Are you looking for an affordable camera to take on Safari or for wildlife photography in general? If so, I’m using a nifty Panasonic that fits the bill and here’s why.
The Lumix DMC-FZ330 is a great budget all-rounder. It’s a bridge camera with a Leica lens and capable of delivering great results. It’s main advantages are:
- Huge all-in-one zoom lens
- F2.8 aperture setting for low light
- Lightweight and portable
- Rapid-fire shooting
- Complete control with manual settings
- Realistic price
Does it replace an SLR? No, not if you’re a professional or get a kick out of owning the kit.
This camera is for enthusiasts who don’t mind trading some capabilities for the ease and peace of mind of carrying around a small shoulder bag.
Why I like the Lumix FZ330
I travel a great deal and if there is one thing that I obsess about its weight. Nothing is more tiring than lugging around heavy gear.
The Lumix weighs 700g including the battery. I can sling it over my shoulder and enjoy myself.
- No tripod
- No changing lenses
- Fewer missed opportunities
These things matter. It’s infuriating when you miss that classic shot just because you’re fighting with your equipment.
Only a few years ago you had to lug around a brick of a camera with a 300mm lens attached to have any hope of getting a shot. Those days are over.
Now it’s possible to double your focal length with a fraction of the weight. The Lumix extends to 600mm allowing you to get those far away shots that were previously impossible to achieve. Now you can even photograph birds properly.
Low light conditions
One of the notable triumphs of this bridge camera over other brands is the aperture range. This camera starts at f2.8 which means you have much more scope in poorer light.
Unfortunately for wildlife watchers, animals tend to be most active at dawn and dusk and that means when the available light is at its lowest. The smaller f-stop allows more light through the lens, it’s as simple as that.
Combine more light with a Leica lens (the best) and you now have an impressive chance of getting your shot.
Wildlife doesn’t, on the whole, sit still. If nothing is happening, you are certainly waiting patiently for the action to occur. It’s absolutely essential to have a high burst rate on your camera.
You need at least 5 frames per second to capture wildlife and the Lumix has a maximum burst rate of 12 shots per second at 12.1 megapixels. More than enough.
One of your sequences has a chance of being a great shot.
You may be tempted to leave your settings on ‘auto’ and have done with it but that would be a mistake. You must familiarize yourself with the manual settings because ‘auto’ fails miserably in foliage.
I’ve screwed up so many times when I’ve got carried away and fired a series of shots only to get the leaves in focus and not the monkey. It’s sooo.. frustrating.
The better you know your camera the more success will follow. I only wish I always took my own advice.
The Lumix FZ330 also gives you a tracking auto-focus option which follows a moving object as you pan your camera.
This is undoubtedly a feature you will use but it’s a tough one to master. The tracking is easily fooled and losing the subject is common. The alternative is to manually focus on a moving object which is unavoidable sometimes, but a damned sight harder.
The price is affordable
So many good cameras are either out of reach or so expensive they become too precious. My cameras are workhorses and they’ll be put through their paces and the last thing I want to do is worry about my gear.
I want something that won’t break my heart when it’s lost, damaged or stolen. That last point being the most important.
We all carry around expensive stuff these days, like laptops, smartphones, and digital cameras and they are well worth stealing.
It’s all very well getting your stuff stolen from your hotel room or your luggage pinched, you can live with that and claim on your insurance later. What you don’t want is to be targeted for your gear and mugged.
Sadly there are countries in the world where displaying obvious wealth is unwise so the more you can hide away the safer it will be. No need for paranoia but it’s something to bear in mind.
My biggest concern while researching this camera was the modest 12.1 megapixels resolution. It was almost a deal-breaker for me.
Now it should be said that 12 megapixels is fine for most things. It’s high enough to make A3 prints and will look great on your monitor. It’s limitations become obvious only when you crop your image.
Wildlife is often too far away even for a 600mm lens and the subject remains small in the frame. and one solution is to crop the subject.
Higher resolution cameras give your crops more definition.
The FZ330 fails on this point.
Another compromise with all bridge cameras, even with an F-stop of 2.8, is the available light capabilities at full zoom. To compensate for less light and maintain a higher shutter speed, it’s necessary to increase the settings to ISO 1600 or above.
Higher ISO numbers will make grainier images.
This matters in low light and will mean that not all shots are possible, in all conditions. That’s the price you pay.
The Lumix claims to be dust and splashproof but I don’t quite trust the promise.
I’ve had two problems with bridge cameras in the past. Your enemy is water and dust. I’ve not ‘lost’ a camera yet but I have damaged one, and now I take precautions.
Fine dust gets everywhere, especially where the zoom enters the camera body and around the eyepiece. A days safari can leave you, and your camera, caked in dust and I always carry a bag with me for protection. I suggest you do the same.
Likewise, you should show caution in damp and humid weather. If you are traveling in the tropics not only can your lens fog up, it can be ruined by mold (mould).
Make sure you bag up your camera when not in use and insert a silicon sachet. If you can’t get hold of any, buy some dried rice locally and use that instead.
Are there other cameras that will do the job? Of course, but nothing in this price bracket. This was my choice after a lot of research.
My buying decision was made on the basis that I’m a wildlife artist and not a photographer as such. I don’t need ‘National Geographic’ results. I need good shots as usable references and in that respect, the Lumix FZ330 does everything I require.
Rest assured that I read all those geeky reviews and grilled the store assistants before I put my cash down. I did the homework and chose this camera.
It’s your choice and in the end, I chose to accept the minor limitations for the huge convenience and fantastic price.
It’s a small trade-off and a good one.