Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300

      Photo Review 8.8
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      In summary

      Three years ago, when the FZ200 was released, it was one of the fastest cameras in the super-zoom category.

      The FZ300 improves upon that performance and also delivers higher resolution, better stabilisation and 4K movie recording in a more robust, weather-sealed body.

      Capable of tackling most imaging and movie recording tasks, the FZ300 should please travellers who want for a single camera that is relatively compact and light to carry.

      Its only downside is its relatively small image sensor, which limits its low-light capabilities somewhat. But it also keeps its price tag at an ‘affordable’ level.

      The combination of the long zoom range and effective stabilisation should make this camera popular among birders and other wildlife photographers. Yet, at the same time, the 25mm equivalent wide angle of view suits genres as diverse as landscape photography, group portraiture and everyday snapshooting.

       

      Full review

      The latest FZ-series camera from Panasonic, the Lumix DMC-FZ300, updates the FZ200 model we reviewed in September 2012. While the FZ300 retains its predecessor’s 12.1-megapixel sensor and Leica-branded 24x f/2.8 zoom lens, it introduces a new Venus Engine processor and improved autofocusing system. Other noteworthy updates include the 1,440K-dot OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) LVF (Live View Finder) and support for 4K recording.

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      Angled front view of the Lumix DMC-FZ300. (Source: Panasonic.)

      The sensor is still a relatively small 6.17 x 4.55 mm chip, which keeps the RRP for this camera fairly low ““ and only AU$100 more than the FZ200’s RRP when it was released. It’s roughly a quarter the size of the sensor in the more up-market FZ1000, which sells for $100 more and has a shorter zoom range but higher resolution and also supports 4K recording.

      Who’s it for?
       Cameras in Panasonic’s FZ series have always been popular with travellers, partly because of their relatively long zoom range but also because their lenses are usually faster than those attached to smaller-bodied digicams. The constant f/2.8 maximum aperture provides a bright image that will be particularly useful for wildlife photographers, particularly birders. Although the small sensor limits background de-focusing, at the maximum optical zoom range, background blurring is better than we expected for a small-sensor digicam.

      We took the review camera on a camping trip that included kayaking on flat water. Because it has splash- and dust-proof sealing, we felt confident it could be used for shooting from the kayak as well as in heavy mist and light rain. The camera justified these beliefs and performed well, even in near-freezing conditions.

      Support for 4K video recording is another reason to buy this camera, even if you don’t have a 4K TV set. The ability to record movies with 3840 x 2160-pixel resolution allows you to extract 8-megapixel   frames from the clips and produce acceptable A4-sized print, should you wish. The camera also supports normal 1920 x 1080-pixel video recording with progressive and interlaced scanning and a choice between 50 and 25 frames/second, which is ideal for playback on widescreen HD TV sets.

      What’s New?
       Although it retains the same sensor and lens as the FZ200, the FZ300 introduces some significant advantages, which are listed below.

      1. Splash- and dust-proof sealing enables the camera to withstand harsh weather conditions and makes it suitable for outdoor photographers.

      2. The latest Venus Engine processor is faster and more capable, delivering superior noise reduction at high ISO settings, adding diffraction compensation for small lens apertures and enabling the FZ300 to provide 4K video recording (see below). It also enables a fast 12 frames/second (fps) shooting rate at full-resolution with the mechanical shutter or 60 fps shooting with the electronic shutter.

      3. Five-axis Hybrid O.I.S.+ stabilisation can compensate for horizontal, vertical and rotational movements as well as pitch and yaw. Its full capabilities are only available when recording movie clips at 1080p or lower resolutions. In addition, the built-in Level Shot Function can detect horizontal lines in the scene and maintain it even if the camera is tilted, a handy feature when recording movie clips.

      4. Both the monitor and EVF screens have higher resolution. The monitor’s resolution has increased from 460,000 dots in the FZ200 to 1,040,000 dots and it includes touch control. The EVF has been upgraded to an OLED display with 2,360,000 dots (compared with 1,312,000  dots in the FZ200). It also has a proximity sensor that switches between the monitor and EVF when you raise the camera to your eye. The monitor can be used as a touch-pad for setting focus while framing shots with the EVF.

      5. The 49-area  AF system is based upon Panasonic’s G-system cameras and features the latest Light Speed AF, which includes the Depth From Defocus technology, which was introduced with the GH4.  The system has a refresh rate of 240 frames per second and includes predictive AF algorithms that make focusing roughly twice as fast as in the FZ200, particularly for tracking AF. Low-light AF performance is also improved and the system can operate as low as -3EV with Starlight AF (which is automatically initiated if the camera detects stars in the night sky).

      6. An electronic shutter has been added, augmenting the mechanical system with a top speed of 1/16,000 second. Additionally, the mechanical shutter can operate at 1/4000 second when the lens is stopped down below f/4, something not available with the FZ200.

      7. 4K recording functions are the same as in other recent Panasonic digicams, with a top movie resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels at 24 or 30 frames/second.  Like other recent 4K-enabled Panasonic cameras, the FZ300’s 4K photo mode uses the camera’s movie-recording function to capture 8-megapixel still images at 30 frames/second, with recording beginning when you half-press the shutter button. The 4K Pre-burst and 4K Burst modes are outlined in our review of the Panasonic G7. A new 4K Burst(S/S) mode lets you add a marker to a movie clip. Up to 40 markers can be added, enabling you to skip from one to the next in playback mode.

      8. The FZ300 also offers the same Full HD and HD movie recording options as the FZ200, including a high-speed video recording is available in HD quality (720p), with a frame rate of 100 frames/second or with VGA quality at 200 frames/second. Clips played back at normal speeds reveal dramatic slow motion sequences. Photos taken with the burst modes are automatically organised and can be played back either in the camera or on a computer using the bundled PHOTOfunSTUDIO software.  

      9. Built-in Wi-Fi enables the FZ300 to interact with a smart device loaded with the Panasonic Image App and supports remote controls of the camera’s focusing, shutter release and image playback functions as well as sharing of images and movie clips via social media. Geotagging is available using data from the smart device and Android and iOS devices can pair via a QR code on the camera’s display.

      10. The dedicated macro mode supports autofocusing down to 1 cm from the subject at the lens’s widest angle of view. In addition, the Macro Zoom setting provides further magnification of up to 3x via the Digital Zoom control, also at 1 cm from the subject at the   widest angle of view.

      11. Panorama shooting has been moved from the Scene pre-sets to the mode dial, where it’s been dubbed ‘Creative Panorama’. The function is essentially unchanged and works like the Sony Sweep Panorama function. You simply select the direction of the pan, choose between standard and wide sizes and pan across the   scene to capture wide-field views. The camera stitches the frames together automatically.

      12. In-camera raw file processing is also available, although the resulting images can only be saved in JPEG format. However, adjustments can be made to exposure levels, white balance, Photo Style, highlight and shadow rendition and a number of other parameters.

      Build and Ergonomics
       Panasonic’s basic SLR-like design has barely changed in the FZ300, although the new camera is marginally larger and heavier than its predecessor and a bit squarer in styling. For a fairly large and bulky digicam, the new model is relatively light and the zoom lens packs away to make the camera fit easily into a smallish bag.
       Build quality is generally very good,  despite the high plastic content. The front grip is deep and both front rear grips have a textured, rubber-like cladding that feels comfortable and secure.

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      Front view of the Lumix DMC-FZ300. (Source: Panasonic.)

      There are no controls on the front panel, which is dominated by the lens. An inset LED just below the mode dial at the top of the front panel doubles as AF-assist and self-timer indicator.

      The built-in Leica DC Vario-Elmarit lens has a 24x   zoom range, covering angles of view equivalent to 25-600mm in 35mm format. The constant f/2.8 maximum aperture ensures high light levels throughout the aperture and focal length ranges.

      The lens design includes five aspherical elements with a total of nine aspherical surfaces, as well as three extra-low dispersion elements help to control chromatic aberrations. Nano Surface Coating helps to reduce lens flare and ghosting for increased contrast. Digital zoom magnification extends the zoom range by up to 4x with some loss in image quality. The Intelligent Zoom function provides 2x magnification with less quality loss and no loss of resolution, while the Extra Optical Zoom (EZ) settings reduce resolution to produce 29.4x and 46.9x zoom magnifications at 8 megapixels and 3 megapixels, respectively.    

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      Top views of the FZ300 showing the lens retracted and extended. (Source: Panasonic.)

      There have been a few changes to the layout of the top panel, the most significant being the relocation of the movie button to just behind the shutter button to make it easier to reach. The drive button has been dispensed with in favour of two Function buttons (one more than the FZ200) plus an embedded Wi-Fi indicator LED.
       

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      Close-up view of the top panel controls. (Source: Panasonic.)

      The default setting for the Fn1 button is exposure compensation but both buttons can be programmed to handle any one of the usual array of functions. The mode dial has been redesigned to include a new Creative Panorama mode at the expense of one of the two Custom memory positions. The zoom lever and shutter button are now black instead of silver.

      The main control dial now sits up on the top panel, just above the thumb rest, where it’s easier to operate with a thumb. The housing for the pop-up flash has been simplified and the microphone ports are now two tiny holes between the flash and hot shoe.  A slider switch left of the housing pops up the flash.  

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      The rear panel of the FZ300 with the monitor reversed onto the camera body. (Source: Panasonic.)

      As well as providing greatly improved resolution, the FZ300’s EVF has a larger eyecup with a proximity sensor that engages eye-start  AF and switched between the monitor and EVF. Dioptre adjustment is available. Two additional Fn buttons have been added, Fn3 doubling as the Q-Menu/delete/return button and Fn4 as the EVF switch.

      The AF/AE Lock button sits inside a focus mode lever switch, while the Playback button has moved to a more accessible position just above the Display button, which sits above the arrow pad. The functions accessed via the directional buttons are essentially unchanged, although the drive modes are now combined with the self-timer functions.

      There are no focusing or zooming rings on the lens itself. As in the FZ200, the lens carries a rocker on its left side, along with a second focusing dial (which can also be used to adjust aperture and shutter speed) and a ‘side button’ that is used to switch between normal and ‘macro’ modes. Pressing this button engages AF mode temporarily when manual focusing is selected.

      The powered rocker on the lens is easy to use for zooming, particularly when shooting video as it operates more smoothly and quietly than the lever zoom. But there’s still an easily-accessed lever zoom surrounding the shutter button so you can swap between these controls as the need arises.

      The battery and memory card slot share a compartment in the base of the camera. It’s a pretty tight fit and the card can be difficult to remove if your fingers are large. Interface ports for the remote controller, HDMI and AV Out/Digital connectors are located behind a single, lift-up cover on the same side of the camera. The metal-lined tripod socket on the base plate isn’t aligned with the optical axis of the lens.

      Playback and Software
       Nothing significant has changed here. Playback settings for still pictures are essentially the same as in other Panasonic models and include the standard single-frame, index and slideshow options, the latter with selectable background music.

      Two applications are provided on the software disk: PHOTOfunSTUDIO 9.7 PE Edition for Windows, which is used for acquiring and viewing images and AVCHD video clips, and Ichikawa Soft Laboratory’s Silkypix Developer Studio 4.3 SE for Windows and Macintosh. There is also a web shortcut to a 30-day trial download of Super LoiLoScope, a video editor with a game-based user interface. We’ve covered these applications in previous reviews of Panasonic cameras.

      Performance
       For its relatively small image sensor, the review camera was generally a good performer. It was as at least as responsive to operate as previous Lumix Super-zoom series cameras. Autofocusing was generally fast and accurate in all AF modes, with the fast lens undoubtedly making a contribution at longer focal length settings. Low light autofocusing was very fast and accurate and noticeably better than most digicams we’ve tested.

      The lens handled normal backlighting very well. But it can easily be forced to flare when a bright light source is within the image frame.

      The results of our Imatest testing showed the FZ300 produced higher resolution than the FZ200, with both JPEG and raw files exceeding expectations for the sensor’s resolution at ISO 100 in the centre of the frame and  coming very close to expectations towards the edges. This improvement is likely to be attributable to the new image processor.

      Fortunately, we were able to use the latest release of Adobe Camera Raw for converting the camera’s raw files instead of the very inferior Silkyix-based bundled software. Since ACR was also used to process the raw files from the FZ200, this provides a valid basis for comparison.

      While raw files maintained higher resolution across the camera’s sensitivity range than JPEGs, both file types held up quite well for the sensor’s size at high sensitivity settings. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.

       

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       Long exposures at night were similar to those from the FZ200. Shots taken at settings between ISO 100 and ISO 1600 were usable, though noise became progressively more visible as sensitivity was increased.

      Flash exposures were less noise-affected, although softening became apparent at ISO 3200 and very noticeable at ISO 6400. However, exposure levels were relatively consistent for flash shots throughout the ISO range.

      We weren’t able to test the full zoom range of the camera’s lens because of a lack of space in our testing set-up. However, our tests across a focal length range of 4.5-51.2mm showed the highest resolutions were recorded at or a stop or two down from maximum aperture. Interestingly, they were a bit higher than the figures we measured for the FZ200.

      As in the FZ200, slight edge softening was evident at all the focal lengths we tested and diffraction began to reduce resolution from about f/5 onwards, with a relatively small drop at the minimum aperture of f/8. The graph below shows the results of our tests.

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      Lateral chromatic aberration remained totally within the ‘negligible’ band, as shown in the graph of our Imatest results below. The red line marks the border between ‘negligible’ and ‘low’ CA.  As expected, we found little evidence of coloured fringing in test shots.

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      Close-up shots matched the FZ200’s in quality, particularly with the AF switch on the lens set to Macro mode and the lens zoomed in on a subject more than a metre from the camera. Digital zoom shots were similar to those we took when reviewing the FZ200. Two magnifications are available, 2x and 4x, and both produced usable shots, with the 2x zoom being marginally sharper. Built-in Power O.I.S. stabilisation delivered sharp images during close-up shooting and at high zoom magnifications.

      White balance performance was similar to the FZ200’s. In the auto mode, a slight warm cast remained under incandescent lighting while shots taken in both fluorescent lighting and with the camera’s built-in flash had close to natural colours. Manual measurement delivered neutral colours under each type of lighting.

      The addition of 4K movie recording provides higher-resolution movie files with more potential for editing plus the ability to produce 8-megapixel frame grabs. This augments the already excellent movie recording quality we found with the FZ200. Contrast and saturation were slightly boosted in movie mode and the continuous AF setting minimised re-focusing times when zooming or moving between subjects. The quality of the soundtracks was similar to the FZ200 movies.

      Our timing tests were conducted with a Panasonic 16GB Extreme Pro SDHC U3 memory card, which was supplied with the camera. The review camera powered-up in just under a second, which is slightly faster than its predecessor. Shut down time was virtually instantaneous.

      Capture lag was essentially negligible, even without pre-focusing. Shot-to-shot times averaged 0.55 seconds without flash and 1.9 seconds with. JPEG images took 2.1 seconds to process, while RW2.RAW files took 2.3 seconds and RAW+JPEG pairs 2.4 seconds. Recording high-resolution images with the high-speed burst mode, the camera matched specifications, capturing 50 frames in 10.1 seconds without showing any signs of slowing. Processing appeared to be on-the-fly.

      For raw file bursts, the buffer limit appeared to be 30 frames, which were captured in 4.8 seconds. Processing of this burst was completed within a further two seconds. When  RAW+JPEG capture was selected, the buffer filled by 24 frames, which were recorded in 3.7 seconds. Processing was completed within a further 1.5 seconds.

      Conclusion
       Three years ago, when the FZ200 was released, it was one of the fastest cameras in the super-zoom category. The FZ300 improves upon that performance and also delivers higher resolution, better stabilisation and 4K movie recording in a more robust, weather-sealed body.

      Capable of tackling most imaging and movie recording tasks, the FZ300 should please travellers who want for a single camera that is relatively compact and light to carry. Its only downside is its relatively small image sensor, which limits its low-light capabilities somewhat. But it also keeps its price tag at an ‘affordable’ level.

      The combination of the long zoom range and effective stabilisation should make this camera popular among birders and other wildlife photographers. Yet, at the same time, the 25mm equivalent wide angle of view suits genres as diverse as landscape photography, group portraiture and everyday snapshooting.

      A survey of local online re-sellers has the FZ300 priced at around AU$800 (which is well below the RRP for a recently released camera). At current exchange rates, this is less than the equivalent price for the camera if purchased from US online stores ““ without including shipping costs.

       

      SPECS

      Image sensor: 6.17 x 4.55 mm High Sensitivity MOS sensor with 12.8 million photosites (12.1 megapixels  effective)
       Image processor: Venus Engine
       A/D processing:
       Lens: 4.5 – 108mm f/2.8 Leica DC Vario-Elmarit zoom lens  (25-600mm in 35 mm format)
       Zoom ratio: 24x optical, up to 48x digital
       Image formats: Stills – JPEG  (DCF / Exif 2.3), RW2.RAW; Movies – AVCHD (Audio format: Dolby Digital 2ch), MP4 (Audio format: AAC 2ch)
       Image Sizes: Stills – 4:3 aspect: 4000 x 3000, 3264 x 2448, 2048 x 1536; 3:2 aspect: 4000 x 2672, 3264 x 2176, 2048 x 1360; 16:9 aspect: 4000 x 2248, 3840 x 2160, 1920 x 1080; 1:1 aspect: 2992 x 2992, 2448 x 2448, 1920 x 1920; Movies – 3840 x 2160 @ 25p (4K: 100Mbps / MP4),   1920 x 1080 @ 50p, 50i, 24p, 25p, 1280 x 720 @ 25p, 640 x 480 @25p, 320 x 240  
       Shutter speed range: 60 – 1/4,000 seconds (Mechanical Shutter); 1 – 1/16,000 sec (Electronic Shutter) plus Bulb (approx. 60 sec)
       Self-timer: 2 or 10 seconds delay or 10 sec (3 images)
       Image Stabilisation: 5-Axis HYBRID O.I.S
       Exposure Compensation: +/- 3EV in 1/3EV steps
       AE bracketing: 3, 5, 7 frames in 1/3, 2/3 or 1 EV steps, Max. +/-3 EV
       Focus system/range: 49-area  contrast-detection AF with AFS (Single) / AFF (Flexible) / AFC (Continuous) / MF modes plus AF+MF, Focus Peaking, One Shot AF, Low Light AF, Starlight AF, AF/AE Lock Button, Face/Eye Detection / Tracking / 49-area / Custom Multi / 1-area / Pinpoint (Full area touch is available); range: 30 cm – infinity; macro to 1 cm
       Exposure metering/control:
       Shooting modes: Intelligent Auto, P, A, S, M, Creative Video, C (Custom), Panorama Shot, Scene Guide, Creative Control
       Scene presets: Clear Portrait, Silky Skin, Backlit Softness, Clear in Backlight, Relaxing Tone, Sweet Child’s Face, Distinct Scenery, Bright Blue Sky, Romantic Sunset Glow, Vivid Sunset Glow, Glistening Water, Clear Nightscape, Cool Night Sky, Warm Glowing Nightscape, Artistic Nightscape, Glittering Illuminations, Handheld Night Shot, Clear Night Portrait, Soft Image of a Flower, Appetising Food, Cute Dessert, Freeze Animal Motion, Clear Sports Shot, Monochrome
       Creative Control modes: Expressive, Retro, Old Days, High Key, Low Key, Sepia, Monochrome, Dynamic Monochrome, Rough Monochrome, Silky Monochrome, Impressive Art, High Dynamic, Cross Process, Toy Effect, Toy Pop, Bleach Bypass, Miniature Effect, Soft Focus, Fantasy, Star Filter, One Point Colour, Sunshine (22 filters)
       Photo Style settings: Standard, Vivid, Natural, Monochrome, Scenery, Portrait, Custom, Cinelike D*, Cinelike V* (* when Creative Video mode is selected)
         ISO range: Auto, iISO, ISO 100-6400 in 1EV steps
       White balance: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Incandescent, Flash, White Set(x4), Colour Temperature adjustment
       Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Auto*, Auto/Red-eye Reduction*, Forced On, Forced On/Red-eye Reduction, Slow Sync., Slow Sync./Red-eye Reduction, Forced Off (* For iA, iA+ mode only); range 0.3 – 8.8m (Wide / ISO Auto)
       Sequence shooting: Max. 12 frames/second at full resolution;    6 frames/sec (with Live View)
       Buffer memory depth (based on tests): JPEGs, raw files, RAW+JPEG
       Storage Media: SD, SDHC, SDXC memory cards; UHS-1 compatible
       Viewfinder: 0.39″ OLED LVF (Live View Finder) with 1440k dots, approx. 100% frame coverage, eye sensor
       LCD monitor: 3-inch Free-Angle TFT touch-screen LCD with 1,040,000 dots plus AR Coating
       Interface terminals/communications: Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11b/g/n, 2412 MHz – 2462 MHz 1-11 ch,   Infrastructure Mode / WPS), microHDMI, AV Output (PAL / NTSC), USB (AV/USB Multi),2.5mm remote jack, 3.5mm jack for external microphone
       Power supply: DMW-BLC12E Li-ion Battery Pack (7.2V, 1200mAh, 8.7 Wh); CIPA rated for approx 380 shots/charge with monitor; 360 shots/charge with EVF
       Dimensions (wxhxd): 131.6 x 91.5 x 117.1 mm
       Weight: 640 grams (without battery and memory card)

       

      TESTS

      Based upon JPEG image files

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      Based upon RW2.RAW image files converted into 16-bit TIFF format with Adobe Camera Raw.

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      SAMPLES

       

       

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      Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.

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       Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.
       
       

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      Auto white balance with flash.

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      4.5mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/160 second at f/4.
       

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      108mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/2.8.
       

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      4x digital zoom; 108mm focal length, ISO 160, 1/125 second at f/2.8.
       

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      Close-up with macro zoom; 4.5mm focal length, ISO 1000, 1/60 second at f/2.8.
       

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      Close-up at 108mm focal length, ISO 1000, 1/125 second at f/2.8.
       

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      30 second exposure at ISO 100; f/3.5; 10mm focal length.
       

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      20 second exposure at ISO 400; f/4; 10mm focal length.
       

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      4 second exposure at ISO 1600; f/4.5; 10mm focal length.
       

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      2.5 second exposure at ISO 3200; f/5; 10mm focal length.
       

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      1.3 second exposure at ISO 6400; f/5.6; 10mm focal length.
       

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      Flash exposure at ISO 100; 34mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/2.8.
       

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      Flash exposure at ISO 400; 34mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/2.8.
       

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      Flash exposure at ISO 1600; 34mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/2.8.
       

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      Flash exposure at ISO 3200; 34mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/2.8.
       

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      Flash exposure at ISO 6400; 34mm focal length, 1/80 second at f/2.8.
       

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      Backlighting; 21mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/4.
       

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      Flare 5mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/4.
       

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      4.5mm focal length, ISO 400, 1/125 second at f/4.5.
       

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      4.5mm focal length, ISO 640, 1/20 second at f/4.
       

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      19mm focal length, ISO 800, 1/250 second at f/5.
       

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      108mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/160 second at f/2.8.
       

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      108mm focal length, ISO 800, 1/25 second at f/2.8.
       

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      15mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/100 second at f/2.8.

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       Still frame from a 4K video clip recorded at 30 fps.
       

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       Still frame from 1080p MP4 video clip recorded at 50 fps.

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      Still frame from 1080p MP4 video clip recorded at 30 fps.
       

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       Still frame from 720p MP4 video clip recorded at 30 fps.
       

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       Still frame from a 1080p AVCHD video clip recorded at 50 fps.
       

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       Still frame from a 1080i AVCHD video clip recorded at 50 fps.
       

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       Still frame from 1080p AVCHD video clip recorded at 24 fps.

       

      Rating

      RRP: AU$899; US$600

      • Build: 8.8
      • Ease of use: 8.5
      • Autofocusing: 9.0
      • Image quality JPEG: 8.5
      • Image quality Raw: 8.8
      • Video quality: 9.0

      Buy