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The independent source for study and review of camera ergonomics.

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    The FZ80 makes a good street/documentary camera. It is ideal when capturing the moment is more important than getting a "perfect" photo (whatever that might be).

    To make best use of the FZ80 a few basic accessories are required. 


    Lens filter   On user forums I often read spirited debates about the advisability of fitting a protect filter to the lens. My practice and recommendation is always to fit one if a filter thread is provided. It is easier to clean the filter than the front element of the lens without the risk of damaging the lens.


    The filter is particularly useful if one is photographing near the sea or in bad weather or in dusty or sandy conditions.


    If a high quality filter is used I have never found it to degrade image quality to any detectable extent.


    The filter thread on the FZ80 is 55mm.


    I use Hoya HD or one of the higher grade B+W multi resist models.  Yes these are quite expensive but the filter does not go with the camera when it is eventually sold on.


    Carry bag  There are many models which will do the job.  Some users like the “lens down” style but after years of trying various options I find the in-bag lie as shown in the photo  provides easiest access to the camera with good protection.

    I use a Think Tank Mirrorless mover 10 which provides a perfect fit for the FZ80 with plenty of room for spare batteries, cards and microfiber cloth.


    Spare batteries  I find battery life highly dependent on usage patterns If I just make photos without flash and refrain from chimping on the monitor I can get about 500 shots per charge. But time spent on playback or reviewing camera settings or using flash quickly depletes the battery.

    So I carry one or two spares. Best are genuine Panasonic BMB9E but I have used and read about off brand copies which work well enough.


    Battery charger   Sadly the quest for low price point has seen the loss of separate chargers from the box of budget and some not-so-budget cameras. Some users like the USB charging system provided with the FZ80 as it makes carrying a separate charger un-necessary.

    I buy a separate charger from a third party supplier and usually charge via this.


    Wrist strap   The camera comes with a neck strap in the box and some users like to work with this. But the neck strap takes up space in the carry bag and always seems to get in the way when I am using the camera.

    I prefer to use a simple wrist strap and carry the camera in my right hand when out and about.

    You can spend anywhere from one dollar to 50 dollars on a wrist strap or make one using a shoelace.


    Memory cards   For casual photography just about any SD card will do. But for sport/action with burst mode or 4K video a fast card is desirable. Versions with 95 Mb/sec write speed and higher are now readily available.  I stay with major brands to reduce the risk of  defective products.


    Microfiber cloth  I always carry a small cloth in a plastic sleeve to clean the lens filter, screen and EVF eyepiece.


    Dioptre adjustment wheel   Some cameras have a loose wheel. This is easily fixed with a patch of black electrical tape or a small blob of clear or black silicone sealer. In either case the wheel can be freed up for further adjustment.


    Lens hood ?  None is supplied,  none is available from Panasonic and there are no bayonet mount lugs for one.

    Various aftermarket models are available to screw into the front filter thread. 

    However consider carefully if that is the right way to go.  A lens hood is a nuisance, takes up space and needs to be free from vignetting with the lens at its widest setting.

    If sun is falling on the lens I just block it with my left hand. I can easily see in the viewfinder if the hand encroaches on the field of view.


    Screen protector ?  Various sages solemnly advise us to fit a screen protector to prevent scratches. Generic ones are inexpensive and might possibly be worthwhile. But I have been using cameras with an unprotected monitor screen for several years without major problems.

    I guess a reputable brand won’t hurt as long as it doesn’t leave sticky stuff on the screen when removed.


    Converter lenses   The FZ80 is compatible with the LA8 adapter, LT55 Teleconverter and LC55 close up converter lenses.   These are also compatible with the FZ70.

    Some users have fun with these accessory lenses but to my mind the whole point of using an all-in-one superzoom model is to avoid the need to fiddle about with changing lenses.

    Straight out of the box the FZ80 offers good close up ability and 1200 mm (equivalent) at the long end really is as much zoom as I care to manage.


    Clip on flash units  200L,  300L and   580L  I have no experience with these flash units as yet but given the modest capability of the FZ80 indoors one of these could prove quite useful, especially if pointed at the ceiling for bounce light.





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    FZ80


    My guess would be that many FZ80 users will start off with the Mode Dial at the default position which is [iA].


    The first step is to charge up a battery then pop that in the camera with an SD card which should be formatted in the camera before recording.


    Switch the camera on then when prompted, set the date, time and time zone.


    Now press the LVF button to switch display to the viewfinder and adjust the dioptre wheel on the right side of the eyepiece to suit the user’s eyes.  Press the Disp button a few times to put as much camera data information as possible on the screen and look at this while turning the diopter wheel back and forth to find the position giving best sharpness.


    Right out of the box, some controls work others do not in the [iA] Mode.


    The zoom lever, shutter button, motion picture (red) button, focus mode button, Menu/Set button, left cursor (Tracking), down cursor (Drive Mode), Fn1 (4K Photo), Fn2 (Post focus) Fn3 (Q Menu)  buttons all work.


    The rear dial does not work either directly or after push-click.

    Autofocus is set to 49 Area (multiple little green AF area boxes as determined by the camera) and i- ISO operates.


    It seems a bit odd to me that Panasonic puts rather advanced features like 4K Photo and Post Focus right there on the Fn buttons but not more basic camera control options like managing ISO or AF type.


    I presume this is part of the promotional push for Panasonic’s 4K photo modes which other makers do not offer. (And which by the way, I never use).


    You can leave all the settings at default, go forth and enjoy the FZ80’s amazing speed of operation and zoom reach.


    The camera works well with this simple setup and I suspect many users will be happy to leave it that way.


    But for those who want to further explore the FZ80’s considerably greater talents a visit to the menus is required.


    First up, although mysteriously placed next-to-last on the list is the Setup Menu.

    Before delving into the menus download the “Operating Instructions for Advanced Features” PDF from any Panasonic website and save this to a convenient location on your computer or tablet.


    At first sight this 311 page document may seem rather daunting. However it is for the most part well written and very informative. It is also easy to navigate with the jump icons.


    I will only deal in this post with menu items which I feel require clarification beyond the contents of the operating instructions.


    The Setup menu is the only one which has the same content in each of the Shooting Modes available on the Mode Dial.


    Wi-Fi  is extensively and well described in the Instructions from Page 228.


    Live View Mode  This is one of those perennial Panasonic menu items the best setting for which remains unclear to me. I use 60 fps, not really knowing how that might be better than 30 fps.


    Monitor Display   NOTE !!!   Press the LVF button and look in the viewfinder when this tab is active and the tab changes to [Viewfinder].

    Both monitor and viewfinder allow extensive adjustment of brightness, contrast saturation, red tint and blue tint.

    Each individual has slightly different color sensitivity and contrast/brightness preference. All can be satisfied.

    For the record I leave all settings for the Monitor at default [+/- 0].

    For the EVF (LVF in Pana-speak) I use Brightness -1, Contrast +1, Saturation and color balance at default. [+/- 0].


    Monitor luminance I leave this at default which is the [Auto] setting.


    Monitor Priority (play) This controls what happens when you press the Playback button. When the setting is ON playback will appear on the monitor even if the EVF was active for capture.


    Economy  I leave settings at default.


    Menu Resume  Set this ON so the item last viewed comes up first next time.


    Menu Information  Users unfamiliar with the Panasonic interface can leave this on until they become accustomed to the meaning of the items then switch it off to declutter the screen.


    Exposure Comp Reset I recommend setting this item ON. Now any exposure compensation set will automatically cancel if the camera is powered off or the Mode Dial setting changes. (N/A in iA)


    Self Timer Auto Off   I always set this ON. Then the self timer automatically cancels when the camera is powered off.


    Format  This erases data from the memory card. This should be done if a card is new or was previously used in another camera.







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    FZ80


    The Operating Instructions for advanced features are very comprehensive.


    In this post I will not try to repeat material which is perfectly well covered in the Instructions.


    However while the Instructions have a great deal to say about what you can do when setting up the camera they are less forthcoming about why you might make one choice in preference to another.


    I hope this post sheds some light on that question.


    By the way the FZ80 uses the standard Panasonic menu system such as you find on an enthusiast ILC. As such it is much more comprehensive than menus usually found on cameras at the FZ80 price point.


    In addition the camera itself has many more features and capabilities than others at the same price point especially with regard to focussing.


    How to activate autofocus

    In [iA] Mode this is simple, just half press the shutter button, confirm the green AF boxes appear then fully depress the shutter. East-peasy.  There is nothing wrong with this but considerably more sophisticated options are available.


    In the Custom Menu screen 1/9 see the [AF/AE Lock] tab.


    Settings here tell the camera what to do when the AF/AE Lock button is pressed.


    Options affecting focus are AF Lock and AF-ON.


    With AF Lock set you can put the AF area box over the part of the subject desired to be in focus and press the AF/AE Lock button. Focus stays locked while the button is held down. You can recompose and fire the shutter with the shutter button.


    To make several shots at the same focussed distance set [AF/AE Lock Hold] (next tab down) to ON and focus will lock with one press of the AF/AE Lock button and stay locked until you press the AF/AE Lock button again.


    This is handy for focus-and-recompose situations.


    There is another way to use this button for focus.


    The FZ80 can follow focus on moving subjects making it suitable for sport/action photography.


    For this type of photography you can set up AF operation as described below then register the resulting settings to a Custom Mode.  Thus you can switch quickly from settings suitable for still subjects to settings for sport/action with one twist of the Mode Dial.


    Set the AF/AE Lock button to AF-ON and [Shutter AF] at the bottom of the same screen OFF.


    Now you have back button focus activated. This separates focussing (with the back button) from exposure and shutter release (with the shutter button). Sports photographers use this technique frequently.


    It is particularly useful when you have AF Continuous ( I allocate AFS/AFF/AFC to Fn 1 button) and Burst M set ready for moving subjects. I put Drive Mode on Fn 2 so Burst Mode can be brought up quickly.

    Note: Burst M provides the fastest frame rate which gives AF, AE and live view on each frame. It is thus optimal for moving subjects.


    With AF and shutter release separated like this you can press and hold the AF/AE button to get the 

    AF rolling and following the subject then fire the shutter when ready using the shutter button.


    How to move the active AF area


    There are basically two methods:


    * Using the cursor buttons (4 Way controller)


    * Using the touch screen


    Each method has its advocates but in practice I find the cursor buttons much easier.


    Why ?


    With the camera hand held it is quite a long stretch for the right thumb to reach down and across to swipe across the monitor screen. The cursor buttons module is much closer and easier to reach.


    You can try the touch method since so many reviewers go on and on about it.


    On screen 8/9 in the Custom Menu see [Touch Settings].


    The top option, [Touch Screen] must be ON for any touch features to work.


    Next down is [Touch Tab]. This activates the little soft Fn button tabs on the right side of the screen. I avoid this feature like the plague. It is WAY too easy to accidentally bump one of those little tabs, sending the camera off on some unexpected frolic of its own.


    [Touch AF] could be useful with the camera on a tripod and while viewing on the monitor.


    [Touch Pad AF] is designed for use when eye level viewing through the viewfinder. Select the [Offset] option. Now you can hold the camera up to the eye and move the active AF area around with the right thumb moving around the right side of the screen.


    This sound good in theory but in practice I find it much less efficient than using the cursor buttons.


    In fact the only real use I have for the touch screen is setting up a Custom Q Menu.


    I prefer to move the active AF area with the Cursor buttons.


    There are three ways to set this up.


    Yes…I know….overchoice…..hence this post


    1. Leave the cursor button functions at default. 


    Press the left cursor button to bring up the AF Mode window


    Next press the down button to enter the [Focus Area Set] screen which allows you to move the active AF area around.


    This works well enough but requires two button presses to access the [Focus Area Set] screen.


    It does however preserve the default functions of the cursor buttons which are AF Mode, ISO, WB and Drive Mode.


    2. Allocate [Focus Area Set] to a Fn button. This gets you to the [Focus Area Set] screen with one button press, but the opportunity cost is you have to give up whatever other function you might have allocated to that button.


    3. Set [Direct Focus Area] at the top of screen 3/9 in the Custom Menu.


    Now the active AF area will move immediately when you press one of the cursor buttons.


    This the most efficient way to move the AF area but the opportunity cost is you must find somewhere else for AF Mode, ISO, WB and Drive Mode.


    Fortunately this is easily done on the FZ80.



    For the record I put

    Drive Mode on Fn2, ISO and AF Mode on a Custom Q Menu and I use Auto WB all the time.


    So that is all a bit complicated. The simple solution to all this complexity is a Joystick as seen on the GH5 but at present such niceties have not yet trickled down to the lesser orders of camera. One day maybe…


    In the meantime any settings you make can be changed at will.


    Function buttons  Screen 7/9 in the Custom menu.

    In addition to the AF/AE Lock button, there are three other buttons the functions of which can be user selected from a mind boggling list of  48 options.  Those who have not seen a list like this before may find it quite challenging. Just go through the list and try to identify which functions you think you will use.


    One of the three Fn buttons has to be allocated to the Q menu. The best one for this is Fn3 as per default.


    For the record I put AFS/AFF/AFC on Fn 1 because I frequently switch from photographing still subjects to moving subjects for which I want AFC.


    On Fn2 I put Drive Mode so I can easily access the timer delay or Burst Mode.


    Custom Q Menu


    By default the camera comes with a preset Q Menu which is handy but a custom one is usually better as it can be tailored to the user’s specific requirements.


    The method of creating a Custom Q Menu is well described in the Instructions.


    For the record I put Quality (RAW/JPG) AF Mode, Sensitivity (ISO), Stabiliser and Bracketing in the Q Menu.


    Photo Style   This is Pana-speak for JPG image modifiers. See Rec Menu at the top of screen 1/1.


    After much experiment I have more or less settled on:

    Contrast +/- 0, Sharpness -5, NR -5, Saturation +/- 0.

    I rarely use JPGs straight out of camera. Someone who does so might want to experiment with a higher level of sharpening.


    Summary  This has been a quick look at some of the many ways in which operation of the FZ80 can be customised to individual preference.


    This camera has a very comprehensive feature set and is far more configurable than cameras from other makers at this price point.


    This has obvious advantages for setting up the camera to suit individual preference but it does present the user with a learning curve to enable best use of all those options.





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    FZ80


    The Operating Instructions for Advanced Features  give comprehensive information about all the menu items but some further comment may be helpful.


    Photo Style  This is Pana-speak for JPG settings. The basic issue with all the small sensor cameras is that the sensors produce considerable digital noise even at base ISO.

    The temptation, therefore, is to pile on lots of noise reduction. But this makes the pictures look like a smushy watercolour which is probably worse than luminance noise (grain).

    My current settings are Contrast 0, Sharpness -5, Noise Reduction -5, Saturation 0.

    I run all images including JPGs through adobe Camera Raw where I can increase sharpness a bit if required.

    If you will be using straight out of camera JPGs more sharpness might be desirable.


    Aspect Ratio  The camera does not have a variable aspect ratio sensor so anything other than 4:3 is a simple crop.


    Picture Size   Small sensor cameras like the FZ80 are always struggling for picture quality so anything smaller than the maximum of 18 Mpx is definitely not recommended.


    Quality  My guess would be that lots of FZ80 users just want to output JPG files for easy download and sharing. Indeed some experienced users achieve very decent output from initial JPG capture. But these users run their files through one or several image editors and noise reduction software programmes.

    For best results I recommend RAW capture. I use Adobe Camera Raw as my raw converter and initial image editor with generally good results.


    AFS/AFF/AFC   AF Single and AF Continuous are easy enough to understand.

    AFF appears to be a kind of hybrid, a “helper” mode for users who mainly encounter still subjects but don’t want to fiddle about changing focus modes when confronted by, say, an active grandchild or similar.

    I have had occasions when focus wobbled with AFF so I am not really confident with it. I allocate AFS/AFF/AFC to the Fn1 button so I can switch from AFS to AFC quickly as required.


    Metering Mode  The choices are Multiple, Center weighted and Spot.  I use and recommend Multiple most of the time. Those who photograph birds frequently might find Spot useful if the bird is small in the frame.

    You can allocate Metering Mode to a Fn button or the Q menu.


    Burst Rate  The FZ80 is the second most capable small sensor long zoom model for follow focus on moving subjects. Only the FZ300 is better at this end of the market.

    Burst rate M gives about 6 frames per second with AF, AE and live view on each frame. So for moving subjects burst M is the one to use.

    For a static subject such as a golfer practicing a swing Burst H can be used with AF fixed at the first frame of a sequence and no live view.


    4K Photo is very well described in the Instructions.


    Bracket    Budget cameras from Panasonic give you lots more camera options than those from other makers, except perhaps Sony, the problem there being the nearly incomprehensible menus which burden several models from that maker.

    You can bracket exposure or white balance with options for Step, Sequence and shutter response.

    If you might like to try bracketing it is worth putting this item on the Q Menu.

    Make sure bracketing is OFF for normal photography or the camera will fire three shots every time you press the shutter.


    Self Timer   2 Seconds is good for most things, 10 if the photographer wants to get in the photo and 10 sec with three shots for groups in the hope that one of the frames will have all the subjects looking at the camera with both eyes open.


    Highlight/Shadow  I think this is one of those little frolics which Olympus and Panasonic put in there because they can. I have yet to find a use for it but maybe someone would like to play about with it.


    i.Dynamic   If the camera detects a subject with high brightness range it can give an exposure a bit less than normal to protect highlights from blowing out then raise the dark tones when creating a JPG.   I set this to Auto and leave it there.


    i.Resolution  Another JPG feature, this one tries to clean up areas of the frame which lack sharpness, for instance corners. On my tests it does work. I set Standard and leave it there.

    i.Handheld Night Shot  This is a fully automatic feature which only works in iA Mode. There is also  a Handheld Night Shot  in the [SCN] Mode on the Mode Dial.

    This makes a series of short exposures then blends them in camera, the idea being that this will produce a better result than one single long exposure.


    i.HDR  is a fully automatic function which works when iA  is set on the Mode Dial. The camera detects high subject brightness range and makes a series of exposures which are blended in camera to deliver a single JPG output.


    HDR does the same thing except you tell the camerawhen you want HDR to operate. It is suitable when one of the PASM Modes is set on the Mode Dial.


    Multi Exposure (P181)  Time Lapse (P129) and Stop Motion Animation (P131) are well enough described in the Instructions.


    Panorama Settings    Note !   The Mode Dial must be set to the Panorama icon for these settings to become active.  The FZ80 makes very good and very wide auto panoramas, sometimes as good as I can achieve by stitching multiple images in Photoshop.

    Some practice is required to become familiar with the technique and with selecting suitable subjects.

    For Direction I use the bottom of the 4 options listed in the submenu. Hold the camera in portrait orientation handle side up and sweep from left to right.

    Standard picture size is huge covering about 200 degrees horizontal.


    Shutter Type  You can just set MSHTR (mechanical shutter) for use all the time. It is the most versatile option.

    ESHTR can give a faster speed than 1/2000 but I have never found a reason to use such a fast speed.


    Flash  Although the FZ80 is a budget camera is supports Panasonic’s extensive realm of on and off camera functions including multi off camera flash setups.

    I generally use the built in flash for fill light with [Flash Adjust] at -2/3 stop.


    ISO Limit Set  This is the upper ISO setting which the camera will use in one of the Auto Exposure Modes with Auto ISO.  I use 1600.

    Some users express horror at the amount of grain present at ISO 1600 but with RAW output and Adobe Camera Raw decent results can be obtained.


    ISO increments  There is no need to use other than 1 EV.


    Extended ISO  This allows you to set ISO 6400 which on my inspection of the files is just unusable.


    i.Zoom and Digital Zoom  These tabs will be greyed out unless Quality is set to JPG  as they only work on JPG files.

    i.Zoom allows the focal length to be extended to an (equivalent) 2400mm and Digital Zoom goes up to an amazing 4800mm.

    You know the old saying …If something seems too good to be true it is probably untrue.

    Well these electronic zooms do allow you to reach the focal lengths stated but image quality deteriorates markedly as you zoom beyond 1200mm to the extent that I do not care for the results and never use these features.

    But some JPG only shooters do, with variable success, which is one way of saying mostly dreadful pictures.


    Conversionis set if one of the accessory lenses is used.


    Color Space  There are long running and highly technical arguments on forums about whether Adobe RGB or sRGB is preferred. It’s all too arcane for me. I use JPG + RAW capture so I  just set Adobe RGB all the time.


    StabiliserShould be allocated to a Fn button or the Q Menu.









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    FZ80  Epacris longiflora


    The FZ80is a very interesting device. It joins a group of fixed zoom lens cameras each of which invites you to abandon your interchangeable lens kit (if you ever had such a thing) and do all your photography with just one thing.


    Of course most people do this with their smartphone.


    But no smartphone ever had a specification list or a level of capability like the current crop of superzoom cameras.


    The FZ80 has an extraordinary zoom range spanning an ultrawide 20mm to an ultralong 1200mm (equivalent). It can follow focus on moving subjects, do 4K video and much else besides.


    It is a very fully featured camera.


    The lens itself is quite decent with good image quality right across the focal length range and no nasty optical surprises.


    Handling is good and performance is good.


    So what’s the catch ?


    Why are not camera buyers flocking in their millions to snap up their very own copy of this paragon of photographic versatility ?


    Not being a mind reader I do not know what other camera buyers motivations might be.


    Many users have complained about the level of digital noise even at the base ISO of 80.


    Some have grumbled about matters I regard as of minor significance such as the lack of an eye sensor necessitating manual switch from EVF to monitor.


    I have now made several thousand photos with the FZ80 and come to realise that the issue which prevents me from wholeheartedly recommending the FZ80 is one which I have not seen reported elsewhere by professional reviewers (some of whom appear to have had the camera for 10 minutes) or by users on forums.


    I will call it JITTER.


    Our family has two copies of the FZ80 both of which suffer from the phenomenon so I suspect it may be endemic to the model.


    In the mid range to long end of the zoom hand held photos show a variable percentage of frames with evidence of blurring often with double imaging. This is not attributable to bad camera holding technique as it happens with some frames of a sequence all of the same subject, all using exactly the same hand holding technique.  


    It does not occur with the camera on a tripod with the stabiliser switched off.


    The frequency of blurred or double imaged frames varies but on some runs can be as high as 50%, more often 20-30%.


    In addition one of the copies produces some frames soft on the right side, interspersed with frames sharp right across.


    It appears there is some kind of instability in the inner workings of the lens perhaps in the focussing module or the stabiliser module.


    I experienced the same problem with the TZ80.


    My guess is that the basis of this could be cost cutting in the engineering of the mechanical components of the lens.


    I do not see the problem with either of the FZ300 cameras or the FZ1000 in our household. Of course not every photo with these cameras is sharp but I do not see the frequent double imaging which is found with the FZ80.


    The FZ80 was potentially heading for a Camera Ergonomics COTY nomination until I discovered the jitter.


    I would like to see Panasonic change its product strategy in this section of the market.


    I would prefer them to drop the budget model with its cost cutting, sub optimal inner workings altogether, but keep a model with an upgraded version of the 20-1200mm lens in a more robust, better engineered housing.


    They could utilise the same body and controls for two cameras, each based on the small, 7.67mm diagonal sensor.


    One model could be an upgrade of the current FZ300 with the principal lens attribute being a wide aperture.


    The other model with the same body, controls, EVF, sensor and engineering would have the super zoom range but with smaller aperture.


    Such a product differentiation would make more sense to me than the existing FZ300/FZ80 dyad.






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    Arboreal scene photographed with Sony RX100(4) compact camera. I chose to head this post with a photo from the tiny little RX100(4) because this compact can make pictures every bit as sharp, clear and detailed as either of today's two new M43 entries using a the top tier M43 zoom lens. 


    Camera Ergonomic Score Summaries

    In rank order  updated June 2017



    New entries, Panasonic G80/85 and Panasonic GH5

    The G85 was scored as supplied with unmodified Cursor button module and Disp button.
    I will report on the effect of modifications to the flat and featureless Cursor buttons shortly.

    You can see we have a new ergonomic champion in the form of the GH5.

    I should point out that the ergonomic score is derived from a camera's ranking on specific criteria which can be observed and scored. This is not the same thing as a personal statement about like or dislike.
    As it happens my own personal preference among ILCs for still photos out and about is the G85 with a small prime or lightweight zoom even though it does not score quite as high as the GH5. 
    The G85 is lighter, more compact and about one third the price of the GH5.


    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 G80/85

    11

    13

    18

    18

    17

    5

    82

    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

    Panasonic GH5

    14

    14

    17

    19

    21

    5

    90




    0 0

    Profound thoughts ?



    I recently set myself  a little homework task: part wishlist, part appraisal of current reality, part guestimation of what might become possible in the near future with developments in technology.


    This has been to write a specification for the ultimate all-in-one, do anything camera.


    It goes something like this:


    * Compact overall size, able to fit in a smallish carry bag. Somewhat arbitrarily I choose the Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 10 as I am familiar with this bag which is exactly the right size for the Panasonic FZ300 and FZ80.  I find the size of these cameras very user friendly. They are large enough to accommodate a lens with a very large zoom range and/or a wide aperture at all focal lengths using the small (7.67mm diagonal, a.k.a. ½.3 inch sensor a full set of controls for the expert/enthusiast user but small enough to hold, carry and operate easily.


    * A consumer friendly price point. This is of course difficult to specify. Some consumers think $20,000 for personal camera gear is quite reasonable, others think $500 is too much.  However it is clear enough to me that the main problem with the FZ80 is that it is positioned at such a low price point that all its components are from the “B” grade parts bin at Panasonic.  If all those components were of “A” grade standard the camera would cost, say, twice as much but in my view that would be  money better spent.


    * A “bridge camera” type (DSLR style) with a full anatomical handle and EVF over the lens axis.


    * A zoom lens spanning from ultrawide (about 20mm equivalent) to ultra long. My experience of superzooms has been that focal lengths much greater than about 1000mm equivalent are difficult to use hand held.  But birds and wildlife often call for a very long focal length so I set 1200mm as my desired maximum.


    *  Excellent performance with single or continuous AF, RAW or JPG output.


    * Excellent ergonomics with very nice holding, viewing and operating characteristics.


    * Good enough picture quality for large prints.


    What would Panasonic need to change to bring the FZ80 up to this specification ?


    In a word, everything, inside and out.


    As it stands the FZ80 looks amazing on the specifications and in many respects it is amazing with a level of features never before seen at this price point.


    But in practice the camera delivers too many not-really-sharp pictures, particularly at the long end of the zoom.


    The camera needs a more ergonomic and better constructed body with full twin dial control system and zoom and focus rings on the lens and a fully articulated monitor screen.


    It needs the best available sensor in the 7.67mm diagonal size. On my tests that is currently the 20Mpx (presumably Sony) unit found in the Nikon B700.


    Contrary to opinions often expressed by armchair experts on user forums the 20Mpx version does not have more noise than the 12Mpx version when pictures from each are viewed at the same output size.


    It needs a better EVF and viewfinder optics and eyecup.


    A much more sophisticated auto ISO algorithm (like that used by Sony) is essential.


    The lens needs to be of better optical quality with the same 20-1200mm f2.8-5.9 specs.


    To cope with the long focal length the OIS needs to be the very best Panasonic can deliver, not the B grade item currently in the FZ80.


    The lens also needs the best autofocus system Panasonic can muster.


    Would this camera sell ?


    Let us say it would be priced at about AUD1000 with the FZ80 currently at AUD550 in Australia.


    If it really did deliver top quality performance and usability I would buy it in a moment.


    The whole camera market is moving up the price/capability scale with previously popular cheap compacts now almost extinct.


    There would be some resistance of course. I recently saw the FZ300 described by a well known review site as being rather expensive for a small sensor model.


    It seems to me that the people who make, sell, buy and review cameras regard small sensor superzooms as snapshooters toys and I guess that has been the case until now. But it doesn’t need to be thus. I think that the image quality of the best sensors in this class is good enough to support a much more fully specified body, lens, processor, stabiliser, EVF and all the rest of it.


    I would like to see the existing small sensor bridge type models (FZ300, FZ80) both upgraded to a level of construction similar to the FZ2000 and both presented with the same body and controls, being about the same size as the present FZ300. The only difference between them would be the lens.


    We know that the body/lens housing size can accommodate a front filter of 55mm diameter because the FZ80 has that filter.


    By increasing the filter size from 52 to 55mm it should be possible to increase the focal length of the FZ300 to about 800mm at f2.8 or f3.5.


    I find myself no longer amused by cameras which are cheap but fail to deliver top quality results. I don’t care about cheap if blurry pictures are the consequence.


    As it stands the FZ80 is ALMOST a very good camera even with all its B grade components and the FZ300 is quite good but could be much better.










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    My thoughts about this camera can be summed up in four words:  Good pictures, poor ergonomics.


    Sony has supplanted Canon as the leader in camera technology. The lens, sensor and processor in the RX100(4) are excellent, allowing this diminutive compact to make pictures which rival those from much larger models. When I look at the files coming off the RX100(4) I never wish I had used a larger camera or one with a larger sensor.


    But Sony has not yet developed a full understanding of the way in which cameras and their users interact with each other.


    Using the  RX100(4) always seems like an awkward experience to me. 


    There is nothing much on which to get a decent grip, even with the little stick on handle fitted.


    The EVF has very good technical specifications but is a is a nuisance to use and when deployed makes the camera more difficult to hold.  In addition the absence of a proper eyecup allows stray light to enter. After all that the EVF provides a different display of camera data from the monitor which is also more difficult to read.


    Moving the active AF area requires more steps than other cameras do. The process for changing AF Area size requires a visit to a completely different user interface.  


    Exposure compensation cannot be set to self cancel and it is difficult to see in the EVF what, if any EC has been set.


    By way of comparison Panasonic’s TZ line of compacts are only slightly larger but provide a vastly more coherent and streamlined user experience.


    I wish I could say that all Panasonic’s models provide a nice user experience, but unfortunately that is not the case.  I gave the LX10/15 one of the lowest ergonomic scores of any camera because of its multiple handling and operating deficiencies.


    It seems as though the designers of each model work in separate cells without comparing notes with each other.


    Whatever the reason they sometimes inflict the same mistakes on each successive model of a series, but sometimes they make entirely new mistakes, apparently unaware of when they get it right and when  they make a hash of the whole ergonomic exercise.


    Anyway here are a few shots from a recent trip to the city with the RX100(4).


    Despite its ergonomic deficiencies the RX100(4) is a very capable documentary camera indoors or outdoors

    What about the RX100Mk5 ?

    I have no intention of buying one of these as the purpose of the Mk5 version eludes me.  It has the super high speed sensor and processor which it seems to me should have gone into the RX10Mk3.


    I can think of  few situations in which I would want a compact camera that can fire off 20 frames per second with AF on each one.  Children at play maybe.










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    The LX100 was released in 2014 to a mostly enthusiastic reception from reviewers and enthusiast users. I used one for over two years making many thousands of photos in a variety of conditions.


    My copy suffered a complete printed circuit board failure early in its life, repaired under warranty by Panasonic after a long wait for a replacement part.


    There has recently been an upsurge of posts on user forums wondering if or when Panasonic will produce a follow up model.  Several users have expressed opinions about what features they would like to see in a possible LX200 or whatever it may be called.


    In the three years since announcement, the LX100 has continued to generate mostly positive feedback from users.



    The main positive has been good picture quality.


    Some users say they like the hybrid traditional/modern control layout.  What precisely these users like about the controls is not entirely clear to me. Some say they like that the controls are “direct” even though they are not.


    The LX100 has generated plenty of complaints. The most common one has been ingress of dust to the lens and sensor. Another has been erratic focussing when the AF box is over an area of multiple bright lights or backlit foliage. Some have lamented the lack of a touch and/or fully articulated screen.


    There have been very few complaints about the controls although I do note that many users report on forums that they routinely use “A” on the aperture ring, “A” on the shutter speed dial and Auto ISO, thus effectively providing Program Auto exposure by a roundabout method.  I also used the camera this way but doing so effectively renders the main controls irrelevant.


    My main complaint about the camera is precisely those controls  which some people profess to like so much.


    The aperture ring/shutter speed dial control system harks back to the Pentax Spotmatic of 1964 and many similar cameras of that era.


    But this control layout is unable to give the user efficient access to all the capabilities of a modern electronic camera which include focus mode, autofocus mode, drive mode, and a host of functions.


    On the LX100 the aperture ring is awkward and difficult to use and the shutter speed dial is like others of its type. Changing aperture or shutter speed requires more actions each more complex than completing the same tasks using a well designed control dial + mode dial configuration.


    As there is no mode dial the various modes must be accessed via roundabouts.


    My idea of a follow up to the LX100 would look like the mockup featured in this post.


    This is a full twin dial and mode dial model with a Joystick for controlling AF area position. It has a small but anatomically shaped inverted L shaped handle and the layout of the shutter button, front dial and other controls is in accordance with the “form follows function and function  follows fingers” principle.


    It is designed from ergonomic principles not as a pastiche of some camera which was famous in 1964.




    So my wish for a follow up to the LX100 goes like this:


    * Retain the concept of a compact model with very good imaging capability, good enough in fact to replace an ILC with high quality standard zoom in the 24-70 mm range or thereabouts.


    * Belt pouch small not “pocketable”.


    * Full area 4/3 sensor, using the latest 20Mpx version not a cropped 16 Mpx one from yesteryear.  (Alternative: use the latest 15.9mm “one inch” sensor to allow smaller overall size).


    * Better EVF.


    * Fully articulated monitor.


    * Well designed modern control layout as illustrated by the mockup shown in this post.

    I note yet again that good ergonomics costs no more to build than poor ergonomics.



    * All the latest Panasonic features and performance capabilities  which are considerable.


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    Showing Sugru pads. Those on the Cursor buttons have been cut at an angle with a sharp knife after curing to create a raised  outer edge to each Cursor button. This makes them easy to locate and operate by feel with the right thumb.



    This post includes the updated score (85) for the Panasonic G80/85 with Sugru additions to the Cursor buttons, Menu/Set button and Disp button.
    This greatly improves haptics making the buttons much easier to locate and operate by feel. the Sugru has a rubbery texture which together with the shape and indented surface of the Sugru additions makes the buttons much easier to feel than the flat smooth surfaces as supplied by Panasonic.
    If Panasonic had simply used the rocking saucer type 4 way controller module from the FZ1000  none of this messing about with Sugru would have been necessary.
    The improvements are particularly useful for users who prefer to change active AF area position with the [Direct Focus Area] function.

    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 G80/85

    11

    13

    18

    18

    17

    5

    82

    Panasonic FZ1000

    10

    13

    17

    18

    20

    5

    83

    Panasonic GH4

    10

    13

    18

    18

    19

    5

    83

    Panasonic G80/85 modified*

    11

    13

    18

    18

    20

    5

    85

    Panasonic FZ2500

    12

    13

    18

    18

    20

    5

    86

    Panasonic GH5

    14

    14

    17

    19

    21

    5

    90



    * Panasonic G80/85  4way pad (Cursor buttons and Disp button) modified by addition of shaped Sugru pads to improve haptics. This makes the Cursor buttons, Menu/Set button and Disp button much easier to locate and operate by feel. It is particularly beneficial for users who prefer to move active AF area with the [Direct Focus Area] function.


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    Hobart from Mt Wellington. FZ300 hand held. This image prints up to 39x52cm with no problems at all. At that size it looks clear and sharp on my wall with strong colors and good highlight/shadow detail. Nobody (but me) who looks at this print knows or cares what camera made the image.


    Photographic users posting on forums often spend vast amounts of time and effort discussing the merits of this-camera-versus-that-camera, often with reference to arcane technical analysis “proving” that one is “better” than the other.


    Presumably these technical discussions provide the participants with an entertaining distraction from the problems of modern life.


    But as a guide to anyone wondering what camera to buy they are worse than useless as they do not engage with the real world costs and benefits of the different camera types.


    This post explores one approach to the process of making a decision about what camera to buy, using the versatility/quality nexus.


    Picture courtesy of camerasize.com
    Each of these kits has a lens which reaches out to 600mm (equivalent). But the FZ300 also covers all the other focal lengths down to 25mm and all of them at f2.8.
    The big Canon kit gives maximum quality but very limited versatility. The FZ300 gives me good enough quality for my needs and remarkable versatility.

    Here are some basics:


    * Larger sensors allow for better image quality.


    * Smaller sensors allow for greater versatility. This a large zoom range and the ability to make an all purpose model without the need to change lenses.


    * The “right” camera for any individual is one with the smallest sensor which provides “good enough” image quality for that person’s requirements, whatever they may be.


    Note that a user’s requirements are to do with the process of making pictures, the quality of those pictures and the cost in dollars, time and effort of the photographic enterprise.


    This is quite different from the requirements of the entities which make and sell photographic products. They just want to make more money.


    They can do that by selling you the most expensive kit you can be persuaded to buy.  The margin on expensive gear is much greater than that on budget equipment.


    The entire enterprise of the photographic industry is directed to encouraging you into buying something larger and more expensive than you probably need.


    This includes those who make, sell and review photographic products.


    Eager recruits to this upsell campaign are consumers themselves some of whom convince themselves that they “need” a “better” camera/lens kit.


    The quality/versatility relationship


    * What is “good enough” picture quality ?


    If one is a professional photographer this might entail a higher standard than many amateurs. But some amateur photographers are very fussy so some kind of  independently verifiable criterion is required.


    I cannot speak for others but I have figured out my criterion for “good enough” pictures.

    This their ability to be output as sharp, clear prints on my Epson 4880 printer at a size of about  520x390mm or approximately 16x20 inches in the old imperial system.


    I have discovered that several cameras which use the ‘smartphone size” (a.k.a. 1/2.3 inch, actual size about 4.5x6.2mm, diagonal 7.67mm) sensor are routinely able to meet this criterion, provided the technical aspects of image capture were optimal when the photo was taken.


    I will refer to these as “small sensor” cameras.


    I have tested most of the small sensor cameras which offer RAW output and found that the best of them is the Panasonic FZ300. That is therefore now my preferred camera for most purposes and the one which gets most use.


    I find that the FZ300 routinely makes pictures which are better than I could produce in the film era with a top quality 35mm SLR camera, prime lenses and premium film.


    Outdoors the FZ300 can do sport/action, birds in flight and much more all with good printable and publishable results.


    * How versatile is the FZ300 ?

    The list of specifications, features and capabilities for still photos and motion pictures is extraordinary. You can read the very long list of them elsewhere. If this thing had suddenly appeared ten years ago it might have been hailed as the tenth wonder of the modern world.


    But now we are all blasé about wonders and many users, sellers and reviewers shrug off cameras like the FZ300 as “just another small sensor compact”.


    It all comes in a single package with no need for add-ons and you can buy it for AUD650 in Australia.  Maybe that is part of the image problem, it’s so inexpensive.


    There are few assignments which the FZ300 cannot cover.


    It is very suitable for almost any purpose outdoors from landscape to sport/action.


    Indoors it is a little more limited in capability and would struggle to cope with indoor sports. But for relatively static subjects indoors it performs very well.


    The FZ300 can do super tele close ups like this one at 600mm equivalent.


    * I think that most of the “this-camera/system/lens-vs that-one” debates these days are like arguments about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.


    The awful truth about modern cameras is one the makers would rather you  not discover for yourself.


    This is:


    Just about any camera or smartphone these days can make pictures good enough for most personal and professional uses including large prints.


    The reason they don’t want you to discover this is that if camera buyers turn away from interchangeable lens cameras (ILCs) en masse, the industry as we now know it will collapse.


    Pademelon at dusk. ISO 1600. Not the world's finest photo but at least I got the shot which is suitable for printing up to my specified size. The quality is acceptable. It serves well as a memento of a trip and is good enough for family viewing. 








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    FZ300 Hand held.   Lichen on rocks near Bicheno Tasmania. This prints up to 540x390mm size very well with strong presence on the wall. I doubt anyone would find fault with this for lack of quality. One of the benefits of a small sensor camera is the ability to obtain considerable depth of field with an aperture of f4 as used for this photo.


    Panasonic has an energetic presence in the fixed zoom lens camera market.


    One popular fixed zoom type is the so-called  “bridge” camera. This type looks like and in many respects operates like an ILC with a zoom lens attached. But on a bridge type the lens is fixed and usually has a very large zoom range.


    Some cameras of this type use the so-called “one inch” sensor which actually has a diagonal of 15.9mm, go figure.


    Others including the cameras featured in this post have the confusingly named “1/2.3 inch” sensor which has a diagonal of about 7.67mm (there is no fixed dimension). This gives an area about 1/4 that of the “one inch” type.


    The makers don’t say but I believe Sony likely makes all the sensors for this type of camera.


    In the recent past the slightly larger 9.3mm imaging sensor was popular for fixed zoom cameras but this appears to have been abandoned by consensus or maybe Sony no longer makes that size.


    On the specifications the FZ300 and FZ80 appear very similar. Each fits my criteria for a “proper camera” with a good sized handle and thumb support, EFV over the lens axis, monitor, a set of controls to appeal to the enthusiast user and a built in flash.


    Both these cameras lie in the “goldilocks zone” of size/mass/price/versatility/capability. They are lighter and more compact than, for instance the FZ1000 and for that reason often appeal to users who find the FZ1000 a bit large and heavy for their taste.


    FZ300 on the left FZ80 on the right. These two cameras look very similar and are to a couple of millimeters the same size but the FZ300 is the much better camera.


    Each has an extensive list of specs and capabilities which you can read about elsewhere.


    They can do AF Continuous with burst mode, 4K video and photo, in camera auto panorama, and much more.


    Each is responsive and fast in operation with efficient well designed controls.


    Each is far more advanced than models from other makers in performance, capabilities and operation.


    On the headline numbers the FZ80 might appear to have an advantage with more pixels on the sensor and a much greater zoom range.


    FZ300 on the left


    And the FZ80 costs less. Australian retail prices as I write this are around $672 for the FZ300 and $529 for the FZ80.


    I have been working with both cameras over the last three months in the process making many thousands of photos.


    This experience has taught me that comparing cameras by listed specifications is  an almost completely useless and potentially misleading activity.


    In practice the FZ300 is by far the better camera.


    FZ300 Queen Victoria Building Sydney. This presents  strongly even at large print size


    Within its (equivalent) 25-600mm focal length range it does absolutely everything better than the FZ80.


    It is better built. All mechanical functions work better. The zoom is smoother, the buttons and dials work better and the OIS is much more reliable and effective.


    The FZ300 viewfinder and eyepiece are hugely better.


    The FZ300 monitor is fully articulated and is of better quality than the fixed one on the FZ80.


    Everything else on the FZ300 is better:  the lens, autofocus single and continuous, the buffer for RAW files and much more.


    Whatever you may find inside these cameras the version in the FZ300 works better than that in the FZ80.


    In addition the FZ300 comes with a reversible petal type lens hood, the higher capacity BLC12 battery and a separate charger.


    Image quality from the FZ300 is consistently better at every comparable focal length and ISO sensitivity setting.


    The experience of using the FZ300 is much nicer than the FZ80, due to the higher grade viewfinder, articulated monitor, better controls and higher performance especially when using AFC and Burst Mode.


    FZ300 Fun runners. No problem for the FZ300. I made 400 shots of the runners using AFC and Burst M. 398 were in sharp focus and correctly exposed.


    In the real world the only advantage the FZ80 has over the FZ300 is the zoom range which extends significantly wider and twice as long. But even that advantage is less real than the specifications might suggest.


    Why ?

    * Because as the lens zooms out the FZ300 stays always at f2.8 but the FZ80 drops to f5.6-5.9. This means the FZ80 has to use an ISO setting 2 stops higher or a shutter speed 2 EV steps slower to the detriment of picture quality.

    * The optical image stabiliser on the FZ300 is more reliable and effective than that on the FZ80.

    * The FZ80 lens sharpness declines significantly towards the long end.


    FZ300 at ISO 800. Underground shopping precinct. A quick grab shot while walking through. After some work in Adobe Camera Raw I printed this up to 540x390mm. It presents very well with good color  and a low level of visible grain. There is some loss of fine detail due to the noise reduction but overall the picture looks very good.


    So, Is the FZ80 useful for anything ?


    My answer to this is a possible maybe, with strong reservations.


    My main use for the FZ80 has been to photograph birds. For this the FZ300 lens often comes up a bit short so the temptation is to use the model with the longer lens. Unfortunately I have to say that the keeper rate with the long end of the FZ80 is very low. The majority of my bird shots are blurred, several with double imaging (jitter) due to camera shake which is a consequence of the low shutter speeds to which this camera must resort if ISO settings are to remain low.  Add in the noisy sensor and mediocre lens quality at the long end and the results are frequently unsatisfactory.


    The FZ300 within its (still considerable) focal length range is good for almost any purpose outdoors and for most reasonably static subjects indoors as long light levels are not very low.


    I would not use the FZ300 for close-to-the-action indoor sports such as basketball, but it would be quite good for longer shots for instance of volleyball including half the field of play or more.


    I also have plenty of good bird photos made with the FZ300. One just has to get in close as long as the bird will permit. Some will allow you in close, some won’t.


    My recommendation ?


    Buy the FZ300 with confidence for all general photography. It is one of the best do-everything-all-in-one package cameras on the market today.


    Maybe, get the FZ80 as an experiment to see if you can extract some decent pictures from it. This is easy enough in the middle of the zoom range, not so easy at the wide end and frustratingly difficult at the long end.


    I do not recommend the FZ80 as one’s only or main camera.


    Comment

    I would like to see Panasonic abandon the el-cheapo FZ70/80 line and make a product with the same body, controls and standard of construction as the FZ300 or its successor whatever that may be. This would have a lens with the same focal length range as the FZ80 but with better optical quality, focus and stabiliser.


    As it stands I think the FZ80 is not worth the asking price, low as that is. The 27% more expensive FZ300 is a much better camera and better value for money.





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    FZ300 Tasmania West coast

    The reason for my attention to this camera class is that I have discovered that the better models provide sufficient picture quality for most of my needs without the cost and complexity of an interchangeable lens camera kit and the various lenses required.


    By “small sensor” I mean the smartphone sized so-called 1/2.3 inch size with a diagonal measurement of 7.67mm.



    Unfortunately not much has changed since then.  


    Panasonic has released the FZ80 and TZ90 (ZS70) but that is about yer lot.


    I have to confess that I harbour a suspicion that most of the camera companies don’t want to make good quality small sensor zooms because, my reasoning goes, people would buy them instead of the mid range interchangeable lens models which are the financial lifeblood of the industry at present.


    Anyway here is a quick rundown of the models available in Australia at the time of writing.


    I have not included models which do not support RAW files and I have no interest whatsoever in any camera without an EVF. I live in Sydney and travel around Australia. I have discovered that cameras without an EVF are almost useless in bright sun.


    Also I see people using a long lens camera while viewing on the monitor held out at arm’s length. If these people think they are going to get decently sharp pictures they are kidding themselves.


    Canon Powershot SX60   This model was announced in September 2014 and is getting decidedly past its use-by date. It has few fans on Canon Powershot user forums.


    I bought and tested one and I rate it very low on specifications, capability, performance, picture quality and ergonomics.


    Canon has a recent history of  producing half baked, underspecified fixed lens models of which the SX60 is one of the least appealing.


    Nikon Coolpix B700    I bought one of these and used it quite extensively in the early part of 2017.

    It has a good lens, very good stabiliser (VR in Nikonspeak) and good image quality from the 20Mpx sensor. In fact on my tests the B700 has less high ISO color and luminance noise at matched image size than the Panasonic  Lumix FZ300.


    However as I reported here this camera is burdened by many deficiencies of performance and operation which took it out of my camera drawer.


    Nikon wants you to believe that the B700 is good for capturing fast moving wildlife. Well good luck with that. The camera has such a slow processor (the curse of the Coolpix) that it is only suitable for photographing static subjects. There is no AF Continuous facility at all.


    FZ300  These Ruddy Turnstones in Tasmania know they are well camouflaged if they turn their backs.


    Panasonic is the most productive contributor to this sector of the market.


    The TZ90  (ZS70) has replaced the TZ80 (ZS60)  in the compact sector with 30x zoom. The TZ90 is basically a TZ80 with selfie flip up monitor replacing the fixed one and an increase in pixel count from 18 to 20Mpx. On my tests this produces no discernible benefit to picture quality.


    Although the specification is unchanged the lens on my copy of the TZ90 gives sharper results at the long end of the zoom than I could get with the TZ80. So maybe they improved quality control in the lens manufacture.


    Overall a very minor upgrade and not enough I would think to tempt most TZ80 owners to trade up, unless they desperately need that flip up monitor.


    It’s not a bad camera though, considering it fits a useful EVF and 30x zoom into a very compact package. It was designed to be a travel companion and it works well in that role. But picture quality and performance are not up to the standard set by the FZ300.


    The FZ80  is the follow up to the much unloved FZ70. The FZ80 features many improvements over the FZ70 to specifications, capability, performance and ergonomics. It is overall a much better camera than the FZ70.


    The pixel count has increased from 16 to 18 Mpx with no discernible improvement to picture quality.


    The lens has the same specifications and is presumably the same unit. It gives good results in the middle of the zoom range but is much less endearing at the edges in the wide range and deteriorates across the frame towards the long end of the zoom.


    The stabiliser (OIS) is not as effective or reliable as that in the B700. The result is a high frequency of unsharp pictures at the long end several with double imaging from camera shake.


    So although the FZ80 is better than the FZ70 I am unable to fully recommend it. If Panasonic were to put in a better lens, better sensor and a much better OIS module along with implementing Sony style focal length sensitive Auto ISO algorithm then we might have a much more appealing camera.


    And so we come to the FZ300 which is the only camera of this group that I can recommend with very few reservations.


    Panasonic got almost everything right with the FZ300. It is well built, weatherproofed, very highly specified, has extensive capabilities for stills and video output, good image quality indoors or outdoors, excellent performance and good ergonomics. It’s a keeper.


    It is also a size which finds wide appeal among men and women alike. Not too small, not too large, just right.


    And into that compact size it packs something not seen in any other current model camera (the FZ200 had it) which is an (equivalent) 25-600mm constant f2.8 lens of good quality.


    Comment

    It seems to me all the makers except Panasonic are opting to reduce their presence in this market sector.


    Ricoh/Pentax, Olympus and Fujifilm have no offerings available in Australia as I write.


    Sony’s models offer only JPG output and are in any event way overdue for an upgrade.

    Canon is allowing the awful SX60 to sit there without upgrade, together with a bunch of models lacking an EVF.


    Nikon could I believe take control of this market sector if only they would endow the B700 with a fast processor and greatly upgraded performance and ergonomics.


    Maybe the camera makers plan to abandon this camera type altogether.


    From my point of view as a consumer that would be a huge disappointment.





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    FZ300

    1. Most people who wish to make a visual record of their life, family and special events don’t need a camera. The  module in their smart phone does the job just fine and is getting better with each smartphone iteration.


    2. Adedicated camera with a built in lens can have a much greater focal length range than a smartphone. This gives that camera type great versatility to photograph a much greater range of subjects than a smartphone.


    3. A fixed zoom camera using the smart phone size sensor (about 7.67mm diagonal) can make pictures good enough for the great majority of most users requirements.  This includes enthusiasts who want to print up their photos to A2+ size or even larger.


    4. Professional photographers and dedicated amateurs who want to win prizes will opt for the very best equipment available even if that is expensive.  They will also tolerate the drudgery of having to change lenses in the anticipation of superior results. Whether they actually get superior results is another matter altogether and depends on many factors other than equipment.


    Consequential observations for the future of cameras


    It seems to me the top end of the market will be OK. There will always be people who want the best gear and are prepared to pay for it.


    I think or at least I hope that when camera buyers come to realise the capability of the better superzoom cameras with the small 7.67mm sensor that this will become the preferred camera type for the majority of enthusiast photographers. 


    Some of these cameras are very capable and versatile. They provide tremendous value for money, are compact, easy to carry and use and you never have to change lenses.


    At the present time there is a strong tendency among those who sell, review and buy these camera to damn them with faint praise.


    But if the camera makers pay more attention to this camera type and endow more models with high performance capability then buyers will likely pay more attention to these models and thus buy more of them.


    If this does happen there could be a crisis in the middle range of the market.


    It seems to me that lots of people are buying sophisticated DSLRs and MILCs with APS-C and M43 sensors but using them as point-and-shoots. They buy the camera with a kit zoom which stays on the body forever. They do not need or use the very high image quality of which these cameras are capable.


    I suspect that most of this group have bought their ILC because they believe or were told by the vendor that it will make “better” (whatever that means)  pictures than a less expensive model using the 7.67mm sensor.


    I also suspect that the makers and vendors of cameras have a vested interest in upselling these buyers to models they don’t really need because there is more profit margin in the more expensive products.


    Why do APS-C and M43 ILCs exist ?


    Before the advent of digital sensors, 35mm perforated film had been the dominant image recording medium for still and motion picture for about ninety years. Entire ecosystems of equipment and knowledge had built up around this film type.


    So when cameras went digital the obvious course of action would have been to replace the film with a digital sensor of the same frame size and carry over all the lenses and other accessories.


    But at the time 24x36mm sensors were so expensive that it was not possible to put together a camera at a price point that any amateur/enthusiast photographer would buy.


    Canon’s answer to this problem was the EOS D30 of 2000. This camera had a sensor similar in size to the ill fated APS-C which briefly appeared towards the end of the film era. Apparently this size chip was cheaper to make which allowed Canon to market the 3 Mpx (!) D30 for just $3000.


    In due course Canon settled on the 22.5x15mm imager size while Sony and all the rest went for the slightly larger 23.5x15.6 size.


    I am just guessing here but I imagine Canon, Nikon and the rest maybe thought they would soon get the cost of producing 24x36mm (now called “full frame”) sensors down enough to graduate all the smaller sensor users up to full frame bodies.  


    It appears to me that they are still trying to do that as evidenced by the relative paucity of  high grade lenses on offer by all manufacturers for the crop sensor size.


    Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds


    Olympus, with the E1 in 2003 and Panasonic with the L1 in 2006 introduced a line of DSLR cameras based on the new “Four Thirds” sensor and associated protocols. 


    The name ‘Four Thirds” is based on the entirely confusing convention for Vidicon tubes from the 1950s and has no rational meaning at all. The sensor measures 13x17.3mm giving a diagonal of 21.6mm and an area one quarter of “full frame” (24x36mm).


    Just precisely why Panasonic and Olympus thought this was a good idea I do not know, but the market was not interested and the Four Thirds DSLR soon died, to be replaced in 2008 with the mirrorless interchangeable lens “Micro Four Thirds” system beginning with the Panasonic G1 and soon followed by the Olympus Pen E-P1. This system uses the same sensor size but a mirrorless design.


    This system has the tangible advantage over existing DSLRs of a smaller total kit with smaller bodies and smaller lenses.  


    Improved smaller sensors


    Most of the interest by makers, reviewers and consumers over the last few years has been in the interchangeable lens category.


    But while the DSLRs and MILCs have been battling for dominance and in the process grabbing most of the headlines,  small sensor models have been quietly improving.


    There are now several models of fixed lens camera using the so-called “One Inch” sensor (actual size 8.8x13.2mm)  that name being also derived from the daft and confusing Vidicon tube convention. 

    Some of these can make very high quality pictures which are difficult to distinguish from those made by any kind of camera with a larger sensor.


    Some cameras use an even smaller sensor, about the same size as those used in smartphone cameras. 

    This is referred to by the camera companies using the obscurantist Vidicon system as “1/2.3 Inch” and is actually 4.55x7.67mm with a diagonal of 7.67mm and an area about one quarter of the 15.9mm type.


    Some of these cameras can make much better pictures than you might think.


    I have recently been comparing  the Panasonic FZ300 with the GH5 and Pana-Leica 12-60mm lens, my copy of which is one of the best zooms I have ever tested.


    Of course the GH5 has better resolution and less luminance noise  (grain) at any matched ISO sensitivity setting.


    BUT this is only evident on close inspection of files side by side at 100% on a high resolution monitor screen.


    When I print up the matched pictures of the same subject taken at the same time to a size of  550x420mm I find that it very difficult to say if I would prefer one print to the other.


    When I ask family members to choose one over the other they do so on the basis of preferred color rendition or slight differences in apparent contrast or some other factor unrelated to image quality.


    They do not notice that one print has slightly but visibly more fine detail and less grain than the other.


    I think the reason for this is that


    1. At normal viewing distance the very fine details which the GH5 and the Epson 4880 printer can render are invisible to most viewers and


    2. The grain which can be so apparent at 100% on screen is barely detectable in print.

    In low light requiring high ISO sensitivity settings the GH5 has a more apparent advantage but if I use careful technique at the time of capture and in Adobe Camera Raw the difference is nowhere near as great as you might imagine given the price differential between the two cameras.  


    So what ? What bearing has all this on anything ?


    This is how I see it:


    * The price of selected full frame kit is coming down.


    For instance I can buy a new Sony A7(2) with FE 28-70mm lens for AUD1894.


    A new Canon EOS 6D with 24-70mm lens goes for AUD2698.


    Not bad for new full frame kit and considerably less than the Canon EOS D30 of year 2000 and that was a crop sensor model.


    * The quality of results obtainable from small sensor superzooms is going up and they already have much greater versatility than any ILC with any single lens.


    This puts a squeeze on the entire middle section of the market. All those APS-C and M43 interchangeable lens cameras which have been  the backbone of the enthusiast amateur market for years.


    It seems to me that most amateur photographers do not need and I suspect are often unable to make use of the image quality available from these mid range ILCs.


    Comment

    If camera makers, vendors and buyers were all working together to put the most versatile gear into the hands of the greatest number of buyers then we would be seeing an upsurge in the number and capability of small sensor bridge camera models right about now.


    But the opposite is happening.


    Fujifilm was just a few years ago very active in this sector of the market but appears to have abandoned small sensor fixed zoom cameras in favour of its APS-C MILC range and a new medium format model.


    Olympus has exited the fixed zoom market apart from a well reviewed waterproof model.


    Canon has many fixed lens models in the 15.9mm and 7.67mm sensor classes but most of them are underspecified, half baked things, lacking many of the features, capabilities and  performance that I want in my cameras.


    Nikon has abandoned the much anticipated 15.9mm DL series. Its offerings in the 7.67mm class are underperformers, desperately in need of a more powerful processor and upgraded user interface.


    Sony has some interesting models with the 15.9mm sensor although as yet the only one of these (the RX100Mk5) to have effective follow focus capability is the one which probably does not need it. I find Sony’s ergonomics wanting also.


    Curiously none of  Sony’s offerings in the 7.67mm category allow RAW output.


    In addition models like the HX400V are in desperate need of an effective follow focus capability on moving subjects and other performance and user interface upgrades.


    The only manufacturer which appears to me to be making an effort to bring to this market sector capable, high performing models of interest to enthusiast users is Panasonic, which explains why most of my cameras right now are from this maker.


    Why are camera makers turning their backs on the small sensor, fixed zoom market sector ?


    Of course I have no idea what goes on in the corridors of power at the camera makers. I am just an ordinary amateur consumer with no inside knowledge at all.


    But I guess there might be five things.


    1. Fear. The precipitous fall in sales of compact cameras may have frightened camera makers off the entire fixed zoom sector.


    2. Profit. There is more profit per unit to be made on higher priced models. Hence, for instance Fujifilm’s decision to move up to  medium format.


    3. Threatened loss. If lots of camera buyers enjoy a gust of common sense to their thinking works and elect to give up their ILCs in favour of fixed lens small sensor models, the market for mid range ILCs and lenses might collapse.


    So those who make, market, sell and review those mid range models will never tell consumers they might be better advised to buy a more versatile but less expensive type of camera.


    4. Prejudice. Real photographers use real cameras !  Big hunky DSLRs with big chunky lenses. All else is for dilettantes and snapshooters. No further discussion is required or permitted.


    5. Pride.  Maybe sometime soon the only people who use cameras will be those seeking a prestige product. 


    In other words the camera market will not be about making pictures but about selling expensive stuff to those who can afford to acquire status symbols and perhaps sometimes use them or at least show them off.


    If you think this is a silly idea consider that Leica has not only survived the digital revolution but is now thriving by making absurdly overpriced prestige products which make almost no sense at all as photographic devices.


    As I review these five guesses, possibilities or hypotheses whatever they may be,  I realise that none of them have to do with making pictures or with the quality of those pictures.


    What will win ?

    Pride and prejudice or practicality ?


    We shall see. I hope it is the latter but hopes are notoriously bad predictors of future events.


    I think that’s enough for this post. I went for a walk along the shores of Sydney’s beautiful harbour today and made a few pictures with my decidedly non prestige but eminently practical and useful Panasonic FZ300.











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    Ergonomic design supervisor, Japan camera works


    Camera makers continue  to amaze and frustrate me with repeated mistakes in the design of control systems and their various user interface modules. This refers to buttons, dials handles and other tactile elements of the user interface.


    This has led to a profusion of bespoke and D-I-Y devices in an effort to rectify the deficiencies of the original products.


    We see accessory handles and thumb supports, shutter button overlays, tripod mounting brackets, and a range of constructions with various substances such as epoxy resin and Sugru (a proprietary product).


    Sometimes a simple addition can make a big difference to the haptic qualities of a camera, greatly improving the user experience.


    Not the most visually elegant construction but the haptics are  good. Although this construct of Sugru looks a bit rough close up it does not stand out visually at all when one is using the camera. If Panasonic had used the 4way pad from the FZ1000 and FZ300 shown below, no modifications would have been required.


    Sugru on the Panasonic G85 4 Way Pad (Cursor Button module)


    For some inexplicable reason which totally defies ergonomic logic, Panasonic endows their cameras with a variety of different types of Cursor Button module.


    Of the modules without an incorporated control dial the easiest to locate and operate by feel  is the rocking saucer type seen on the FZ1000 and FZ300.  This has a raised outer edge which is easy to feel.


    But over the years the Micro Four Thirds G models have had some version of the “5 buttons “ type.  

    This is considerably more difficult to locate by feel. Worst are the type with 5 flat buttons as seen on the G7 and G80/85.


    With the G80/85 Panasonic finally after nine years of trying, got almost everything right and rectified almost all the problems with previous iterations of the G Series.


    But they reproduced the “5 flat buttons” Cursor Module from the G7, one of that camera’s least appealing ergonomic features.


    I sought a way to alter the module so it would gain raised, sharpish outer edges emulating the best haptic characteristics of the rocking saucer type.


    I also wanted to raise the profile of the Disp button which I use very frequently to re-center and re-size the active AF Area.


    Sugru to the rescue.


    Sugru is slightly weird stuff. It comes in little packets of putty-like material which can be applied to a variety of surfaces after cleaning them with alcohol. There is plenty of time to shape the putty before curing sets in. Once cured the material turns into rubber which can stick quite firmly to the surface on which it has been applied. It sticks fine to Panasonic cursor buttons anyway.


    Initially I applied one blob of Sugru to each of the five buttons and the Disp button  then shaped and contoured each little blob, taking great care not to allow any stray material into the space between the button and the body.


    After curing I took a sharp knife and cut the now rubbery blobs on the Cursor Buttons at an angle so the outer edges are now higher than the inner edges.


    This works like a charm. The cursor  buttons are now much easier to locate and operate by feel as is the Disp button.


    I change AF Area position with the [Direct Focus Area] function.


    I can do this with much more precision and confidence with the Sugru modified Cursor Buttons.


    Nicely effective and elegant enough that few users will notice the addition.


    Epoxy on the FZ300 Disp Button

    The FZ300 does have the desirable rocking saucer type Cursor Button module but an inexplicably recessed Disp button which is difficult to locate by feel.  I find this doubly strange because the FZ1000 which has a similar control layout does have a slightly raised Disp button which is easy to feel.


    This time I cleaned the button with alcohol then carefully applied quick setting clear epoxy resin with the tip of a toothpick. The idea was to raise the profile of the button with a distinct point in the center to make it easy to feel.


    This works very well. The Disp button is now much easier to feel than it was and the camera is more enjoyable to use.


    Comment

    All the camera makers repeatedly make inexplicable ergonomic mistakes with their control systems.


    I do seriously wonder if the people responsible for those control systems actually use their products before releasing them to the market.


    Some, like those described in this post are easy to rectify with a good outcome.



    Would it not be better if they got it right in the first place ? 


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    G85 with Lumix 12-60mm f3.5-5.6 lens 

    Ten years ago I considered myself to be a more-or-less rusted on Canon buyer. I had a series of SLRs then DSLRs and digital compacts.


    But I grew increasingly disenchanted with inaccurate autofocus of the SLRs and DSLRs.


    I also hoped that some day someone would make a type of camera which did not make loud clattering noises every time I pressed the shutter.


    When Panasonic released the G1 in 2008 I could see straight away that this would be the first model of a new type of camera with potential benefits over the DSLR.


    So I bought a G1.


    Panasonic managed to get autofocus accuracy bang on right from the start. I never had serious focus accuracy problems with the G1 or any subsequent Panasonic camera.


    I followed up with a G3 (there was no G4 presumably for superstitious reasons but there was a GH4, go figure) then G5, G6, G7 and now we come to the G8 which in the strange other-world universe of Panasonic naming, has become the G80 or G85 in some markets.


    In May 2014 I posted an opinion piece “Why Panasonic needs the G7”.


    They did produce the G7 but unfortunately this camera came with numerous problems so in June 2016 I posted another piece “Why Panasonic needs the G8”.


    My analysis of the Panasonic G series of micro Four Thirds cameras is this:


    * The concept is good. The hump top mini DSLR shape works very well with the potential for very good functionality and ergonomics. Some photographers say they prefer the flat top, faux rangefinder style of the GX series but there are clear functional and ergonomic advantages to the hump-top-with-anatomical handle style.


    Panasonic got the concept right with the G1. They just needed to remedy all the deficiencies of the models up to and including the G7.


    The list of problems with the G7 which I posted in 2016 is:


    * Wrong shutter. The G7 uses the old spring loaded focal plane shutter which causes image degradation due to shutter shock with some lenses.  They should have used the electro-magnetic one from the GX80 which has not been reported to cause any problems with shutter shock.

    * The “fix” for shutter shock on the G7 is to use E-Shutter which drops the bit rate from 12 to 10. This can cause blotchy green artefacts in shadows lifted up in an image editor. There are numerous other limitations with the E-Shutter.


    * The Cursor Button module and Disp button are flat and recessed. For the user who prefers to change AF area with [Direct Focus Area] this is a real pain.


    * A perception of poor build quality. The front of the camera would creak if twisted in one’s hands. Whether this actually caused any problem I do not know but it mattered little, the perception was negative.


    * Wrong sensor. They should have used the one from the GX80/85 without the AA filter.


    * No weather sealing. This is not actually a problem, more a statement of “want” from several reviewers and users.


    It would seem Panasonic took most of this on board because the G80/85 has indeed fixed every one of those problems but one, the flat Cursor/Disp buttons, and added into the bargain In-Body-Image-Stabilisation (IBIS)

    AND

    Dual stabiliser function in which OIS in the lens and IBIS in the body work together in miraculous fashion to produce pin sharp images at slow shutter speeds.


    I have tested Dual IS and to my amazement, it actually works.


    Together these upgrades make the G80/85 one of the most highly specified, capable and appealing  mid range interchangeable lens cameras (ILC) ever produced by Panasonic or any other manufacturer.


    I have no doubt that Panasonic desperately needed the G80/85.  I think it likely that if Panasonic had not  delivered the G80/85 the G line would have foundered completely and with that Panasonic’s future as a camera maker would have been in serious doubt.


    I think it still is in doubt but if Panasonic can market the G80/85 effectively I think the camera division might have a chance of survival.


    In my view Panasonic has been making too many different model lines in recent years, presumably trying to find the magic formula for sales success.


    But I think they had the right concept there from the start with the G1. They just needed get the thing working properly.


    They have dropped the GM line which I reviewed and found to make little sense as an alternative to the high level compacts available these days.


    The GF series remains but I wonder about the ongoing viability of that line. I know Canon sells plenty of  EOS M cameras without an EVF so maybe the idea of an interchangeable lens camera without an EVF makes sense from a marketing viewpoint.


    Which fits I guess considering that Canon appears to have transformed itself from being a camera maker into a marketing organisation.


    It is certainly not something that would appeal to me.


    But Panasonic also needs to decide what to do about the GX line. If it were up to me I would drop the G8. This is a large flat top which makes no sense to me ergonomically or functionally.


    Enough rambling, back to the G80/85.


    I evaluate cameras under the following headings


    * Specifications, features and capabilities

    * Image quality

    * Performance

    * Ergonomics


    You can read all about the specs and features elsewhere. Suffice to say here they are extremely comprehensive with just about every imaginable item for making high quality still and video pictures.

    Image quality is excellent in all conditions. 

    Some obsessive pixel peepers on user forums complain that the sensor has “only” 16 Mpx but this is just pointless measurbation. The amount of subject information which can be revealed by this camera is  very high indeed, enough for very large poster prints.


    Performance is excellent for still and moving subjects, still and video output.


    Ergonomics are excellent. The camera is a pleasure to use with an efficient set of well designed controls.


    It’s a winner.


    Even better it comes onto the market at a very attractive price point. Current price for a G85 with 12-60mm f3.5-5.6 lens is AUD1349. I have tested the lens and found it to be very good optically and a versatile companion to the G85 body.


    In fact I cannot recall ever before seeing such a well featured and capable camera in this price range.


    With the G80/85 Panasonic has redeemed itself in fine style from a litany of past mistakes and problems.






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    G85 with Lumix 12-60mm lens


    I have a history with Panasonic Lumix G cameras since the groundbreakingG1 of 2008.


    Prior to buying the G1 I had been using Canon SLR and DSLR cameras for several years. These cameras had a long development history behind them, arising in particular from the T90 of 1986.  

    They felt comfortable if a bit heavy to hold and most of the primary controls worked decently well.


    When out and about with the Canon EOS 20D or 40D I gave little thought to ergonomic considerations.  In retrospect I would say these cameras left plenty of room for improvement to the controls and user interface generally. But they got the basics pretty much right.


    The G1 was my wake up call to the world of ergonomics and the camera which taught me a great deal about the ways in which users interact with cameras eventually leading to the creation of this blog and my method of evaluating and scoring a camera’s  ergonomic characteristics.


    You can read all about this in great detail in several places on this blog however my “Discovering Camera Ergonomics” page is one place to start.


    Warning—this contains much detailed discussion of ergonomic concepts.


    My understanding of camera ergonomics may challenge some readers’ preconceived ideas. So be it.


    The G1 taught me that cameras do not scale up or down.

    A moment’s thought should tell us this is obvious given that the hands which use the device stay the same size.


    The G1 is styled just like a smaller version of the L10 which was a DSLR using the Four Thirds sensor.


    A shape, layout and controls which apparently worked well enough for the L10 (I never owned one) did not work at all well for the G1.


    There were many other problems.


    Panasonic put the control dial on the front of the upper part of the handle where it was covered by the third finger with the camera held normally. So to work the dial the right hand had to release grip on the handle, drop down to give the index finger space to work the dial then move back up to normal position.


    The projecting handle with the shutter button on the front is a style which works reasonably well on larger bodies but on the smaller G1 this arrangement put the right index finger nowhere near the shutter button when the handle was held securely.


    The 4-Way pad was of the “5 flat buttons” type which was very difficult to locate and operate by feel.

    I later got a Samsung NX10 which utilised the “Rocking saucer” type of 4-Way controller which I discovered was much easier to operate by feel.


    The G2 used the same body as the G1.


    With the G3 Panasonic actually managed to produce a device with worse ergonomics than the G1.  

    They took away the proper handle, relocated the shutter button back onto the top of the body, and moved the control dial to the rear but buried it so deep it could only be operated with the tip of the right thumb. This required the right hand to be removed from its normal position to flex the interphalangeal joints of the thumb to dig in and work that dial.


    For a time I used Samsung NX cameras which in their original body shape had many nice ergonomic features and taught be a lot about what works, what does not work and why.


    The G5 (no G4) returned to a more workable body shape with a reasonable handle and controls which were easier to operate. But the rear dial got shunted way over to the right side into a somewhat awkward location.


    The G6 had the same body as the G5.


    The G7 was the first of the G series in which Panasonic managed to get most of the ergonomics right. 
    It is a proper twin dial design with most of the controls well located and easy to operate. Except of course that dreadful flat 4-Way module.


    An so we come to the G8 which in their wisdom Panasonic’s whimsical naming team decided to call the G80 or G85, or possibly something else in Mauritania.


    Presumably they are trying to align the various model levels with a numerical system although what that system might be does not seem terribly evident. Canon gives their top DSLR models a single number designation, their entry level models a quadruple digit number.


    In their fixed lens models Panasonic gives the top models a four digit number (FZ1000, FZ2000) and the lower echelons a two digit number (FZ70, FZ80 TZ90).


    But in the micro Four Thirds ILCs the top models have only one digit in the number (GH4, GH5).


    Go figure. Actually I think all this folderol with the numbers is harmful to Panasonic’s marketing effort as nobody (obviously including the folks at Panasonic)  is altogether sure what all the model designations mean so those selling and buying cameras cannot tell what model fits where in the scheme of things, assuming there is such a scheme.


    Anyway whatever it may be called the G80/85 is the clear successor to the G7 and other G cameras before it.


    Although the G80 looks superficially the same as the G7 the body is actually all new.


    The G80 is slightly wider and higher than the G7. The handle is fatter with less depth. There is a bit more space on the control panel for buttons. Everything has had a subtle rework.


    The result is the best G camera yet. It is comfortable and stable to hold. The front and rear dials can be operated in landscape or portrait orientation with minimal disruption to the grip with the right hand. All the dials turn the optimal way for “value up”.


    Here are the details: scoring is in accordance with my usual schedule which you can read about here.


    Setup Phase

    The G80 uses the standard Panasonic menu system which has been in place for several years. The layout and graphical user interface are very nice. The menus are easy to navigate.


    There is no [My Menu]


    The Custom Menu needs to be divided into subfolders which are meaningful to photographers to make navigation more coherent.


    The GH5 has both a My Menu and sensible subfolders in the Custom menu so I guess this will trickle down in due course.


    Setup score 11/15


    Prepare Phase

    Prepare Phase tasks are well managed on the G80. In typical Panasonic fashion there are several programmable Function buttons to which the user can assign functions from a very large selection.


    One of the Fn buttons can be set as Q Menu access, and a custom Q Menu can be crafted to the user’s requirements.


    There is a main mode dial, drive mode dial and focus mode lever, all easy to reach and operate.

    All round a good effort in Prepare Phase.


    I gave an extra point to the version with a modified 4-Way controller as most actions in Prepare Phase are easier to carry out.


    Prepare Phase score (as supplied) 12/15


    Prepare Phase score (modified 4-Way controller) 13/15


    Capture Phase, Holding


    The camera provides a comfortable, secure hold best suited perhaps to medium sized adult hands but quite suitable for small and large hands also. The shape of the handle and thumb support are well designed.


    In addition the controls on and around the handle and thumb support are well located and well designed.


    Holding score 18/20


    Capture Phase, Viewing

    Viewing arrangements are very nice. The EVF is bright, clear and easy to see in all conditions. Key camera data beneath the image preview are easy to see. Other camera data can be overlaid on the image preview or not, as desired.


    Both viewfinder and monitor can be configured to appear identical in “viewfinder” or “monitor” style.


    All the good stuff is there, grid lines, histogram, zebras, real time indication of under/over exposure, and much more. After using a camera like this for a while I do not understand why some people continue to prefer an optical viewfinder which cannot provide WYSIWYG the way an EVF can.


    I did find that I had to set the viewfinder Contrast to -5 and Brightness to -3 for a natural viewing experience.


    The high quality monitor is of the optimal fully articulated type which works well in any circumstance.


    Overall the camera provides a very good viewing experience.


    Viewing score 18/20


    Capture Phase, Operating


    The front and rear dials can be configured for function and rotation to satisfy various personal preferences. The dials are easy to operate with only very slight disruption to the hold of the right hand on the handle.


    The twin dial arrangement on this camera provides the best type of control layout for streamlined operation, configurable to individual preference. There is a fashion going around to put an exposure compensation dial where the rear dial is on the G80. This is not optimal because nothing else can be done with that dial which cannot be used to adjust aperture or shutter speed in manual mode.


    The system on the G80 is much better. For instance I have exposure compensation allocated to the rear dial. When I select M on the Mode Dial then rear dial function automatically switches to changing shutter speed, with aperture on the front dial.


    Some reviewers say they don’t like this because exposure compensation is not directly available in M Mode.


    But it does not need to be.  Any + or – exposure is indicated on the analogue exposure scale where it is easy to see.


    Anyway this is a minor quibble.


    The only real problem in operation is the flat button 4-Way controller, which is difficult to find and operate by feel.


    This is a particular problem for those who, like me, change position of the active AF area using [Direct Focus Area].


    Panasonic could easily fix this with a Mk 2 model using the “rocking saucer” type controller from the FZ1000. They have all the required technology right there ready to go.


    As indicated in another post I fixed this problem with a shaped construct of Sugru to the 4-Way controller and Disp buttons.


    Operating score 17/25


    Operating score with modified 4-Way controller 20/25


    Review Phase


    No problems here. The G80 does all the things I expect it to do in image playback and review.


    Review score 5/5


    Total score (as supplied) 81/100


    Total score (modified)  85/100


    Comment


    The G80/85 is a mature and sophisticated product with remarkably advanced technical specification.

    It has also reached a high level of ergonomic maturity, producing a camera which is a pleasure to use allowing very efficient operation by a practiced user.


    How could Panasonic improve the G80 ?


    As it stands the G80 scores very well for ergonomics and is a nice camera to use.

    It has arrived at the point where further improvement will be via subtle changes to an established control layout which already works well.


    However there are two things Panasonic could do easily I think.


    1. Replace the 4-Way controller with the rocking saucer module from the FZ1000.


    2. This one applies right across the entire Panasonic lineup: Introduce a user configurable, focal length sensitive auto ISO algorithm just like the one Sony uses. The auto ISO algorithm on all current Panasonic models is primitive. On most models including the G80 there is not even a facility to set a user defined minimum shutter speed. This becomes an ergonomic issue when the user has to switch from P or A Mode to S Mode to set a shutter speed slower (or faster in different conditions) than the Auto ISO algorithm will allow.




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    G85  Good highlight and shadow detail

    The G80/85 is Panasonic’s best ever enthusiast Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lens camera with a very high level of specifications, image quality, performance and ergonomics.


    But the camera has so many features and options for user specified function of the controls that a newcomer to this type of camera might feel quite daunted by the number and complexity of choices which must be made.


    This post is designed to help with that process.


    Users familiar with previous Panasonic M43 cameras will feel right at home with the G80 as the menus and controls are very similar across the models.


    The first step is to download the PDF  Operating Instructions For Advanced Features document available through any national Panasonic website. Follow the prompts for Supportfrom the data page for the G80/85 camera.


    At first sight the 337 page Operating Instructions look rather daunting. However the document is well laid out and written. Navigation is easy with a well designed jump feature to move from one part of the text to another.


    I strongly advise a new G80 owner to take several hours time out from an otherwise busy life to go through the Instructions with the camera in hand. There is a lot of information in there.


    The Instructions tell you in great detail about all kinds of settings you can make on the camera but almost nothing about why you might choose one setting in preference to another.


    I hope this post will help with that.


    Beginners to photography and erstwhile snapshooters can set the Mode Dial to the [iA] setting, charge up the battery, adjust the eyepiece dioptre, pop in a memory card and be up and running very quickly.  This is “point-and-shoot” mode on a Panasonic camera. It works fine but gives the user only limited control over exposure and focus parameters.


    The G80 is really designed for expert/enthusiast photographers who want to take control of the camera.


    It is also a very suitable device for a beginner who wants to become more proficient in camera work. 

    The camera can be set up to allow a user’s increasing competence to be reflected in greater imaging capability.


    There are very few things by way of still or motion picture photography which the G80 cannot do.


    This post is about setting up for still photography. The camera also has a very high capability for 4K video with many options not covered in this post.


    The G80 is highly configurable.


    There are five hard Function buttons which allow user selected function.  There are also soft Fn buttons which appear as little icons on the right side of the screen. For each button there are 56 options.


    One of those options is a Q Menu. If you opt for a Custom Q Menu up to 15 of 40 options can be allocated.


    At first the process of deciding what function to allocate to which button seems almost impossible. 

    There are so many choices.


    I use and recommend a conceptual framework which helps to guide the process.


    There are four Phases of camera use, Setup, Prepare, Capture and Review.


    Setup Phase is the process where you spend quiet time with the camera, going through the Menu items with the Operating Instructions up on screen. This needs to be done at leisure.

    Items which do not need to be adjusted while out and about with the camera can stay in the main menus, accessed by the [Menu/Set] button.


    Prepare Phase is the period of a minute or few just before making photos when you want to configure the camera of the current subject. It might be a landscape, sporting event, indoor party, night shot on tripod and so forth. Each subject requires adjustments to a set of camera parameters. Adjustments for this phase are ideally located on the main Mode Dial, Drive Mode Dial, Focus Mode lever, Fn buttons and Q Mode button.


    Capture Phase refers to the process of taking pictures. At this time you want to quickly adjust primary and secondary exposure and focus parameters while looking through the viewfinder and without disrupting grip with either hand.

    These parameters are Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO, Exposure Compensation, AF on, Change position and size of AF Area. Of course nobody needs to change all these parameters with every exposure but the camera should be (and the G80 is) configured to enable any of them to be adjusted quickly while looking through the viewfinder.

    The best control modules for this are the shutter button, front and rear dials and the 4-Way controller. Some users say they also like to use touch screen functions in Capture Phase but I am not convinced about this.  Actually I am convinced but in the negative (see below).


    Touch screen operation


    Panasonic cameras including the G80 offer many options for touch screen control, Custom Menu screen 9/9 and Instructions Page 217.


    Many reviewers and contributors to user forums mark a camera down if it does not have touch screen functions. I find touch operation useful for setting up the Q Menu. It could also be useful for video operation with the camera on a tripod and the monitor swung out to the side.


    Otherwise I find the touch screen a nuisance as it keeps getting bumped by my nose or brushed by a finger which causes a change to some setting not desired by me.


    There are four submenus under the [Touch Settings] tab,


    1. ON/OFF. None of the touch functions will work if this is set to OFF.


    2. Touch Tab. When ON the little soft Fn buttons on the right side of the screen become active. My suggestion is, turn this feature ON for a while then when you get irritated because you accidentally touched one of the tabs for the 10th time switch it OFF.


    3. Touch AF. You can set this to activate AF, AE or both by touching the screen anywhere. This is the function which I think might be useful with the camera on a tripod.


    4. Touch Pad AF. This allows you to move the AF Area position using touch while looking through the viewfinder. It incorporates a nudge function so you don’t have to put your thumb on the exact spot. There is also an [Offset] function which allows you to push the AF Area anywhere in the frame while using only one side of the screen.


    This works and some users say they really like it.


    Give it a try.


    I prefer using the Cursor Buttons with [Direct Focus Area].


    Direct Focus Area


    Find this on screen 3/9 in the Custom Menu. With this ON, the active AF Area will move directly when any of the cursor buttons is pressed.


    You do not have to allocate [Focus Area Set] to a Function button.


    You bypass the  default setting which uses the left Cursor button to access Focus Area Set via a double press. First press on the left cursor button enters AF Mode. Second press on the down cursor button enters the Focus Area Set screen in which you can change the position and size of the active AF area.


    There is nothing wrong with this default process it just requires two preliminary key presses every time you want to enter the Focus Area Set screen.


    The advantage is you get to keep the default functions of the cursor keys.


    However if [Direct Focus Area] is set these functions are easily assigned to other entry points namely Fn buttons and Q Menu.


    Custom Functions


    Notice that there are marks for C1 and C2 on the Mode Dial. If you set C2 and press the Menu/Set button then options for C2-1, C2-2 and C2-3 appear making four Custom Menu settings in total.

    [Cust. Set Mem.] is located at the top of the custom Menu, screen 1/9 and described in the Instructions on Page 87.


    You can set up the camera for, say, night photography on tripod and have the settings memorised to one of the Custom Mode positions. Note that adjustments on the Drive Mode dial and the Focus 

    Mode lever cannot be saved to a Custom Mode. This is one of the disadvantages of the designer’s decision to allocate some functions to hard modules with engraved markings. If the Focus Mode Lever is set to AFC it can’t be anywhere else.


    Setup menu items and some others also cannot be allocated to a Custom Mode.


    However the main Mode Dial position can be memorised on a Custom Mode setting.


    Dial Operation


    Find [Dial Set] on screen 8/9 of the Custom Menu and Page 43 of the Instructions.


    The G80 has a well implemented twin control dial layout. This is optimal for expert/enthusiast users who can drive the camera like a sports car. The dials are nicely located and shaped so they can be operated easily without releasing grip on the camera with the right hand.


    The submenus under the [Dial Set] tab are:


    1. Assign Dial (F/SS) This decides what each dial does in Manual Exposure Mode. You can set the front dial to change Aperture (F=fstop) and the rear dial to Shutter Speed (SS) or the reverse.

    If unsure, leave it at the default position. The important thing is to practice so your fingers become accustomed to going where they need to without having to think about it.


    2. Rotation (F/SS). With the default setting, each dial produces “value up” (fstop number higher or shutter speed faster) when the finger on the dial moves to the right. My brain is wired to expect this and most electronic devices work this way, that is,  move/swipe èright for value up.


    I would find it really confusing to reverse dial rotation but you can do it. Again the important thing is to practice so your fingers move the right way without having to think about it.


    3. Exposure Comp. You can assign direct exposure compensation to the rear dial. I use and recommend this setting. It makes setting exposure compensation really easy especially when guided by the zebras in the viewfinder.


    4. Dial Operation Switch Setup. This is a way of extracting an extra function from each dial. I can see that in the abstract, this idea might seem appealing.


    However the opportunity cost is loss of the required fn button to any other function.

    In addition I find that if I train my fingers to operate certain functions using particular controls then I get out of harmony with the capture flow process when the control ( in this case a dial) suddenly does something different from usual.  Some people’s neuromuscular co-ordination system might be able to accommodate this but mine can’t.


    Give it a try, maybe.


    Function Buttons


    See Fn.Button Set on screen 7/9 in the Custom Menu and Page 55 of the Instructions.

    The most useful items to allocate to Fn buttons are those which you might wish to adjust in Prepare Phase of use. Go through the long list of options which the camera presents and think about this. The initial temptation is to stick all manner of things on the Fn buttons but their supply is strictly limited. 
    For items not requiring such direct accessibility the Q Menu is more appropriate.


    For the record I have:

    ISO on Fn 1

    AF Mode on Fn 2

    Fn3, the down cursor button is disabled by [Direct Focus Area]

    Q Menu on Fn 4

    Stabiliser on Fn 5


    Q Menu


    This is the place for items you want to access without having to delve into the main menus but do not require a dedicated portal such as a Fn button.

    Of the 40 items available 15 can be allocated to a Custom Q Menu, (see Custom Menu screen 8/9 and Instructions Page 54) but only 5 can be displayed at a time.


    I have Bracketing, Quality and AFS/AFF on the Q Menu.


    AF/AE Lock button

    This is the button in the middle of the Focus Mode lever on the back of the camera.

    See Custom Menu screen 1/9 and Instructions Page 105.


    This is well placed for back button focus.


    For single shot photos AF the [AF Lock] setting is useful. If multiple shots of the same subject at the same focussed distance are required it can also be useful to set the next tab down [AF/AE Lock Hold] to ON.


    For follow focus on a moving subject using AFC and Burst M the AF/AE Lock button can be set to AF-ON. The camera will run continuous autofocus as long as the button is held down. Thus AF can be separated from exposure metering and shutter firing. This can be useful when photographing sports where you might want the camera to follow focus continuously but only start making exposures when the right moment appears in the viewfinder.


    Shutter Type

    The G7 has a problem with shutter shock when the spring loaded mechanical shutter is used with some lenses including the popular 14-140mm zoom.

    The G80 has an entirely different electro magnetic shutter which has not (as far as I am aware) been reported to have any issues with shutter shock.


    I think you can therefore safely use the mechanical shutter all the time.

    Even better the G80 also has electronic first curtain (EFC) so under the [Shutter Type] tab in the Rec menu screen 5/8 you can set [EFC] and leave it there unless a shutter speed faster than 1/2000 is required in which case a switch to the E-Shutter is required.





      






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    Panasonic has been a leader in the compact superzoom/travel zoomcamera category for several years and has continued to offer annual model upgrades while most camera lines have gone to 3 or 4 year model cycles or dropped out completely.


    In 2011 Panasonic released 21 models across various categories.


    Thus far in 2017 there have been only four.


    One of these is the TZ90 (ZS70 in some markets). This appears to indicate Panasonic’s commitment to the TZ/ZS model line.


    The TZ90 is a mild upgrade to the previous year’s TZ80 (ZS60).


    The monitor is now swing up selfie style in keeping with the camera’s target buyer demographic.


    The sensor pixel count increases from 18 to 20. On my tests I was unable to detect any change for better or worse resulting from this.


    Otherwise the specifications, features and control layout  appear to be the same as the TZ80.


    That is no bad thing.


    At present the TZ90 is the only compact camera on the market which offers a 30x zoom, always-ready EVF of decent quality with auto eye sensor switching from monitor to EVF, fast performance with the ability to follow focus on moving subjects,  good picture quality throughout the zoom range, 4K video and 4K photo, flip up selfie style monitor (hold the camera upside down for overheads, it works just fine), good holding and handling, a decent set of controls with twin dial facility and much more.


    It fits easily into a small belt pouch or large pocket.


    It has been designed to be and indeed actually is, an ideal photographic companion for the holiday maker or traveller who does not wish to be burdened by heavy, obtrusive camera gear.


    The specifications and feature set are very comprehensive. Read all the details elsewhere but this camera has features and capabilities not found on many much more expensive interchangeable lens cameras.


    The body appears to be well built with good quality materials and panel alignment.


    The monitor unit appears to be the same as or very similar to that used in the TZ80. This has a very high gloss surface finish which resists marking by fingerprints.


    The lens zooms smoothly and all the controls work well.


    The TZ90 delivers remarkable value for money.


    Picture quality is very good. I have made prints up to 400x500mm of photos from this camera which look clear and sharp on the wall.


    The lens is sharp in the center throughout the focal length range.


    Edges are a bit soft at the wide end of the zoom and my copy is a bit soft on the left side at 135-200mm equivalent focal length.


    Although the TZ70/80/90 series all use the same lens I have found that image quality at the long end has improved with each iteration. I guess this could be the result of better quality control during manufacture and/or better OIS.  

    The camera is easy to hold and has a set of controls which can be configured to suit the snapshooter or enthusiast user.


    I can find little to criticise.


    The flash is located in the same place as it is on the TZ80. In this location the middle finger of the right hand obscures the flash. Therefore the right hand and fingers have to shift to an awkward position when the flash is being used.


    That’s about it, really.


    Overall the TZ90 is a good camera at a very attractive price and an easy model to recommend.






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    The FZ300 is a very good street camera, well suited for quick photos of people and scenes as they present themselves.
    I have not shown the test photos referred to in this post. They are totally boring and  reveal no information beyond that contained in the text.


    This subject comes up time and again  on user forums. There are endless debates about the merits of high pixel count versus low pixel count sensors.


    I quite often read confident statements by self appointed experts that  “x (pick your number) pixels is simply too many for y (pick your size) sensor” as if this were some pre-ordained truth which everybody should acknowledge.


    As it happens I have had an opportunity to test this.


    I have on hand a Panasonic FZ300 (12Mpx) and a Panasonic TZ90 (20Mpx) each using the same size 4.55x6.17mm chip, presumably made by Sony although nobody is saying.


    I photographed a test chart with each camera on tripod, OIS off, timer delay on at equivalent 50mm focal length and f4, (f4.1 on the TZ90) previously determined by me to give good sharpness with each camera, ISO 100.


    I then photographed a set subject (books on shelves) with each camera at ISO settings 100-3200 again using a tripod, OIS off, timer delay.


    I shot RAW and opened the files using Adobe Camera Raw. I set the sharpening amount at zero (default is 25) and luminance noise reduction at zero (default is zero).


    I set the color noise reduction slider to 25. Setting this at zero produces a lot of color noise which confounds perception of the luminance noise. The color noise is easily removed completely from all the files so I do that for side by side comparisons.


    I viewed the files side by side on a Dell ultrasharp monitor.


    In order to meaningfully compare files of different pixel count they need to be matched for output size. This can be done by downsizing the larger file or upsizing the smaller one.


    I did both using Bicubic Sharper in Photoshop.


    Note: there is no useful purpose to be served in comparing different sized files. Of course the larger files will appear more grainy but that is not a fair or realistic comparison. At some point in the history of any picture it will be output at a particular size.


    I also made minor adjustments to color balance and lightness so the files were as accurately equivalent as I could make them.


    Results-Resolution


    I found the TZ90 had a slight advantage in resolution when either the FZ300 files were upsized or the TZ90 files downsized.


    Note that I had to closely inspect the files side by side at 100-200% on the monitor to confirm this.


    In the real world of photography many factors completely unrelated to pixel count will determine whether a photo is perceived as having good detail resolution or not.


    These include camera shake, subject movement, lighting, type of subject, output picture size, exposure, light levels…..etcetera…..


    I rate pixel count one of the least relevant factors in determining image resolution or perceived sharpness which is a related but slightly different thing.


    Results-Luminance noise

    As indicated above noise reduction technology has advanced to the point that color noise can be readily removed from most files even at high ISO settings.


    Which leaves luminance noise appearing as grain in the photo.


    Higher ISO settings produce more grain.


    When I downsized the TZ90 files to match those of the FZ300 in output size I found a slight advantage to the FZ300 at high ISO settings.


    When I upsized the FZ300 files to match those of the TZ90 I found there was a slightly different quality to the grain pattern at ISO 3200. The FZ300 files had fewer, larger grains. The TZ90 files had more, smaller grains.


    I could not say one was preferable to the other.


    Conclusion


    The 20Mpx TZ90 delivered a very slight (but also very lens quality dependent) increase in resolution over the FZ300. This would only be evident in a controlled test setting. Resolution/sharpness in the real world is much more dependent on other factors.


    The 12Mpx FZ300 produced slightly less luminance noise at high ISO settings but only with one size matching protocol.


    Comment


    In view of these findings one must wonder why pixel counts continue to rise.


    I can only imagine the reason is marketing.


    There are still plenty of review sites which list the pixel count of cameras with the suggestion that more is better.


    With respect to the two cameras compared  in this post it would appear that unless photographers spend their lives photographing test charts more pixels are not better but not worse either.







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