Autofocus Variations Can Ruin Your Focus Accuracy
Whilst the autofocus has been improved with successive generations of the camera is still relies upon contrast detection to set the focus point.
So the camera moves the lens to the point of maximum contrast and then steps forwards and backwards to get the precise point.
Because of mechanical tolerances in the focus mechanism sometimes the repeatability of the focus point is questionable.
I noticed some of my shots were not exactly sharp at the pinpoint area that I knew I had set the camera to when I took the shot.
So I set up my DSLR focus chart used to correct the optical viewfinder to sensor calibration and shot a series of 10 images in AF single area and smallest target size. There was a noticeable shift in a lot of the images as you can see from the resulting images. Compare that to the same target where I manually set the focus point.
So the variation is about +/- 0.5cms which when shooting at an aperture of F2.8 and a focal length of 75mm EFL is enough to ruin a shot.
So what's the answer? Well if it is a static shot that can be repeated then switch to manual focus and use a tripod. Now this isn't always convenient so in the field it might be worth setting up the burst mode and fire a few shots and hope that within that image sequence one of them will be sharp! See my Tutorial on other manual focus operations here on YouTube
Taming the Power Hungry FZ300/330
If you progressed from the FZ200 to the FZ300/330 you may have been horrified just how quickly the battery drains in this model. Not only is the standby time decreased but the number of shots you can fire off from a full charge and the limited time that you seem to get when shooting regular 1080p video. Switch to 4K and you can really see the power drain!
So why is it that this model is so much more power hungry and are there any settings that you can change to reduce the power consumed?
This is the FZ300/330 in standby mode.
You can see from the power meter I have put in series with the battery that the current being supplied to the camera is 0.306 A or 300mA.
Over a 10 minute period this has equated to 405mWh (milli-watt hours)
The total capacity of a brand new Panasonic BLC12E li-ion battery is 8.7 watt hours or 8700 milli-watts. So if the camera was just left in standby mode (turning off the eco and power saving settings) the camera would remain powered for about 3.5 hours. If you were to operate the camera then this would be reduced according to the function used.
I drew up a list of the features and functions which cause the camera to consume large amounts of power and you can customise your own camera settings based upon these findings
The Panasonic BLC12E li-ion battery with its 8.7Watt hour capacity.
These are the currents used by the camera during various modes.
During Zoom operation the current goes from .30A to .51A during the zoom motor operation
4K pre-burst puts the camera into its highest power consumption of .57A all the time until you press the record button where it will continue until you press it again.
4K video recording mode steps the current to .52A
1080P video recording, in contrast, consumes .44A
If you have the pre-focus mode enabled where the camera begins to focus as soon as you bring it up to eyelevel will cause the focus motor to start using .32A
There is little difference between the EVF and LCD power consumption, however if yo have the screen brightness set to 1* it uses slightly more power than keeping it on A* mode.
If you put the camera into replay mode all the image stabilisation and imaging pipeline processes are shut down and the current drops right down to just 0.18A
Modes which are called into operation such as the focus assist LED consume small amounts of power during their operation and can be ignored.
To maximise battery life you can adopt a strategy such that if you are shooting where the time between shots is likely to be several minutes you can chose a ECO mode that will cause the camera to switch off the LCD and then power down.
A press of the shutter button will bring it back into life. It is a fine balance between the power saved and the power used when the lens has to retract and then extend again during this sleep and wake up phase again. There is also the wear and tear associated with the power down and up again as the lens has to driven twice.
I must admit that I have several batteries plus my USB to 8v4 power adaptor and so tend to keep the camera energised and turn off all the ECO modes. The OIS is still active but it is designed to be kept moving.
I don't like the thoughts of the lens closing and opening each time it hibernates with the possibility of dragging in dust/pollen etc., each time.
If you shoot video or 4K photo mode then carrying a couple of extra batteries and a usb charger or 12v car adaptor charger would make sense. In my opinion there is no need to buy Panasonic OEM ones. I have used hundreds of third party batteries in all my cameras and even done tear-downs of then to ensure that they do appear to be manufactured to a high enough safety standard.
Manual Focus Modes on the FZ300/FZ330
Manual focus has a better implementation on this camera than the previous FZ200. To get the best results it is worth understanding how the manual focus is best set up. Here is an instructional video to show it, or click the image below.
AFS stands for Autofocus Single
Like all the Panasonic digital cameras in the Bridge series and Compact Systems Cameras (CSC's) the FZ300/330 has the three autofocus methods. The AFF/AFS and AFC being selected with the rotary switch around the AF/AE Lock button and the choice of AFF or AFS being made in the REC Setup menu on Page 2.
AFS stands for Autofocus Single and it is useful for static subjects. You can set the size and position of the target that you want the camera to focus on when the shutter button is pressed halfway down. Once focus lock is achieved it stays locked as you take the photograph. Alternatively, if you can define a fixed area that the subject will be travelling through (such as a racing even) you can press the shutter as the subject moves into this zone and the camera will lock focus in their frame.
There is a slight disadvantage here if the subject is not moving parallel to the camera as during the time between you half depressing the shutter button and the point that the image is captured there could have been a considerable change in distance from the subject to the camera (especially at telephoto distances). In this situation the dynamic modes of AFC (Autofocus continuous ) or particularly, AFF (Autofocus Flexible) will help.
The AFF mode is useful if the subject is likely to randomly change direction during the capture phase. This mode uses colour contrast to determine where the subject is whilst the shutter button is being depressed. So if you, or your chosen target point moves, the camera will attempt to refocus.
It is also useful for hand held macro shots where you, or your subject, might change position during the image capture. The only disadvantage is that the pin-point AF is not available in the FZ300/330/1000 cameras whilst using AFF - it can only be used with the AFS mode.
The AFC mode is more useful in Video where the camera will attempt to focus on your chosen target area. In stills mode you may experience the camera hunting at the focus point and can become a little disconcerting as the image pulses in and out of focus.
As with all image recognition software it depends upon the angle and speed at which the subject is approaching, or receding from, the camera.
The Panasonic bridge and M4/3 cameras use image contrast AF detection which, although fast, does suffer from inherent overshoot as the camera has to move the focus element through the focus plane and then back to the point of focus. DFD (depth from defocus) in the FZ300/330/1000, is a new technology that calculates the direction and the amount to move the focus lens element at a single movement by predicting it with 2 images that have different depths of field.
It can quickly estimate where the lens should be for fast accurate focus in both stills and video modes.
So in summary if you and your subject are static or the subject is moving parallel to the camera axis then AFS set to the size and position that you require is a good choice.
If you or your subject are likely to change position during the capturing time then AFF is your preferred mode and for video AFC is the most suitable mode.
The FZ300/330 has a new "multiple Exposure Mode".
With this you are able to create composite images, in-camera, with up to 4 image elements added. The process uses JPEG only, however a RAW file, providing it has been captured with this camera and is present on the memory card within the camera can act as the base image for the composite.
Adjacent is an image comprising just two images to create the illusion that this wooden box has been photographed using some kind of x-ray, or similar, technique.
Lets have a look at the image compositing sequence to produce a 4 image composite.
This image has been created, again "in-camera" using this technique. The initial image is captured and then 3 other images are added to make the final image. As you will see the camera gives a live preview of the position of the images as they are overlaid and if you make a mistake you can back up one step and re-shoot that image.
As the camera uses "Auto Gain" by default I would suggest you leave it in this mode otherwise calculating the underexposure needed for each image becomes time consuming.
For this method to work successfully neither the camera position nor the subject position should not move so a tripod is key to creating this sequence of shots and ideally use a remote release or the camera two second timer used to fire each image taken.
The sequence of events. click for larger images and text display.
FZ330(300) Firmware update to version 2.0 Post Focus Added
On November 25th Version 2.0 firmware update became available from the Global Panasonic website. It adds what is called Post Focus to the camera.
Here's my review of the new addition.
Well this seems a pretty useful feature to have, but is it smoke and mirrors by Panasonic to try and capture a little more market share. Let's take a very close look at what you get, and more importantly what you lose!
V2.0 adds the post focus option in which the camera basically enters the 4K photo mode and shoots a 1 second mp4 video consisting of a series of 30 images from the closest focus point to the furthest focus point in the image. Each frame is only 8 megapixel 3328 x 2496 in the 4:3 aspect ratio as opposed to the full 12 megapixel image in normal shooting. Because of the switch to a video mode the crop factor increases meaning that the widest angle focal length goes from 25mm to 27mm (effective focal length) however the telephoto setting focal length goes from 600mm to 645mm (effective focal at the 4:3 aspect ratio). The shutter switches to electronic shutter so the minimum speed is 1/30 second which means you need reasonable lighting to get enough to capture at f4 or you need to raise the ISO in order to achieve a well exposed image. There is still the question of whether full image stabilisation is effective in this mode so this too may affect image quality. I'm a rather sad person and don't believe any marketing hype until I fully understand what it means to the images I shoot. To this end I set up a 45 degree image plane with a mm rule on it. effectively every 2mm on the scale becomes 1mm in actual measurement. With the camera set over a metre away from the target I first shot in aperture priority mode, f2.8 and focused at the centre of the scale. I could thus establish the image coverage and depth of field on this 4:3 aspect ratio image at 12 megapixels. Next I ran the post focus of the camera changing nothing. From the images extracted you can see the evidence of the crop changing and the size of the image reduced to 8 megapixels.
So in summary for me it has somewhat limited application. For close up macro work it seemed a great idea, however I would be as well shooting 4k video and extracting the image from that if I performed a focus pull to cover all the depth of field needed to capture the individual images for focus stacking. The loss of pixels from 12M to 8M means that only limited cropping can occur and of course this is MP4 to JPEG conversion as well so some losses will occur. For critical work camera RAW is still the best option and use different focus points to get the images for stacking.
Heres a set of images to show just how I arrived at this conclusion.
I eluded to the loss of quality by using the post focus mode, especially for close ups. Here's my reason for stating that. Identical exposures of the model polar bear 75mm (3 inch long) same exposure for each, same lighting etc. The post focus image is only 8 m so is only 2/3rds the size of the A mode image at 12M - evident when shown at the same 100% crop. Also the MP4 to JPEG conversion has resulted in a much noisier background to the frame. For some occasions like family or wedding group shots it might be OK where they may be a chance of getting people with closed eyes and you could select a frame to clone from, otherwise I don't think this will be a feature that I will be using very often.
click for full size image
Here's my video showing the installation and use of the upgrade
Well I've just completed a fair bit of testing the new camera and based upon those tests I can make a few observations about it.
It must be appreciated though that in any head to head test the problem of manufacturing tolerances has t be considered. On camera could be at the lowest acceptable quality control point and the other at a much higher level. Whilst in isolation each camera is perfectly acceptable the difference between the two can appear quite exaggerated.
Firstly handling and build quality wise The 330 (or 300 in the USA) is excellent.
The grip is now a little deeper on the 330 making it feel more secure when being held. The rear thumb part of the body grip is also a little more sculptured and I have not experienced any of the problems of catching the WB button that I used to do with the FZ200 and had to devise my fibre protection ring around the 4 way navigation buttons.
Gone is the troublesome rear control wheel and replaced by a much sturdier feeling top control wheel. It's not quite as easy to switch between operations like aperture control to EV control on the 330 but I think this is a worthwhile modification of the camera control system. Built into the grip is of course the battery box and SDHC card holder.
The big, welcome, change here is the hinge of the compartment door now allows the door to open to the front of the camera and not towards the tripod mount. Using one of the "arca" type plates I am able to access the battery and SDHC card whilst the camera is still on the tripod. I haven't needed to use the adaptor plate that I devised for the FZ200.
The new focus wheel on the side of the lens barrel allows much better control of the focussing operation. It is still electronic focus and like the FZ1000 it needs to rotate at a minimum speed in order for the control circuit to respond and change the focus position. Again with focus peaking and Zebra pattern the exact point of focus is easily determined.
With the AF, AF macro and manual focus switch on the side of the 200 lens this is now become just the AF and AF macro on the 330 with the manual focus position been assigned to the rear camera on a switch around the AF/AE button. This switch also supports the AFS/AFF and AFC operations.
Like the FZ200 when in manual focus mode it was possible to quickly execute a automatic focus using the "focus" button on the lens side. Speaking of the LCD screen it is a touch screen with a higher resolution and makes viewing the images a lot easier to determine the quality of them in preview mode. The biggest change, for me anyway, is the electronic viewfinder (EVF).
It is much larger, brighter and higher resolution and has a nice rubber surround. The dioptre adjustment seems to be a little bit more positive as well.
Having used this viewfinder alongside the FZ200 in comparison testing it was really hard to like and go back to using the FZ200 EVF!
The microphone ports on the top of the camera have been relocated towards the back of the camera. Presumably this was to reduce zoom motor noise pick up in video recording. What I found though in field testing was that wind noise was much more prevalent in the 330 and the audio quality a little "muffled" compared to that recorded with the FZ200.
Some sample images from 4K photo shoot mode. A burst firing of up to 8M (depending upon the chosen aspect ratio) can be viewed in camera to select the exact frame that contains the moment that you as the photographer wanted to capture.
Some more general image samples
Using my "standard" table top scene with the same lighting setup that I normally use I conducted a set of ISO noise testing under the controlled condition. ISO 100 - 6400 with standard photostyle and all parameters at 0,0,0,0. Here's the reference image.
The full range of tests is shown below,
click for full screen images
100% crops from these images
click for larger image
One of the new additions to the FZ100 and now the FZ330(300) is the addition to the i.Resolution mode of the "extended" setting. It is available in all JPEG setups but is switched to LOW for 4K video and photoshoots. The results slightly exaggerate jpeg noise though!
100% crops from the ISO 100 image
click for larger images
Finally doing a series of tests using the SHARPNESS and NOISE REDUCTION parameters of the STANDARD Photostyle it is noticed that using a -negative value to Noise Reduction does increase apparent image resolution and adding a +positive value to the Sharpness parameter does improve the overall out of camera jpeg result. It's all down really to personal preference and the final use of the image. I've set the camera now for -2 noise reduction and +3 sharpening and will watch closely the results of the images shot from now.
Comparing this to the FZ200 camera after the FZ330 was set up to use +3 sharpening, -2 noise reduction and the extended i.Resolution settings
click for larger
A few sample images taken with the established parameters
click for larger
Transitioning From The FZ200 to the FZ330(300)
Moving up to the FZ330 from the FZ200 can be a daunting task - especially when you have been using the FZ200 for a long period of time and have become totally accustomed to where things are in the menu etc.
Hopefully this short guide and an associated video will help you.
Apart from some very notable design changes to the body of the FZ330 such as the new EVF, higher resolution touch screen and the new top control dial there are some subtle changes to the menu system that does take some getting used to.
Maybe the first thing you will notice when you first turn on the camera is the fact that there is no internal memory in this camera!
The FZ200 had enough internal memory to store 13 full resolution images, so it is really important to carry a memory card with you otherwise you're not going to be able to capture any images.
The LCD display of the FZ330 has a native 3:2 aspect ratio and has a higher resolution as well as touchscreen capability. In practical terms this means that the images displayed on this screen are about 5 mm wider than what you see on the FZ200 screen.
You may notice in the picture size menu that there are now only three choices large, medium and small. With the FZ200 this could've been five choices.
The touchscreen offers some new opportunities to be very creative in the way that you photograph subjects.
Let's begin by looking at how to transition the normal shooting modes to the z330.
You may recall my recommendations for the FZ200 was to use the aperture priority mode set the base ISO to 100 and then set the aperture to F4.
I would recommend starting with these values for the FZ330. Let's consider how to set up the Focus mode so that it simulates how the FZ200 works.
The default focus mode is the new 49 area method whereas the previous FZ200 only had a 23 area mode. My recommendation, as before, is to use the single area focus mode (AFS).
You may recall with the FZ200 that the size and position of the focus target was set by pressing the focus button on the side of the lens barrel. This gave a very fast and convenient way to set the focus point. With the FZ330 there are a number of ways in which you can replicate this.
The first option is to use the left navigation key followed by the down navigation key.
Once the focus target has appeared you can change its position using the four way navigation buttons and changing size using the top control dial and the side control wheel
Alternatively you can set the Direct Focus Area to ON and then use the four way navigation keys to set the position and again the top dial to set the size. The only disadvantage is that the functions of the original keys have to be accessed now via the QuickMenu. My own preferred option is to use the Fn4 button, located adjacent to the EVF, as I don't use this button to switch between EVF and LCD. Instead I set the EYE SENSOR to AUTO mode.
Finally the touch screen of the LCD display can be set to select the AF area by a single point touch and its size can be set using a two finger spreading gesture similar ti some smartphone screens or again the top control wheel can be used to set its size.
Using the Direct Focus Area (page 3 of the Custom set up menu)
to allow the 4 way buttons to set the position of the focus target. Set the menu item to "ON".
The size of the target is set by rotating the new Top Control Dial in coarse steps and the side control wheel in finer steps
Programming the Fn4 button (adjacent to the EVF) to act as the button which initiates the process of defining size and position of the focus area, just like the focus button did on the FZ200.
The menu to set the Function button functions will be found in the Custom Setup Menu on page 7.
To facilitate the use of the Fn4 button as the Focus Target Set button the original function of that button (manual switching between EVF and LCD) has to be programmed to allow automatic switching as the camera is brought up to the eye. This is done by setting the Eye Sensor to LVF/monitor switch to Auto (page 9 of the Custom Set menu)
Direct focus Area - further explanations
If you decide to use Direct Focus Area this influences what functions need to be allocated to the Q menu and Fn buttons.
New users will be accustomed to the AF system which works in [iA] Mode. The camera now uses the 49 Area AF Mode and decides where to place the focus using algorithms in the firmware. This often produces multiple small green boxes when the shutter is half pressed, indicating the areas considered to be in focus.
The FZ330 allows the user to change position and size of the active AF area at will. This is achieved with the 4 way navigation/Cursor Buttons.
In order to change the size and the position of the AF area you first press the left Cursor Button to enter AF Mode, then the down Cursor Button to activate the AF area Setting screen. This is indicated by a yellow bounding box around the AF area with up/down/left/right yellow arrows.
Pressing a navigation/Cursor Button will move the box, and you can put it anywhere. To change the size of the box in large jumps with the TOP Control Wheel or small increments with
the SIDE control wheel.
Press the Disp Button whilst the AF box is yellow, and arrows visible, to return the box to center of the screen, press it twice to restore the box to default size, in the centre of the screen.
Half depress the shutter button to set the size and position of the AF box. It will turn to white, indicating readiness for focus operation.
Some users may be happy to leave the camera like this and it works fine. But this is a two button operation to get to the AF area setting screen.
If you set Direct Focus Area to ON in the Custom Set Up Menu then by pressing any of the cursor buttons it causes the camera to enter the AF Area Setting screen and also moves position of the AF box immediately.
This is faster but you do lose access to ISO, WB, the Drive Mode and Autofocus Mode Selection.
There is a way to assign these functions into the Qmenu which you can customise with the options you want to routinely set very quickly without having to wade through the main menus. We will see this later in the series.
Dialling In Exposure Compensation
In Aperture priority (or shutter priority) mode exposure compensation (EV) is often required. The FZ200 implemented this through the depression of the back control wheel to gain access to the EV control (this became a weakness of the camera after a few years use!) The FZ330, by default has this programmed into the Fn1 button, adjacent to the Record and Shutter release button.
Once the EV scale is accessed the top control wheel is used to adjust its value or you can use the left/right navigation buttons to change the value.
Exposure/Focus Lock & Bracketing Exposures
The exposure and focus lock buttons provide very useful features when shooting tricky images.
Exposure lock can help you get identical exposures across a series of images, for example in a panorama sequence.
Focus lock is useful for situations where the subject may not be ideally located for good composition and we have to perform a focus and recompose operation. Both of these two functions can be performed individually or combined. Additionally they can be applied during the one image capture or held for multiple image captures.
The FZ330 also has a new trick up its sleeve in being able to perform a back button focus operation. This is something that previously only dslr owners could boast about. Let's look at these operations in greater detail.
As you are probably aware that as you half depress the shutter button if you are in an autofocus mode and a semi automatic exposure mode the camera will evaluate the exposure, determine the correct focus position and then lock them prior to you completing the exposure by fully depressing the shutter button.
Whilst for most situations that is ideal in some situations you may want to modify this behaviour in order to capture a particular image. Expose lock or AE lock as it is called is used when we may want to hold the exposure but not the focus before we capture an image. With the AF/AE button programmed as AE only then when we press and continue to hold this button in, exposure is evaluated and is locked.
You can compose the image and focus is only acquired when you half depress the shutter button. Exposure is not changed during this process. If you release the button the exposure lock is also released.
This can be quite tiring after a while. To help overcome this need to hold the button depressed there is also a facility to lock the operation as soon as the button is depressed. As you release the button the lock is applied and will only cancel when you press the button again or change mode or turn off the camera.
With AF only programmed to this button when you depress the button focus will be acquired whatever AF or manual focus mode that you are in. It will remain locked as long as you keep the button depressed. Again it can be programmed to stay locked with the hold button.
Focus lock would be cancelled when you depress the button again, change mode or turn off the camera.
The new feature that can be programmed to this button is the AF on which essentially gives the camera the"back button" focus ability that we normally see on DSLR cameras.
Tripod Quick Release Plate
One of the biggest frustrations about cameras which have a combined battery compartment and sdhc card slot is gaining access to them which the camera is mounted on a tripod. With the FZ200 you could overcome this by using the Canon "D" lens mounting ring fitted around the lens barrel or my adaptor plate. With the FZ330(300) there is a commercially available tripod quick release system which does work with this. It's based upon the "ARCA" style plate used by several manufacturers like Benro. The mounting screw needs to be in the long slotted hole and th plate slid all the way to the right to clear the battery compartment lid. Depending upon the fixing screw thread starting position you may end up with the finger turn ring interfering with the moulded safety stop lug. Either substitute a regular 1/4 -20 screw or cut off the "D"- ring and use the hex wrench or screwdriver to attach.
On Amazon USA the plate is available as http://amzn.to/1Llkdc8 and suitable tripod mounting quick release adaptor http://amzn.to/1GzYpE7
On Amazon UK the plate is http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00J4B4T5S/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1634&creative=19450&creativeASIN=B00J4B4T5S&linkCode=as2&tag=httpwwwgrah07-21
and the adaptor http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00RK2DSIM?creativeASIN=B00RK2DSIM&linkCode=w01&linkId=&ref_=as_sl_pc_ss_til&tag=httpwwwgrah07-21