Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test

A decent compact camera that offers a versatile lens

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 05/20/2016

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

Introduction

The Panasonic ZS100 marks a new entry into the compact travel zoom market for Panasonic. This 10x optical zoom camera is the first ZS-series camera to come equipped with a relatively large 1-inch sensor. The inclusion of this larger sensor puts it in direct competition with a variety of cameras, including Sony's wildly popular RX100 series. At a list price of around $700 USD, the Panasonic ZS100 offers a versatile lens and good performance.

Key Features

  • 20.1-megapixel 1"-type CMOS sensor
  • 10x optical zoom lens (25-250mm eq. f/2.8-5.9)
  • Built-in electronic viewfinder
  • RAW file support
  • Up to 10 frames per second continuous shooting
  • 4K video at up to 30fps
  • 4K Photo features
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Product Image Front

Panasonic ZS100 is compact & versatile, but it has some issues

The first thing I noticed about the Panasonic ZS100 is its striking design, with a cool two-toned silver color scheme and a distinct red accent on the front. It's nice to see a camera offer up something a bit different and stand out, although there is an all-black variant if you want a more typical, subtle design. The second thing I noticed is that the camera body surface is very smooth, making it bit difficult to firmly grip. Just a small rubberized grip or coating would have gone a long way in addressing this issue.

The Panasonic ZS100 will easily fit into a jacket pocket, a small bag, or pants' pocket. It's only slightly larger than Sony's RX100 IV despite offering a lot more zoom range. While compact, the Panasonic ZS100 has a lot of buttons and allows the user to quickly access all critical settings. It is always a delicate balance with a compact camera to offer the enthusiast photographer enough control without sacrificing usability or overwhelming more casual shooters, and I think the ZS100 strikes a good balance in this regard.

Electronic viewfinder

I'm glad that the Panasonic ZS100 includes an electronic viewfinder, but it's simply too small for my taste. The 1160K-dot EVF is sharp and has good colors, but it's just too small to be all that useful with only a 0.2-inch display and a 35mm equivalent magnification of 0.46x. The EVF delivers a close to real-time image, though, and I didn't experience any strange lag or stuttering effects. An aspect of the EVF that I really liked is that you can use simultaneously with the touchscreen to move the autofocus point around. Occasionally my nose would hit the display and accidentally move the AF point, but most of the time I found the touchscreen to be really helpful. You can disable this feature, called Touch Pad AF, in the menus, however, which will deactivate the touchscreen while the EVF is active.

Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Product Image Back

Display

I typically opt for a viewfinder experience, particularly when shooting at longer focal lengths, but the ZS100's 3" rear touchscreen display felt like the better option when compared to the small EVF. However, the display doesn't tilt, which is a feature I'm very used to having in a new camera at this point. Nonetheless, it's a good display that does its job well. The 1,040,000-dot resolution panel is crisp and easy to ready, and the touchscreen functionality works well for both adjusting the AF point and navigating the menus.

Built-in lens

The built-in 10x optical zoom lens is what sets the Panasonic ZS100 apart from some of its compact competitors. The Leica-branded DC Vario-Elmarit lens includes twelve elements in ten groups. Five of the elements are aspherical and there are a total of nine aspherical surfaces inside the lens. The actual focal length of the lens is 9.1-91mm, and its maximum aperture range is f/2.8 at the wide end to f/5.9 at the telephoto end. When macro focusing, the lens can close-focus to 5cm at the wide angle.

Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
25mm equivalent (9.1mm actual), f/2.8, 1/200s, ISO 125
The ZS100 can close-focus quite close, but you can see how corner sharpness drops off dramatically at macro focus distances. Click for full-size image.

The lens performs best in-between its two extremes. At both the wide and telephoto ends of the lens, corner sharpness drops off dramatically, particularly when shooting wide open. Stopping down can help some at the wide end, but at the telephoto end stopping down leads to diffraction-related softness. In the center of the frame, the lens is reasonably sharp across most focal lengths. However, at the telephoto end of the lens, particularly at 250mm, there is a bit of softness even in the center of the frame.

Panasonic ZS100: Lens Test at 250mm equivalent, f/6.3
Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
250mm equivalent (91mm actual), f/6.3, 1/1000s, ISO 125
Click for full-size image.
Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Lens Test Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Lens Test
Left edge
Center

Optical aberrations are mostly kept in-check with in-camera processing, but I still found some chromatic aberration at all focal lengths, particularly in the corners. It is clear that there have been some compromises made in order to get a 25-250mm-equivalent lens fit over a 1"-type sensor without making the lens itself too large.

Overall, I found that the built-in lens provides decent performance, but nothing spectacular and certainly not without its share of issues. If you're hoping to get great results all the way up to 250mm with the Panasonic ZS100, I expect that you might be disappointed.

Panasonic ZS100's 20.1MP 1"-type sensor delivers solid results

The Panasonic ZS100 packs a 1"-type CMOS sensor, which is relatively large for the camera's overall size, putting it up against the likes of the Sony RX100 IV and Canon G5X. In fact, all three of these cameras use a 20.1-megapixel 1"-type sensor.

Image quality overall is pretty impressive for the ZS100. Images can get a bit noisy at higher ISOs and the in-camera noise reduction is quite aggressive on JPEG files (more on that later), but images look really nice at lower ISOs. RAW files allow for a lot of adjustments to exposure as well, as you can see below.

Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image

On the left is an edited RAW file captured at ISO 125 with exposure increased by 1.85 EV during post-processing. On the right is a resized JPEG file straight from the camera.
Click for full-size original image. You can also see the full-size edited RAW image here.

Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
100% crop of the edited RAW file above. You can see that the exposure adjustment introduced some visible noise to the image, particularly in the shadow areas, but it isn't excessive.
Click for original image.

Panasonic ZS100: Enjoyable user experience & good performance

With its compact form factor and good array of controls, using the Panasonic ZS100 is a mostly enjoyable experience. Despite having many controls, some of the buttons, such as those on the rear of the camera, are a bit too small and are quite recessed, making them difficult to press I found.

The camera's menu system is generally well-organized and works well with the touchscreen. Navigating the menus using just buttons can be fairly time-consuming, as there are a lot of options to cycle through, but it's certainly a decent menu system all things considered. The Panasonic ZS100 offers a lot of customization with four dedicated function buttons. In addition to these customizable buttons, the ZS100's touchscreen also has five customizable slots to accommodate your most-used settings.

Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
250mm equivalent (91mm actual), f/8.0, 1/15s, ISO 125. On the left is a 100% crop of an image shot at 250mm equivalent with a shutter speed of 1/15s and image stabilization enabled. On the right is a 100% crop of an image with the same settings and image stabilization turned off.
Click here for the full-res IS-On photo, or here for the IS-Off photo.

Speed and performance

The Panasonic ZS100 is a fast camera that offers good performance for its class. Considering its long, compact lens, the camera powers up quickly and autofocuses quickly. Its cycling times were very good too, although if you press the shutter too soon after capturing an image, the camera won't take the shot and you'll need to press the shutter again.

When recording best-quality JPEG files at continuous high drive mode, the ZS100 can capture over 80 frames at 9.9 frames per second and clear the buffer in 6 seconds. The same drive mode with RAW images captures much fewer frames, only 14, and then clears the buffer in 9 seconds. Shooting both RAW and JPEG files knocks a couple of frames off the total and brings the buffer clearing to 15 seconds while maintaining very similar shooting speeds.

In addition to these full-resolution options, you can also record 5-megapixel JPEG images at 50 fps for 60 frames in Super HS mode. By utilizing the Panasonic ZS100's 4K Photo mode, you can capture 8-megapixel "4K" images at up to 30fps. As is always the case, shooting speeds and buffer times depend on the memory card used, so your own results may vary. With that said, the ZS100 is a fast camera that offers really good performance. I wish that the RAW buffer was a bit larger, but its RAW capture speeds are still impressive.

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

Metering

The Panasonic ZS100 offers your standard assortment of metering modes: intelligent multi, center, and spot. They all work as expected and deliver consistently good results. Exposure compensation is available by pressing up on the directional pad on the rear of the camera and provides up to 5 EVs of exposure compensation.

As with exposure metering, white balance metering works well too. Images can sometimes be a bit too cool for my taste with automatic white balance, particularly in bright sunlight, but it provides good results in many situations. White balance is certainly an area where personal preference matters, so some photographers may like the automatic white balance option across all situations.

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

Shooting Modes

This compact camera works well in its fully-automatic setting, but it also provides an enthusiast photographer with plenty of modes and controls to dictate their shooting experience. On the camera's mode dial, you'll find the standard P, A, S, and M exposure modes in addition to intelligent automatic, movie, programmable, panorama, scene, and expressive modes. The scene and expressive modes work well if you're looking to add some flair to your images in-camera. The sweep panorama mode works well enough, but the resulting image isn't full-resolution. Horizontal panoramas are 1,920 pixels tall for Standard mode; 960px tall for Wide mode, while vertically recorded panoramas have a 2560px vertical resolution for Standard; 1280px for Wide. When shooting in manual mode, the control ring around the lens really comes in handy. By default, the control ring controls aperture while the command dial on the top deck of the camera controls shutter speed.

Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
25mm equivalent (9.1mm actual), f/5.0, 3.2s, ISO 125
This image has been modified. Click for original image.

Panasonic ZS100's AF is vast and capable for most situations

Autofocus performance with the Panasonic ZS100 is quite good overall, with a variety of different AF area modes to suit your shooting situations. The fully-automatic 49-area autofocus mode works well, particularly when your subject contrasts its surroundings and fills a good portion of the frame. When your subject is on the smaller side, you're better off using 1-area autofocus. 1-area autofocus works really nicely with the ZS100's touchscreen display. Even when you're using the EVF, you can use a finger to move the autofocus point around the frame. This is by far the fastest and most consistent way to move the AF point around the frame. Further, by rotating the command dial on the top of the camera, you can change the size of the AF area. I did find that focusing on relatively small subjects posed a challenge to the ZS100 as it doesn't seem to have enough points to really zero in on fine details in the frame, such as a bird's eye.

The contrast-detect autofocus system with Depth From Defocus technology is quite fast, particularly in good light. However, even in dim light, the AF system performs pretty well. The Panasonic ZS100 features Starlight AF, which works as advertised, allowing you to autofocus on bright stars in the night sky.

Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
250mm equivalent (91mm actual), f/5.9, 1/500s, ISO 200
Click for full-size image.

When manual focus is desired, the Panasonic ZS100 offers up a few helpful manual focus features. After pressing left on the directional pad on the rear of the camera, you can select manual focus. You can then adjust the focus using the ring around the lens. When you rotate the ring, the camera magnifies in on a selected area of the frame. In addition to the magnify feature, there is also focus peaking, which is very helpful.

Acceptable in low light, but excessive sharpening at higher ISOs

With a 20.1-megapixel 1"-type sensor, you might expect decent high ISO performance from the Panasonic ZS100, and that's mostly the case. The native ISO range of the ZS100 is 125-12,800, although you can extend it to 80-25,600. JPEG files look okay up to ISO 3200, although you can see a fair bit of noise and fine details are a little soft. At ISO 800, I would consider a JPEG file to be of good quality. The in-camera noise reduction is decent; it doesn't rob an image of fine details. However, I found the in-camera sharpening applied to JPEG files to be excessive, which can make the noisy areas look quite rough.

Panasonic ZS100 Noise Comparison 100% Center Crops from JPEG images
(Click images for full-size files).
Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 125 Full Scene
Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 125
ISO 200
Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 400
ISO 800
Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 1600
ISO 3200
Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Noise Test Image
ISO 6400
ISO 12800

Naturally, RAW files show a lot more noise, but they do give you control over how the noise is reduced in the image during post-processing. At ISO 800, shadow areas are quite noisy, and there's a decent amount of visible noise across the entire image. At ISO 3200, RAW files look very noisy. ISO 6400 and 12,800 are beyond salvaging, in my opinion, unless you wanted to use the file for something on the web.

Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
100% crop of ISO 6400 RAW file, processed in Adobe Camera RAW with sharpening and noise reduction defaults turned off.
Click for full-size image.

The Panasonic ZS100 has a built-in flash that pops up via a mechanical switch on the rear of the camera. The range of the flash with auto ISO is 0.6-8.0 meters at 25mm and 0.7-3.8 meters at 250mm due to the change in maximum aperture. The flash works okay, and it'll have to do because there's no external flash connection or hot shoe.

Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Gallery Image
42mm equivalent (11.5mm actual), f/3.5, 1/400s, ISO 125, flash fired
Click for full-size image.

Overall, I was decently impressed with the Panasonic ZS100's image quality at higher ISOs. The default noise reduction works well for JPEG files, but the default sharpening brings out the worst in the images. RAW images look decent at high ISOs, but they do go downhill quickly.

Panasonic ZS100 packs a ton of 4K modes for photos & video

Recent Panasonic cameras have been focusing heavily on 4K Photo features and 4K video capabilities and the ZS100 is no exception. The Panasonic ZS100 can record 4K video at up to 30fps and comes with a variety of interesting 4K Photo and video features, including capturing 4K Photos (8-megapixel images) at 30fps and 4K post-focus, which allows you to capture an array of images at different focal planes.

Panasonic ZS100 4K Video Sample, 3840 x 2160, 30fps
Download Original (106.9 MB .MP4 File)

4K video performance is quite good overall. Continuous autofocus works well and you can tap on the display to change the focus point while the camera is recording. Changes in exposure are handled well too.

The ZS100 includes a very interesting feature called 4K Live Cropping. Here, you can actively change the zoom and crop area while recording 1080p video -- think of it like an in-camera "Ken Burns Effect." It works well and is something you would typically have to do on a computer during post-processing. When you want to use Live Cropping, you set the camera to record either 20 or 40 seconds of video (although you can stop recording before the limit is reached if you'd like) and then select a cropped frame size and location for starting and end points. During video recording the camera will then automatically adjust zoom (cropping) and re-framing automatically.

Panasonic ZS100 4K Live Crop Video Sample, 1920 x 1080, 30fps
Download Original (100.9 MB .MP4 File)

In addition to 4K video, you can also record 1080p video at up to 120fps. 1080p video obviously doesn't look nearly as sharp or as crisp as 4K video, but the ability to shoot at higher speeds can be useful in certain situations. In addition, 1080p video recording also allows you to utilize the ZS100's auto-level feature, which automatically levels the frame during recording (although this cannot be used while recording high-speed video).

Panasonic ZS100 4K Low Light Video Sample, 3840 x 2160, 30fps
Download Original (159.4 MB .MP4 File)

4K Photo offers a variety of different shooting modes, including a handful of different burst modes and post-focus features. The foundation of 4K Photo is that you're capturing 8-megapixel still frames from 4K video recorded at 30fps. While 8 megapixels might not sound like a lot in this day and age, it's still plenty of resolution for many applications and is well-suited for photographing action.

Overall, the Panasonic ZS100 offers some really neat video modes and solid performance. The video menus can be a bit confusing at first and the video record button is small and very recessed, but the ability to silently move the AF area around the display while recording and the suite of interesting features make the ZS100 a great compact multimedia camera.

Panasonic ZS100's Wi-Fi features are robust, but no NFC

Panasonic's Image App is quite nice and rather feature-filled and supports both remote shutter release for photos as well as starting and stopping video recording. Connecting the ZS100 over Wi-Fi (it doesn't have NFC capabilities) is quite simple and quick. Once connected, the application on my iOS device offered me a lot of control over the camera, although I couldn't change the shooting mode remotely. Unlike some other wireless apps, however, the Panasonic app does respond to changes made on the camera itself, so you don't need to reset the connection when you want to change the shooting mode, you only need to change it on the camera itself.

The application gives you many options and settings to choose from, including AF mode, drive mode, picture style, and much more, including exposure adjusts like aperture and shutter speed when applicable. Tap-to-focus functionality is intuitive and responsive, and I never experienced any noticeable lag. Live view quality is quite good, as well. Overall, it's one of the more impressive, full-featured remote shooting apps that I've used.

Panasonic Image application screenshots
Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Wireless App Screenshot Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- Wireless App Screenshot

Panasonic ZS100 Field Test Summary

A solid, albeit unspectacular, long-zoom compact camera

What I like:

  • Compact body with a 10x zoom lens and built-in electronic viewfinder
  • Good image quality from the 20.1-megapixel 1"-type CMOS sensor
  • Touchscreen display works well
  • Solid performance all-around
  • Many great 4K video and photo features

What I dislike:

  • Smooth and slippery finish of the camera
  • While it's nice to have an EVF, it's very small
  • Good lens range, but only fair optical performance, particularly at the telephoto end
  • Display doesn't tilt
Panasonic ZS100 Review: Field Test -- 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 a decent long-zoom compact camera overall. When making a camera with a 1"-type sensor and a relatively long lens, there will be compromises made. Nonetheless, the ZS100 delivers fair performance for the money. When compared to its nearest competition, the Panasonic ZS100 offers an impressive set of features and delivers solid image and video quality.

 



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