The 18-megapixel ZS30, like its predecessor the ZS20, is capable of turning out some very nice pictures. How satisfied you'll be with the results really depends on what your needs are, though. Here's a look at what it can do.
These are 100 percent crops from our test scene. 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.
Colors are bright and vivid from the ZS30 without looking unnatural. However, at its highest ISO settings here is some yellow blotching that can make things look a bit mottled, especially when viewed at sizes larger than 50 percent.
Panasonic stayed away from the zoom wars with the ZS30, sticking with the reasonable 20x zoom of its predecessor, the ZS20. It starts at an ultrawide-angle 24mm (top) and extends to 480mm. Panasonic's digital Intelligent Zoom can be used to double the zoom range and looks pretty good as long as you don't want to enlarge and crop.
Though it doesn't have raw capture, the ZS30 does give you control over a lot of settings and has semimanual and manual shooting modes. Shutter speeds go from 4 seconds to 1/2,000 second (a Starry Sky scene mode gives you 15- and 30-second settings). Apertures are f3.3-8.0 wide and 6.4-8.0 telephoto. To access them, you press the Exposure button on back, and change the settings with the directional pad. (A thumb dial would've been nice, but space is already pretty tight.) There are also two Custom spots on the mode dial for setting up three custom setting configurations. There's a Program mode, too, should you want to adjust things like ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation (not done with the Exposure button, mind you, but the directional pad), but not worry about shutter speed and aperture settings.
The ZS30, like many point-and-shoots, will blow out bright highlights. If you want to rescue some detail in shadows and highlights you can use the camera's HDR mode. On the left is a shot taken in Program and on the right is the same shot using HDR.
If you like filters and effects, the ZS30 is loaded with them. From top left to bottom right: Normal, One Point Color, Star Filter, Soft Focus, Miniature Effect, Toy Effect, Cross Process, High Dynamic, Impressive Art, Dynamic Monochrome, Sepia, Low Key, High Key, Retro, and Expressive. View them larger to see just what they can do.