Panasonic ZS100 Conclusion

Panasonic ZS100 Review -- Gallery Image
25mm equivalent (9.1mm actual), f/4.5, 2.5s, ISO 200
This image has been modified. Click for original image.

The Panasonic ZS100 is the first ZS-series camera that uses a 1-inch sensor, which puts the ZS100 up against some very stiff competition in the premium compact camera market. Panasonic has produced a nice camera that stands up well against its peers and offers a distinct blend of camera size, sensor size and zoom range.

The Panasonic ZS100 handles well, although it's a bit slippery

Despite packing a 10x zoom lens, built-in viewfinder and 1"-type CMOS sensor, the ZS100 maintains a relatively compact form factor. A bit larger than its Sony RX100-series competition, the Panasonic ZS100 is not the absolute sleekest compact camera, but it's still fits quite easily into a pants or jacket pocket.

Panasonic ZS100 Review -- Product Image Front

An aspect of the camera body that we did not care for is the smooth surface of the camera body, which we found to be a bit slippery. A little bit of grip material or coating around the handgrip area would go a long way. Buttons don't feel particularly good either, but the camera does offer a lot of controls and dials.

Panasonic ZS100 offers good user experience, strong performance

The ZS100 provides a good overall user experience. Of particular interest, despite some disappointing performance at the longer end, is the Leica-branded DC Vario-Elmarit 25-250mm equivalent f/2.8-5.9 lens. This 10x optical zoom lens provides a lot of versatility, dramatically more than you get from the 2.92x zoom ratio lens found in the Sony RX100 IV, for example. It actually offers more zoom than you would find in the larger Sony RX10 II as well.

Panasonic ZS100 Review -- Product Image Back

An unfortunate side-effect of packing a 10x zoom into a compact lens barrel is that it isn't a fast lens at the telephoto end. Maximum aperture starts at f/2.8, which is nice, but quickly drops down to f/4.1 by 50mm equivalent focal length and to f/5.6 by 123mm. From 160 to 250mm, the maximum aperture is f/5.9, which is quite dim for all but the best light. Further, when shooting at 250mm, the lens is a bit soft across the entire frame.

A nice feature of the ZS100 is its included electronic viewfinder. Unfortunately, we weren't overly impressed with the viewfinder's small 0.2-inch size, but it's handy to have nonetheless. It is quite sharp, too, with 1,160K dots of resolution, and it provides 100% field of view coverage.

Panasonic ZS100 Review -- Gallery Image
250mm equivalent (91mm actual), f/6.3, 1/1000s, ISO 125
Click for full-size image.

Instead of using the small EVF, you can use the camera's fixed 3-inch touchscreen display. The touchscreen proved to work very well out in the field, but full articulation or even a tilting display would have been nice.

Being a premium compact camera, the Panasonic ZS100 needs to be able to not only perform well for enthusiast photographers, but also for those who wish to use the camera in fully automatic modes. The camera's intelligent multiple, center-weighted and spot metering options all work well in a wide variety of conditions.

20.1-megapixel 1"-type sensor delivers good results

Similarly, the camera's 1"-type 20.1-megapixel CMOS sensor captures solid images that are slightly soft straight from the camera due to conservative in-camera sharpening and the somewhat soft lens. However, detail is still good for this class of camera.

Panasonic ZS100 Review -- Gallery Image
25mm equivalent (9.1mm actual), f/3.5, 1.6s, ISO 125
This image has been modified. Click for original image.

For a travel zoom camera, the ZS100 offers impressive high ISO performance. Its relatively large 1"-type sensor (compared to the 1/2.3" sensor found in the ZS100's little sibling, the ZS60) helps it maintain acceptable image quality up through ISO 1600. At ISO 3200, the sensor is reaching its limit, and noise reduction removes a lot of fine detail in the image. ISO 6400, 12800 and 25600 all produce poor images overall. Nonetheless, considering its performance at ISO 1600, this is an impressive travel-friendly pocket camera.

ZS100's autofocus is fast and reliable

Autofocus performance is pretty good with the ZS100. We found that it was reliable and consistent, albeit not sophisticated or great at tracking moving subjects. We did find that single-shot autofocus performance was very fast, particularly for a camera which utilizes only contrast detect autofocus.

Its 49-point autofocus system works well with 1-area autofocus and the touchscreen. Moving the autofocus point around the display is simple and intuitive. Likewise, you can move the auto exposure area across the display as well.

Technical performance is very good for its class

The Panasonic ZS100 can record JPEGs at nearly 10 frames per second and can record RAW images at roughly 9.5fps. These impressive speeds are with autofocus locked, however. With full continuous autofocus enabled, the ZS100 slows down to 5fps. Continuous JPEG bursts clear in six seconds and continuous RAW bursts clear in nine seconds. It is worth noting that buffer clearing and overall performance can be affected by a number of variables, including the SD card being used. In addition to the full-resolution continuous shooting modes, the ZS100 also offers a Super High Speed (HS) mode that records 5-megapixel JPEG images at 50fps for 60 frames.

Panasonic ZS100 Review -- Gallery Image
250mm equivalent (91mm actual), f/5.9, 1/250s, ISO 125
Click for full-size image.

Single shot times are very quick and overall performance is very good for its class. We found that nearly every aspect of its technical performance, from cycle times to autofocus speeds were impressive. The only exception to this is its somewhat disappointing battery life of 300 shots when using the LCD and 260 shots when using the EVF. These are decent results, but you'll want to invest in a second battery for any long shooting excursions.

4K features aplenty with the Panasonic ZS100

4K video as well as 4K Photo features have been a big part of Panasonic's recent cameras and the ZS100 is no exception. 4K video can be recorded at up 30fps and 1080p video at up to 120fps, and we found that the 4K video performance was quite good. The video quality and autofocus speeds were impressive, but even more impressive are the sheer variety of 4K video and 4K photo modes that are available, especially considering the camera's price and class.

The ZS100 includes 4K Live Cropping, which allows you to change the zoom and crop area of a 4K frame and output a 1080p video. 4K photo features include recording 8-megapixel (4K) images at up to 30fps and 4K post-focus. 4K post-focus allows you to record a burst of images, all with different focus points, to essentially select the autofocus point after capture.

The ZS100 marks a good entry into the compact travel zoom market

Panasonic ZS100 Review -- Gallery Image
77mm equivalent (25mm actual), f/5.0, 1/800s, ISO 125
Click for full-size image.

The Panasonic ZS100 combines a 1"-type sensor and 10x optical zoom to create a very compelling compact travel zoom camera. You can find cameras that are more compact, cameras with more zoom, and cameras with more features, but you can't find any single camera in this class that checks all of the same boxes as the ZS100. Ultimately, the Panasonic ZS100 is a capable and versatile camera that has only a handful of shortcomings, and undoubtedly gets the nod for a Dave's Pick.

 

Pros & Cons

  • Great trade-off between sensor size, zoom ratio (10x) and portability
  • Versatile 25-250mm equivalent lens
  • Reasonably fast f/2.8 max aperture at wide angle
  • Very fast contrast detect autofocus
  • Able to autofocus in very dim light
  • High quality 4K video at up to 30fps
  • 4K Photo modes
  • Touchscreen display works well
  • Very good image quality for its size
  • Good high ISO performance
  • Very low shutter lag
  • Up to 10 fps full-res burst mode, including RAW files
  • Generous buffer when shooting JPEGs
  • Built-in EVF, albeit a small one
  • Excellent viewfinder coverage
  • Adjustable noise reduction (11 levels)
  • USB charging
  • Lens isn't very sharp at longer focal lengths
  • Soft corners
  • Slow f/5.9 maximum aperture at telephoto
  • Electronic viewfinder is quite small
  • Camera body has smooth, slippery finish
  • Slightly below average hue accuracy in JPEGs, with dingy yellows
  • Small, weak flash with narrow coverage (typical for compact cameras)
  • No hotshoe
  • Screen is fixed; no articulation or tilting


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