For the Lumix DMC-ZS30, Panasonic took what was already an excellent camera, the ZS20, tweaked it a bit and added Wi-Fi. The result is another excellent compact megazoom that gives you a bit more for your money.
With so many good options in this category, perhaps what's nicest about the ZS30 is that it's fun to use. Even though it offers things like semimanual and manual shooting modes and a fair amount of control over results, casual snapshooters should have an easy time getting good shots out of it with little effort.
Basically, it's just what the ZS20 was -- a well-rounded travel zoom -- that now has Wi-Fi so you can shoot and share on the go.
Despite a resolution bump from 14 to 18 megapixels, the ZS30's photo quality isn't appreciably better than the ZS20's. Viewed at full size on screen, there is visible noise/artifacts even at its lowest ISO setting. Details start to soften at ISO 200 and at ISO 400, color noise becomes more noticeable, too. At ISO 800, you'll start to see faint yellow blotching, which becomes more pronounced at ISO sensitivities above that.
Aside from the blotching and increased softness, though, color and detail are good and, for the most part, these things aren't visible at smaller sizes. Basically, if you're looking for digital SLR quality, you're not going to find it. If you're looking for good photos for prints up to 8x10 inches and Web use, and don't typically do a lot of enlarging or heavy cropping, you should be pretty pleased with the results.
Also, shooting with the camera's Handheld Night Shot mode with still subjects will improve your results. The mode takes several shots and combines them into one shot, reducing noise and improving blur from hand shake. Even if it needs to use a higher ISO, you'll get much better photo quality.
The ZS30 also does really well with video. It can record AVCHD-format clips at 1080/60p that are sharp and smooth with good exposure and color. Any issues that you see with the camera's low-light photos will show up in low-light video, too, but otherwise the quality is great and part of the reason why the ZS30 got a higher-than-usual rating for image quality.
The camera also records in MP4 format at resolutions up to 1080/30p (20Mbps) for easier editing and uploading to the Web. The zoom does operate while recording regardless of format, but its movement is picked up by the stereo mic. If you are recording in a very quiet environment, you will hear it in your movies, but otherwise it's difficult to hear. If you're looking for a compact camera for both photos and videos, this is a good choice.
One of the big reasons to pay for the ZS30 over other cameras in its class is for its shooting performance. It's not quite as fast as the Fujifilm F900EXR, but it's close enough that you might not notice and the ZS30 has better burst shooting options.
Its time from off to first shot is 2 seconds. The lag between pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing is low at 0.3 second and 0.6 second in bright and dim lighting, respectively. From shot-to-shot without the flash you're waiting 1 second; adding the flash only increases that wait to 1.5 seconds.
Its fastest burst modes -- 40 and 60 frames per second -- are at reduced resolutions, but Panasonic packed in three at full resolution. There's one that captures up to six shots at 10fps, but that sets focus, exposure, and white balance with the first shot. What's better are the 2fps and 5fps options that set focus and exposure with each shot, so you're able to get a subject moving moderately fast in focus and properly exposed.
As long as you're shooting outside in daylight, the ZS30 is fast enough to catch fast-moving subjects like kids and pets and sports. Like most compacts, though, it slows down in low light or when the lens is zoomed in, so a blur-free picture of a toddler indoors is less likely.
Design and features
With the same size lens and screen as the ZS20, the ZS30's dimensions remain pretty much the same. That's a good thing since the ZS20 was small and light enough to stick in a jacket or even a pants pocket without feeling too bulky. Panasonic did flatten the top, making it more of a box, and the overall design is more understated and a bit classier.