Panasonic Lumix ZS8 Review

 
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Basic Specifications
Full model name: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8
Resolution: 14.10 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/2.33"
Lens: 16.00x zoom
(24-384mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
ISO: 100-1600
Shutter: 60-1/4000
Max Aperture: 3.3
Dimensions: 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 in.
(105 x 58 x 33 mm)
Weight: 7.4 oz (210 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $280
Availability: 03/2011
Manufacturer: Panasonic
Full specs: Panasonic ZS8 specifications
14.10
Megapixels
16.00x zoom
1/2.33"
size sensor
image of Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8
Front side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 digital camera Back side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 digital camera Top side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 digital camera Left side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 digital camera Right side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 digital camera

ZS8 Summary

A competent long zoom digital camera with fewer frills than its ZS10 brother--unless you consider the 24-384mm lens a frill. An excellent pocket companion.

Imaging Resource rating

4.0 out of 5.0

Panasonic Lumix ZS8 Overview

by Mike Pasini and Stephanie Boozer
Review Posted: 06/03/2011

The pocket-friendly body of the Panasonic ZS8 blends a 14.1-megapixel sensor and a Leica-branded 16x optical zoom lens into an good example of an "everywhere" camera, from a line that helped create the pocket-long-zoom category. In 35mm equivalents, the ZS8's lens provides everything from a very generous 24mm wide angle, to a powerful 384mm telephoto. When recording movies, a stronger focal length crop results in a 35mm-equivalent range of 28 - 448mm, still a reasonably useful wide angle, and an extremely powerful telephoto. As you'd expect with this much telephoto reach, there's a Power O.I.S. optical image stabilization system included.

The Panasonic ZS8 has a 3.0-inch LCD display with 230,000 dot resolution, equating to an approximate 320 x 240 pixel array, with each pixel comprising separate red, green, and blue dots.

As well as JPEG still images, the Panasonic ZS8 can capture movies with stereo sound at 1,280 x 720 pixel resolution or below, using QuickTime Motion JPEG compression.

Priced at US$299 (but available for less online) the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 began shipping in March 2011. Two body colors are available: black, and silver.

 

Panasonic ZS8 User Report

by Mike Pasini

A 16x long zoom in a compact camera. 24-384mm. What's not to love?

Panasonic has been making them for a while now and the rest of the digicam world has been flattering the company by imitating the formula. Certainly no cellphone can boast a 16x optical zoom. The line has been drawn again with the Panasonic ZS8.

To its credit Panasonic hasn't tinkered with success. The body style of the Panasonic ZS8 (known as the TZ18 in some parts of the world) is very similar to the ZS5 of last year and not a lot different from the ZS1 of the year before.

Panasonic has been creating both a deluxe and a simple version of their long zoom cameras, and the ZS8 is one of the simple ones. As such, it has no GPS, movie button, or stereo audio recording; for those things, look to the ZS10.

I shot with the Panasonic ZS8 while I had the Nikon S9100 here, so the gallery shots for these models are almost identical. That inspired me to compare the images in the Shooter's Report below.

Look and Feel. If you feel like you've seen the Panasonic ZS8 before, don't be surprised. Panasonic likes to stick with its camera body designs. Good thing, too, because they're mostly successful.

The front panel of the Panasonic ZS8 has a nicely sculpted finger grip with a tasteful chrome accent on one side and the big lens on the other, with the autofocus assist/self-timer lamp in the top corner. Between the lens and the grip sits the Panasonic ZS8's flash, an awkward place to put it since it's easy to block with your grip, but where else could it go?

The right side of the Panasonic ZS8 has a large door that covers the small AV/USB port. Panasonic must have had other things in mind (like HDMI?) at one point. The AV/USB port looks very lonely in there like one person hunched over the bar in some dive late one night.

The Panasonic ZS8's back panel is mostly occupied by the 3-inch LCD with 230,000 pixels. The right side holds all the controls, though. At the top is the Record/Playback switch to the right of the raised bumps that function as a thumb grip.

Below that is the Panasonic ZS8's Exposure button for making whatever changes to shutter and aperture settings the mode permits.

The four-way navigator with a Menu/Set button in the center is below that. The Up arrow accesses Exposure Compensation, the Right arrow cycles through the Flash settings, the Down arrow cycles through the Macro modes, and the Left arrow cycles through the Panasonic ZS8's Self-Timer options.

The top panel (left to right) hosts the monaural speaker on the left edge and nothing until the microphone at the center. To the right of the Panasonic ZS8's mic is the Mode dial, which extends over the back edge a bit to make it accessible to your thumb (if you really stretch). The large chrome shutter button surrounded by the Zoom lever sits between the Mode dial and the Easy Zoom button. And tucked right behind that is the Power switch.

On the bottom you'll find the card/battery door and near the middle of the Panasonic ZS8, a metal tripod socket.

Standard stuff from Panasonic. But that's another way of saying "winning formula" in my book.

Controls. I've praised Panasonic for using a switch to Power the camera on and off and I will praise them again. It's so much easier to use than the small, recessed button on so many other cameras.

The Panasonic ZS8's Shutter button and Zoom lever are just where your finger expects to find them -- that's also true of Movie recording. If you've learned to keep the camera steady while taking stills, you won't bump it when you start or stop a movie capture.

Panasonic has added an Easy Zoom button just in front of the Power switch. Pressing it zooms to maximum telephoto. It works in both still and Movie modes. It was helpful for controlling zoom speed in Movie mode, although it doesn't stop until it has zoomed all the way in to either the maximum optical focal length or digital zoom.

The Panasonic ZS8's Mode dial is well populated, with room for some of our favorites (Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual). There are, in addition, two user-defined Scene mode options and a Custom setting to access three camera configurations. That's very much appreciated on a camera that actually has some options you can configure like the Panasonic ZS8.

The obligatory Intelligent Auto is there along with a Scene mode option that would be a credit to any Broadway theater.

The Panasonic ZS8 relies on a Mode switch to set the camera in either Record mode or Playback mode. Because that's all the switch does, there's no confusion about how to turn the camera on or off. The Power switch does that, and only the Power switch. The Mode switch changes the mode, period. It's simple, but that means you can't switch from Playback to Record by half-pressing the shutter.

The Panasonic ZS8's arrow keys do double duty, of course. Up accesses Exposure Compensation. Right cycles through the Flash modes, which include Auto, Auto Red-Eye, Forced Flash On, Slow Sync/Red-Eye, and Forced Flash Off. There's no control of the Flash power itself. Down cycles through Off, Macro and Macro Zoom modes. And Right cycles through the Off, 2-second, and 10-second self-timers.

Other back panel buttons include the Exposure button, active in Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual modes to enable adjustment of the aperture, shutter or both respectively. Below the four-way navigator is the Display button to cycle through the LCD options and the Q.Menu button to bring up a tool bar on the shooting screen for quick changes to options that might change from shot to shot.

To access the Menu system itself, including the Setup options, you press the Menu/Set button in the center of the four-way navigator.

The 3.0-inch LCD features 230,000 dots of resolution (which is a good deal less than the 460,000 dots of the ZS7) and a very wide viewing angle (so you can hold the Panasonic ZS8 above your head and still see the image on the screen). Panasonic calls it an intelligent LCD because it adjust brightness according to the scene in 11 steps. Its antireflective coating minimizes glare, and indeed I had no trouble shooting with it in direct sunlight. It also didn't smudge (much) with fingerprints.

Lens. The 16x optical zoom Leica DC Vario-Elmar lens uses 12 elements in 10 groups, including three aspherical lenses, six aspherical surfaces, and one ED lens. The Panasonic ZS8 features Panasonic's Power O.I.S. optical image stabilizer.

The 35mm equivalent zoom range of the lens covers 24 to 384mm in still modes and 28 to 448mm for movies. Focus is from 1.64 feet (50 cm) to infinity at wide angle and 6.56 feet (2 m) to infinity at telephoto. In Macro mode, wide angle gets as close as 0.1 feet (3 cm) and telephoto as close as 3.27 feet (1 m).

Maximum aperture at wide angle is f/3.3 and at telephoto f/5.9. Minimum aperture using a multistage iris diaphragm is f/6.3 at either wide angle or telephoto.

Shutter speed, while we're at it, has an impressive range from 60 to 1/4,000 second, except in Starry Sky mode, which offers 15, 30, and 60 second settings.

The zoom range can be extended to 64x using the 4x digital zoom. It can be pushed to 135x when combined with Panasonic's Extra Optical Zoom (which we'll explain below). Two-speed zooming provides slow zooming with just a nudge of the Zoom lever and fast zooms at full throttle.

Also of note, though not strictly an optical property, is the four aspect ratios available on the Panasonic ZS8. The standard 4:3, the traditional 3:2, and HD 16:9 are now joined by the 1:1 square format.

Modes. The Panasonic ZS8 Mode dial has 10 options, but they break down into several more comprehensible groups. There's the standard PASM modes offering the most manual control of the camera, plus a Custom mode to record and call back custom settings. Then there's i.Auto, in which the camera sets the Scene mode. There's also a large selection of Scene modes you can select yourself, plus two options to store your to most often used Scene modes. Finally, there's a Movie option.

PROGRAM. This mode gives you the most control over the Panasonic ZS8, except for shutter and aperture settings. i.Auto, in contrast, hides a number of features and settings that are accessible in Program mode.

APERTURE PRIORITY. You can set the aperture yourself using the Exposure button and the arrow keys. At wide angle the aperture ranges from f/3.3 to f/6.3. At telephoto, it ranges from f/5.9 to f/6.3.

SHUTTER PRIORITY. You can set the shutter speed yourself using the Exposure button and the arrow keys. There is a wide range of shutter speeds from eight seconds to 1/4,000 second available.

Program

Manual

MANUAL. Manual allows you to set both the aperture and shutter speed using the arrow keys. An exposure meter scale is displayed on the LCD to show the effect of your settings.

CUSTOM. The Custom mode setting stores up to three camera configurations. Use the Record and Setup menus to configure the camera, then select Cust. Set Mem. from the Setup menu and pick one of the three sets to save the configuration under.

You can record the Picture Size, Quality, Aspect Ratio, Intelligent ISO, Sensitivity, White Balance, Face Recognition, AF mode, Pre AF, Metering Mode, i.Exposure, Minimum Shutter Speed, Burst, i.Resolution, Digital Zoom, Color Effect, Picture Adjustment, Stabilizer, AF Assist Lamp, Red-Eye Removal, Rec Mode, Exposure Compensation and Auto Bracket settings from the Record menu and the Guide Line, Histogram, and Zoom Resume settings from the Setup menu.

i.AUTO. Intelligent Auto mode uses face recognition, movement detection, brightness and focus distance to recognize common scenes and automatically adjust the camera settings to them. Among the things the Panasonic ZS8 can detect are people, babies, scenery, sunsets, close-ups and subject movement in the absence of any of the above.

SCENE. Panasonic didn't scrimp on Scene modes. Here's the full list:

Portrait, Soft Skin, Transform, Self Portrait, Scenery, Panorama Assist, Sports, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Food, Party, Candle Light, Baby1, Baby2, Pet, Sunset, High Sensitivity, High-Speed Burst (Image Priority/Speed Priority), Flash Burst, Starry Sky, Fireworks, Beach, Snow, Aerial Photo, Pin Hole, Film Grain, High Dynamic (Standard, Art, B&W), Photo Frame, and Underwater.

If, like me, you tend to gloss over Scene modes, you'll miss a few interesting features of the Panasonic ZS8 buried in there.

One of them is High-Speed Burst, which can capture up to 10 frames per second at a 3-megapixel image size in Speed Priority.

MS1 and MS2. In fact, there are so many Scene modes, Panasonic devoted two settings on the Mode dial to any two of them you want to access more easily than going through the Scene mode menu.

The first time you register a Scene mode to, say, MS1, it will display the Scene menu. Just select a scene to register it. If you want to register a different Scene on MS1, just press the Menu/OK button to bring up the Scene menu while MS1 is selected.

HD Movie. 1,280 x 720 video with optical zoom. Click the image to download the 33MB .MOV file.

MOVIE. Unlike many digicams these days, there's no separate Shutter button for Movie recording on the Panasonic ZS8 (even though there was one on the ZS7). Instead, you use the normal Shutter button and Movie mode on the Mode dial. I prefer this, primarily because there's no better location for a Movie Shutter button than where the still Shutter button is.

Movies are recorded in Motion JPEG format at 30 frames per second in three image sizes: HD (1,280 x 720), VGA (640 x 480), and QVGA (320 x 240). HD, of course, uses a 16:9 aspect ratio, while the other two use 4:3.

Quick Menu in Program

You can use both optical and digital zoom while recording and the Easy Zoom button (see below) works as well. There's even a Wind Cut filter to minimize wind noise.

There's a 2GB limit to Motion JPEG clip size.

Menu System. There are two menu systems on the Panasonic ZS8 that extend the limited functionality provided by the camera's buttons.

The Quick Menu system provides a toolbar on the LCD to quickly access the main menu settings you might change while shooting. It isn't available in all shooting modes (like Scene) and the options vary in Intelligent Auto (just a few) and PASM modes (a few more).

The Main Menu system accesses everything else.

Record

 

Setup

 

Playback

 

Playback Mode

 

Zoom. Like other Panasonic digicams, the Panasonic ZS8 features a confusing set of zoom options. The confusion persists because Panasonic manuals are not clear on the difference between the options. Which is why we wear a cape when we sit at the keyboard.

Here's the explanation:

  • Optical zoom (16x) is simply the zoom provided solely by the lens.
  • Extra or Extended Optical zoom (33.8x) roughly doubles optical zoom at the expense of image resolution. You may start with a 14-megapixel image size at wide angle, but by the time you zoom all the way in, image size is just 3-megapixel. The image size has been cropped to simulate zoom, much as you might do at your computer.
  • Intelligent zoom (+1.3x Optical or Extra Optical zoom) uses what Panasonic calls Intelligent Resolution to extend zoom "with almost no deterioration of picture quality." (More on this below.) This works in i.Auto and most Scene modes.
  • Digital zoom (+4x optical zoom) takes an even smaller crop than Extra Optical zoom (less than one megapixel at 4x) and upsamples, with a noticeable loss of quality, as with any digital zoom.

The Easy Zoom button on the top panel takes just one tap to zoom the lens out to its maximum ratio in still recording modes. But each time you press the button, the ratio changes. With an image size of 10.5-megapixels or more, the first press takes you to the maximum optical zoom. The second press takes you to the maximum extended optical zoom, and the third press takes you to the maximum digital zoom. On smaller images, you zoom to the maximum extended optical zoom and then the maximum digital zoom. Another press takes you back to the wide angle zoom setting.

Storage & Battery. The Panasonic ZS8 supports recording to its approximately 70MB of built-in memory or SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards. Panasonic recommends using an SD card with a Class 6 or higher speed rating for recording movies.

A 2GB SD card will hold 670 of the Panasonic ZS8's highest quality 4:3 images compared to just 13 for the built-in memory. The same size card will hold 8 minutes, 10 seconds of 6:9 HD video or 21 minutes 40 seconds of VGA video while built-in memory isn't large enough for any video capture except QVGA (320 x 240) and only 2 minutes and 30 seconds of that.

The Panasonic ZS8 is powered by a 3.6 volt 895 mAh lithium-ion battery pack providing enough juice to capture about 340 images using CIPA standards. An optional AC adapter is also available.

Panasonic offers a optional carrying case (DMW-CT3-K for the black model and DMW-CT3-T for the brown model) as well as a marine case (DMW-MCTZ20) that is waterproof to 40 meters.

Playback

Special Features. The Panasonic ZS8 is packed with special features. It can be daunting to get a handle on them and there were times I wondered if using them to optimize my results wasn't just screwing something up horribly. Using Intelligent Auto can help you out there, though.

Intelligent Auto. Forget Green mode. Panasonic's red Intelligent Auto mode uses seven detection and correction functions simultaneously to set the camera for you. That starts with the Intelligent Scene Selector, which automatically sets the Scene mode to either Scenery, Portrait, Macro, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, or Sunset. It also taps into a few other Intelligent options, detailed below. And it adds an optional Happy color mode to bump up the saturation.

Zoom Range. 24mm to 384mm to 4x digital zoom.

Intelligent Resolution Technology. Thanks to the Venus Engine VI image processor in the Panasonic ZS8, the camera can enhance detail without adding noise in flat areas like skies. Intelligent Resolution Technology looks for three kinds of things in an image: outlines, texture, and gradations. It applies a different sharpening setting so areas it defines as outlines are sharp while gradations are smooth and texture enhanced.

It works in both still and movie modes and is automatically enabled in Intelligent Auto and some Scene modes. You can toggle it on or off from the Menu system in other modes.

Intelligent Zoom. If the 16x optical zoom doesn't quite do it for you (and in a few cases it left me short), you have a couple of choices on the Panasonic ZS8.

You can, of course, slip into conventional digital zoom up to 4x, but sharpness and detail will suffer as they always do with digital zoom. You can tap into the Panasonic ZS8's Intelligent Zoom, which is the equivalent of just 1.3x more than optical. That maintains sharpness and detail before yielding to digital zoom using Intelligent Resolution. Intelligent Zoom turns on in Intelligent Auto and some Scene modes. You can toggle it on or off from the Menu system in other modes. I had it on most of the time. I couldn't see a reason not to have it on, frankly.

Intelligent ISO. The Venus Engine VI detects subject movement and automatically adjusts the ISO setting and shutter speed to accommodate any movement in the available light. When it detects subject movement, it raises the ISO and increases the shutter speed to prevent motion blur. When no movement is detected, it relies on a low ISO setting. It's enabled in Intelligent Auto and available in PA modes.

Intelligent Exposure. Intelligent Exposure "increases the exposure only in under-exposed areas by detecting the brightness level part-by-part in the image. If the background includes the sky, which tends to be easily washed out, the camera automatically adjusts the aperture and shutter speed to keep the setting slightly under-exposed to prevent wash-out while brightening the darkened area by increasing the ISO only in that area. If the background of an indoor portrait receives insufficient lighting from a flash and becomes dark, the ISO sensitivity is raised in only the low-lit area to make it brighter without causing graininess in the subject's face."

Sonic Speed Autofocus. Panasonic claims the Panasonic ZS8 focuses 49 percent faster than the ZS5, and our lab tests tend to agree. The speed increase was achieved using "a higher-speed actuator, optimized algorithms and parallel software processing."

Power OIS. Last year Panasonic re-engineered its Mega OIS optical image stabilization into Power OIS to deliver nearly twice the hand-shake correction, particularly low-frequency hand-shaking typically from pressing the Shutter button or shooting at slow shutter speeds. It's turned on automatically in Intelligent Auto mode and available in PASM and some Scene modes as well.

No GPS. The Panasonic ZS8 doesn't have GPS like the ZS7, which might make you wonder if it's the right choice for a travel camera.

I didn't at all mind that, though.

GPS tends to reveal a bit more than I like for images I might post publicly, and having to remember to turn it off is one more thing to worry about. I didn't think that would be a big issue, but after reviewing a couple of GPS cameras, it was a big relief not to have to think about it.

There's a good reason to include GPS data in your images, though. Especially if you're shooting in locations you aren't familiar with (like most tourists). But if you want GPS, it's only a little more trouble to add the fields to your images later using a separate GPS device. And you can share that data with others in your group, too.

Image Quality. The Still Life at ISO 100 looked quite good. The colored yarns were easily distinguishable with excellent detail, although the white yarn detail was nearly blown out. The proportional scale below it is as sharp as I've seen it on a digicam. The dark and light fabric under the mug both held detail without the lighter one blooming. The salt and pepper shakers likewise held detail, although the salt just barely. Highlights were just barely there, otherwise the test showed superlative results.

The wide angle Multitarget test at ISO 100 showed some softening in the corners, particularly on the left side. It also confirmed the expected barrel distortion at wide angle. There was even a little barrel distortion (along with soft corners) in the telephoto shot.

Shooting. The Panasonic ZS8 had a little company on most of my outings with it. And that company was the Nikon S9100. You can directly compare a number of gallery shots to see which camera did better in the wild.

And the wild started right in the studio with a macro money shot. The Panasonic ZS8 version shows a good deal more contrast and sharpness (despite a lower angle). Of course, it might have been sharper because the Panasonic ZS8 bumped the ISO to 800 and used a 1/40 second shutter speed compared to the S9100's ISO 400 and 1/20 second shutter speed.

I didn't have nearly the trouble focusing on the glass clown with the Panasonic ZS8 that I had with the S9100. The Panasonic ZS8 found focus immediately while the S9100 hunted and hunted and hunted without ever settling down until I changed the focal length significantly. In short, I couldn't get the shot I wanted with the S9100, but I could with the Panasonic ZS8.

The bleached row of logs is a contest I'll leave for you to award a winner. The S9100 produced a warmer image with less contrast, I'll note. Exposure was quite a bit different, too, particularly the shutter speed, which explains the slightly brighter S9100 image.

At the ballpark, the Panasonic ZS8 did better than I thought it would, but in one scenario it couldn't hold a candle to the S9100. The Panasonic ZS8's fastest burst mode is a Scene mode that captures up to 10 fps -- but only at a 3-megapixel image size. That's not a big deal if you're happy with your full-frame composition, but from my seats at the game I knew I'd be doing a lot of cropping. So I preferred -- by a long shot -- the S9100's burst mode of 9.5 fps at full resolution. So the Panasonic ZS8 spent most of the game in the bag.

I also preferred the S9100's capture of Cody Ross at the plate, which exposed the image at ISO 160, f/5.9 and 1/320 second. The Panasonic ZS8's settings were ISO 100, f/5.9 and 1/250 second for a slightly darker shot.

But when I did take it out of the bag, I got good shots. I printed a set of 5x7s from the game from both cameras and you can't tell which camera took which photo from the prints.

Another subject in which the S9100 outperformed the Panasonic ZS8 was shooting Doré vase in Golden Gate Park. These shots were taken moments apart from each other but the Nikon images have better contrast, and deeper shadows, yet with detail.

Again, the exposures are quite different, with the Nikon using a much faster shutter speed. But you can (I did) match either shot to the other in an image editing program. So we're talking about a finer line here than we were when observing the focusing issue with the clown.

Comparing the low light performance of the two cameras with the bookcase shot, you'll see the Panasonic ZS8 exposed at ISO 1,600 with f/4.7 and 1/15 second while the S9100 fearlessly shot at ISO 3,200 at f/4.6 and 1/50 second. As the Exif data shows, image stabilization was on for the Panasonic ZS8 shot, but it's still blurry. The S9100 shot takes the prize here, too.

There's no clear winner here, but that's the state of the art in digicams these days. Next time you're tempted to ask which camera is the best one, remember this comparison.

We should note that when looking at these images at full resolution on a computer screen, the noise from the 14-megapixel sensor isn't quite as good as we've seen from 12-megapixel models in the past, in particular the Panasonic ZS5. In this case, it's not a matter of Panasonic using a CMOS sensor, it's just the fact that a small 14-megapixel sensor is going to have trouble with noise even at its lowest ISO setting.

In the ISO 100 images at right, both taken of our INB indoor tungsten shot, both the ZS5 (top) and ZS8 struggle with detail in the red hair, but the 14-megapixel ZS8 renders the scene quite a bit softer than its 12-megapixel predecessor. We don't think it's a deal-breaker, but we'd be remiss not to at least bring it to your attention. If you don't print larger than 11x14 on a regular basis, you're unlikely to notice, and we think the images will bear some cropping as well. Our print results show that most subjects print quite well at 13x19 inches, but we'd limit this shot of hair to 11x14 or smaller.

All in all, we think the Panasonic ZS8 is a pretty good performer, and optical quality is very good considering the long focal length. See our various quality analysis crops, and the pro/con and conclusion below for more.

 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 Lens Quality


Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Quite soft at upper left
Tele: Slightly soft at center
Tele: Soft, upper left

Sharpness: The wide-angle end of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8's zoom shows fairly strong blurring in the left corners of the frame compared to what we see at center, though performance in the right corners is pretty good, with minimal blurring. At telephoto, blurring in the corners isn't much stronger than what's at center, though the entire top portion of the frame is a good bit softer than the rest. (There's also noticeable noise grain.) Overall performance isn't superb, but it's understandable given the 16x optical zoom.


Wide: Strong barrel distortion; very noticeable
Tele: Minor barrel distortion, only slightly distracting

Geometric Distortion: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8's lens produced strong barrel distortion at wide-angle (0.9%), but minimal barrel distortion (<0.1%) at telephoto.


Wide: Low
Tele: Bright

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is low in terms of pixel count, and pixels are fairly inconspicuous. Telephoto, however, shows stronger distortion, with bright blue pixels encroaching far into the black areas. Considering the resolution of the sensor, though, this chromatic aberration is not going to be noticeable except in the largest prints.


Macro
Macro with Flash

Macro: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8's Macro mode captures a lot of fine detail at the center of the frame, though blurring is very strong on the left side. (Blurring in the corners is a common limitation among consumer digital cameras in macro mode, and the DMC-ZS8 is a bit extreme.) Minimum coverage area is 1.51 x 1.13 inches (38 x 29mm), which is quite good though. The camera focuses so closely that the flash is blocked by the lens in the lower right corner, and overcompensates by blowing out the top left.


 

Panasonic Lumix ZS8 Viewfinder Accuracy


Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor

Viewfinder Accuracy: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8's LCD monitor showed about 100% coverage accuracy at wide-angle and at telephoto. Excellent.


 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 Image Quality


Color: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 shows a few wobbles in its color performance, though overall results are passable. In terms of saturation, bright yellows are muted a little more than average, while strong blues are pumped quite high. Surprisingly, reds aren't pushed too vibrant, which is often the case with consumer digital cameras. Hue is significantly off for colors like yellow and cyan, and reds are off a bit as well. White balance is also off, with neutrals that are too cool, despite using Manual WB. Dark skin tones are fairly accurate if a hint warm, and lighter skin tones are pushed toward pink. Overall, performance here is below average.


Auto WB:
Good, though very slightly red
Incandescent WB:
Too warm
 
Manual WB:
Very good

Incandescent: Manual white balance handled our incandescent lighting much better than the Incandescent setting, which came out too warm. Auto produced better results than average, though with a slight reddish tint.


Horizontal: 2,000 lines
Vertical: 2,000 lines

Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,000 lines per picture height in both directions. Extinction of the pattern occurred at just past 2,400 lines per picture height.


Wide: Very Bright
Tele: Good
Auto Flash

Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) shows very bright results at wide-angle and the rated distance of 16.4 feet, but the camera raised ISO sensitivity dramatically to 1,000 to achieve that. The telephoto test came out fairly bright at 9.2 feet, though ISO was again increased to 1,000.

 

Auto flash produced fairly bright results in our indoor portrait scene, though little ambient light was retained at the auto-selected 1/125 second shutter speed, ISO 400. With an exposure that fast, you should have no problems with blur from subject motion for most portraits. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.


100
200
400
800
1,600

ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is pretty good at ISO 100, though already becoming a little mottled at 200. Visible softening begin at ISO 400. Chroma (color) noise is visible as low as ISO 100, as is luminance noise, with a noticeable grain pattern. By ISO 800 and 1,600, results are quite blurry, and fine detail is all but gone. See Printed section below for more on how this affects printed images.


Print Quality: ISO 100 shots are good at 13x19, if a little soft in the detail department. Corners, though, which we noted as soft in the 100% crops, look pretty good at this size.

ISO 200 images are softer at 13x19, but still usable.

ISO 400 shots are too soft for 13x19, but look a good deal better at 11x14 inches.

ISO 800 images are too soft for 11x14, better at 8x10, though a slight haziness remains in the image.

ISO 1,600 images are better at 5x7, with good color and detail.

Overall, the Panasonic ZS8 will do well for most snapshooters, but those used to the quality of older models, in particular the ZS5, will be disappointed with detail from the ZS8. Still, if you only print 8x10 or smaller, and seldom crop your pictures, you probably won't notice.


 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 Performance


Startup Time: The Panasonic ZS8 takes about 1.5 seconds to power on and take a shot. That's very fast for a long-zoom camera.


Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is very good, at 0.24 second at wide angle and 0.25 second at full telephoto. Prefocused shutter lag is 0.010 second, very quick.


Cycle Time: Cycle time is good for its class, capturing a large/fine frame every 1.58 seconds in single-shot mode. Panasonic rates the ZS8's full resolution burst mode at 1.9 frames per second for 3 fine or 5 standard JPEGs, which is sluggish. A Hi-Speed Burst mode can achieve up to 10 frames per second at 3 megapixels for 15 frames or more.


Flash Recycle: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8's flash recycles in about 4.9 seconds after a full-power discharge, about average.


Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to just below the 1/4 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, though the camera was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled.


USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8's download speeds are pretty fast. We measured 6,591 KBytes/sec.


 

In the Box

The retail version of the Panasonic ZS8 includes:

  • The Panasonic ZS8 camera
  • Battery Charger
  • Battery Pack
  • AV Cable
  • USB Cable
  • Hand Strap
  • CD-ROM

 

Recommended Accessories

  • Extra battery pack for extended outings
  • Large capacity SDHC memory card. These days, 4GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity, but if you plan to capture many movie clips, 8GB should be a minimum.
  • Medium camera case

 

Panasonic ZS8 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Good wide-angle lens, ranging to a very long telephoto
  • Very good optical performance considering the large focal range
  • Good build, tried-and-true design
  • Nice finger grip
  • Simple switches for power and modes
  • Easy Zoom button quickly moves to full telephoto
  • Intelligent Auto picks special modes fairly well
  • Shutter speeds from 60 to 1/4,000 second
  • Four aspect ratios
  • Fast startup
  • Full set of manual modes (PASM)
  • 720p movie mode with optical zoom
  • Good battery life
  • Very fast AF and shutter lag
  • Good auto white balance performance indoors
  • Good macro performance
  • Produces good prints from 13x19 inches to 5x7 across the ISO range
  • Somewhat difficult to learn some features
  • Multitude of zoom options are hard to understand
  • Image and print quality not quite as good as its lower-resolution predecessor thanks to noise suppression
  • Color and manual white balance accuracy could be better
  • Barrel distortion at wide-angle
  • Slow full-resolution burst mode
  • No HDMI output

 

It's just great to have a 16x zoom in a compact camera. Especially when that range starts at a 24mm equivalent, a real wide-angle. That's the real value of a camera like the Panasonic ZS8. You can take the Panasonic ZS8 anywhere and it will be equally at home shooting the interior of a dark church or a distant landscape. You need no accessories to enjoy that diversity, either.

And I didn't have any real complaints about image quality. Even if some of the shots were not quite to my taste, others were. The folks at IR headquarters rightly point out that the 14-megapixel ZS8's detail performance isn't up to the same standard as the 12-megapixel ZS5's, a function of the greater noise that often comes with higher resolution. But if you're not making prints larger than 11x14, you're not likely to notice.

With the Lumix ZS8, Panasonic has delivered an affordable long zoom in an compact package that even offers enough manual control to teach you something about photography. That makes it a Dave's Pick.

To see how the Panasonic ZS8 compares to its competitors, see our Travel Zoom Shootout!

 

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