By Josh Fate
To go along with the Lumix ZS3 that we reviewed in May of 2009, Panasonic has also released the Lumix ZS1. Although it lacks a few of the features that come on the ZS3, it is a very versatile camera that anyone can use. Sporting a 10.1-Megapixel imaging sensor, 12x Leica optical zoom lens, Mega O.I.S. (optical image stabilization) and iAuto shooting mode, the ZS1 still offers many features you will find on most other compact digicams. Two things you will not find on the ZS1 are the AVCHD HD video capture and built-in stereo microphones. The camera does however, offer WVGQ (848x480), VGA (640x480) and QVGA (320x240) video capture modes.
This compact camera isn't the smallest, but its versatility more than makes up for the size. One good point about the size is the ease of use. It is very easy to hold onto and operate, even with one hand. When operating the zoom, you have to reach your finger around the mode dial. Lightly bumping the mode dial is all it takes to turn it slightly which will either change you shooting mode or completely take the camera out of a shooting mode. Both of which will cause you to miss some shooting opportunities. There is no optical viewfinder or EVF (electronic viewfinder), so all of your framing and viewing of images along with menu navigation is done on the 2.7-inch LCD screen. With approx. a 100% field of view, auto power mode and high angle mode, there is no shooting situation in which you will have trouble seeing the screen, including direct sunlight and even shooting over an object with the camera over your head.
Performance from the ZS1 is very good for a consumer digicam. When turning on the camera, it is able to capture its first image just 2.5 seconds after you hit the power switch. Shutter lag is less than 1/10 of a second when the camera is auto focused and when allowing the camera to focus it takes between 6/10 and 7/10 of a second. In single shot mode, I was able to capture 5 images in 10.4 seconds with the flash (0.48fps) and without the flash I captured 5 images in 7.3 seconds (0.68fps). This Panasonic also includes three different burst or continuous shooting modes. First is normal burst mode, capturing 3 images in 0.8 seconds (3.75fps) at the full 10-Megapixel resolution. If you are looking for more than 3 images at a time, Infinite burst mode allows for the capture of 10 full resolution images in just 4.8 seconds (2.08fps). Finally there is high-speed burst mode. This mode only captures 3-Megapixel image, however, it is able to capture 10 images in just 1.1 seconds (9.09fps). It also captured 50 straight images at this speed without filling the buffer. All of our tests were completed using a Sandisk Ultra II, 15MB/s, 4GB SDHC memory card, Program shooting mode, ISO auto, flash off and all other settings at the factory defaults unless noted otherwise. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
Our outdoor samples are excellent. The camera does a great job of handling the exposures and reproducing sharp images with natural color tones. The 12x wide optical zoom lens is outstanding for capturing vast landscape and large group portrait shots on the wide end, which has a 35mm equivalent of 25mm. Opposite that, the telephoto end with a 35mm equivalent of 300mm will get you much closer to your distant subjects. Helping to reduce camera shake when shooting with such a large zoom is Panasonic's Mega O.I.S. system. At the wide end of the zoom there is some moderate barrel distortion, which is expected with a lens with this much range. You will also find occasional instances of chromatic aberrations.
As with the outdoor shots, the indoor samples show good exposures with natural colors that accurately represent what the photographer is looking at. The images are sharp throughout, however when viewing them at 100%, you will see a little noise in darker areas at all ISO settings. ISO 200 is the highest that you can make out the stitching in the flag in spots, but it's also when you start to lose some of the detail in places as well. ISO 800 is where you really start to lose detail in the entire image. Assisting you when shooting indoors is the built-in flash unit with a range of up to 17.4ft. at ISO auto. This will allow you to light a large room, but in turn will use a higher ISO to do so. At ISO 80 and using about 1/3 of the zoom, the flash was just a little short of being powerful enough for a proper exposure from approx. 8 ft. away. It is also very well controlled when shooting in both macro and macro zoom modes. In normal macro mode, the lens does block part of the bottom left corner which can be seen in our sample.
Portrait mode produced excellent results thanks to a combination of the camera's face detection software and the Mega O.I.S. system. The image stabilization allows the camera to set the ISO lower which keeps more detail and less noise in your images. Face detection does a great job of quickly locating and tracking any faces within the frame, allowing the camera to properly adjust for your subjects.
Movie mode allows the camera to capture video with sound at resolutions of 848x480 (WVGA), 640x480 (VGA) and 320x240 (QVGA). One of the major features of the ZS3 that has been left off of this model is the 1280x720 HD movie recording mode with stereo mics. The ZS1 only has one built-in mic, like most cameras. Our sample video shows bright colors and runs smoothly but with a little bit of noise while shooting in ideal lighting conditions. The amount of noise will quickly increase as the amount of available light decreases. Capturing all sounds that are close to the camera, the built-in mic is very sensitive and will pick up any background noises such as wind or a furnace, so you have to be very careful when you position yourself to shoot.
Powering the ZS1 is a 3.6V, 895mAh rechargeable Li-Ion battery. This battery has allowed us to capture just shy of 200 images and videos with no danger of running out of battery power. This definitely supports Panasonic's claims that the battery can handle up to 320 images on a single charge. This should be good for a day of shooting. For a weekend or longer, the battery quickly recharges and thanks to the included external charger a spare battery can be kept charged and on hand at all times.
Bottom Line - Featuring a 10-Megapixel imaging sensor, 12x Leica wide optical zoom lens, Mega O.I.S. and iAtuo shooting mode; this is a very versatile camera that anyone can pick up and use in almost any situation with great results. With excellent image quality and performance to match, you will not be disappointed with the MSRP of US $279.99. If you are looking for a camera similar to this with all of the available top of the line features, check out the ZS3 for US $399.99.
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