It’s been three years since Panasonic announced a successor to the Lumix FZ200 DSLR-like bridge camera. The new FZ300 ($600, available in October) retains the 24X optical zoom Leica-design lens and 12.1-megapixel, 1/2.3-inch High Sensitivity MOS sensor, but it has a new splash- and dust-proof exterior, image processor, and 4K Photo and 4K video functions.
The highlight of the camera is the fixed zoom lens, which is similar to the FZ200’s, but now has higher zoom power. While 24X (25-600mm in 35mm-equivalent terms) won’t break any records, it’s sufficient for most users. With a constant f/2.8 aperture across the entire focal range, you can achieve shallow depth of field at full telephoto with high precision correction performance to minimize distortion, Panasonic says. The lens also uses Nano Surface Coating to reduce ghosting and flaring, to achieve sharper images. The lens has built-in optical image stabilization to keep things steady; Panasonic says the camera has 5-axis stabilization, but it’s a combination of lens and digital stabilization.
The FZ300 records 4K (3,840 x 2,160 at 30p or 24p) video, a feature that’s showing up in almost every new Panasonic camera. But the FZ300 also has a new feature called 4K Photo (introduced in the Lumix G7, which is different from previous 4K Photo modes) that lets you grab 8-megapixel stills out of a 4K video (the function crops into the sensor). After the video is recorded, you can scroll through it and pick out the ones your want, which is then exported to an 8MP JPEG file (done in-camera). It’s ideal for moderate action scenes where you can’t anticipate that ah-ha moment. Unlike the G7, however, 4K video is limited to 30 minutes per clip, but the FZ300 is the most affordable Panasonic camera with these 4K features. In addition, a mic socket has been added, and, like the FZ200, it can record high-speed, high-definition video (720p) at 120 frames per second (fps).
While the FZ300 uses the same sensor as the FZ200, it’s using a newer image processor that was introduced in the new GX8. The Venus Engine “excels in diffraction compensation to make the resulting image crisp and clear even when shot with a small aperture,” Panasonic says. It also improves color reproduction and pushes ISO up to 6,400 (with advanced noise reduction at higher ISOs).
Autofocus has also improved: Panasonic says it’s 350 percent faster than the FZ200, with a burst speed of 12 fps or 6 fps with continuous focus. The shutter speed has a max speed of 1/4,000th of a second, but can reach 1/16,000th when using the electronic shutter. The FZ300 also has several new focusing options, such as Full Area AF, Pinpoint AF, and Low Light AF/Starlight AF (the ability to focus on faint starlight is cool).
There are several noticeable cosmetic changes, including a new dial on top, but the FZ300’s body is also weatherproof. It’s not magnesium alloy, but it can withstand light splashes or dusting; Panasonic says it meets the standards it employs for its interchangeable lens cameras. The FZ300 also has a better electronic viewfinder: the 1,440K-dot OLED-based EVF has a 0.7x magnification and high contrast, making it brighter than the one in the FZ200. There’s Wi-Fi built in, but no NFC.
The FZ300 is a nice bridge camera for users who don’t want to step up to a mirrorless or DSLR, and 4K video is somewhat of a future-proof feature. It has a very DSLR-like look and feel. For its intended user, the FZ300 should be able to deliver satisfying image and video quality, and having that strong lens is a nice plus. It’s much more affordable than Panasonic’s FZ1000, which has a shorter zoom range and lacks the constant aperture and newer 4K Photo mode, but that camera has a larger sensor.