At less than £500, the Panasonic Lumix FZ300 (or FZ330 in the UK) is the best 4K camera that you can buy. Read more to find out why.
Whilst Panasonic led the way with introducing 4K to masses with its Lumix GH4 and FZ1000 cameras, there are now countless cameras that are available to consumers that can shoot 4K video, even smartphones can now capture 4K video.
The 4K footage from many more affordable devices can leave a lot to be desired, and for those that are really interested in videography they just don’t have desired features. Then along comes the new Panasonic FZ300 bridge camera. Yes, it only has a 1/2.3 inch sensor, which means that the dynamic range will be somewhat restricted (our colleagues over at Amateur Photographer found that when shooting stills it has a dynamic range of 10.5EV), but there are a whole host of other reasons why it is great for video.
If you don’t believe check out this video by Panasonic Ambassador Martin Wallgren
“All of the footage was shot in 4K (3840×2160 @ 25p) CineLike-D picture profile and no filters or extras were used. The FZ300 is weather sealed and I had it sitting on my lap the whole time while I was paddling, sometimes it got really wet by the splashes from the paddle when I was going fast on the lake. This morning and the place was magical.
Edited in Final Cut Pro X and graded in FilmConvert using the Kodak Vision3 5207 and Portra400 profiles. Used CineLike-D setting from GH4 which is quite similar except dynamic range.”
Why the Panasonic Lumix FZ300 is the best budget 4K camera
1. 4K 100Mbps
It may be a bit of obvious, but the fact that the FZ300 shoots 4K video at 100Mbps makes it noteworthy. Obviously cameras like the Canon Xc10 can shoot 4K at 305Mbps, but that camera requires footage to be saved to expensive CFast 2.0 cards. The 100Mbps bitrate produces an acceptable quality of 4K footage that can be saved to a standard SDXC card. And don’t forget, it isn’t just about future proofing with 4K. Perform a good down-sample of that 4K footage and you will have even better looking FHD footage. Or simply crop in to the footage to capture details, or even to act like a second camera angle.
2. Huge 27 – 648mm f/2.8 equivalent lens
For photographers bridge cameras are all about convenience, and the same goes for videography. When recording video the lens has the equivalent focal length of a 27-648mm lens, with an f/2.8 aperture throughout the range. That is incredibly impressive. Whilst the smaller sensor means that you can’t get the extremely shallow depth of field of a full frame sensor, take a few steps back and use f/2.8 with the longer zoom and you can nicely blur background for interviews etc.
With a focal length the equivalent of 27-648mm this lens will be perfect for most things that aspiring videographers will be able to throw at it, from wide establishing shots to wildlife footage, the FZ300 should be able to capture it all.
3. Optical Stabilisation
A long lens requires some kind of stabilsation so that the footage isn’t shaking, and we have found that even when shooting at 648mm, Panasonic’s OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation) works extremely well. There is still some slight movement, but with a steady enough hand or something to lean against, it can be used handheld. Attach it to a monopod and there is no problem at all.
4. Macro Mode
If you like shooting plenty of B roll, you’ll like the fact that the FZ300 has a macro focusing mode. This is locked to the cameras widest lens setting and it can get so close, the end of the lens can be just 1cm from the subject. It is really great for close-up work.
5. Touchscreen and AF Tracking
Although you may be manually focusing for much of your video work, the built-in touchscreen and AF tracking mode makes it easy to track moving subjects, which can be extremely useful for shooting wildlife footage, or for quick run-and-gun documentaries.
6. Fold Out and Articulated Screen
Not only is the 3inch screen touch compatible, but it folds out and articulates. This is great for when you need to film yourself talking to camera, and obviously for shooting high and low angled shots.
7. Focus Peaking and Magnify Assist
The FZ300/FZ330 has focus peaking to aid with manual focusing, and for real preciscion you can chose a selection of the scene to magnify , which is then presented as a picture-in-picture view on the screen. The focus peaking can be set to a variety of different colours, and there are two levels of sensitivity.
8. Zebra Patterning
Not only is there a standard blinking highlight warning, but zebra patterning is also included in the FZ300’s arsenal. The patterning can be set to anywhere from 50-100+% and there are two user definable presets, which is perfect for setting one two 100% for highlights, and one to around 75% for skin tones.
9. Monochrome Screen
One very nice touch of the FZ33o, that is clearly designed for videographers, is the option to turn the display to Monochrome. This makes it very easy to see the zebra patterning, but also the bright red focus peaking marks, so it is brilliant for checking focus.
10. Flat Image Style
There may not be a log mode picture style, but there is Cinelike V (Vibrant – where contrast is prioritised) and Cinelike D (Dynamic – where the dynamic range is prioritised) modes. The V mode produces nice looking footage out of the box, but if you want to tweak the colour and contrast, the Cinelike N is the way to go.
You can get even more from Cinelike N by turning the Contrast to -5, the sharpness to -1, to Noise Reduction to -1 and the saturation to -5. This will produce a very flat image for editing, but you can take this even further using the separate Highlight & Shadow feature. In this mode set the Highlights to -5 and the Shadows to +5 and you get some incredibly flat footage with about as much highlight and shadow detail as you could ever expect to get from video with this size sensor.
11. Manual Focus Dial
Whilst the zoom can be controlled via a rocker switch around the shutter button or one on the side of the lens, the focus has its own smaller dial. Obviously focusing is an electronic, fly-by-wire, affair, but being on a protuding ribbed dial makes it comfortable to use with the the thumb of your left hand, whilst still keeping the camera quite steady. I found that it was also possible to use the dial with the Hondo Garage $50 follow focus, and although usually such devices are a bit hit and miss with fly-by-wire, the monochrome screen and focusing peaking meant that it was possible to get half decent results.
Sadly the FZ300 is lacking a headphone socket, but it is packed with audio features such as Mic Level Display, Mic Level Adjustment, Mic Level Limiter and a Wind Noise Canceller. Thankfully, Panasonic has also opted for a 3.5mm socket, rather than the 2.5mm mic socket that it has used on other cameras.
Ok, so what’s missing?
It isn’t perfect and you do, of course, have to accept some compromises, namely the smaller sensor won’t match the dynamic range or image quality of its contemporaries with larger sensors. However, the one thing that I really wish it did have is an 3Ev ND filter. That filter would be great for helping to use the f.28 aperture in bright light to narrow the depth of field, whilst still shooting at 1/50th sec. However, the lens does have a filter thread, so you can always add one yourself.
Another option is the Panasonic FZ1000, which with a larger 1-inch sensor offers improved image quality, and the LX100 with its Four Thirds sensor and bright, 26-81mm (35mm equivalent) f/1.7-2.8 lens . But overall, the FZ300 is a very competent little camera, and if you are wanting to shoot 4K footage on a tight budget then it is certainly the camera to go for. At the current £499 it looks like a bargain, but as it has only just come out and the price will only go one way, and that is down.