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Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1
Overview

by Shawn Barnett
Review Date: 11/13/09

Panasonic has long been making small pocket zooms with long lenses, and the Lumix ZS1 is one of the more impressive. They've been so successful with the format, dating back to the Lumix TZ1, that even Canon has joined the fray with the SX100 and SX200 series, two new lines that appear to take on Panasonic's line head-on. The Panasonic ZS1 is the underappreciated little brother to the ZS3, though the only major difference is their movie mode. The ZS3 has HD video, and the Panasonic ZS1 records only Wide VGA (848x480) -- for $100 less. To some, having HD video is a big deal, but not to me, so we thought it a good idea to check out the ZS1 as well.

Because of the two cameras' overwhelming similarities, this is a rewrite of my Panasonic ZS3 review.

Panasonic ZS1 Features

The Panasonic DMC-ZS1 (also called the DMC-TZ6 in some markets) has a 10.1-megapixel sensor, a 2.7-inch LCD, and a 12x zoom that flattens out into a 1.29-inch-thick pocket camera. The Panasonic ZS1 has a surprisingly simple interface, yet offers some depth for those wanting to explore Scene modes and movie making.

Ranging from 25-300mm equivalent, the Panasonic ZS1's 12x zoom is a Leica-branded optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization.

The Panasonic ZS1 has no optical viewfinder, but does have a 2.7-inch LCD with 230,000 dots of resolution, which is about average, down from the ZS3's 460,000-pixel, 3-inch LCD.

An 11-point multi-area autofocus system is the default focusing method, but the user can choose from six different modes, including Face Detection. The Panasonic ZS1 also includes autofocus tracking as a part of the face-detection system.

The Lumix ZS1 has no manual or semi-automatic modes, instead using only Program, Intelligent Auto, and 28 Scene modes.

Movie mode on the Panasonic ZS1 can capture wide Standard video at 848 x 480 pixels (WVGA) at 30 frames per second, compressed as Motion JPEG, as well as standard VGA (640x480), and QVGA (320x240). The Panasonic ZS1 stores images on SD/SDHC cards and includes about 45MB of internal memory. Connectivity includes USB 2.0 and Standard-definition video output (via the same proprietary jack; separate cables included). Unlike the Lumix ZS3, there's no mini-HDMI port on the ZS1.

Power comes from a lithium-ion battery, good for 320 shots according to CIPA standards.

Panasonic ZS1 Pricing and Availability

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1 shipped in April 2009, with a price of US$299 or less.

 

Panasonic ZS1 User Report

by Shawn Barnett

Though the name has been changed, perhaps to get a few more digits for future models, the ZS1 is a continuation of a well-loved and respected line of pocket-long-zoom digital cameras from Panasonic, that includes the original TZ1 from 2006 (oh, so long ago in digital camera years). Though we had to ding the first model for some lens flare issues, we couldn't deny its blend of fun and utility. Gone is the lens flare, though, and the Panasonic ZS1 delivers all the fun with a little more simplicity than we thought possible.

Look and feel. Some might not call it a pocketable camera, but I had no problem slipping the Panasonic ZS1 into my back pocket and shirt pocket when I headed out to shoot. At only 1.29 inches (33mm) thick, it's really not much bigger than most pocket cameras, and you certainly get a whole lot more zoom power than most of those offer.

The Panasonic ZS1 is available in two colors, Silver and Black. Both have a handsome silver bezel around each lens piece and a silver top deck. When looking at the picture above, to the upper left of the lens is the flash, and to the upper right you'll find the AF assist lamp. A small bulge forms the Panasonic ZS1's grip.

On the top you see a series of holes. From the left are holes for the speaker, then the cluster to the right is for the microphone. To the right of that is the power switch, then the shutter button with the zoom control surrounding it. Finally we come to the very simple Mode dial. This looks and works well, but it may be the only major weak point to the Panasonic ZS1's design. It turns too easily (it's downright loose), so I accidentally changed modes quite often. If you turn it to the open area accidentally, the LCD says, "Mode dial is not in the proper position." It seems to me that preventing the mode dial from turning to the improper position in the first place would have been easier than wiring the system to detect this condition and post this message.

Controls. Most of the controls are on the back of the Panasonic ZS1, to the right of the LCD. Nine bumps serve as a thumbgrip, just left of the Record/Playback switch. Though it works fine, I really prefer to have a button activate Playback mode, as most SLRs do, and only some pocket cameras. Then when a photo opportunity strikes while you're in Playback mode, a press of the shutter button returns you to Record mode. But as I say, this switch works well enough, and is easy to understand.

Missing when compared to the ZS3 is the instant-on Movie button, which appears between this switch and the nav dial on the Panasonic ZS1. Below this is the navigation cluster, which serves to move around in the menus and also to adjust the various items embossed into the metal: Self-timer, EV, Flash, and Macro. The Menu/Set button brings up the Panasonic ZS1's Main menu, and the left and right arrows move in and out of menu levels.

The Display button switches among the various display options, and the Q.Menu button brings up a Quick Menu in Record mode, and serves as the Delete button in Playback mode.

Overall, pretty straightforward. If you've used just about any other digital camera on the market, you'll easily acquaint yourself with the Panasonic ZS1.

Lens. Ranging from 25-300mm equivalent, the Panasonic ZS1's lens is capable of a very wide-angle view and a pretty long telephoto, and it bears repeating that this 12x range fits into a pocket! Past pocket zooms have either neglected the wide-angle end to get a longer telephoto, or skimped on the telephoto to get a decent wide-angle, usually only as wide as 28mm. But the Panasonic ZS1's lens goes from a room-grabbing 25mm to 300mm, the same focal length you see the pros using at sporting events.

Image quality, as you'll see below, is pretty good overall, with some chromatic aberration and corner softness, but that's to be expected, and is kept controlled well enough that we can't complain.

The Panasonic ZS1's lens has the company's Mega Optical Image Stabilization, which works remarkably well. It's one of the most rock-solid in the business.

Modes. As I mentioned, the one major flaw to the Panasonic ZS1 is its loose mode dial. I really like how they've simplified the selections, though, with Intelligent Auto, Normal Picture, MyScene, Scene, Movie, and Clipboard mode. Most users should just leave the Panasonic ZS1 in Intelligent Auto mode and let the camera choose the most appropriate Scene mode. It switches quickly into Macro mode when needed, and recognizes faces automatically. Everyone with little experience in photography should just solve the loose dial problem by taping the mode dial into Intelligent Auto and just shoot, because it's remarkably reliable.

The two Scene modes, MS and SCN are useful if you have more than one favorite Scene mode and want to keep them set and at-hand. Clipboard mode allows you to photograph important documents and maps to keep on your device for quick recall later. Image size is limited to 2 megapixels maximum, and images are stored in the Panasonic ZS1's internal memory. It's a great way to just grab a shot of the subway map as you start traveling in a new city, and look at it later on the LCD.

Menus. The Panasonic ZS1's menu is big and clear; and in Intelligent Auto mode, it gets even bigger, taking up only four lines instead of five. The Quick Menu is handy, but doesn't seem much faster than the regular menu for changing most items, thanks to the sheer number of jumps needed to get from option to option. Still, it's nice to have a choice which menu you use for commonly set functions, and all of the available options do appear onscreen at once with the Quick Menu. This menu drops down from the top of the screen and allows you to change more common settings, including Stabilizer, AF mode, White Balance, ISO, Intelligent Exposure, Picture size, and LCD mode.

The screen gives you only basic information, like Mode, flash status, image stabilization mode, AF mode, image size, compression, battery status, and number of pictures remaining. Pressing the Display button cycles through the available settings. The first shows what I just described, the second shows only the selected AF area. The third screen adds a grid, and a menu item allows you to add or delete the information on the first screen. You can also choose to display an optional histogram on all but the blank screen, a handy tool to verify proper exposure.

Storage and battery. The Panasonic ZS1 stores images on SD and SDHC cards, whose maximum capacity is 32GB. That'll be sufficient for most needs with this camera, and indeed a 4 to 8GB card should be sufficient unless you plan to shoot a lot of video. The camera also comes with 45MB of built-in memory.

The Panasonic ZS1's battery is a 895mAh, 3.6 volt lithium-ion design, model number DMW-BCG10PP. Battery life is around 320 shots, according to CIPA standards, though if you're going to shoot a lot of video, I recommend picking up at least one spare.

Shooting. I'm a big fan of small cameras with big imaginations. Whether that means they can shoot wide-angle views with ease, or reach out and grab far off scenes, or shoot video with some grace, I start to think of them as companions rather than just cameras. Well, the Panasonic ZS1 does all three of those items quite well, so let's just say I've become a fan.



Range. This is what 25-300mm looks like.

Zooming with the Panasonic ZS1 is fairly fluid, though it tends to jump in large blocks, making fine framing somewhat difficult. I found that flicking the zoom control allowed me to move in fairly fine steps, which was a reasonable workaround.

Zooming while shooting video is enhanced, since it starts slowly and gradually speeds up, which I found better than the Panasonic TS1's "on or off" fast-all-the-time zoom. I zoomed in all the way and started to zoom back while shooting video, and though I held the zoom all the way to the right, zoom started extremely slowly then gradually increased, slowing as it neared the end. You'll have to learn just how the camera will respond at different focal lengths before you can reliably use the Panasonic ZS1, because it seems to zoom more slowly at full telephoto than in the middle focal lengths. When zooming to full telephoto, it also blurs until zooming stops, when it takes a second to regain focus. See the video below for an example.

Summary. I found the Panasonic ZS1 quite capable at getting still images that I'd be proud to print and frame.


Motion JPEG. Just a quick video sample at 640x480. Note how slowly the lens zooms here.

I love the long zoom range, both the very wide-angle for indoor shots and the telephoto for getting in close. Its excellent optical image stabilization makes the steadying the long zoom seem like child's play, and the big LCD gives you a good look at your images.

I really don't miss the special features found on the ZS3 -- like Face Recognition, instant-start movie mode, HMDI port, and HD recording in particular. I do miss the higher-res LCD, as this one seems a little too bright in daylight, but it's still quite usable. I'm plenty happy with a good quality long zoom and basic movie recording for a low price, and the Panasonic ZS1 offers that with essentially the same still image quality as the ZS3.

 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1 Lens Quality


Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Very soft lower left
Tele: Sharp in center
Tele: Softer lower right corner

Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1's zoom produced noticeable blurring in the extreme corners of the frame, with the exception of the upper right corner, which remained reasonably sharp. Though the crop at right shows quite strong blurring in the lower left corner, the effect does not extend very far into the main image area. At full telephoto, the lower corners are only slightly soft, while the upper corners maintain better sharpness. This is not uncommon for long zoom cameras, however, and is actually better than average.


Wide: Very slight barrel distortion; hardly noticeable
Tele: No distortion

Geometric Distortion: Barrel distortion is actually lower than average at wide-angle (0.4%), and pincushion distortion is likewise fairly low (0.2%) at telephoto. Some clever processing is definitely at play here, attempting to keep distortion down to more pleasing levels.


Wide: Moderate, but bright
Tele: Also moderate

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is minor with a slight blue cast being most noticeable. At telephoto, the effect is also on the minor side.


Macro
Macro with Flash

Macro: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1's Macro mode captures a very sharp image at the center of the frame, with softness and a small amount of chromatic aberration radiating out from the center. Minimum coverage area is 1.65 x 1.24 inches (42 x 31mm). The camera focuses so closely that the flash is blocked by the lens at the most extreme closeup, and the brooch causes a bright hot spot in the upper right corner.


 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1 Image Quality


Color: Color is generally quite good, and the Lumix DMC-ZS1 refrains from pushing strong reds as many consumer digital cameras are wont to do. Yellows are a little undersaturated, and bright blues a little oversaturated, but remaining tones are about where they should be. Hue is also a little off for colors like yellow and cyan. Dark skintones are a little more saturated and warm, while lighter tones are pushed toward pink/magenta. Overall though, good results.


80
100
200
400
800
1,600

ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is quite good at ISO 80 and 100, and really even up to 200. Noticeable softening begins at ISO 400. Chroma (color) noise is pretty well controlled at all ISOs, but luminance noise becomes visible at ISOs 400 and up, affecting large prints. See Printed results below for more on that.


Wide: Dim at 17.4 feet
Tele: Dim at 11.8 feet
Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows dim results at the rated wide-angle distance of 17.4 feet, even though the camera increased ISO to 320. The telephoto test also came out a little dim, despite the camera raising the ISO to 400. Thus, you'll get the best results with the DMC-ZS1's flash in closer range to your subjects.

Auto WB: Reddish
Incandescent WB: Too warm
 
Manual WB: Good but slightly cool

Incandescent: Manual white balance handles our tungsten lighting test better than both the Auto and Incandescent modes, despite having a slightly cool cast (white values actually measure out just a hair more blue).


Printed: ISO 80 and 100 look good printed at 16x20 inches, with good color and detail. ISO 200 shots are still good at 16x20, but slightly better at 13x19. Any larger and luminance noise is noticeable ISO 400 also looks good at 11x14, which is just about right for a 10-megapixel digital camera. ISO 800 shots are usable at 8x10, and better at 5x7. ISO 1,600 shots are still surprisingly usable at 5x7, but better at 4x6. The telephoto CA becomes noticeable on high-contrast objects at about 11x14. Overall, a good performance for a pocket long zoom digital camera.


 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1 Performance


Shutter lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is a bit slower than average, at 0.88 second at wide-angle and 0.95 second at full telephoto. Shutter lag at wide-angle improved to 0.64 second in High-speed AF mode. Prefocus shutter lag is 0.13 second, not the fastest, but still quick.


Cycle time: Cycle time is fairly fast, capturing a frame every 1.8 seconds in single-shot mode.


Flash Recycle: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1's flash recycles in a slow 6.5 seconds after a full-power discharge.


 

Panasonic Lumix ZS1 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • 12x zoom includes unusually wide-angle and long telephoto ends
  • Optical image stabilization works very well
  • Good battery life
  • Good control over chroma noise
  • Good Auto white balance performance
  • Minimal barrel distortion
  • Very good Macro mode
  • Camera zooms optically while recording video
  • Intelligent Auto mode selects Scene modes for you
  • 10 fps high-speed mode (only 3-megapixels though)
  • Face Detection works well
  • Excellent printed results
  • Mode dial is very loose
  • Record/Playback switch means that you can't quickly enter record mode with a press on the shutter button
  • Luminance noise, even at low ISOs
  • Low-power flash
  • No manual or semi-automatic exposure modes
  • Slightly slower than average autofocus in default AF mode

 

Covering a range from 25-300mm, the Panasonic Lumix ZS1 is a great companion, whether you're going out for a walk or on a long trip. Panasonic took a few simple steps to make the ZS1's interface easier to use, and the results will appeal to most users. What I liked most was having a zoom lens that was long enough to encompass my vision: allowing me to shoot both very wide-angle and reach out a little further than normal with a 300mm-equivalent zoom. Though image quality is a little soft in the corners at wide-angle, distortion is low at both zoom settings, and overall image quality is excellent. Luminance noise is a little high for our taste at low ISOs, but chroma (color) noise is quite low, and neither is a major factor in printed output until you get to 13x19-inches or higher, at least up to ISO 200. Movies are also quite good. Overall, the Panasonic Lumix ZS3 offers a lot of photographic power, covering wide and telephoto with better quality than many larger cameras, and slipping quietly into a pocket or bag. It's just the type of camera that photographers would keep with them when they don't want to carry an SLR, and would be a great backpack or biking camera, when weight, size, and versatility are important. It's a sure and simple Dave's Pick.