered by an extensive 44 page description from pages 256-300.


    * Beeps are covered on page 66.


    * Live view mode is described on page 66. This is a bit of a mystery item. I have not been able to see any visible difference between the 30 fps and 60 fps versions and am not sure why the choice is offered.  I just leave it on the 60 fps setting.


    * Monitor Display Note !! When you look in the viewfinder this changes to “Viewfinder”.

    Like other recent Panasonic cameras the FZ300 provides extensive user adjustment of the monitor and EVF (LVF in Pana-speak) appearance.


    You can adjust for brightness, contrast, saturation, red tint (red/green balance) and blue tint (yellow/blue balance).


    Each individual has different color perception and ideas about their preferred monitor/viewfinder appearance.


    This camera allows you to precisely match the appearance to individual preference.


    For the record I have the monitor at default (in the center of the scale) on all parameters.


    For the  EVF I have brightness +2, Contrast -1, Saturation +/- 0, Red tint +/- 0, Blue tint +/- 0.


    * Monitor luminance. You can have Auto, 1, 2 or 3. I leave it on Auto which seems to work out well in most conditions.


    * Economy. (page 68) This tells the camera how soon to go into sleep mode if no buttons are pressed. I just leave this ant the default settings. You can save power by selecting a shorter time to shut down.


    Tour group


    * USB Mode see page 68.


    * TV connection  see pages 68-72.


    * Menu Resume. Set this ON. The camera will remember which menu item you last used and also when you change from one sub menu to another will remember the last tab used in the new sub menu. This makes finding oft used menu items easier.


    There is no [My Menu] to menu Resume is useful.


    * Menu background.  This is one for personal preference.


    * Menu Information. When you are learning to use the camera it can be useful to leave this ON but when you are familiar with the menus switch it OFF to declutter the screen.


    * Version Disp. As of March 2017 the current firmware version is 2.2


    * Exposure Comp. Reset. I recommend setting this to ON.  In this case any exposure compensation will revert to zero when the camera is switched to a different shooting Mode or switched off.  This saves one from making pictures with unintended +/- exposure compensation.


    * Self Timer Auto Off. I recommend setting this to ON. In this case the self timer will self cancel when the camera is switched off but not when shooting mode is changed.


    * No. Reset.  The Panasonic folder/file numbering system works as follows

    The initial symbol of the file number is either P for sRGB color space or _ for Adobe RGB color space.

    The next three numbers represent the folder starting at 100 (not 001).

    The next four numbers represent the file number within each folder starting at 0001.


    Selecting [Yes] at No. Reset resets the file number to 0001 and “updates” the folder number.


    To reset the folder number to 001 see the description on Page 73.


    * Reset. See page 74 for a list of what exactly is reset at this tab.


    * Reset Wi-Fi settings. This is self explanatory.


    * Demo Mode.  This is a demonstration of Post Focus Mode with peaking.


    * Format. This initialises the card in the camera and deletes any existing picture files. Camera and card manufacturers recommend always formatting a card in the camera before using it.




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    FZ300


    Like most  modern digital cameras the FZ300 has a Mode Dial setting which provides a highly automated level of control over exposure and focussing.

    This is [iA].  On other brands of camera the equivalent is indicated as “Auto”, green camera icon  or similar.


    On the FZ300 [iA] provides JPG output only, no RAW.


    When set to [iA] many of the buttons and dials are disabled and the menus (other than Setup) provide a reduced set of options.


    Let us look at the menus for still photos first


    Rec Menu  gives access to some quite sophisticated features


    * Aspect Ratio.  I recommend leaving this at the native 4:3. However you can set 3:2, 16:9, or 1:1. Be aware that the camera does not have a multi aspect ratio sensor. Anything other than 4:3 is a simple crop.


    * Picture size.  Always set this to L = 12 Mpx. The sensor is not overburdened with pixels and can ill afford to lose any.


    * AFS/AFF. There is much discussion about this on user forums.

    The Operating Instructions for Advanced features has a description of the difference on page 129.

    My own experience is that at some focal lengths AFF produces a pulsating jitter indicating the focus has not locked.

    I therefore use AFS.


    * Burst Rate. For checking the internal motion of an otherwise static subject, for instance a golf swing, you can use Burst H or SH which fix focus on the first frame.

    But if you want the camera to follow focus on a moving subject select Burst M which provides autofocus, autoexposure and live view on each frame.


    * 4K Photo. This is fully described in the Operating Instructions pages 164-177.  Access this by pressing the Down Cursor Button to access Drive Mode then scrolling across to the 4K icon, then press the Up Cursor Button for more options.


    * Self Timer. I find 2 seconds enough to allow the camera to settle down after pressing the shutter. For the photographer to get back into the picture, 10 seconds I more useful.  Access this as above via the Down Cursor Button leading to Drive Mode.


    * Post Focus. This is a feature which utilises the capabilities of 4K Photo. The camera takes a series of pictures at different focus points allowing the photographer to pick the best later. It might be useful for some macro work.


    * iHandheld Night Shot.  You can set this ON and leave it. It is a fully automatic function which is activated when the camera detects the appropriate conditions. The camera makes a series of exposures, typically six, then combines them into a single JPG file.

    It works as advertised but I am yet to convince myself that the results are good enough to recommend the feature.


    * iHDR is another automatic function which is triggered when the camera detects a scene with high subject brightness range. The camera makes three shots at different exposures then combines them to a single JPG file.

    You can set this feature ON and leave it.


    * Time Lapse Shot.  This is described in detail on pages 182-184 of the Instructions.


    * Stop Motion Animation is a similar idea described on pages 185-188 of the Instructions.


    * Face recognition is one of those terribly clever  features which I have never actually used or even thought I wanted. You can read all about it on pages 192-194 of the instructions.


    FZ300


    Custom Menu  Most items on the main Custom Menu are not available in [iA]

    You can have


    * Silent Mode which uses the e-Shutter and cancels all beeps. It is indeed spooky silent although if you put your ear close to the lens you can hear the OIS and AF mechanisms operating.


    * Guide line which I find quite handy for keeping uprights correctly oriented in the frame. I use the bottom of the three options with the lines crossing in the center of the frame.


    * Remaining disp. Indicates the number of still photo shots available on the memory card or the number of minutes of video at the current settings.


    Dial and button operation

    Many of the buttons have no function in [iA] and the control dial does nothing.


    The zoom lever in front of the shutter button and the zoom slider switch on the left side of the lens barrel  both work as expected and the Movie button works.


    The AFS/AFC/MF lever works. You can operate manual focus with the little wheel on the left side of the lens barrel. Focus assist and peaking operate. You might have to press the little button below the wheel first.


    The Disp. and Playback buttons function normally.


    Q Menu is available but with a reduced feature set.


    The Down cursor button brings up the Drive Mode screen which provides access to burst mode, 4K photo, bracketing and self timer.


    What about [iA+] Mode ?

    You can select this from the [iA] icon at the top of the menu list.

    Presumably Panasonic intends it to be a bridge between [iA] and the P, A, S, M modes.

    [iA+] gives access to more functions and menu items than [iA]

    However My experience is that [iA+] provides most of the complexity of the P, A, S, M modes without their functionality so I do not use or recommend it.




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    Juvenile Oriole


    Now we move the  Mode Dial onto P and the setting up process starts to get more interesting and  complex with more decisions to be made.


    Touch screen   Almost every camera reviewer whose reports I have read offers the opinion that touch screen operation is desirable and the lack of it is a deficiency to be remedied.


    This is not my experience at all.


    I can see that there is a case for touch screen control when shooting video with the camera on a tripod.


    But for hand held work I just don’t get it, particularly with a bridge style camera like the FZ300 where only the far right edge of the screen is easily reached by the right thumb and none of it by any finger of the left hand.


    In addition if Touch Settings are ON I find I am forever brushing against the screen and activating something unexpected like changing the position of the active AF area when that was not my intention or worse touching one of those little soft Fn button icons on the right side of the screen and sending the camera off on a tangent not of my desire.


    The options for Touch Settings are found on screen 9/9 in the Custom Menu and pages 52-55 of the 
    Operating Instructions for Advanced Features.


    [Touch Settings] must be ON for the other touch functions to operate.


    [Touch Tab]  brings up the soft Fn buttons. I avoid these like the plague. They are too small and fussy and fiddly to operate.


    [Touch AF] can be set to AF or AF+AE at the touched area of the frame.

    [Touch Pad AF] is a Panasonic feature which allows you to move the active AF area by touching the monitor while looking through the viewfinder.


    The [Offset] option is the one to select. You can move the active AF area all around the screen while touching just the right half of it.


    I have found this reasonably useful on compact cameras where it is easier to get one’s right thumb onto and moving around the screen, but I find the cursor buttons easier to use on the FZ300 and larger models like the FZ2000.  The FZ1000 does not have touch controls and I never miss them.


    There is just one thing I find works better with touch. That is setting up a Custom Q Menu which is easy to do using drag and drop with [Touch Settings] ON  but clumsy and awkward with the cursor buttons.


    Autofocus (AF) Mode   With [iA] on the Mode Dial [49-Area] is automatically set as the AF Mode. But this gives you no control over the selected focus area.


    For all normal photography I find [1-Area] the best option giving the best control and best results.


    Sometimes I set [Pinpoint] when I want to focus on a small object surrounded by competing subject elements. This is the classic “bird in a bush” situation.


    You need reasonably quick but not immediate access to the AF Mode.


    By default,  AF Mode is accessed via the Left Cursor button, but see Direct Focus Area below.


    I put it on a Custom Q Menu. You can also allocate AF Mode to a Fn button, just be aware there are only 4 hard Fn buttons and one of them is required for the Q menu.


    QVB hand held FZ300


    Direct Focus Area  See Custom Menu screen 3/9 and pages 137 and 148 of the Instructions.


    The default way to move the active AF area by hard controls is


    Step 1, press the left cursor button to bring up the AF Mode screen


    Step 2, press the down cursor button to enter AF area control mode shown by the AF area box changing color to yellow surrounded by four yellow arrows


    Step 3, press any cursor button to move the active AF area to any position on the frame


    Step 4, press the Disp button once to return the AF area to the center of the frame


    Step 5, press the Disp button again to restore the AF area box to default size


    Step 6, rotate the rear dial to change the size of the AF area box


    Step 7, half press the shutter button to return to shooting configuration.


    All this is much faster to do than read.


    If you set [Direct Focus Area] ON the first two of these steps is eliminated.


    The advantage of this is faster access to moving the active AF area.


    The disadvantage is you have to find somewhere other than the cursor buttons to access ISO, AF Mode, Drive Mode and White Balance.


    Fortunately this is quite easy on the FZ300.


    For the record I have

    * ISO (Sensitivity) on the Q Menu

    * AF Mode on the Q Menu

    * Drive Mode on Fn2


    I shoot RAW so I don’t adjust White Balance but if I did that would go on the Q Menu.


    Q Menu    Custom Menu screen 8/9 and Instructions page 60.


    You can leave the Q Menu at default but quicker access to your own preferred settings is gained with a custom Q Menu.


    There are 37 functions which can be allocated to a custom Q menu and each individual will have his or her own ideas about what to assign to this button and which button to assign to the Q menu.


    I leave Q Menu on the Fn 3 button where I can reach it easily but not as easily as Fn1.


    As a guide I prefer to locate items requiring adjustment in Prepare Phase of use to the Q Menu and those required in Capture Phase to the Fn buttons which provide more direct access.


    A maximum of five items can be viewed at any time so that is the optimum number of items for the Q menu.


    For the record I have Touch Settings, Sensitivity (ISO), Quality and AF Mode on the Q Menu.


    Function buttons  See Custom Menu screen 7/9 and Instructions pages 61-63. 

    Fn buttons can have different functions in Record and Play modes. This makes sense as the functions required when capturing images are completely different from those required in playback.


    There are 55 items available for allocation to Function buttons which might create a daunting overchoice scenario for newcomers to the Panasonic way of doing things.


    Just work through the options thinking all the time…”which functions do I need in Capture Phase of use > Fn buttons, which do I need in Prepare Phase > Q Menu and which in Setup Phase > Main Menus.”


    I have

    Fn 1, Stabiliser

    Fn 2. Drive Mode

    Fn 3, Q Menu

    Fn 4, Macro Mode


    You might change these selections several times as experience with the camera is gained and something you thought you needed frequently turns out to be little used.


    Dial settings   This is where things get a bit complicated.   See Custom Menu screen 8/9 and Instructions pages 41-44.


    The options are


    * Rotation. I leave this at default which provides for ‘value up’ when the rear dial is moved to the right with the thumb and the side dial is rolled upwards. This is the way I expect and I suspect most people would expect the dials to turn.

    If your brain is wired up the opposite way you can reverse the rotation direction.


    * Exposure Comp (EC).

    The FZ200 has a submerged  ‘push-click’ control dial allowing this dial to be used for changing aperture and shutter speed and also exposure compensation after push-to-click.


    But the FZ300 has an open control (rear) dial which does not push-click.  So they had to find some other way to control exposure compensation.


    You can assign exposure compensation to the rear dial or the side dial.


    The advantage of the rear dial for EC is that it is clicky which makes accurate EC settings easy.


    The side dial turns smoothly which is not very suitable for EC and is more difficult to access than the rear dial.


    But if you put EC on the rear dial then the side dial must be used to change aperture in A and shutter speed in S modes. Unfortunately it is not very conveniently placed for this duty especially in portrait orientation.


    One way around this is to use P mode most of the time, which I do.


    Operation of the side button   Pressing the side button changes the function of the little roller dial (side dial)  above it.


    This is described on pages 41- 44 of the Instructions which I find difficult to understand.


    The text says “Calling the function for supporting the focus operation”.  


    Whatever that means.  I think it means MF in AF with MF assist. This only works if you set [AF+MF] ON at screen 3/9 in the Custom Menu.


    After fiddling around with the side button and dial for a while I think I have figured how they work.


    In the basic state:


    The rear dial changes aperture in A Mode and shutter speed in S Mode.


    The side dial does exposure compensation if you set it to do so at [Dial Set] on screen 8/9 of the Custom Mode.


    You can switch these functions so the side  dial changes aperture in A Mode and shutter speed in S 

    Mode and the rear dial controls exposure compensation.


    If you press the side button and half press the shutter button with the Focus Mode lever at AFS , the  function of the side dial changes to manual focus with peaking and PIP (picture-in-picture) assist.


    With the Focus Mode lever at MF then the MF assist PIP window comes up even if the shutter button has not been pressed.


    Confused already ??


    Yes folks it’s an ergonomic mess.  The relevant menu items are all over the place and the control systems on the left side of the lens barrel are poorly conceived and implemented.


    To make matters worse the side dial is poorly positioned for use in any configuration other than landscape orientation and ‘left hand under’ position. I am constantly bumping the zoom lever just in front of the side dial when I reach to turn the side dial.


    What they really need is either a return to the ‘push-click’ rear dial or a twin dial setup like that used on the FZ2000 plus a proper focus ring on the lens barrel. I guess that would cost a bit more but the ergonomic improvement would be considerable.


    Notwithstanding the confusion and poor ergonomic design I find that after using the camera regularly for a while I can operate it reasonably efficiently by training my fingers where to go and what to do.


     Dial Operation Switch Setup  This is a submenu under the [Dial Set] tab in the Custom Menu.

    You can read about it on page 42 of the Instructions.


    If you thought the stuff above about dial functions was confusing wait till you try to get your mind around the dial operation switch feature.


    Actually I have a much better idea.  I recommend you totally ignore the dial operation switch material and get on with taking pictures.


    The idea of dial operation switch is to extract a selection of functions from each dial, the switch being made by pressing a Fn button.


    Problem is the dial functions are already difficult enough to comprehend and remember to the level of ergonomic engagement required to operate the device smoothly.


    Adding another layer of different functions is a step too far.


    Read about it….shake head…….who the heck dreamed up that little scheme ……? …..Oh..yes…it was someone over at Olympus…..must be good,..right..?….all the Olympus-fanatics  say so and they are not to be contradicted under any circumstance or they will pour verbal vitriol on the hapless critic.


    OOPS, I did it.


    That’s enough for this post.







     









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    FZ300


    You can find the Rec Menu items on page 336 of theOperating Instructions for Advanced Features. 


    I will refer only to those items which I think require clarification or suggestions beyond those in the Instructions which are actually very comprehensive.


    The Instructions describe all manner of things you can do but not why you would.  I hope this post helps with that.


    * Photo Style.  This is Panasonic’s term for JPG settings.  You can select one of the presets (Standard, Vivid, Natural..etc) or create your own Custom style to individual preference.


    For the record I have Contrast +/- 0, Sharpness -1, Noise Reduction -5, Saturation +/- 0.

    These settings are always a work in progress and could change. However I do recommend NR -5 for the FZ300 and other current Panasonic cameras to prevent the JPGs from looking soft and mushy.


    * Aspect Ratio.  The camera does not have a multi aspect ratio sensor so anything but 4:3 is a simple crop which you could make in post processing.


    * Picture size.  There are only 12 Mpx to begin with so I do not recommend reducing picture size any further.


    * Quality. I shoot RAW + JPG and process in Adobe Camera Raw. I find that I can invariably tease a better final result out of the RAW file than the out-of-camera JPG.


    Of course some users do not care for the labour of post processing and that is fine. Always use the highest quality JPG setting (the double row of three rectangles).

    Just be aware that you can get more out of the camera by shooting Raw.

    JPG capture can be useful with AFC and Burst as you can shoot many more frames with JPG than RAW.


    I was able to focus on the young channel bill cuckoo's face and avoid the foliage because the FZ300 allowed me to quickly change the position and size of the active AF Area


    * AFS/AFF. I find that in some conditions AFF produces a disconcerting flutter in the image indicating the focus has not locked. So I use AFS and switch to AFC for moving subjects.


    * Metering Mode. There is a choice between Multi, Centerweighted and Spot. I always use Multi as it is the most reliable in a wide range of conditions. However spot could be useful with small birds and similar.  In such situations I just leave metering on Multi and apply some exposure compensation which is quicker.


    * Burst rate.  If you want AF, AE and live view on each frame use Burst M. For analysing a golf swing and similar where the in focus position is static, Burst H or SH (JPG only) can be used.


    * 4K Photo is described in great detail in the Instructions from page 164.


    * Auto Bracket.  This is where you tell the camera what to do when Auto Bracket is selected in Drive Mode. See page 178 of the instructions.


    * Highlight/Shadow.  This is one of those features which I suspect has been included because they could rather than because anybody asked for it.  You can alter the standard tone curve by presets or a personalised version. Something to play with I guess.


    * iDynamic actually works. When ON the camera underexposes the shot a bit then lifts the tone curve in the shadows to give a pleasing JPG result with better highlight protection than is available with a straight exposure. You can have Auto, High, Standard, Low and Off.

    I set Auto and leave it there.

    iDynamic also works on Raw files but only to the extent of the reduced exposure. You have to correct the tone curve yourself in the Raw converter.


    * iResolution also probably works but not necessarily on every shot. It tries to find unsharp areas of the frame and applies extra sharpening there.  I just set it to Standard and leave it there.


    * Post Focus.  I am from the silly old school which holds that one should focus on the subject before pressing the shutter button. Apparently that is now passe.

    Anyway, post focus is another thing to play with I guess.


    * iHandheld Night Shot, iHDR and HDR are JPG only options which work as described in the Instructions.

    Multi Exp. Time Lapse Shot and Stop Motion Animation also work with Raw.


    * Panorama Settings. To access these first turn the Mode Dial to the Panorama icon.

    Now the Settings tab is active.  You have four choices for Direction. The one I use and recommend for most purposes is the bottom one. To use this hold the camera in portrait orientation handle side up and sweep from left to right. It works well.

    I usually use Standard picture size. Wide is very wide. Give it a try.



    Hand held close ups are easy with the FZ300.  This flower was blowing about in the wind but I got some decently sharp photos anyway


    * Shutter Type.   See page 159 of the Instructions.

    I always use the mechanical shutter unless for some reason I want a shutter speed faster than 1/2000 sec.  There are no problems with the flash which can be used at all shutter speeds and no distortion with moving subjects.

    Note that you can set up to 1/4000 sec with the M shutter but the aperture will be restricted to f4 at 25mm focal length and f7.1 at the long end of the zoom. 

    The reason for this is that the diameter of the aperture at f2.8 (the actual dimension of which increases as the lens zooms out) makes it impossible for the diaphragm type shutter to open and close in the required time.


    * Flash.  Instructions pages 208-214.

    The FZ300 has an extensive repertoire of sophisticated flash functions including multi unit off camera studio flash setups.

    I generally use the inbuilt flash for a bit of extra light indoors and then just as a supplement for the ambient light.

    I set Firing Mode to TTL and Flash Adjust to -2/3 stop and Red Eye Removal OFF as this fires an extra flash which is bound to annoy the subject.


    * ISO Limit Set. 1600 is a good upper limit. With RAW capture I can get acceptable pictures at 1600 but anything above that is a step too far.


    * ISO increments. There is no point in using 1/3 step increments as the other exposure parameters (aperture, shutter speed)  will do so.


    * Diffraction Compensation. I haven’t explored this one yet so I don’t know if it is really useful.


    * iZoom and Digital Zoom are long standing Panasonic interpolated non optical zoom features.

    My own experience is that shooting at the maximum optical zoom of 600mm and cropping is easier and produces slightly better results.


    * Conversion. You need this if fitting a teleconverter or close up lens.


    * Color Space.  There are great debates about this on internet forums with some complex arguments which are over my head. Some prefer sRGB,  others adobe RGB. I just set Adobe RGB and get on with making pictures.


    * Stabiliser. Put this on a Fn button or the Q Menu for quick access. Turn the stabiliser off when the camera is on a tripod.


    * You can read about Face Recog and Profile Setup in the Instructions. Even better, don’t read about them, go out and take pictures.  









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    The Custom Menu  hosts a miscellaneous congregation of items which could and in my view should be more coherently organised by Panasonic with subheadings meaningful to users.


    Some cameras like the Nikon Coolpix group are starved of setup options. Some, like this one have lots, some might say too many. Hence this post. I hope it helps.


    As before I will only refer to items about which I think I have something useful to contribute in addition to that which you can read in the Operating Instructions for Advanced Features, starting on page 338.


    Cust. Set Mem. This feature allows you to establish three different setups in addition to the basic one. It’s all described quite well on pages 111-112.


    All you have to do is remember what the heck each button and dial does in each of the four possible different configurations. Maybe that’s something to write down somewhere handy.


    Typical scenarios which might benefit from a custom setup might include landscape on tripod, night, macro and  sport/action.


    I never use this facility preferring to go through my camera settings like a checklist so I know what to expect when I press a button.


    Silent Mode  (page 191) uses the E-Shutter which has some disadvantages, including banding under fluroro and LED lighting and skew distortion with moving subjects..

    If I am photographing somewhere where quiet is important I prefer just to silence the beeps on screen 1/5 of the Setup Menu.  The diaphragm type mechanical shutter is so quiet I need to put my ear right on the lens barrel to hear it.


    AF/AE Lock  This tells the camera what to do when you press the AF/AE LOCK button.

    You can have AE Lock, AF Lock, both or AF-ON.


    In the first three cases the lock is only held while you hold the button down.


    The next tab down is [AF AE Lock Hold]. If this is set to ON then AF, or AE will stay locked after one press on the button and will unlock when you press the button again.

    AF-ON is useful when you want to separate AF from Capture. This works like back button focus on an advanced DSLR and is handy when you are shooting action with AF-C and Burst Mode. You can get the AF system rolling by holding down the back button then start taking pictures by pressing the shutter button.


    It takes a bit of practice but can be a useful technique.




    Shutter AFis what you expect the camera to do and the way almost all cameras work by default.


    Half Press Release is a bit disconcerting because the shutter fires on half press. The precise purpose of this option eludes me.


    Quick AF  is another option for the user in a desperate hurry. The camera tries to focus all the time even without pressing the shutter button. It’s one way to burn up battery power I guess.


    Eye Sensor AF is similar except the camera tries to focus as soon as you bring your eye to the viewfinder.


    Pinpoint AF Time  This is the length of time the PIP display stays on the screen. I leave it at MID which is about half a second.


    Pinpoint AF Display  This can be set to Full or PIP (picture in picture). I find PIP easiest to live with.


    AF Assist Lamp   Switch it OFF. The camera focusses just fine with it off even in very low light.




    Direct Focus Area. I discussed this in #4 of this setting up series.


    Focus/Release priority  I don’t really know what is the point of this option. I don’t want the camera firing off if the subject is not yet in focus so I set Focus Priority.


    AF+MF  This was also discussed in #4 of the series. It allows you to establish autofocus then adjust it manually on the fly. It can be handy is a bird, for instance, is hiding behind some foliage as is often the case.  I set AF+MF ON.


    MF Assist  This decides what control portal will implement AF assist. I use the side Dial which I find to be  the easiest to use.


    MF Assist Display  I find PIP the easiest to work with.


    MF Guide Unfortunately this camera does not have a proper distance scale just an analogue display with a mountain at one end and a flower at the other. It is slightly useful so I set it ON.


    Peakingis one of the features available on an EVF which caused me to give up cameras with an optical viewfinder years ago. Peaking helps identify the best ‘in-focus’ position with manual focus.

    I set the level to high and the color at blue. You can experiment with both. Peaking is very useful.


    Histogram  Having a histogram on the screen was once regarded as a useful guide to good exposure but on this camera I find the Zebras much more useful so the histogram never appears on my screen.


    Guide Line  Guide lines can be very handy. I use them for making sure my verticals really are. Therefore I use the third type down in the list of options, with the two lines intersecting at the center.


    Center Marker  I put this ON to help me identify exactly where is the center of the frame. This helps particularly with architectural subjects.




    Zebra Pattern  Zebras are the best thing since sliced bread. They are the best guide to highlight exposure and to the amount of negative exposure compensation required to prevent highlights blowing out. Best of all they give you their message before the exposure so you don’t have to chimp to find out if you got the exposure right.


    Panasonic allows you to have two zebras. I set Zebra 1 for RAW capture at 105% and Zebra 2 for JPG at 100%. These setting were derived by trial and error. I suggest you run your own tests.

    One zebra can also be set to 70% for Caucasian skin tone, an aid to exposure typically used in videography.


    Constant Preview  This only works in Manual Exposure Mode. The purpose is to represent in real time the effect on the picture of changes to aperture or shutter speed.

    You would normally have this ON. Studio flash workers switch it OFF so they can see to compose and focus on the screen.


    Expo. Meter  Why Panasonic still has this in their firmware I have no idea. It is a great lump of a display which serves no useful purpose that I can see.  Switch it OFF.


    Dial Guide  You might want this ON until you are familiar with the camera’s operation then switch it OFF to de-clutter the display.


    LVF Disp Style/Monitor Disp Style  You can set both the monitor and EVF to either monitor style with camera data superimposed on the lower section of the image preview or viewfinder style with the camera data on a black band beneath the image preview.

    Take your pick. I prefer viewfinder style as the key camera data are easier to read.


    Monitor Info. Disp.  If you set this ON and then press the Disp button repeatedly you will come to a screen with 18 types of camera data on a gray background.  If you now press Fn3 one of the data icons will become active. You can scroll to another icon with the cursor keys and then press the Menu/Set button to bring up a screen to change the displayed parameter.

    This is easier to do than read and is just another way to access and alter various parameters.


    Auto Review This just slows down the picture taking process and uses battery power so I switch it off. But some users especially those coming from a DSLR are I the habit of chimping each shot as they go.


    Fn Button Set, Side Button Setting, Q Menu, Dial Set and Touch settings  were discussed in # 4 of this series.


    Eye Sensor  Most users appear to prefer the sensitivity setting at Low. This reduces the frequency of unintended switching.

    The next tab is [LVF/Monitor Switch]. I suggest you experiment with the options here. I suspect many users would simply set the first option [LVF/MON AUTO] and that works fine.

    However I set [MON]. The way this works is that when the monitor is closed and folded to face the camera the EVF switches ON. When the monitor is folded out the monitor switches on.

    This suits the way I work with a camera. There are plenty of options from which to choose.




      







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    I decided to begin this series of posts on the FZ80 with some night photos as I happen to have made them recently. This is Sydney CBD from Ridge St North Sydney, a favourite spot for photographs.
    Tripod of course, ISO 80, focal length 135mm. Original capture as RAW with considerable work in Adobe Camera Raw.


    Panasonic produced its first FZ camera in 2002,  named, not surprisingly, the FZ1. This established several themes for the FZ series which we still see today.


    The FZ1 had a constant f2.8 zoom, a feature which continues in the FZXX (200, 300) range.


    It had a hump top shape with the built in EVF and handle seen on all FZ cameras.


    It had a full set of controls to appeal to the expert/enthusiast user as well as the snapshooter.


    This style is often referred to as a “bridge” camera as if it were some kind of transitional stage between a compact and an interchangeable lens (ILC) type.


    However it seems to me that the FZ series and similar models are better understood as stand alone, do-anything models which to a large extent make ownership of an ILC un-necessary.


    In recent times the FZ series has expanded to three lines:


    * The FZXX line is represented by the FZ40, 47, 60, 70 and now 80.  These have a very long zoom with variable aperture and use a 7.67mm diagonal sensor.


    * In the FZXXX line we find the FZ100, 150, 200 and currently the 300. These have a zoom with a shorter range but wider aperture being f2.8 at all focal lengths. This series also uses the 7.67mm diagonal sensor.


    * The FZXXX line is the most recent addition to the FZ family in the form of the FZ1000 and FZ2000. These cameras use the larger 15.9mm diagonal sensor for better picture quality especially at high ISO sensitivity settings. The larger sensor restricts zoom range to 25-400mm in the FZ1000 and 14-480mm in the FZ2000. Both have a variable aperture.


    Until the FZ70 in 2013 Panasonic produced a FZXX model annually. I imagine the severe downturn in camera sales may have been the reason we had to wait three and a half years for the FZ80.


    The wait has been worthwhile however as the FZ80 improves on the FZ70 in almost every way.


    This shot was made from the same location as the top one. The buildings are about 6 Km from the camera. The sun had just dropped below the horizon. I used the lens at full zoom (equivalent 1200mm). Tripod of course. It was the end of a warm autumn day with some residual atmospheric distortion causing wavy lines on some of the buildings. 


    What’s unchanged ?


    * The concept.   The FZXX line has always been about packing the latest imaging technology into a user friendly package at a very attractive price.

    The FZ80 achieves this with conviction making it, in my view, one of the best value for money do-everything-all-in-one cameras  ever produced.


    * Basic image quality. I have been able to test and compare cameras with the 12, 16, 18 and 20 Mpx versions of the Sony 7.67mm sensor.   I find them to be almost identical in imaging performance and will report on this in a subsequent post.  When comparing the FZ80 with the FZ70 I find no difference in resolution, digital noise or any other characteristic related to the sensor.


    * The 55mm filter on the front of the lens.


    * The BMB-9E battery.  However the FZ80 has lost the charger which came with the FZ70. So charging the FZ80 is via USB into the camera. Some people find this convenient as it is not necessary to carry a charger unit. Aftermarket chargers are readily available for those who prefer to use one.


    * The lens specifications are identical. However while the FZ70 had at best a patchy reputation for lens quality my tests on the two FZ80s in our house show good to very good sharpness across the zoom range although there is some decline at the long end as is typical with cameras of this type.  In addition user reviews on forums are indicating a positive response to the FZ80. This suggests Panasonic may have improved its manufacturing and quality control.


    * The body looks the same at first glance and has the same dimensions apart from the helmet/cap microphone thingy on top of the FZ70.  The push-click rear dial appears unchanged.

    However a closer look reveals the moulding to be entirely new with many detail changes and a matte finish.  The eyecup is larger and softer, making it more comfortable in use.


    * Button positions are also the same but have more user selectable functions making camera operation much more streamlined.


    Again from the same camera position. This is Fort Denison, Garden Island and Bondi Junction about 6 Km from the camera  30 minutes after sunset. Focal length 400mm,  4 second exposure. 


    What’s new ?

    Everything else has been upgraded. This includes the EVF which is much improved and the monitor which now supports touch operation.


    The sensor has more pixels.


    More buttons have user selectable function.


    The lens can be set not to retract after the Playback button is pressed. This may sound like a trivial thing but many FZ1000 and FZ300 users including me have been complaining for years about the auto retract lens on these models.


    Performance has dramatically improved as measured by shot to shot times, single and continuous AF capability and follow focus capability, enabled by the high speed DFD AF. I will detail the many performance improvements in another post.


    The camera has all the latest goodies you might expect to find in a prosumer ILC including Wi-Fi, 4K video, 4K photo, fast operation, back button AF, zebras, peaking, built in flash, hotshoe, wireless off camera multi flash control, and much more.


    It also has features such as in camera auto panorama which is very well implemented on the FZ80.


    Compared to the FZ70,  the FZ80 provides a hugely improved user experience.


    The tele photo and close up accessory lenses designed for the FZ70 are also compatible with the FZ80 via the same adapter.


    Market position

    With the demise of budget compacts the FZ80 finds itself at the lower end of the Panasonic camera product price range along with the TZ80.  The only less expensive models listed on the Panasonic Australia website are two waterproof models without an EVF.


    This means that in today’s market even the least expensive models have an astounding level of specifications, features, capabilities and performance the like of which has not been seen before in budget models.


    The FZ80 is suitable for beginners with all settings at default and the Mode Dial at the [iA] position. 

    However it is also very suitable and interesting for the expert/enthusiast user who can take control over all aspects of camera operation.


    The camera can handle almost any outdoors assignment including landscape, portrait, street, documentary, sport/action, night, close ups, panorama  and just about anything else.


    Indoor capability is a bit more limited but if the lens is kept towards the wide end of the zoom range and the user is prepared to explore the realm of slow shutter speeds or resort to flash,  decent pictures can be made indoors.


    Our family now has two FZ80s which have been getting heavy use over the last few weeks.



    The complaints department

    Every new camera release generates a few complaints from reviewers and users on forums. Some of these I regard as having substance others are of little importance to me.


    The real issues which I have identified myself and/or seen reported are:


    * A loose diopter correction wheel on the right side of the EVF housing. This is easily fixed with a bit of black electrical tape or a dab of silicone sealer. In either case the wheel can be freed up for re-positioning if required.


    * Some JPGs are faulty. I have had 4 of these in 5000 shots. In each case the JPG has a line across the middle with the image below the line being lighter or darker than it should be. The RAW file is unaffected.


    * Some reviewers and users have complained about luminance noise (grain) in low ISO JPG files.  On my tests this is a characteristic of all current cameras using the 7.67mm sensor with very little detectable difference between any of them


    I have been experimenting with the [Photo Style] settings to optimise JPG appearance.  This is a work in progress but my current settings are:

    Contrast 0, Sharpness +2, NR -2,  Saturation +1.  As ever there is a trade-off between sharpness and grain.


    * Panasonic’s Auto ISO algorithms STILL do not allow for the shutter speed to change with lens focal length. Panasonic needs to implement a Sony style Auto ISO capability ASAP. This is particularly important when the lens has a 60x zoom range.  The camera is still perfectly usable of course but the simplistic Auto ISO implementation means the thoughtful user has to switch to Shutter Priority AE quite often to prevent blur due to camera shake (at the long end of the zoom) or obtain a lower ISO setting (indoors).


    There are some missing features (presumably to keep the price down)  about which I was initially disappointed but after using the camera for several weeks find their absence is at most a minor impediment to my enjoyment of the camera.


    * No lens hood is supplied. 

    a) I find the camera easier to use without a hood than the FZ300 is with the hood. There is no need to fit, remove, reverse and refit the hood all the time.

    b) When I see flare while working against the light it is easily suppressed by blocking the sun’s rays with the left hand while I operate the camera with the right. This by the way is one of the advantages of  an electronic viewfinder over an optical one. You can see any flare and its effect on the image right there in the viewfinder.


    * There is no electronic level gauge.  On looking at my photos I realise that I am more reliably keeping the camera level without the gauge on the FZ80 than I do when using the gauge on my FZ300. I think the reason for this is that the gauge is not terribly accurate and I do better when paying more attention to the subject.


    * There is no eye sensor. Some reviewers and people posting on user forums get terribly upset by this but in practice I find it  is no trouble at all to press the LVF button when I want to switch from monitor to EVF.  The advantage is that the switch does not occur inadvertently when something comes close to the viewfinder.


    * The monitor is fixed, not articulating. Yes, it would be better to have a fully articulating monitor like that on the FZ300. However the one on the FZ80 can be viewed clearly even from a very large angle so overhead and underhand operation is quite easy.  In practice I am finding I miss the fully articulated monitor less than I thought I would.


    Summary

    After about 6000 exposures I am finding the FZ80 a very pleasant camera to use. It is capable of good results in many situations with thoughtful use.


    The 20-1200mm (equivalent) lens, fast AF and fast performance make the camera very versatile with performance and capabilities not seen before in this camera’s price range.


    I have decided to use the FZ800 more or less exclusively for the next 6 months or so.  It produces pictures which are good enough for my purposes.


    I will explore and report on my efforts to extract the best possible results from this camera over the next few months.







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    20mm ISO 800 f2.8 


    The lens on the FZ80 has a very ambitious specification. The 60x zoom ranges from a superwide 20mm (equivalent) at the wide end to an ultralong 1200mm (equivalent) at the long end. No other current model consumer camera offers this extremely useful and versatile focal length range.


    The FZ80 lens has the same specifications as its predecessor the FZ70.


    Reviewers and user forums were not kind to the FZ70 lens but of the 989 Amazon customer reviews 70% score 5 stars and 16% score 4 stars which is a pretty strong endorsement for this budget consumer model. Many Amazon reviewers mention the good optical quality of the lens.


    I bought two half broken old FZ70s several months ago and discovered that the lens of one was very good at the wide end, the other was good at the long end.


    20mm f2.8 ISO 400


    So it was with some trepidation that I started testing the lens of my new FZ80.  


    It was clear to me that the success or failure of the FZ80 would rest largely on Panasonic’s ability to get the lens right at all focal lengths.


    Our family now has two copies of the FZ80 and each has a lens which gives a good account of itself at all focal lengths.


    20mm ISO 800 f2.8


    This post deals with the capability of the lens at the wide end, illustrated by several examples. Each of the photos was captured as a RAW and processed in Adobe Camera Raw before being output as a JPG for publication. Readers please note that the final resolution of photos on Google blogger is much less than the original, presumably to facilitate fast loading.


    Full sized versions of some of these photos can be seen on my gallery at Digital Photography Review (axlotl).


    Tripod, 20mm ISO 80 f4


    Overall the lens delivers good to very good results in the focal length range 20-400mm. Beyond that contrast and resolution decline slowly as the lens is zoomed out. But even at 1200mm resolution is quite good in the center of the frame and acceptable at the edges.  Achieving sharpness at the long end requires a careful approach to camera work which I will describe in a subsequent post.


    In the range 20-50mm the lens is capable of very good resolution in a broad central area of the frame with some softness at the edges apparent at 20mm and f2.8.


    20mm ISO 80  f2.8


    Optimum aperture in this range is f4 but f2.8 is not far behind and is entirely usable in any circumstance when the widest aperture is needed.


    Distortion and chromatic aberration are digitally corrected post capture in both RAW and JPG files.


    Some purple fringing is fairly common towards the corners at high contrast junctions such as foliage on trees against a hot sky. This is readily correctable in image editors.


    Flare is readily induced by sun shining on the front element of the lens. I deal with this by holding the camera in my right hand and shielding the lens from the sun with my left hand. This is effective.


    Overall resolution is not quite at the same level as I see from the FZ1000 but is surprisingly close considering the FZ80’s zoom range and budget price point. I find I need to look closely at matched files at 100% on screen or in a large print to clearly see the difference.


    Overall the lens is very consistent right across the focal length range with no bad focal lengths and no nasty surprises.


    I mention this by way of contrast with, for instance,  the TZ/ZS100 and LX10 models both of which I found on testing to be inconsistent, delivering sharp pictures at some focal lengths but not others and sharp results at some apertures but not others. 


    20mm ISO 80 f2.8






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    200mm f5.5


    Superzoom lenses typically perform well in the mid part of their zoom range and the FZ80 is no exception.


    From (equivalent) 50mm to around 600mm the lens delivers very good resolution right across the frame and into the corners.


    Optimum aperture is the widest available (lowest f-number) at each focal length thus:

    70mm  f4.3, 135mm f5.3, 400-600mm f5.6.


    Any distortion and chromatic aberration are corrected digitally in JPG and RAW (Adobe) files.


    Purple fringing can sometimes occur at high contrast edges.


    The only matter of some concern which starts to creep in at the longer end of this focal length range is a level of inconsistency in sharpness usually caused by camera shake. I find that if I take five hand held shots of a subject sometimes all five will be of equal sharpness but more often one or two frames will be seen on close examination to be sharper than the others.


    Therefore I recommend that users take several shots of static subjects and pick the best later.


    Of course this is not a practice particular to the FZ80 but has been standard operating procedure for all types of camera for many years, particularly as the lens focal length rises.


    I will post about strategies for photographing moving subjects shortly. Suffice to say for the moment that the FZ80 manages moving subjects very well including birds in flight and increasingly often of late, drones in flight.


    The OIS (stabiliser) is very good but noes not remove the need to exercise careful camera work with good posture and breathing practice, optimal camera holding and shutter release.


    So here are the photos, all handheld, all shot in RAW and processed in Adobe Camera Raw then converted to full sized JPGs for publication. As usual Google Blogger presents the files at considerably lower resolution than the originals.


    500mm f5.6  The boatshed is about 350 meters from the camera on a warm day producing some atmospheric distortion.
    400mm f5.6  The crane is about 400 meters from the camera on a warm autumn day so there is some loss of resolution due to atmospheric effects.
    250mm f5.5  The buildings in the foreground are about 800 meters from the camera. There is some loss of sharpness due to atmospheric haze and distortion.

    500mm f5.6  I was quite close to the bird. Closer is better.









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    800mm hand held.  AF-C Burst-M.  The ferry is about a kilometer from the camera. There is a sign above the entry way "Welcome Aboard" in cursive script with letters about 100mm high. I can easily read this in the original file. You may not be able to in the reproduction on Google Blogger. I think this is pretty good for a budget camera hand held photographing a moving subject 1000 meters away.

    The FZ80lens is actually quite decently sharp at 1200mm (equivalent).


     Resolution is good in the center of the frame, a bit less at the edges.


    On my tests using matched subjects and side by side examination of files, the FZ80 at 1200mm has better resolution and contrast than the Nikon B700 at the same focal length with less flare.


    So the lens is good.


    But when out and about taking photos I find the proportion of keepers falls steadily as the focal length increases above about 600mm (equivalent).


    There are several possible reasons for this.


    * Resolution and contrast decline towards the long end of the zoom. This characteristic is present in every superzoom camera I have tested.

    It is possible to make very sharp long lenses. 

    Canon did several years ago make to order the legendary 1200mm f5.6. This behemoth is no longer in production. 

    Used copies sell for USD180,000.  And it does not have an image stabiliser.


    When we consider the FZ80 can be had for less than USD400 I think the optical performance of the lens is quite remarkable.


    On my distant casuarinas test (see accompanying photos) the lens can resolve casuarina fronds 2mm in diameter at 500 meters, but only when the camera is on a sturdy tripod, there is no wind, the early morning sun is on the subject and the air is very clear.


    * Focus speed and accuracy are not as good at the long end of the zoom as at shorter focal lengths and very small changes of focus can have a big effect on image sharpness.


    * The effects of camera shake are greatly magnified at the long end.  The OIS works very well but we are talking about hand holding a 1200mm lens here, something that would never have been considered possible a few years ago.


    * Atmospheric interference is greatly magnified by distance from the camera.  Haze, smog  and distortion due to air turbulence wreak havoc with image definition regardless of the equipment used.


    Strategies for good results at the long end


    * Pick your subject.  A clear, simple subject like a bird or animal is best. Long distance landscapes with lots of complex detail do not usually come out well.


    * Pick your light. Bright sunlight is good preferably shining across the subject for maximum rendition of shape and detail.


    * Get as close as possible. Closer is better. Closer may allow you to use a shorter focal length and puts less air between the camera and subject.


    * Pick your season and time of day.  Every location has a season when haze, smog and the like are least prevalent.  Some wind directions bring clearer air than others.

    Atmospheric distortion is usually least in the early morning.


    * Use the fastest shutter speed possible in the light available. For hand held work set S on the Mode Dial. Adjust the shutter speed so the aperture is the widest possible (smallest f number) and the ISO setting is as low as possible. Do some self  research to find out how slow a shutter speed you can use and still get decent results at the long end.


    * Practice camera work: holding the camera steadily without tremor, viewing through the EVF with the camera firmly but not forcefully against the forehead,  mini meditation,  breathing control and shutter release control.

    If possible sit down and rest your elbows on your knees, turning your limbs into a type of tripod.


    * Use multiple exposures, pick the best later. There are three ways to do this.


    1. Re focus on each exposure separately pressing the shutter for each shot. The value of this is that focus at the long end can be a touch off sometimes so refocussing for each shot increases the chances for one frame or more with perfect focus.


    2. Set AF Single and Burst M. When you press and hold the shutter the camera will focus once then  fire away at about 6 frames per second. The advantage of this is that camera shake from repeated shutter pressing is reduced. The disadvantage is that if the focus was slightly off then it is so for every shot.


    3. For moving subjects I use AF-Continuous and Burst M with live view on every frame.  The camera will follow focus on the subject refocussing for each frame.


    * On a tripod:  Set ISO 80,  cancel the stabiliser, fire the shutter with timer delay (2sec is fine) or using a smart phone, select the AF point carefully and wait until there is no wind. I have found that even when using a very sturdy tripod the slightest gust of wind will unsettle the camera enough to adversely affect the image.


    Summary

    The FZ80 lens is capable of very decent results at the long end but more work is required than at the wide end of the zoom. Even then the keeper rate is significantly lower with shots at the long end.


    This is my standard long lens test subject. The casuarina trees are 500 meters from the camera. The fronds are 2mm in diameter. The lens can resolve these fronds in a large central area of the frame. 1200mm ISO 80, tripod, OIS off, timer shutter release, early morning sun.


    This is a 2.7 mpx crop of the photo above showing the level of detail achievable.


    The FZ80 can handle surfers quite well due to its long reach but the keeper rate is much lower than with static subjects up close.  AF-C  Burst-M  1200mm hand held



    The surf club house is 1.7 kilometers from the tripod mounted camera. I was shooting across a beach on a warm morning with lots of atmospheric distortion. You can see the effect this has on image quality with wavy lines on all straight edges.  1200mm.


    This noisy miner came to check me out while I was making some landscape test shots. So I zoomed out and made a few shots of the bird at 1200mm.  This meets most of my desirable criteria for shooting conditions: direct sun across the subject, close in to the camera. Noisy miners are never still so sharpness is not quite as good as it might have been with a static subject. 
     
    1200mm  AF-C  Burst-M  This fast moving vessel was about 150 meters from the camera. There is a round logo on the red diagonal stripe near the front of the hull. In the original file I can read the words "Marine Rescue New South Wales" on that logo. Not bad.





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    FZ80 f4 20mm hand held ISO 80  One forum member thought the grain in this photo to be simply unbearable. Yet when printed out even at large size it is barely visible.


    Mirrorless digital cameras like the FZ80  produce two kinds of noise.


    The first is audible noise consisting of various artificial sounds in the form of electronic beeps and the real sounds of the stabiliser, mechanical shutter, focus motor and zoom motor working. 


    By the way the FZ80 can be configured to operate very quietly by switching off those beeps.


    The second is digital noise which is visible in images. This is the “noise” component of the signal to noise ratio produced by the sensor.


    There are two kinds of digital noise. The first is chroma (color) noise the second is luminance noise.

    Chroma noise has been very successfully suppressed in JPG files from modern cameras and in RAW converters with RAW files.


    So I will be mostly talking about luminance noise which appears as grain in RAW files and either grain or some form of speckles in JPG files.


    The FZ80 uses an 18 Mpx sensor with a diagonal measurement of about 7.67mm which has only a slightly greater area than one of the buttons on the back of the camera.   How they fit all those millions of photo sensitive sites on there I have no idea. But amazingly they do and the results are pretty good.


    However each of those photo sites is microscopically small and that means images from these small sensor cameras have more digital noise (lower signal to noise ratio) at any given ISO sensitivity setting than pictures from cameras with a larger sensor.


    A few days ago I posted a photo on the Digital Photography Review  Panasonic Compact Camera forum.  One respondent said he felt the level of grain present in this photo was “simply unbearable” and that he could not possibly consider using this camera.


    Of course every individual has to make his or her personal judgement about these things and that is fine.


    But now I will tell you something very interesting. I printed up this image on my Epson 4880 machine to an actual image size of  410 x 540 mm. This is quite a large print by any standards.


    It looks strong on the wall with good color and acutance. The grain is only just visibleif I get up close and peer at the print with my spectacles on.


    This leads me to two discoveries of great importance to the evaluation of grain in photographs.  


    1. Grain is much more obvious in images viewed at 100% on a large, hi res monitor screen than it is in a print, even a large print.  I think this is a manifestation of a fundamental difference in the way grain appears in the two viewing media.

    The corollary of this is that an image which may appear “unbearably” grainy on a monitor at 100% can look perfectly fine when printed out.


    2. I find that a rough but useful guide to evaluating on a high quality monitor how any image will look in a print is to view it at 50%.  If the image looks good at 50% on screen it will look good in a print at any size.


    Further to the statement above I want to share with you another discovery which I have made.  On camera review sites and user forums I often see a statement that [camera x] can produce prints up to [some stated size].  My experience over the years does not lead me to support this notion at all.


    I find that if an image is sharp and clear to start with and good upsizing strategies and printing technique are used it will print up to pretty much any size and still look good at normal viewing distance.


    When I look at pictures made with the FZ80 I am reminded of my many years in film photography when I mostly used 35mm SLRs. 


    Prints from the FZ80 have a level of detail, acutance and grain very like those made from 35mm film with a good quality prime lens.


    That level of imaging capability was good enough for me and millions of others for about 50 years and it is still good enough for my purposes.


    Of course in the film era there was no such thing as an amazing 20-1200mm lens or the miraculous ability to change film speed with the turn of a dial.


    Of course you could argue that in the digital era many cameras deliver better picture quality than was (or is) available from 35mm film. That is true enough in the technical sense but you have to ask what is the purpose to which this better quality will be put ?  And if the answer is online sharing or small prints then all that quality is not necessary, in fact redundant.


    Summary

    Small sensor cameras including the FZ80 produce images with more visible grain at any given ISO setting than camera with larger sensors.


    Whether that level of grain is acceptable to any individual photographer is  partly a matter of personal preference.


    This may be adversely affected by too much pixel peeping at 100% on hi res monitors.


    I take the view that more relevant issues are the photographer’s skill in managing grain at the capture phase of use and also in the post capture phases.


    I will be posting more about this shortly.


    Another arcade. A bit less light here so I used ISO 320. With thoughtful work in Adobe Camera Raw the grain is well controlled I think


    Cameras compared

    A question often asked on user forums and one which has exercised my interest is whether any of the cameras which use the same sized 7.67mm diagonal sensor have less apparent digital noise than others.


    The conventional wisdom often stated on user forums and by reviewers is that sensors with fewer pixels will have less digital noise than those with more pixels.


    I own and have tested cameras each with the 7.67mm sensor size but having 12, 16, 18 and 20 Mpx.


    As far as I am aware all these sensors are made by Sony although, unfortunately neither the camera makers nor Sony care to confirm this for reasons unknown to me.


    Test method


    Cameras:  Panasonic---FZ300 (12Mpx), FZ70 (16 Mpx), FZ80 and TZ80 (18Mpx), Nikon ---B700 (20 Mpx).


    Test subject: This is books on shelves with a page of newspaper to judge resolution. The camera is on a tripod, and the subject is photographed with RAW capture at ISO settings from 100 to 1600. The same focal length and lens aperture is used throughout.


    Preparation of the files: In order to compare like with like the files must be rendered comparable in size, color balance and lightness.

    To equalise the size one could upsize the smaller files or downsize the larger ones. The usual practice is the latter so I do that.  I then adjust color balance and lightness (which by the way vary considerably from one camera to the next) so they are as nearly the same as I can make them.

    Next  in the Detail tab in Adobe Camera Raw I adjust the Amount, Luminance and Color sliders to zero.


    Viewing the files  Now I open all the files in Photoshop and view them side by side at 100% on screen, using Window>Arrange> Float all in windows.

    They are all the same size, color and lightness so can be meaningfully compared.



    The white faced heron is one of the few Australian birds which will stand perfectly still while hunting for breakfast. This one was in deep shade early in the morning. It let me get fairly close but I still needed 800mm on the lens, 1/80 second and ISO 1600. This is the full frame.
    RAW capture processed in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop.
    You can see there is quite a bit of grain but for ISO 1600 I think this is more than acceptable.


    Results


    Color Noise:   I found that the 20 Mpx files from the Nikon B700 had the least color noise with the others being all about the same. This finding is of somewhat academic interest however as I could easily remove color noise from all the files with the [Color] slider.  The B700 just needed less adjustment than the others.

    After removing color noise I went on to evaluate for sharpness and luminance noise.


    Resolution/sharpness:  Files from the FZ300 and TZ80 had slightly less resolution than the others but I had to look carefully at 100% to pick it.


    Luminance noise:  The B700 produced just faintly less luminance noise (grain) than the others but the difference was so slight it would not be detectable in ordinary photography.

    The relationship between the cameras was the same across the ISO spectrum from 100-1600.


    Conclusion

    For all practical purposes there is no difference between the imaging performance of the cameras tested.


    Two of the cameras had just slightly less sharpness/resolution than the others but I suspect from other (lens) tests that this is mainly due to differences in lens sharpness.


    The conventional wisdom that fewer pixels produces less noise is not supported by my tests.  


    Actually the camera with the most pixels (B700) produced less color noise and just faintly detectably less luminance noise than the others.


    Summary

    Fewer pixels do not produce less noise.

    More pixels do not deliver more resolution.









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    Brush turkey at ISO 1600, FZ80  I often read statements from reviewers and users on forums that a camera like this could not possibly be used at ISO 1600. See for yourself. It is not a work of great photographic art but is a decent enough picture of the bird except I chopped off his legs.


    Notice that the title of this post isHow to managenoise”, not “How to eliminate noise”.


    I have been taking photographs for the last 60 years, using film for most of that period.


    Arguably the most used and best known film of the 20thCentury was Kodak TRI-X, introduced in 1940 and available to this day in upgraded form..


    Millions of photographers including me used it for many years.


    But some users complained about the grainy quality of TRI-X so Kodak spent a lot of R&D money developing T-MAX 400 with the same speed but finer grain.


    Many photographers including me tried T-MAX and many other films from Kodak, Ilford, Fuji and others in the quest for a general purpose film to better TRI-X.


    Guess what ?  Despite the technical superiority of T-MAX and some others as measured by the level of grain, many photographers again including me still preferred prints made from TRI-X negatives.


    Once upon a time, when I was younger, stronger and in quest of the perfect landscape photo, I would go bushwalking with lots of lenses in a big heavy photo kit and the proverbial sturdy tripod.
    Then I decided perfect is the enemy of good.
    Now I just take the FZ80 and crank up the ISO as required, in this case to 800.


    Why ?  I think the reason is acutance.


    The appearance of sharpness in a photographic print depends on two characteristics, resolution and acutance.


    Resolution can be measured as the number of lines or line pairs which can be resolved per millimetre or per image height.


    Acutance refers to the contrast at edges in the print.  Acutance contributes more to the subjective impression of sharpness than resolution provided that resolution is sufficient to reveal the most important features of the subject.




    This is my somewhat amateurish attempt to show graphically the difference between acutance and resolution. The image depicted as "High resolution" might not look as sharp to the viewer as the one labelled  "High acutance" because the contrast between the light and dark parts of the image is low.


    Which brings me by a slightly circuitous route to the subject of this post.


    With a large sensor camera you can have the trifecta of high resolution, high acutance and very low levels of luminance noise, all at once. But of course, you cannot have a 60x zoom and a low price point. One makes one’s choice.


    With the small (7.67mm) sensor cameras the image quality equation becomes more complex. It is possible by working the sliders in Adobe Camera Raw (or Lightroom which does the same job) or another RAW converter to virtually eliminate luminance noise from low ISO files.


    The problem with this approach is that doing so also markedly reduces acutance.  Taking away the noise also smudges away sharp edges.   This is seen as a “plasticky” or “watercolour” type appearance on screen or in a print


    It is apparent to me from posts on user forums that some photographers are overly concerned about luminance noise in photos.  I believe this could be a result of trying to evaluate images at 100% on a large, high resolution monitor screen.


    I find that the appearance of an image in print is much better represented by viewing at 50% on screen. The grain which seemed so disturbing to some people on screen becomes almost invisible in a print even when the print is quite large.


    All of which leads me to the approach which I use and recommend for small sensor cameras like the FZ80. This is to seek a balance between grain reduction and acutance which delivers optimum printed output appearance.


    White faced heron.  FZ80 at  ISO 1600 hand held


    Shooting strategies


    The aim is to use the lowest ISO setting consistent with managing camera shake,  subject movement and lighting conditions.


    * This begins in the Setup Phase of use with selecting the best style for the EVF and monitor. 


    In the Custom Menu on screen 6/9 see [LVF Disp. Style] and [Monitor Disp. Style].


    There are two options for both monitor and LVF (EVF),

    1. Monitor style with camera data superimposed on the lower part of the preview image or

    2. Viewfinder style with camera data on a black background beneath the preview image.


    Camera data is easier to see in Viewfinder style especially in bright light outdoors so that is what I use and recommend.


    Managing noise means managing ISO setting and to do this effectively I need to have a clear view of the aperture, shutter speed and ISO setting at all times.


    * Next consider subject and lighting. If you can move closer, do it. This will allow a shorter focal length to be used with a wider aperture and a lower ISO setting. Indoors turn on all the lights, move your subjects closer to a window.


    * In P mode the camera will set 1/80 second by default. That is faster than required with the shorter focal lengths so in low light switch to S and select a slower shutter speed. Experiment to discover how slow you can go and still get sharp pictures.

    Practice good camera work, using controlled breathing, optimal holding and standing posture and shutter release strategies.


    * Use flash indoors if required. The built in flash can be useful as a fill light if set to a flash exposure compensation of around -1 stop. The camera can take a clip on flash which can be swung up to bounce light off the ceiling for more appealing light.


    Zoo bird FZ80 ISO 800


    Adjust ISO or shutter speed ?

    T
    he ISO setting can be directly adjusted if [Sensitivity] is allocated to a Fn button or a custom Q Menu.  Unfortunately [ISO Limit Set] cannot be reached via the ISO setting so I usually use the method below.


    Another approach is to set S on the Mode Dial and make shutter speed the primary control.


    Outdoors in bright light if I am shooting action I will set 1/1000 sec then see what ISO setting that gives me. Indoors at the wide end of the lens I might set 1/25 second.


    This is why I need to see the viewfinder readouts for aperture, shutter speed and ISO clearly.


    Another zoo bird  FZ80 ISO 1600
    Again no great work of art but a demonstration that the FZ80 can be used to make decent pictures at ISO 1600.


    Post processing strategies


    This section is applicable to RAW files processed with Photoshop incorporating Adobe Camera Raw. 

    Lightroom does the same job but with a different graphical user interface.


    JPG files can be adjusted with Camera Raw as a filter although JPGs have much less capacity for post capture processing than Raw files. In particular sharpness and noise reduction are “baked in’ to JPGs. Some users have suggested using JPGs with sharpness and NR set to the minimum level available, then adjusting these in post processing.


    It seems to me one would be better served by a RAW file if that kind of workflow is contemplated.


    Users of other RAW converters may be able to gain some insights relevant to their own workflow.


    Start with the Basic window, viewing at [Fit in view] size. 


    Check the histogram and if appropriate increase [Contrast] by dragging the slider to the right. In 
    Camera Raw this increases mid tone contrast. If this causes highlight or shadow clipping try moving the [Highlights] slider to the left and the [Shadows] slider to the right..

    Now see the effect of dragging the [Clarity] slider to the right.


    Be aware that Contrast, Clarity and Acutance are all parts of the same story.


    Contrast controls mid tone contrast across large sections of the image.


    Clarity controls local contrast between small subject elements.


    Acutance is about the level of contrast at edges.


    There is no slider in Camera Raw labelled “Acutance” but a combination of the [Sharpness] and [Detail] sliders has a strong effect on acutance.


    You can often increase the impression of sharpness by increasing Contrast and Clarity even though resolution is not affected.


    Beware of overdoing this though. I not uncommonly come back to a file on which I have been working, look at it again and think….”ouch… that’s too much”.  So I  back off the sliders a bit to make the effect strong but not un-natural.


    Now go to the Detail window and view at 100% while making adjustments. This is where things get interesting.


    I have found that using the Detail window to best effect takes considerable practice with often several trials being required to reach the best combination of adjustments.


    No set rules are useful.


    However some general principles are useful.


    The aim of the exercise is to optimise the photo for best printed appearance taking into account all the parameters involved. This does NOT mean eliminating luminance noise (grain) in images from small sensor cameras like the FZ80.


    Adobe suggests you start at the top and work down. I use and recommend a different sequence.


    1. Start with Color under the noise Reduction heading.  The default is 25. Most low ISO files will require less, some high ISO files might need more. Drag the slider back to zero then increase it until the color noise disappears then give it a bit more.


    2. Now go to the Luminance slider. Every image is different but as a rough guide low ISO files need 10-20, high ISO ones 50-80.


    3. Next drag the Detail slider back from the default of 25 to zero.


    4. Adjust the Radius slider. An image with lots of detail can use a radius of 1 pixel. Pictures lacking fine detail especially from the long end of the lens can benefit from a radius up to 3 pixels.


    5. Adjust the Amount slider. Images with lots of sharp detail might need 50. Those with low levels of detail especially from the long end of the zoom can benefit from 150.


    6. Come back to the Detail slider and gently, gently, slowly drag this to the right. Even better bring it to the right in small increments with the keys.  Watch the image closely while you are doing this.

    It helps to have a big fast computer which can do all the calculations very quickly so you see the effect immediately.

    You will see acutance and grain increase very quickly. This slider needs to be managed very delicately.  You can shove the slider all the way right to see the result which is dreadful, say ..”ouch” …and bring it back again.

    I usually find the Detail slider ends up in the 5-15 range.



    Alternative strategy for the Amount and Detail sliders, steps 5 and 6:

    You can adjust the Detail slider first with the Amount slider at zero, then start to bring up the Amount slider.  With some images this appears to give a better balance between grain and acutance.  Either way the Amount and Detail sliders are intimately related such that experiment with the relative amount of each is required.


    7. Try bringing the Radius slider up from the default position which is zero. Press the [Alt] key while dragging the slider to see which areas of the image will be affected by sharpening (white) and which will not (black). I generally find that a setting of around 10 or even a bit more can be of benefit in pictures with areas without texture like sky and the like.


    8. Now go back and play with each of the sliders while watching the image closely at 100% on screen.  For each image there will be a combination which delivers the best result.

    You might be tempted to batch process all RAW files with presets for the sliders. I do not recommend this as every image is different.


    9. Now view the picture at 50% on screen to see approximately how it will look when printed.

    Behold !   The grain almost disappeared., in low ISO files anyway.


    10. Go back to 100% and see if you can detect any effect on the picture by moving the Luminance Detail, Luminance Contrast, Color Detail and Color Smoothness sliders. These sliders have a low level effect but can sometimes be useful with specific files.

    Beware overusing the luminance Detail slider with high ISO images. Look closely at the effect of min, max and mid range effect.  Max can be hideous.


    Local grain/sharpness control

    The Graduated filter and Adjustment brush controls allow you to apply most of the adjustments listed above (but not Detail) to a localised area of the frame.

    For instance if a shadow area has been pulled up in lightness it will be very grainy. Localised grain reduction and contrast control can improve the appearance of such areas substantially.


    Too much trouble ?  do I hear you cry ?

    With practice I find it takes me about a minute to run through the 10 steps above.

    Practice does greatly improve the speed and effectiveness of the process and the results are worth while.

    I have now read several “reviews” of the FZ80 none of which has even attempted to extract maximum benefit from the RAW files in the fashion described above.


    Conclusion

    Many reviewers and users dismiss the FZ80 as a toy for shapshooters.

    In my view that judgement is incorrect and in the process severely underestimates the FZ80 as a very useful photographic tool for the expert/enthusiast photographer.

    In practiced, thoughtful hands the FZ80 is very versatile camera which is engaging to use and can make good photos in a wide variety of situations.












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    FZ80 

    I have been able to test and compare lenses of several fixed zoom lens cameras including compact and “bridge” types.


    I test cameras which I buy retail and use for my own photographic projects. Nobody lends or gives me cameras and I have no connection with any person or entity which makes or sells photographic equipment.


    I use multiple methods for this enterprise.


    I have a test chart which is used to compare resolution and contrast, distortion and chromatic aberration. I also get out and about and make a lot of pictures in real world situations in good and poor light conditions.


    I use RAW files for my comparisons to remove as far as possible the effects of JPG output.

    The cameras are:


    Canon SX60, Nikon P900, Nikon B700, Panasonic FZ1000, Panasonic FZ300, Panasonic FZ80, Panasonic TZ80, Sony RX100 (4).


    Comparing the P900 with the others was difficult as this camera does not offer RAW capture and fine details in JPG files lack resolution even with noise reduction set to the minimum available.


    I did not buy or test any of Sony’s small (7.67mm) sensor offerings as they do not permit RAW capture.


    In this post I present my ranking of the lenses on overall capability as determined by my evaluation of  sharpness, flare, aberrations and distortion across the focal length range.


    FZ80 Lots of detail at 90mm equivalent


    The best


    You would expect the cameras with the largest sensors and smallest zoom range to come out on top and they do.  These are the Panasonic FZ1000 and Sony RX100(4).


    My own experience and that of many reports is that there is considerable variation in the quality of the lenses in both these cameras. However best-of range samples of both cameras are really excellent, to the extent they should make photographers wonder why a larger sensor camera might be thought desirable.


    The trade-off is of course that the zoom range is limited, to 2.9x on the RX100(4) and 16x on the FZ1000. In addition the FZ1000 is larger and heavier than the small sensor cameras (except the P900 which has a big lens).


    FZ80  ISO 1600   Feeding time at the zoo. I like to push the camera to its limits to discover what it can do. This is a difficult shot for any camera. Subject brightness range is high, multiple lighting sources produce weird color balance, overall light levels are low, people are moving, there is a lot of detail to be recorded and the angle of view is wide. But with  the help of my friend Adobe Camera Raw I think the result is reasonable.


    The rest

    Each of the other cameras has a 7.67mm diagonal (a.k.a.1/2.3 inch) sensor and a much greater zoom range and in the case of the FZ300 a constant f2.8 lens.


    My lens ranking is, with the best on top:

    FZ80

    P900 (provisional)

    B700

    FZ300

    TZ80

    SX60


    FZ80. I like that the camera allows me to switch in a moment from distant landscapes or sport/action to flower closeups like this then make the shot hand held.


    Comment


    FZ80  Our family has two copies of the FZ80 and both test well. This was something of a surprise as the lens specifications are the same as the FZ70 which gained a reputation for having a sub standard lens.  I bought two old copies of the FZ70 for testing and found one was good at the long end, the other at the wide end.  It seems the basic design is good, they just had to make it properly.


    When I reviewed the B700 on 29 January 2017,  I wrote   “Nikon appears to have an edge over the competition with regard to lens quality, VR and to some extent picture quality but I doubt that will  last forever”.


    Well, here we are a few months later and the B700’s lens quality edge has gone. The FZ80 delivered better sharpness and contrast at all matched focal lengths and apertures.


    P900   I have this provisionally in second rank. I would not be surprised if an update were to enable RAW files it might be at the top of the list. It certainly has a very ambitious and very good lens with very good VR.


    B700   This has the same lens as the P600 and P610. It delivers good to very good results across the focal length range falling away somewhat at the long end with loss of contrast and flare around highlights. The VR is very good and overall picture quality good.

    Both the Nikons are let down by the curse of the Coolpix which is a tediously slow processor producing sluggish performance with slow operation of all functions.

    After using one of the Panasonics which are super fast, I never want to go back to the Nikons. I think the P900 and B700 represent a real missed opportunity for Nikon which could have dominated this category with their good lens, VR and IQ if only their performance was up to the task which it is not.


    FZ300   Some readers might be surprised to see the well regarded FZ300 coming in at 4thplace. Our family has two copies of the FZ300 and both test about the same. This is not so suggest the les is bad because it is actually quite good. It is just that the B700 and FZ80 test slightly better for resolution across the focal length range. However the FZ300 produces less purple fringing and flare around highlights than the FZ80 and B700.

    My tests found that the FZ300 lens delivers best results at f4 across the zoom range but f2.8 is still good. I found no advantage to stopping down smaller (larger f number) than f4.

    The advantage of the FZ300 is that it is usually operating at a much wider aperture (2 or more stops) than the longer zoom models, which allows a lower ISO setting which offsets the slightly lower lens sharpness.

    By the way our family had an FZ200 some time ago. On paper this camera has the same lens as the FZ300 but both our FZ300s are better than the FZ200. Maybe Panasonic has upgraded their quality control.


    TZ80   Considering this camera’s diminutive size and huge zoom range the lens manages very well. But it cannot keep up with the bridge style models with a much larger lens housing.


    SX60   Last and definitely least is Canon’s awful SX60. This camera has a nice handle but just about everything else about it is dreadful. Many users on Canon forums have commented that the previous SX50 had a better lens.

    Canon is going backwards in this market sector. The SX60 was announced in 2014 and has a worse lens than the SX50 which arrived in 2012.

    Has Canon lost interest in this camera type ? It would appear so.

    I would like to have included the Sony HX400V or a successor with RAW output in this comparison but the lack of RAW output and absence of continuous AF with follow focus capability has prevented me from getting a Sony small sensor bridge type model.


    I suspect Sony probably has the technology to match Panasonic in this space (after all, Panasonic is using Sony sensors) and would like to see what Sony could do if they really tried. I guess their corporate energies are taken up at the other end of the market at the moment, with the A9.


    What about the Panasonic FZ2000/2500 ?  There are many reports of variable lens quality affecting this camera so I did not include it. Reports on user forums have the best copies equal to the FZ1000, the worst copies somewhat less capable.

    To be fair I should say there are reports of variable lens quality affecting all current and recent fixed zoom cameras. This is also my own experience with some such as the TZ/ZS 100 showing more variation than others. This does not inspire great confidence in the makers quality control.


    Stabiliser

    None of the superzoom cameras would be serviceable at the long end of the zoom without a stabiliser. Each has an effective stabiliser. On my formal tests they all appear to be equally effective however my impression from general photography is that Nikon’s VR is slightly more consistent than Panasonic’s OIS. All these cameras produce a percentage of blurred shots hand held as the lens is zoomed out, often with double imaging indicating that camera shake is not always fully corrected by the stabiliser.  As I review my photos I find slightly fewer of these shots from the Nikons than the Panasonics.


    Conclusion

    There could be several winners of this comparison depending on the users  priorities.

    Best lens in a compact short zoom package:  One of the Sony RX100 models.

    Best lens in a bridge camera up to 400mm:  Panasonic FZ1000.

    Best lens up to 600mm with constant f2.8 aperture  The only current model is the FZ300.

    Best lens in a 7.67mm sensor bridge type superzoom  FZ80.








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    FZ80 Yellow thornbill. Full zoom, cropped


    In September 2016 Panasonic announced  the FZ2000 superzoom and the LX10 compact. I bought both and have been testing them.


    The FZ2000 achieved the highest ergonomic score of any camera which I have tested, the LX10 scored near the bottom of the list.


    Unfortunately there appears to be no consistency in this maker’s capacity to produce cameras which are both efficient and a pleasure to use.


    Also unfortunately I have to say the same comment applies to all the cameras makers, each of which produces some cameras with decent ergonomics and others which are dreadful.


    None of them appears to have a set of ergonomic principles which they could apply to every camera.


    This I believe is part of a broader problem which I see in the camera world.


    It appears to me that most designs are highly camera centric,  technology oriented and fashion conscious  when what I really want is designs which are user centric and oriented towards excellent ergonomics.


    One problem with compacts is that many of them take the shape and configuration of a larger body and scale it down with unfortunate consequences for any user whose hands have remained obstinately the same size.


    So we see on the LX10 (and the Sony RX100 series and other models from other makers) ten buttons (counting the 4 way controller as 5) crammed into the tiny little control panel to the right of the monitor screen with four of those buttons very close to the edge of the body.


    All the buttons have to be small and recessed lest they be pressed inadvertently and none can be pressed without changing grip with the right hand. Not that there is much grip to start with.


    The FZ2000 has the same number of buttons on a control panel three times the area for a vastly more user friendly operating experience.


    On my Mockup #10 which is the same size as the LX10 I put four decent sized buttons and a proper thumb support on the control panel, a much more user friendly arrangement.


    Another problem is the apparently capricious fashion with which functions are allocated by the designers to various controls.


    For example the FZ2000 and LX10 are both twin dial models (the lens ring on the LX10 functions as a programmable dial).


    The rear dial on both can be allocated to exposure compensation. On the FZ2000 the rear dial switches to changing shutter speed when the Mode Dial is turned to the M position. This is what I expect the dial to do and all is well.


    But on the LX10 the rear dial does nothing when the Mode Dial is in the M position. This is ridiculous, one of those ‘I-can’t-believe-they-did-that’  mistakes which should never have been allowed out of the door.


    Did the LX10 team never talk to the FZ2000 team ?


    Did anybody on the LX10 team use this thing before they inflicted it onto the buying public ?


    By the way, the workaround for this bit of ergonomic silliness is to allocate exposure compensation to the lens ring and use the rear dial for changing Program Shift in P and shutter speed in S and M Modes.


    Unfortunately the lens ring cannot be configured to ‘clicky’ mode so using it for exposure compensation is not as satisfactory as it could be.


    This ergonomic score schedule follows my usual practice which you can read about here.


    Setup Phase


    This is managed decently well. The menus are standard Panasonic which is better than some and clearly presented with a nice graphical user interface.

    It is not possible to configure the monitor to ‘Viewfinder’ style with camera data beneath the preview image.

    Ring/dial function options need review as described above.


    Setup Phase score 10/15


    Prepare Phase


    There are only 3 hard Fn buttons but all 4 Cursor button functions are available.

    The Q Menu can be configured to individual preference.

    Generally Prepare Phase functions are well provided for.


    Prepare Phase score  10/15


    Capture Phase


    Holding


    The front of the camera body is smooth and rather slippery without a salient handle. Panasonic does not supply an add-on handle of any kind.

    The thumb support on the back is also smooth, slippery and of inadequate size.

    The camera has sharp angular edges and corners when these so easily could have been  bevelled or rounded for more comfortable holding.


    Holding score  5/20


    Viewing


    The LX10 immediately loses 10 of the 20 points allocated to the viewing score because it has no EVF.

    The monitor panel is very nice with a high gloss finish which does not pick up fingerprints even when using touch screen functions frequently.

    Monitor visibility is very good indoors and in dull conditions outdoors and acceptable in bright light outdoors.

    The monitor swings up but not down which makes it difficult for the user to see the preview image with the camera held overhead for crowd shots and similar.

    Camera data are always superimposed over the lower part of the preview image and do not have a grey background as some cameras do. This makes it very difficult to see the Aperture, Shutter Speed, etc  readouts in some conditions.


    Viewing score 6/20


    Operating


    There are numerous problems with operation. I have mentioned issues with the ring/dial functions.

    The only way to move the active AF Area is with the touch screen (or touch+cursor buttons if preferred). This is fast and works well but I find myself forever brushing a finger on the screen which sends the AF box off somewhere usually the top right corner of the screen.


    Panasonic is still using its old fashioned auto ISO algorithm which produces some odd combinations in the LX10. For instance in bright light the camera will run the shutter speed up to 1/2000 before it starts to close the aperture down from the widest setting available at each focal length.


    Indoors the camera will not raise the ISO sensitivity  above 1600 until the shutter speed goes down to 1/8 second which is too slow for most photographic purposes.

    The only way to change aperture is with the aperture ring which is very badly designed, making it awkward and clumsy in use.


    I find myself often using Shutter priority AE to avoid the strange aperture/shutter speed selections in P Mode and the clumsy aperture ring in A Mode.


    The humble TZ80 which is considerably less expensive provides the user with a much more engaging holding, viewing and operating experience.


    Did the LX10 team not consult with the TZ80 team ???


    Do any of the design teams at Panasonic talk to each other ?????


    Review Phase


    This is managed well. Each image can be quickly enlarged with any part of the frame being displayed. Scrolling from one frame to the next at the same enlargement and part of the frame is easily managed. Plentiful review data is provided and is selectable with the Disp button.


    Review score 5/5


    Overall score  46/100


    Comment

    I think the team responsible for the LX10 has done a  poor job in the ergonomics department.

    They have ignored much better ergonomic realisation in products from the same maker and from other makers, particularly Canon and Sony.


    I have used my Mockup #10 to demonstrate that it is possible to create an ergonomically attractive camera the same size as the LX10 by utilising basic ergonomic principles and  a bit of lateral thinking.


    Panasonic could improve matters with a firmware update providing

    1. The auto ISO algorithm used in the Sony RX100 series cameras.

    2. An option to disable the aperture ring and control aperture with the rear dial.


    If they really want to make a category killer camera they could  do worse than look closely at my Mockup #10 for some fresh ideas.





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    Bees on Darwinia fasicularis  FZ80



    New entries, Panasonic LX10 and FZ80

    Camera

    Setup Phase

    Max 15

    Prepare Phase Max 15

                  Capture Phase

    Review Phase Max 5

    Total Max 100

    Holding Max 20

    Viewing Max 20

    Operating Max 25

    Sony A3500


    5

    5

    12

    7

    8

    2

    39

    Nikon 1 V2


    7

    6

    12

    10

    8

    3

    46

    Panasonic LX10

    10

    10

    5

    6

    8

    5

    46

    Panasonic GM5

    10

    10

    4

    10

    12

    2

    48

    Nikon P900


    10

    6

    13

    11

    8

    2

    50

    Sony RX100 Mk4

    8

    12

    7

    9

    11

    5

    52

    Panasonic LX100

    10

    8

    11

    10

    10

    5

    54

    Fuji X-T1

    10

    9

    9

    13

    10

    4

    55

    Canon SX60


    10

    9

    16

    11

    6

    4

    56

    Panasonic TZ110(ZS100)

    12

    13

    4

    10

    15

    5

    59

    Nikon B700

    9

    9

    18

    11

    15

    2

    64


    Panasonic TZ70(ZS50)

    12

    13

    6

    11

    20

    2

    64

    Panasonic TZ80 (ZS60)

    12

    12

    7

    10

    19

    5

    65

    Panasonic G6


    11

    10

    14

    14

    14

    3

    66

    Panasonic GX80/85

    10

    12

    11

    12

    17

    5

    68

    Panasonic GX8

    10

    12

    12

    18

    14

    5

    71

    Panasonic FZ80

    10

    12

    16

    13

    20

    5

    76

    Panasonic FZ300/330

    10

    12

    18

    18

    16

    5

    79

    Panasonic G7


    10

    13

    18

    18

    17

    5

    81

    Panasonic FZ1000

    10

    13

    17

    18

    20

    5

    83

    Panasonic GH4

    10

    13

    18

    18

    19

    5

    83

    Panasonic FZ2500

    12

    13

    18

    18

    20

    5

    86




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    FZ80 Low light wide angle hand held


    For a model close to the bottom end of Panasonic’s lineup the FZ80 offers a remarkable level of specifications, features and capability.  You can read the details in the manufacturer’s published material but I think some items are worth noting.


    Lens focal length range

    I find the 20-1200mm range the most versatile and useful that I have ever had the pleasure to use.


    At the wide end 20mm is really wide making it very useful indoors or in other confined spaces.


    Even better the lens works well at the largest aperture of f2.8.


    The difference in angle of view between 24 (or 25)mm and 20mm is considerable.


    The ability to go this wide in an instant opens up imaging possibilities not available if the shortest focal length is 24 or 25mm.


    At the long end I find anything over about 800mm increasingly difficult to use. It is difficult to locate the subject in the viewfinder and very difficult to keep it there if the subject moves as birds and small creatures always do.


    So for me 1200mm is just about as long as I ever want to go.


    I find that increasing the focal length to 1440mm as on the B700 delivers no practical advantage.


    The P900 goes all the way out to 2000mm. When I owned a P900 I rarely managed to make a keeper shot at this focal length.


    Video

    I am a complete novice at video but more ambitious videographers will be pleased to find HD video, 4K video and several 4K photos options. The camera has the sort of specification for motion picture which one might have expected on a prosumer video camera just a few years ago.


    Imaging aids

    You get the works. AF/MF and both together, user selectable monitor and EVF appearance and data display, peaking, zebras, the AF area size and position are easily and quickly adjustable, back button focus, multiple buttons with user assignable function, easy and fast exposure compensation, and much more, the list goes on and includes things like time lapse, bracketing, HDR, stop motion animation……..


    These are not just gimmicks or marketing hype but really useful capabilities which allow the practiced user to take control over the process of making pictures.

    Novices and snapshooters are very well catered for with many automatic exposure functions to make getting good pictures easy.


    Focus

    Single AF on still subjects is fast and accurate. But this camera can also follow focus on moving subjects at about 6 fps with AF, AE and live view on each frame and a high percentage of keepers even with RAW capture.


    The FZ300 can also do this but none of the fixed lens superzooms from makers other than Panasonic have yet to match this level of continuous AF performance.

    This is because Panasonic is the only one with DFD and it works.


    Enjoyment of use

    You won’t find this heading in any list of specs but it is one of the FZ80’s more appealing qualities. It is a nice compact not-too-large, not-too-small size with a nice handle and a simple but effective set of controls suited to either the novice or expert user.


    Flash

    There is a built in flash but the camera also supports several accessory flashes and also wireless off camera flash just like a high end model.


    Auto panorama

    The FZ80 does really good in camera auto panoramas. I often do an auto panorama and a Photoshop stitch version at the same time and am finding that sometimes the in camera version looks better.


    Close ups

    At focal length (equivalent) 160mm the closest focus distance, shown in the viewfinder is 0.3 meters. This enables hand held close ups without having to shove the camera right up to the subject. It is quick and easy to switch in a moment from long distance telephoto work to super close ups, all hand held.


    Wi-Fi

    The camera can be controlled by wi-fi connection to a smart phone or it can download photos via wi-fi. The extensive wi-fi capabilities are well described in the Operating Instructions.


    Summary

    The FZ80 is one of the best specified and most capable entry level cameras ever to come to market. It is enjoyable to use and works very well.





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    Feeding time at the zoo. I chose this photo as it presents the camera with quite a challenge. There is very large subject brightness range, weird color balance with the mixed light sources, low light inside and lots of detail.  Camera held overhead, FZ80, ISO 1000, RAW capture, Adobe Camera Raw. 

    The FZ80is one of a group of compact and superzoom cameras which use the very small, smartphone sized sensor which measures 6.17 x 4.55mm with a diagonal of 7.67mm and an area of 28 square millimetres.


    This is very small relative to the size of the camera and also relative to the sensor in any interchangeable lens camera.


    These small sensors score very low at DXO Mark, in the 37-44 range. In the DXO system 15 RAW sensor points is equivalent to 1 stop or 1 EV step.


    So a small sensor model scoring 40 gives up 2 stops of sensor performance to the FZ2000 which scores 70.  This means that the FZ2000 would have about the same amount of luminance noise at ISO 400 as the small sensor camera would have at ISO 100.  My tests show the advantage to the FZ2000(25000) is actually a bit less than 2 stops.


    The small sensors also have lower color depth and lower dynamic range which is the ability of the sensor to deliver highlight and shadow detail when subject brightness range is high.

    (DXO has not yet scored the FZ80)


    If numbers told the whole story I guess these small sensor cameras might not have much appeal.


    But I have been using them for several years and I find that current models produce picture quality good enough for my purposes and I am quite fussy about picture quality.


    I also like to print up to A2+ size, about 410 x 540mm and  I find that if my photo is well exposed and focussed to start with that printing to this size presents no problems and the results look  good on the wall.


    In fact I have come to the view that most cameras these days have more imaging capability than most users can exploit.


    In reviews and on user forums I read incessant discussion about the finer points of whether camera A has better image quality than camera B, the implication being I suppose that the one with the better image quality would be preferred for purchase.


    All this may make sense to those who make and sell cameras because the markup on high price gear is greater than on budget equipment. So there is a strong incentive for the makers, sellers and promoters (a.k.a. paid reviewers) of camera gear to upsell the consumer as far as possible.


    But I think that for many camera users  these people are asking the wrong question.

    The more relevant question for a potential camera buyer is “can this camera make pictures good enough for my requirements”.


    If  “my requirements” includes 10 meter billboards the FZ80 is probably not the first place to look, but would not be the last place either.


    If  “my requirements” includes professional sports photography for publication in glossy magazines and posters I  doubt the FZ80 would be the best camera for the job.  But I have made lots of sport/action photos with the FZ80 requiring follow focus on fast moving subjects including birds in flight.


    A decently high percentage of these has turned out rather well and would be quite suitable for publication in a more demanding environment than this blog.


    I would not choose the FZ80 if I was a full time professional landscape photographer. The modest color depth and dynamic range make it less than optimal for this type of assignment.


    But if the FZ80 is the only camera to hand and I want to make a landscape photo it can do a pretty good job with careful subject selection and exposure management, RAW capture and post processing.


    I notice that many reviewers have put out a “review” of the FZ80 using JPG capture without experimenting with Photo Style settings and without exploring the options available with RAW capture and careful RAW conversion. 


    Having done a half baked evaluation, the reviewers do not much like what they see, dismiss the FZ80 as a snapshooter’s plaything and move on to the next assignment.


    In my view a more considered assessment is that the user has to work harder to get good image quality from any small sensor camera than a larger sensor model but it can be done.


    For me, that is actually one of the FZ80’s more appealing characteristics. I enjoy the challenge of using  good technique, practice and thoughtful engagement with the equipment to get decently good results from a budget model.


    FZ80  Big depth of focus with the small sensor camera, very useful for street and documentary style photography


    Depth of focus


    What has depth of focus got to do with picture quality ?


    At the same equivalent focal length a full frame camera (24 x 36 mm sensor) needs to close the lens aperture down 4 stops more than a small sensor model to achieve about the same depth of focus.


    See dofmaster.com   for lots of information about this.


    This means that the small sensor model can be operating at f2.8 to give the same depth of focus as the full frame model at f16. This in turn means that the full frame model needs an ISO setting 4 stops faster if the same d.o.f is required.


    Now look at DXO Mark for full frame camera sensor ratings.  These range around about 90 so let’s use that figure. This is 50 points or 3.3 stops better than the small sensor camera.


     I don't know if  the FZ80 at ISO 100 is just as good as a Canon EOS 5D (4) at ISO 1600 but I doubt it would be a thousand miles away.


    The small sensor does have advantages which in practice serve to counterbalance the disadvantages to a significant extent.







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    The FZ80 has no trouble following focus at 6 fps on fast moving subjects outdoors. 

    The FZ80  is one of the best performing budget superzooms ever made.  Indeed there are many much more expensive cameras which cannot match the FZ80.


    Start up time is about one second and the on/off lever is easy to operate without having to look at the camera.


    Shot to shot time is 0.3 seconds. With RAW+JPG capture, AF and AE on every shot and pressing the shutter for each shot I made 10 shots in 3 seconds.


    There is a very brief  EVF blackout after each shot but it is so short I could not measure it.


    AF single is almost instantaneous on most subjects and is reliably accurate in most circumstances. In very low light AF slows with the camera switching to “low” mode as indicated by an icon top right in the EVF and monitor. This takes a second or two to focus but is reliably accurate.


    The camera has an AF assist light but I never feel the need to use it.

    Sometimes the focus will miss at the long end of the zoom with strong backlight, a black subject (such as black birds)  or multiple bright light sources.  I have found this with all cameras which use contrast detect AF.  There are various strategies to minimise this issue, such as adjusting the size and position of the AF area and focussing on an area near the subject but at the same distance.


    AF Continuous is very fast allowing the camera to follow focus on moving subjects at 6 frames per second in bright light.  Panasonic is the only maker at present to use DFD for AF-C and it works well.  The camera is suitable for outdoor sport/action. The percentage of sharp frames depends on subject, conditions, focal length  and user experience but is about 80% for easy subjects like motor vehicles approaching or moving away from the camera and much lower for very difficult subjects like birds in flight.


    With burst M set, AF, AE and live view are available on each frame.


    With JPG-Fine capture the camera will shoot at 6 fps indefinitely or until the card is full. After 60 shots the buffer clears in 3 seconds with a fast card (260 Mb/sec).


    With RAW+ JPG-Fine the camera shoots 14 frames at 6 fps before slowing abruptly. The buffer takes a further 14 seconds to clear.


    The camera remains fully usable during this time. The EVF and monitor display normally, AF works, shooting parameters can be altered and photos can be taken albeit at a slow rate.


    The camera responds to all user inputs promptly. When using it I never feel the camera gets in the way of taking photos.


    Overall the performance of the FZ80 is very similar to that of the FZ300.







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    FZ80 wide angle


     A camera with good ergonomics  will allow a practiced user to carry out all the tasks required to control camera operation with a minimum number of actions, each of low complexity.


    On this definition the FZ80 rates very well and arguably better than many cameras of any description at any price point.


    This ergonomic evaluation and score follows my usual schedule which you can read about here.


    Note that I evaluate all cameras to the same standard regardless of price or style.


    Setup Phase of use


    The FZ80 uses Panasonic’s standard Menu system. This is quite daunting for newcomers to Pana-world but more coherent than the menu mess-ups I have experienced from Olympus and Sony.

    Pana-menus have a nice graphical user interface which can be adjusted to suit individual preference.


    Navigating the menus is fast and easy with the Cursor buttons and Control Dial.

    Menu resume can be set so the last used menu is displayed first next time.  This speeds up finding an oft used menu item such s [Format] which I need to access frequently.


    The submenus are Rec, Motion Picture, Custom, Setup and Playback.  I would like to see more user relevant submenus like exposure, focus, drive, etc instead of the hodge-podge which makes up the Custom menu at present.


    The good thing is that Pana-menus are consistent across the range with minor variations for each model. So once you become familiar with the system it is easy to navigate and use.


    The camera comes with Basic Operating Instructions and a Quick Guide to 4K Photo which give the beginner a good introduction to getting started.


    The Operating Instructions for Advanced Features is a comprehensive 300+ page detailed guide to every aspect of camera operation. It looks a bit daunting at first but is well laid out, navigation is easy and the content informative.


    Setup score 10/15


    Prepare Phase of use


    Prepare phase is the few minutes before capture, when the camera needs to be configured for the current photographic assignment.

    The user needs to access settings for  various modes and operating parameters without having to enter the main menu system.


    The FZ80 is well catered for.

    There is a main mode dial with sweep panorama on its own setting and access to three custom modes, a Quick menu button which can be customised to user preference, an easily reached focus mode button, two customisable function buttons (in addition to the Q menu button) and a push-click rear dial which enables quick access to exposure compensation.

    The buttons and dial are all well placed, easy to reach, feel and operate.


    Prepare score 12/15


    FZ80 wide angle


    Capture Phase of use


    Holding


    The handle is substantial and well shaped. The thumb support is well defined and comfortable allowing easy operation of the control dial. The camera is easy to carry by the handle.

    If I were to redesign this camera I would make the handle a bit fatter and move the shutter button further to the left (as viewed by the operator) and make the thumb support slightly more prominent, but I quibble.

    The camera is comfortable and secure as it is but could be even better with a mild design update.


    Holding score 16/20


    Viewing


    The FZ80 loses viewing points up front because of the fixed monitor.  Having said that the monitor provides a very wide viewing angle and allows overhead and underhand shots easily enough.


    There is no eye sensor for the EVF but switching with the well positioned LVF button soon becomes automatic. One advantage of this setup is the elimination of accidental switching when something passes close to the viewfinder. 


    The EVF panel itself is not quite up to the standard set by the FZ300 and neither is the eyepiece but both are perfectly serviceable and allow full use of the camera’s capabilities.

    In all other respects viewing arrangements are best practice. 


    The EVF and monitor can be set to viewfinder or monitor style. Both are adjustable for brightness, contrast and color balance.


    Both allow an extensive selection of camera data to be displayed or not as desired.


    The EVF has a fast refresh rate with minimal blackout for a smooth shooting experience.


    Overlays of guide lines, histogram, MF Guide, MF assist display, peaking, zebras and much more can be enabled as desired.


    Viewing score 13/20


    Operating


    Operating the FZ80 is an engaging, smooth experience with all essential controls for Capture Phase  nicely to hand.


    Primary (aperture, shutter speed, ISO) and secondary (exposure compensation) exposure and focus

    (AF, move AF area)  parameters can be adjusted without removing the eye from the viewfinder and without having to completely release grip with the right hand.


    Focus mode, AF mode and Drive mode can also be changed while looking through the viewfinder.


    A JOG lever for moving AF area located where the focus mode button now resides would make the shooting experience even more streamlined.


    Although the FZ80 controls are the same as those on the FZ70, the reallocation of functions of some of the buttons greatly improves the user experience. 


    Small changes can make a big difference for better or worse in ergonomic capability.


    If I were redesigning the interface I would interchange functions of the Disp and Playback buttons as the Playback button is better positioned to recenter the AF area, something which I do frequently.


    Again I quibble, the thing works well enough as is.


    Operating score 20/25


    Review Phase of use


    The camera does all the things I expect of it in Review Phase.

    Playback images can be enlarged quickly with the zoom lever.

    Navigation around the frame is quick and easy.

    The user can move from one frame to the next at the same zoom level and same position in the frame.


    Review score 5/5


    Total score 76/100


    Comment

    This score is below that of the FZ300 and above that of the GX8 and GX80. This I think, accurately reflects my experience using these cameras. 


    The FZ80 provides a more engaging and streamlined user experience than some  more expensive models like the Panasonic GX8 or Fuji X-T1/2 for instance because it has a more efficient set of controls which can be operated with fewer, less complex actions.


    It is a good score for a budget model although it could be even higher without any major redesign.


    Other cameras in the same category (small sensor superzooms)  such as the Canon SX60, Nikon B700 and P900 score much lower as taking control of their operation requires more actions each more complex.













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