Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 review:

A killer lens backed by astounding features and performance

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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good The Panasonic Lumix FZ300 has a best-in-class 24x f2.8 25-600mm lens; excellent photo and video quality for a small-sensor compact; extensive shooting mode and setting options; comfortable body and control layout; its body is weather resistant; and it records great-looking 4K video that can also be used for grabbing 8-megapixel stills.

The Bad The controls and setting navigation may be overwhelming if you're used to "leaving it in Auto." Because of the lens, it is bigger -- and more expensive -- than other small-sensor cameras with comparable zoom ranges. No headphone jack.

The Bottom Line The Panasonic Lumix FZ300 might not be a huge update from its predecessor, the FZ200, but it's still one of the best in its class and a fantastic option for a single camera for photos and video -- even in the rain.

8.2 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 9.0
  • Performance 8.0
  • Image quality 8.0

When friends or family ask me if they should get a point-and-shoot or if their smartphone is good enough, my answer basically comes down to whether they need a camera with a superzoom lens or need one that is rugged. (Picture quality isn't really an issue anymore since the newest smartphones are on par with the average point-and-shoot. If you want better pictures, step up to a large-sensor advanced compact or a dSLR or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera.)

The Panasonic Lumix FZ300 is one of the only cameras available that can turn that "or" into an "and." Typically, if you want a rugged camera, one that can really handle drops and is waterproof, it won't have a very long zoom lens. The opposite is also true: If you want a lot of zoom, you're not going to find one that's extremely rugged. The FZ300, however, has a superb 24x f2.8 25-600mm lens and is also splashproof and dustproof.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The camera, which sells for about $500 in the US, AU$680 in Australia and £440 in the UK (where it's called the FZ330), also has such a full feature set that it's perfect if you want something in between a point-and-shoot and a digital SLR-like experience. Because it uses a 1/2.3-inch type sensor, though, (a size typically found in point-and-shoots and premium smartphones) its photo quality doesn't compare to a digital SLR or a large-sensor advanced compact, including Panasonic's own FZ1000. Losing some image quality is part of the price you pay to get the 35mm equivalent of an f2.8 600mm lens in a relatively compact and affordable package. A dSLR lens with those specs would be huge and cost thousands.

Just to clarify why this lens is so good, the problem with most superzoom cameras is that in order to keep the price and size of the camera small, the lenses have small apertures. Without getting too bogged down in specifics, a small aperture lets in less light, and less light can lead to motion blur and/or soft and noisy photos and movies. And when you zoom, the available maximum aperture gets even smaller letting in even less light.

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The Olympus Stylus SH-2 (left) might have the same size sensor and zoom range as the FZ300, but its maximum aperture of f3.0 at 25mm and f6.9 at 600mm means it lets in significantly less light than the FZ300's constant f2.8 aperture.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

With the FZ300's capability to stay at f2.8 throughout its zoom range, you don't need to be shooting in full sun or using its higher ISO settings to get a good shot. In fact, during shooting in mixed daylight conditions, the camera rarely went above ISO 400.

That's a good thing, too, because the JPEGs straight from the camera are a little on the soft side, especially if you head above ISO 400. My recommendation would be shoot in raw or raw plus JPEG. Panasonic is a little heavy on the noise reduction at higher ISO settings and by shooting in raw you can control the balance between detail and noise.

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On the left is a 100 percent crop from a JPEG straight from the camera captured at ISO 320. The picture on the right is the processed raw version.

Joshua Goldman/CNET

The picture above is a good example of what I'm talking about. The JPEG's fine details have been smeared out of existence while the raw image I processed in about a minute with Adobe Camera Raw has much better detail if a little more noise. (You can see and download full-size versions of these photos and more in the gallery below.)

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