Panasonic ZS40 Review -- First Impressions
by Mike Tomkins
Preview posted 01/06/2014
If you're in the market for a pocket-friendly, long-zoom camera, you've got more than a few to choose from, but what if you want enthusiast-friendly features such as a viewfinder, focus peaking, and raw shooting? That's the market the Panasonic ZS40 -- known in some markets as the Panasonic TZ60 -- is aiming to capture. With a body that's just 1.4 inches (34mm) thick and weighs only 8.5 ounces (240g), you'll be able to take the ZS40 anywhere you go and forget it's there until you need it, despite its inclusion of a far-reaching 30x optical zoom lens.
Of course, compromises have to be made to hit that size and weight while retaining so much zoom reach, and in the case of the Panasonic ZS40, the most significant compromise is a small 1/2.3-inch CMOS image sensor, not a size that's typically associated with enthusiast models. Sensor resolution of the ZS40 is quite high, at 18.1 megapixels, but the modest surface area of the chip translates to a sensitivity range of just ISO 100 to 3200 equivalents, expandable to 6400 equivalent.
On the plus side, the sensor and its paired Venus Engine image processor provide pretty swift performance, according to Panasonic. The company rates the ZS40 as capable of 10 frames per second burst shooting for as many as six frames, or 5fps shooting if autofocus tracking is enabled. Drop the resolution to five megapixels and you'll get a whopping 40fps, while at 2.5 megapixel resolution Panasonic predicts a full 60fps. That should be plenty to analyze the finer points of a golf swing at greater than Full HD video resolution.
Probably the defining feature of the Panasonic ZS40, though, is its Leica DC Vario-Elmar 30x optical zoom lens. Despite its slight thickness when retracted, it packs in a generous 24-720mm equivalent focal length range, covering all the bases from a generous wide angle to a powerful telephoto. Maximum aperture isn't the most generous, starting from f/3.3 at wide angle and falling to f/6.4 by the telephoto position, but that's the price you pay for its compact size. And achieving that took quite some work, with a complex optical formula involving 12 elements -- five of them dual aspherics, and three of them using extra-low dispersion glass -- in nine groups. Panasonic has included a Hybrid O.I.S.+ image stabilization system, and a dual-speed zoom drive mechanism.
On the ZS40's rear deck are both an LCD monitor and electronic viewfinder. The LCD has a 3.0-inch diagonal, 920k dot resolution, and an anti-reflective coating. The viewfinder, while still nice to have for shooting under harsh ambient light, is based around a 0.2-inch LCD panel with much lower 200k dot resolution.
On the front, you'll note a built-in flash, which with Auto ISO control is good for a range of 6.4 meters at wide angle, or 3.3 meters at telephoto. In a concession to size, there's no external flash connectivity on the Panasonic ZS40.
But what the ZS40 does include are an unusually broad selection of enthusiast-friendly shooting features. These include Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual exposure modes, two Custom shooting modes, a raw file format option (as well as raw+JPEG), focus peaking to help determine the precise point of focus, a control ring around the lens barrel, and a level gauge function.
Those looking for a bit more handholding will be happy to see an Intelligent Auto mode, as well as a variety of scene modes. There are also creative control, creative retouch, and creative panorama functions, a high dynamic range shooting mode, and a 3D photo mode.
The Panasonic ZS40 will also shoot movies at up to Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixel; 1080p) resolution. You can also opt for HD (1,280 x 720 pixel; 720p) capture or below, and have a choice of either 60 or 30 frames-per-second capture rates at both high-def resolutions. Movies include stereo audio from a built-in microphone, allow zooming during capture, and have a 2GB file size limit.
The ZS40 also sports quite an array of wired and wireless connectivity options. For one thing, there's 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi connectivity, including Near Field Communications for easy setup on Android devices. (Sadly, Apple doesn't support NFC.) The Wi-Fi connectivity allows not just wireless file transfer, but also for remote live view and camera control from your smartphone or tablet. There's also a GPS / GLONASS receiver, which supports either the American or Russian positioning systems and allows the camera to tag photos with their capture location. (You can also record track logs with the camera, which could prove handy if you want to retrace your steps between shots.)
As well as these systems, there's also a USB port which doubles as a charging terminal for in-camera recharging, and a Micro HDMI port for high-def video output. The Panasonic ZS40 includes a rather pointless 12MB of built-in memory, plus a Secure Digital card slot on which you'll be storing your photos and movies. The latter is compatible with higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC cards, and Panasonic recommends use of at least a Class 6 card for sufficient performance.
Power comes courtesy of a 1,250mAh, 4.5Wh lithium ion rechargeable battery which is said to be good for as many as 300 shots on a charge, not too shabby by fixed-lens camera standards.
The Panasonic ZS40's product bundle includes PHOTOfunSTUDIO 9.3 PE software. Pricing and availability hadn't been disclosed at press time.