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As mentioned, bridge cameras are intended to “bridge” the gap between compact and DSLR cameras. They provide the same level of manual controls and user experience as professional models. While it can be argued that this distinction is better suited to the newer Compact System Cameras (CSCs) category, bridge cameras have been on the market a lot longer and thus, the distinction remained.
Bridge vs. DSLR
In terms of appearance, a bridge camera really looks similar to a DSLR, especially to the uninitiated who may mistake one for the other. The handgrip is prominently similar, the raised hump on top of the lens that usually comes with a hot shoe (the prism on a DSLR), as well as the huge lens that protrudes on the front. The sizes are likewise comparable, and the manual control buttons and dials are similarly arranged. Higher end bridge cameras may also cost as much as an entry level DSLR. Nothing else, however is the same.
First, you cannot remove the lens of a bridge camera. In case it is equipped with a viewfinder, it would be electronic and not optical since a bridge camera, unlike a DSLR, does not have a prism or reflex mirror assemble inside. It has a different focusing system which is not as fast. Also, the image quality is inferior to a DSLR.
On the other hand, a bridge camera has some distinct advantages over a DSLR.
Bridge Camera Sensors – Basically, a bridge cam is just a compact cam in a bigger frame and higher magnification zoom lens. Likewise the sensors of a bridge cam and a regular compact model are practically of the same size. It follows that the image quality is similar as well since the biggest factor that determines the image quality of a camera is the size of its sensor (together with the pixel density.) Its small sensor is actually the ace up the sleeves of the bridge camera.
Bridge Camera Lens – Perhaps the bridge camera’s secret weapon is its lens that has a range exceeding those of most DSLRs. The minimum zoom range you can find on a bridge camera is 20x, with some models having a range of as much as 50x. A typical bridge cam’s zoom lens magnification, at maximum zoom, is equal to 500 mm on a DSLR, at the very least. The longest is up to more than 1000 mm.
The Canon PowerShot SX 50 HS’s lens, for instance, can extend to an equivalent of 24 mm to 1200 mm. No DSLR boasts of such a lens as it would be too big, too heavy, and therefore too expensive.
Currently, the DSLR model with the widest zoom lens range is the Tamron 18-270 mm F3.5-6.3 Di II VC PZD that has a range of 15x. This is equivalent to around 400 mm on a typical consumer DSLR. Sigma’s 300-800 mm f5.6 EX DG APO HSM is an example of a model with longer telephoto reach. However, it is more than 0.5m long, weighs around 6kg, costs a nice chunk of cash, and it definitely does not cover focal lengths that are more than 300mm wide.
Viewing and Composing – The DSLR’s main feature is its prism assembly and mirror that allows you to see through the lens directly using the optical viewfinder. However, this makes the DSLR bulkier. The bridge camera is designed differently in a way that you have to compose with the live view feed to an electronic viewfinder or the LCD screen. Not all LCD screens, however are oriented to shoot at low or high angles, or even for self-portraits.
Compared to an optical system, an EVF offers some advantages. These include a more accurate depiction of the white balance and exposure on the electronic image. Likewise, more shooting data is visible, including live histograms. Critical focusing may be enabled by magnifying the central area when using manual focus mode. The EVF can also be brighter compared to an optical viewfinder in low lighting conditions as the brightness level on the latter is affected by the attached lens’ maximum aperture.
The EVF’s resolution, however, doesn’t quite match up to that of an optical viewfinder. There is a bit of a lag when looking through the eyepiece. The image likewise drags or smears when you quickly pan. Saving your images sometimes results to a momentary freeze.
Compared to a typical entry level DSLR, a bridge camera usually offers just about the same control range. Most have direct buttons and dials for the main shooting parameters like White Balance and ISO, and a lot of them are raw shooters. The HD video is just about standard, although the frame rates, file formats, and bit rates may vary. Only a handful of bridge camera models come with quality audio provided by an external mic input. Newer bridge cameras have Wi-Fi. For traveling photographers, options with GPS capability are available as well.
While all bridge comes have a long zoom, the type of control may vary. Majority have a toggle switch on the body, while a few have a rotating collar installed on the lens similar to the DSLR’s zoom control. Which system is better depends on personal preference, and cannot be categorically considered better than the other. Practically all bridge cam models feature sensor-shift or optical image stabilization.
For dedicated flash, most cameras use a hotshoe which are typically compatible with the DSLR flashguns of the same manufacturer. Thus, if you own a Speedlight and a Canon DSLR, the same flashgun can be used on your PowerShot SX50 HS from the same company.
Pros and Cons
In terms of size, a bridge camera is usually bigger than a compact camera, which, depending on your specific needs, may be favorable or not. It may not literally fit your pocket, but a bridge camera is more comfortable to hold. It has a good-sized grip for one hand, and a lens that is just big enough for the other hand. You can also more easily shoot one-handed using a bridge camera compared to a pocket-sized or compact camera that can be likened to shooting with a bar of soap. In terms of direct control, a bridge model usually has more buttons. There is also a hotshoe for flash. Although some premium compact models come with these features as well, they don’t offer the same long zoom range.
A bridge model, however, is still lighter and smaller than even the most compact DSLR model with an 18-55 mm kit lens, but it offers a significantly bigger zoom magnification that would be impractical or too expensive for a DSLR to achieve.
One disadvantage is that while it is similar to a DSLR in terms of size, a bridge camera’s image quality is more like a compact camera’s because of its mall sensor. This is quite evident in higher ISOs with low light. The camera struggles and produces more noise. Because of a small sensor, it is not easy to achieve the field effects’ shallow depth that is easily done with a DSLR to draw attention to a particular scene’s narrow band of focus.
For auto-focus a bridge camera uses a contrast-detect method that is not as fast as the phase detect system used by a DSLR. This makes a bridge cam inappropriate for fast action shooting. The AF is prone to “hunting” as it works hard to find focus at higher magnification. The camera likewise shakes.
Disadvantage of Having a Big Zoom
It is not easy to keep a steady hold on a pair of binoculars. The same applies to high-zoom camera lenses. The cameras are difficult to keep still at high magnification, particularly if there is no viewfinder, and you are dependent on the LCD screen. What more if there is no viewfinder? At high zoom magnification at an arms-length distance, it would be quite difficult to handle the camera. With a viewfinder, you will be forced to rest the cam against your face to help stabilized its movement.
Another problem to deal with when shooting with high zoom is the camera’s shaking, which is magnified as the subject is magnified. While your camera may be equipped with an image stabilization system, this merely lessens the shaking, but it is not totally eliminated. You will still have to shoot at a comparatively higher shutter speed. In the past, the rule of thumb was to have a speed equivalent to the focal length being used, 1/500 sec for zooming out at 500 mm, for example, although you can do 2 or 3 steps lower with the present image mobilization systems available, and maybe even more if you are careful.
You need good lighting to achieve a faster shutter speed. A wide lens aperture will also help, which unfortunately is the waterloo of bridge cameras since most of them have very limited maximum aperture when zooming in, typically around f/6.3. Thus, in the absence of sufficient ambient light, you can keep camera shake at bay only by raising the ISO sensitivity. However, because of the small sensor, visible noise may be introduced into the image.
The only exception is Panasonic’s FZ300, which to-date is the solitary bridge camera model with f/2.8 constant maximum aperture. This is more than 2 stops brighter than most of the bridge cameras in its class.
Reasons to Buy
The Lens – The bridge camera’s big zoom lens appeals to a lot of people, whether they actually need it or not. In reality, however, there is only a handful of uses for a 1000 or 500 mm equivalent lens. Obviously, these lenses are useful for sports, as well as wildlife and nature photography. In such cases, it may not be possible to get near enough to the subject to fill the entire frame.
For example, if you like to take a photo of birds in your backyard, a gazelle in the park, or your kid participating in a school sports activity, a bridge camera may suffice. Its contrast-detect AF system, however, may find it difficult to keep up. A long lens is also ideal for travel, and for taking candid portraiture, but a typical 10x zoom lens can provide sufficient focal range for most images that are regularly shot.
The EVF – A viewfinder is important for many photographers, especially the older ones who have failing close-range vision, and who cannot see clearly through the LCD screen when not wearing their reading glasses. It may also be difficult to view the LCD under bright lighting conditions. If you are not particularly a fan of the DSLR’s complexity and bulk, you will appreciate that a viewfinder is still standard for bridge cameras, although in electronic form. You can find Compact System Cameras (also known as CSC or ILC) equipped with a view finder, but these models are comparatively more expensive.
The Size and Shape – If you find compact models to be too fiddly because of your big hands, the shape and design of a bridge camera may be more to your liking as it offers a substantial grip similar to a DSLR. You can more easily support the lens; the buttons are of decent size that helps minimize the need to keep referring to the menu.
Features to Consider
An advanced bridge camera may cost as much as a late-model smartphone, so it is important to make sure that your purchase will be worth it. A good choice would be a camera with a large image sensor, at least 1”. To compare, a 1” chip is about 7x bigger than the camera sensor of a smartphone. Look for one with a huge quality boost, particularly when shooting in dim lighting conditions. The details will be crisp when cropping the photo or making a bigger print.
Another thing to look for is a camera with a good lens characterized by a max aperture of around f/1.8 or a minimum of f/2.2 (the smaller the number, the bigger the aperture). The lens will allow more light in for a better low-light shot. A lens with a similar grade on a DSLR may be more expensive than the bridge camera itself.
A high performance bridge camera boasts of a robust construction, usually made of a metal alloy. This ensures durability for a camera that you will most likely lug around, toss in bags, or stick in pockets a lot. A tilting or rotating screen will make taking shots from creative angles easier, although you may be forced to do without it as there aren’t too many options available. 4k videos are slowly finding their way into bridge cameras, and this should be a welcome development.
It is now common to find point and shoot cameras equipped with 10 or 20x zooms; thus you can expect a considerably longer telephoto lens from a bridge model. A unit with at least 50x zoom wouldn’t be hard to find. A lot of models even boast of 80x zoom. While the aperture may not be very large, you should at least choose a model that can go down to f/4.5 at the very least.
The small sensor size shouldn’t be a problem. While it may only be around 10% of a typical entry-level DSLR sensor, this is what makes the camera size more compact and less bulky. What matters are the features that allow the long lens to be usable. An ultrazoom camera must have great electronic and optical image stabilization because camera shake is magnified when zooming in.
It is also important to have a decent electronic viewfinder. You can steady the camera by placing it against your face. The EVF must be quite bright, rich color, and sufficient resolution. It should be a minimum of 640 x 480 pixels. A metal body may not be available for a bridge camera.
An articulating screen, or one that can flip out to the side and tilt up to around 2700 is ideal. A touch screen is also nice to have.
As previously mentioned, bridge cameras is the category that “bridges” the gap between pocket consumer cameras and professional models. When testing various models, we took that into consideration and shot primarily under default settings, while judiciously making some tweaks in the settings like ISO light sensitivity or aperture when testing some of the camera’s aspects.
These cameras thrive and perform well in brightly lit environments. When looking for shading and fine detail, close up shots were done, using 1/100 second or faster shutter speeds, as well as the lowest ISO possible to prevent graininess or motion blur, and around f/8 aperture or more to make sure that the shallow field depth won’t obscure detail.
Wide colorful scene shots were taken to judge exposure quality and overall color, mostly keeping the cameras in default picture-style modes and optimized lighting throughout the frame with matrix/evaluative meeting. We likewise took photos of people since people are among the most common subjects. Detail and accuracy on hair, eyes, and skin were noted.
Cameras were steadied by placing them on a table, railing, or tripod. Shots were don in twilight using ISO settings range. The highest levels were noted before the details started to blur out and graininess provided distractions.
Burst mode with AF continuously turned on was used for autofocus testing to check how well the camera handled moving subjects like a pet, vehicle or people. Face recognition was usually applied on people because it obviously is the most ideal way in keeping focus on persons.
The ability of the cameras to autofocus while video recording was tested, when available. The tracking autofocus setting was used, and this made it easier to designate the subjects to focus on.
In other tests, scenes with minimal motion were shot under bright and low lights. Some may not find this interesting, but it is a great way to gauge audio quality and detail.
1. Sony DSC-RX10 III Review
Designed for the enthusiast, the DSC-RX10 III from Sony comes with F2.4-4 lens that is equivalent to a 24-600 mm, as well as a 20 MP 1-inch stacked type CMOS sensor. The Sony RX10 II and RX10 IV models share the same BIONZ X image processor and sensor, and offer superior dynamic range, high ISO performance levels. 4K video and high speed video capture range modes are available as well.
The Sony RX series is designed for shooting both stills and videos, and the DSC-RX10 III is not an exception. The defining feature of the RX10 III is its enormous zoom lens. When examined one after the other, the RX10 II and III may look similar. However, when viewed side by side, it becomes apparent that the design of the RX10 III was tweaked to accommodate the significant increase (3X) in zoom power. The grip and the body has more chunk, and it is heavier as well. Simply put, the two are not twins, but obviously siblings.
Some people will immediately purchase the RX10 III based on its zoom alone. However, it is worth considering if the 600 mm reach is really necessary for you. Most likely, you don’t need it if you are unsure. This doesn’t mean that the RX10 III is not worth buying because it actually is. It has an excellent lens even if you only need to use the extreme range sparingly.
The extreme reach must be placed in proper perspective. While the Sony model’s 600 mm zoom may seem small time compared to the 24-2000 mm zoom of the Nikon Coolpix P900, the latter is placed in front of a significantly smaller sensor. Both cameras try to strike a good balance between size and image quality with their similar 1” sensors. The image quality speaks for itself when compared to smaller sensor options. Larger sensors mean better quality and more light.
Whether you need the extreme reach or not will greatly depend on the photography type you will most likely do. Bear in mind, however, that a long telephoto focal length, similar to a wide angle and very short focal length, may require a bit of practice to get used to. The fact that you can zoom in to a subject closer does not mean an increase in photo or video quality.
Having said that, it is time to take a closer look at what the lens is capable of. The zoom lens of the RX10 III takes a full 3 or 4 seconds to go through the entire zoom range. Likewise, when powering up, it takes a much longer time for the glass to fully extend compared to either the Canon G3 X (that has a considerably more compact lens that compromises the speed of its maximum aperture) or the Panasonic FZ1000 (that has a much lesser reach.)
While Sony RX10 III’s 9-blade lens (for a more solid out-of-focus rendering) trumps the Mark II model’s lens because of its 7-blade aperture, it does not come with the older model’s built-in ND filter. The filter is particularly useful when taking videos under broad daylight. Although the lens has a threaded front that allows you to just add a new ND filter, it would still be more convenient to have the option ready and available with just a single press of the button.
Other than this omission, however, the Sony RX10 III everything that made the older RX10 II an impressive camera in its own right. The sensor performs exceptionally well, the high frame rate and 4k video has the required details and is of superior quality, and its body is weather sealed. Unfortunately, because the newer RX10 III has a lot in common with the RX10 II, you understandably will encounter the usual problems and the autofocus system that is contrast-detection only. Although the system works just fine for subjects that are static, it noticeably struggles with subjects at low contrast, as well as in telephoto distances where camera hunting can be minimized by phase-detection.
If fast action shooting is not your usual fare, then the RX10 III will do just fine as a vacation camera for the entire family. It can be a complete video and photo option even for a journalist working in a newsroom that is tightly staffed. It will also do well in documentary photography where it would be difficult to get near your subject.
To put it simply, the high quality of the lens, not to mention the rest of the features, is already a technical achievement for the RX10 III. The F2.4-4 zoom lens equivalent of a 24-600 mm will impress with its sharpness – whether focused on infinity or up close, zoomed out or zoomed in.
Despite its appealing 14 fps continuous shooting capability with focus locked, the RX10 III is not an ideal sports shooting equipment. For outright versatility, however, such as when you suddenly need a 600 mm but are not inclined on renting a DSLR lens, when you need a decent and compact 4k unit, or when you need a camera to get workable shots in circumstances where using ILC cameras is not allowed, then the RX10 III will be your perfect solution.
The versatility of the lens makes it possible to capture a wide range of unique scene perspectives without requiring you to move a lot. Now, if you are bothered by the nagging question on whether you really need a 600 mm camera handy all the time, then most likely, you don’t.
While getting a camera with less reach may save you some cash, the RX10 III performs just as well, if not better, at wide focal lengths compared to its competitors. This does not mean, however, that you will never need a 600 mm. This simply means that you may find less use for it that you may have initially expected.
Getting the most benefits out of your super telephoto lens may take a while to achieve. However, this is probably applicable to most super wide angle lenses. But if you have the time and are willing to put it some effort to experiment and explore a little, then you will eventually be convinced of the photographic performance and versatility of the RX10 III.
The Sony RX10 III may be bulky and a bit pricy; however, there is no doubt about the quality images it can produce. The bridge camera is ideal for an enthusiast videographer, a frequent traveler, or a visual storyteller. There are not too many cameras on the market today that can boast of the impressive zoom range and video features of this model.
2. Canon PowerShot G3 X Review
With a 25-600 mm f/2.8-5.6 zoom lens, the PowerShot G3 X is no doubt an impressive camera. It covers an incredible variety of photography subjects – from landscapes to wildlife. It easily trumps pocket-sized superzooms that have smaller imagers with the its 20 MP, 1” image sensor, especially when testing the ISO in dimly lit conditions.
The fact that Canon is the undisputed leader in terms of camera sales, it does not mean that its line-up is always the best or the latest. A few years back Canon had the best point and shoot cameras in its G-Series, but Panasonic’s FZ1000 and Sony’s RX10 hugged the limelight in the past year as they both featured sizeable 1” sensors, long zoom lenses that come with wide maximum apertures, as well as numerous manual control options packed in a body similar to a DSLR.
Now, if you think that Canon would easily give up the point and shoot leadership to Panasonic and Sony without putting up a gallant stand, think again. The PowerShot G3 X has arrived. It is built to face the best point and shoot cameras on the market head on. The Canon model also boasts of a 1” sensor, wide max aperture, myriads of manual control, as well as a sturdy body that is weather-resistant. More importantly, Canon does better than its competitors in terms of zoom with its amazing 25x ratio.
The G3 X may initially look like any other bridge camera or a low end interchangeable lens camera. It has a chunky grip that makes the camera convenient to hold. The lens that protrudes from the rectangular-shaped body takes all the attention at the front of the unit.
The smooth control ring located around the lens may not include zoom control but it allows manual focusing anytime you want. To do that, you have to utilize the zoom slider found at the top of the camera, specifically around the shutter release. While at it, you will see that a lot of the controls are similar to the manual-type wheels and knobs that are usually found in the old G-Series models. If you are not familiar with them, there is nothing to worry about since a lot of user-friendly controls and automatic modes are available. These help make doing things with the camera simple.
The camera is equipped with a 1”, 20 MP sensor running on a Digic 6 microprocessor that has Wi-Fi, 5-axis optical image stabilization, as well as an NFC chip. The main feature of the G3 X, however, is its full frame 24-600 mm f/2.8-5.6 25x lens. Its telephoto reach is longer than its nearest competitors, the Panasonic FZ1000 and the Sony RX10 that can only boast of 400 mm and 200 mm, respectively. There is a trade-off, however. Its aperture closes down to merely f/5.6 practically throughout the zoom range. It allows less light compared to the competition, which negatively affects the quality of low light images when zooming in.
Another important distinction is the water and dust-resistant body of the G3 X. Still, if you are looking for something that you can take swimming, you might want to check out a completely waterproof camera. Sony claims that its RX10 can handle moisture well. On the other hand, Canon says the G3x is designed to withstand rough weather conditions just like the EOS 70D model. This is a big claim and such level of sealing is unheard of in higher end point and shoot models. This gives the G3 X a decided advantage.
At the back, you will find the articulating 3.2” 1620k-dot LCD that flips way up for selfie shots. While it may be difficult to do, considering the weight and size of the camera, it is possible to take great-looking shots without a lot of hassle. It can also be tilted downwards (although not too far) to shoot over crowds.
Similar to most bridge cams, the G3 X’s grip is chunky, and provides a lot of area to hold on to. While it can still be bigger, it provides sufficient support to hold the camera steady. Your free hand may be used for support as well, just like when using a DSLR.
If you capture a lot of videos, you will find the headphone and mic jacks at the camera’s left side, with the HDMI output at the right side. Although it cannot be considered a professional-grade model, it is compatible with a wide variety of professional accessories that significantly improves your options.
The G3 X is packed with lots of extra features designed to please technologically-demanding users. It is, after all, intended to be a complete point and shoot model; thus, Canon made sure that it has everything users will ever want and need – NFC, Wi-Fi, water resistance, 5-axis image stabilization, huge zoom range, and RAW shooting, among many others. It has everything, except for a viewfinder.
Although many users who are upgrading from lower point and shoot models may not find it a deal breaker, having a viewfinder makes specific photography types a lot easier such as taking shots on bright days. The camera has a decent screen, and you will definitely find its ability to tilt upwards or downwards quite useful, although if it is bright outdoors, you may struggle to accurately focus and frame your shots.
You have the option to include an external viewfinder through the hotshoe, but expect it to jack up the already high price of the G3 X. the hotshoe is useful in many ways, as well including the capability to attach a LED array or an external flash. Just make sure not to add power-greedy items since the battery is small.
The G3 X uses the same NB-10L cell battery used by other point and shoot models such as the SX50 HS. It can take about 300 shots in a single charge, which is decent enough. If you are on vacation, make sure to bring along a charged spare battery.
If you are considering the camera for its zoom, you will like the feature that allows you to track your subject. There are instances when you easily lose your subject, especially when shooting from a distance. Just press the frame assist button found at the lens barrel side to make the camera briefly zoom out. You will find a white box at the rear screen. Move your subject back into the box, and the G3 X will zoom in back to where you previously were.
The feature has been used on past iterations of Canon superzoom camera models, and it suits the G3 X well. The 25x zoom is nothing to scoff at either. The fact that the lens is compact and comes with a 1” image sensor is impressive enough, technologically speaking. However, it doesn’t help the camera’s ability to accurately focus on subjects that are moving, simply because it is not fast enough in locking onto subjects. The tap-to-focus feature is available, but in many cases, manual focus may be preferable. This involves using the big focus ring located on the camera’s lens barrel.
The advent of 1” sensors during the past few years has immensely improved the quality of image among the higher end point and shoot models. Except for a few special models that have bigger sensors, performance of cameras such as the G3 X, FZ1000, and RX10 is head and shoulders above the rest of the models in the small-sensor niche.
Bigger sensors allow the camera to let more light in, and this eliminates a lot of the usual problems associated with typical point and shoot cameras like poor low light performance and diffraction. A small sensor is ideal if you need lots of zoom for smaller focal lengths. This will allow you to zoom in on a subject from a distance. While the G3 X doesn’t have a large zoom such as 50x or 60x, it does come with a 1” sensor and a decent 25x zoom.
In most of our tests, the large sensor did quite well, providing superior white balance and color performance. It also came up with an impressive dynamic range, as well as decent shadow detail and highlight retention. Combined, the sensor and lens, however, did not do as well. While the long zoom can be advantageous, the images soften once the halfway mark of the zoom range is reached – even with lots of over-sharpening like what Canon did with the G3 X.
You may experience terrible autofocus issues, particularly when shooting in telephoto. In the absence of a viewfinder, it is sometimes hard to tell whether or not your subject is in focus. This is particularly true if the subject is in motion. Sometimes, you may think that you got a good shot, but the autofocus did not get things right.
In terms of video performance, the G3 X is excellent, although some nice to have features like 4k video are not available. You can get 1080p high quality sharpness in bright and low light conditions, with minimal trailing or artifacting even in patterns that are high-frequency. For best results, try using the movie mode’s 60fps setting. You can expect bigger files, but you will have superior HD quality output.
Overall, the Canon G3 X camera easily trumps the cheap point and shoot cameras. Similar to its predecessors like the G7 X and the G1 X Mark II, it is a hefty point and shoot camera equipped with a 1” sensor and advanced DSLR-type controls. It is even more formidable with its other features like RAW shooting, 5-axis image stabilization, and weather sealing.
3. Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330 Review
The Lumix DMC-FZ330, known in the US as FZ300, is a superzoom, water-proof camera equipped with a 24x wide-angle Leica zoom lens. It has a constant f/2.8 max aperture throughout the entire 25-600 mm range. It is a bridge-style successor to the successful Canon FZ200. The compact FZ330 provides 25/24 fps 4k video recording that includes the ability to extract 8MP high resolution images, 3” 1040k pixel rotating touchscreen LCD, spanking new Venus Engine, 1.44M dot OLED electronic viewfinder w/ magnification of 0.7X, high sensitivity 12.1 MP MOS image sensor, and continuous 12fps shooting (w/o autofocus) and 6fps (w/ autofocus).
The camera likewise offers Light Speed autofocus equipped with the innovative Depth from Defocus or DFD technology, accessory shoe for external flash, optional stereo microphone, 5-Axis Hybrid OIS+ system, complete range of modes for manual shooting, 1cm MM macro mode, RAW format support, 100-6400 ISO range, and Wi-Fi connectivity.
The DMC-FZ330’s external design looks a lot like the FZ200, its predecessor. For all intents and purposes, it is like a DSLR camera except for an electronic viewfinder and a large, singular fixed lens. The fixed, 24x zoom lens dominates the entire camera, and offers a versatile 25-600 mm focal range. While it may be smaller than some of its main competitors, it actually offers sufficient reach and width to cater to the needs of most photographers.
It has a maximum F/2.8 aperture in the entire zoom range, which is not common for cameras in this class. This is a big edge for the DMC-FZ330 as it makes getting sharper results possible. Likewise, it allows you to capture better looking shots in the zoom range’s extreme ends, though this review prefers a faster, shorter lens to a slower, longer version. This, however, depends on the user’s preference.
The new 5-Axis Hybrid OIS+ system from Panasonic helps any unnecessary camera shakes, but you will have to use a tripod or a fast shutter speed when at the telephoto part of the massive zoom range. The Active Mode is added to the OIS system automatically when shooting video, which makes up for the additional blur that happens when shooting video and walking simultaneously. The optic is protected and encased by a chunky barrel when not being used. Bear in mind that the lens, when fully zoomed, extends by 6cms. The FZ330 measures around 15cms in terms of depth that makes the camera very noticeable.
A detachable, petal-shaped lens hood to keep lens flare at bay is included in the package. Likewise, a clip on-type lens cap can be attached to one of the available catches through a thread to make a shoulder strap. The Nano Surface Coating applied to the lens further helps avoid any unnecessary ghosting or flare effects.
The AF Macro/Focus button can be found on the lens barrel side. Selecting AFC or AFS/AFF on the switch located at the camera rear toggles between the 3 macro modes (Macro Zoom, AF Macro, and Macro Off). Activating the MF focus through your left forefinger quickly lets you focus manually. This is similar to activating a conventional manual-type lens focus ring. You can manually set the focus range anywhere between 1 cm an infinity by selecting MF. The frame’s central portion is enlarged to determine sharpness more accurately.
The DMC-FZ330 also offers the Focus Peaking Feature. When activated, it shows the focus peak in the AF+MF and MF modes graphically by showing an outline surrounding the subject. You can set the detection level to either “Low” or “High.” When in “High” mode, you can select a color that includes yellow, green, and light blue. In “Low,” you can choose from orange, blue, or white.
The camera is equipped with a vertical zoom rocker found at the lens barrel side. This provides another way to zoom to the main lever that is typically forefinger-operated. It comes in handy when holding the camera to shoot a video, or when the shutter button is operated using your right hand while zooming with your left.
The FZ330’s front is bare-looking, except for the self-timer/AF assist light at the left side of the lens. The hand-grip is of decent size and has a leather effect, tactile detailing. Its base houses the battery pack. The standard battery is a sizeable lithium-ion rechargeable battery. This is a welcome relief to the usual 4 AA batteries that power most bridge camera models today.
A pop-up, swift access flash on top of the lens comes with a dedicated switch for activation beside it. Likewise, a hotshoe to mount the external flashgun is also available. The maximum range coverage of the flash is around 13.5 m at wide angle. Above the popup flash are 2 small holes intended for the built-in stereo mic that has been retained from the older FZ200 model.
The camera is not intended to fit in your pocket, being better suited to be placed inside a small-sized shoulder bag. It measures 131.6×91.5×117.1 mm that is just a bit larger than the older FZ200 model. Made from all-plastic materials, the DMC-FZ330 is sturdy enough to withstand one or two knocks. In your hand, the camera feels rugged and solid, but surprisingly lightweight and portable at only around 600g. The viewfinder, which is a 39” EVF, is a welcome addition. It has a 100% field of view with a 1440k dots improved resolution, and 0.7% magnification. These are huge leaps from previous FZ iterations.
The IEEE 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi function allows you to change the settings using your smartphone. These include exposure compensation, focus setting, WB, ISO, and photo styles. You can remotely fire up the shutter button that includes interval video recordings. On the other hand, the auto transfer function backs up your photos automatically on a tablet. Your smartphone’s GPS data can be used to record the location setting on our images. There is also a time-lapse function that allows you to set the number of images and the time interval, as well as a multi-exposure option that allows combining as much as 4 exposures in one frame.
The intelligent Auto Mode on the FZ330 comes in handy for both movies and still pictures. To do this, just choose the iA shooting mode found at the top of the camera, and the Movie Record button next. With the Intelligent Scene Selector, you can determine the most appropriate scene mode automatically. These include Scenery, Portrait, Low Light, Normal, and Close-up modes. The Face Detection feature automatically detects faces in the frame and accordingly adjusts exposure, focus skin complexion, and contrast. On the other hand, intelligent exposure checks the level of ambient lighting continually, and then adjusts the setting of the exposure to adapt to changing conditions. This prevents blocked shadows and blown highlights.
The available Image Stabilizer prevents hand-shaking and blurring when you use a compatible lens or holding the camera through the body. A great advantage of having a touchscreen control system is the availability of Touch Auto Focusing in movie recording. This enables rack-like, professional-grade focusing just by pointing at your subject on the LCD.
You will immediately notice the touch function’s ability to utilize the single area AF mode in focusing on the main subject by tapping on the screen. The FZ330 will instinctively follow when the subject moves through the AF tracking function. Once the subject gets out of the frame completely, just re-compose and tap the object again to begin focusing. These are good stuff that help make focusing on subjects that are off-center intuitive and fast. Admittedly, it is quite easy to press the screen accidentally and reset the point of focus on the current subject to the incorrect area. Just by tapping in the center of the LCD screen will bring the AF point to the right focus. This feature may be turned off altogether, if desired.
Images produced by the Lumix DMC-FZ330 are of superior quality. There is well-controlled noise up to the ISO 1600 point. There are some signs of blurring of detail, artifacts, and minimal color desaturation. The loss of detail and the noise increasingly become worse beyond the ISO 1600 mark and as you approach the fastest setting at 6400. The outputs are rendered unusable at this point.
In terms of chromatic aberrations, the DMC-FZ330 fares well. Minimal purple fringing effects appear in high contrast situations only. On the other hand, the pop-up flash does a good job indoors, resulting to sufficient exposure with no red-eye. Night photography is excellent with this camera. The 60-second maximum shatter speed allows you to take in a lot of light. When holding the FZ330 under low-lighting conditions, you can expect the anti-shake feature to perform well. This also comes in handy when you use the zoom range’s telephoto end.
The macro performance is impressive. It allows focusing as proximate as 1cm away from your subject, though it may be difficult to achieve the correct lighting at such proximity. When at default setting, the images tend to be on the soft side coming right out of the cam, and may need more sharpening using an app such as Adobe Photoshop, or changing the setting in-camera if the default results are not to your liking.
With the Intelligent Resolution feature, you can either make standard images look sharper (though with the appearance of some unwanted artifacts) or digitally increase the optical zoom from 24x to 48x but with a slight deterioration in quality. Both the IDR and HDR can successfully adjust the exposure to make recording more details in both the shadows and highlights possible.
The Lumix DMC-FZ330 from Panasonic is definitely an improvement from its successful fore-runner, the FZ200. Just consider the new enhancements and additions like a better LCD screen, viewfinder, faster start-up and auto-focusing times, touch-sensitive interface, enhanced optical image stabilization system, sturdier weatherproof build, and Panasonic’s own still and 4k video technology.
The same high quality image output has been retained because of the perfect combo of the superior f/2.8 25-600 mm lens and the sensible 12 MP sensor. Although it may not be convincing enough for FZ200 users to upgrade to the newer model, the FZ330 is a good option for first-time buyers of bridge cameras.
Most of the leading manufacturers have focused on making bigger superzoom camera models in terms of focal range. Meanwhile, Panasonic continuously resists the trend by coming out with the FZ300 that has a faster lens, instead of making it longer. The f/2.8 aperture remains constant throughout the comparatively modest zoom range of 24x that arguably provides more benefits to the user than an increased telephoto reach. In reality, the f/2.8 aperture at 600 mm provides much fewer blurred photos, with the advantage of creating more backgrounds that are out of focus.
Aside from the 12 MP sensor and the f/2.8 lens, the DMC-FZ330 likewise bears the same launching price that the FZ200 had in 2012. This is a good move on the part of Panasonic as it comes just when manufacturers are churning out more expensive and more sophisticated compact cameras. While the price may still seem too much for a small sensor camera, the DMC-FZ300 can justify the price with the enhancements it has packed into the camera.