By Josh Fate
Thick, and a little heavier than most compact digicams, the ZS10 has a solid, sturdy feel that gives you some confidence that it should stand up to your active lifestyle. A slight groove on the right side acts as a grip allowing for easy one-handed operation. Placing the video recording button next to the shutter release allows the photographer to just slide a finger over and start recording, no need to even look for the button. The combination of camera controls and the 3.0-inch touch LCD screen make for an interesting combination for controlling the camera, but the touch screen's abilities are limited, and not much use. The 460,000 dot screen, with adjustable brightness, is easy to see in all lighting conditions, including direct sunlight.
Image quality from the ZS10 shown in our outdoor image samples is excellent. The accurate exposure settings, vivid color, and sharp focus all combine to create a realistic and natural looking image. The only noticeable fault seen within the images is a increased amount of noise within the darker areas and shadows. Thanks to the 16x optical zoom lens (35mm equivalent of 24-384mm), the camera is incredibly versatile and great for all types of shooting, whether you are capturing vast landscapes, close-ups of distant objects or portraits. Panasonic's Power O.I.S. assists you while shooting with this large zoom, allowing you to capture sharp images at full telephoto; even helping in lower light situations too. Intelligent Zoom allows you to increase the range up to 21x while still keeping a fairly sharp image as seen in our sample.
Our indoor image samples show that photos captured by the ZS10 are very sharp from corner to corner, with rich colors and an excellent exposures; like seen with our outdoor examples. ISO 100 - 400 are excellent, showing fine details and minimal amounts of noise for the settings. At ISO 800 and above, noise becomes much more evident and the fine details disappear. To assist in your indoor and low-light images, a compact flash unit has been built-in. With a range of up to approx. 16ft (W) at ISO auto, it has a descent range, but you will want to stay as close as possible when using it.
Portrait mode makes it easy for anyone to capture great portrait shots, since the camera does all of the work for you. All you have to do is point, frame and shoot. Our sample shows that the camera chooses all the settings for the detected faces over the rest of the image. The sharp, well exposed face shows a good deal of detail, and natural skin tones, while not showing any redness in the eyes from the flash. The ZS10 also features face recognition, for those subjects that you capture most often. This allows the camera to prioritize the faces it detects if a recognized face is present. This assures that your special person/people will always be perfectly exposed.
Video capture with the ZS10 is just as easy as pressing the video record button instead of the shutter release, no matter what shooting mode you are in. The camera struggles to gather enough light in anything less than perfect lighting, greatly reducing your video quality. If you are shooting outside with enough light, the full 1080 video looks great, and the stereo sound is a great addition if you can stay out of the wind and close to your subject. These microphones are very sensitive and will pick up any noises around the camera. Playback of your movies is very easy, just attach it to a HDTV with an optional HDMI cable or upload it to your computer. On the computer, the AVCHD videos play back incredibly smooth, and take up less space than a motion jpeg movie.
Powering the ZS10 is a 3.6V, 895mAh Li-Ion rechargeable battery that Panasonic claims can capture up to 260 images (CIPA) on a single charge. During our tests, we were able to capture 85 images and several videos, including one that was 20 minutes long. Another drain on our battery was the constant use of the GPS. We left this on to get an idea of the battery life for someone that will be traveling and would like to have the geotag information. If this is the case than a second or even third battery would be a great idea. With the included external charger, it is easy to keep these spare batteries charged and ready to go anywhere.
Bottom Line - Panasonic's Lumix ZS10 is a compact and incredibly versatile digicam. Sporting a 14-Megapixel imaging sensor, 16x Leica optical zoom lens, built-in GPS, Power O.I.S., 1080p HD movie recording and Panasonic's iAuto (intelligent auto) shooting mode, this is an outstanding choice whether you are an experienced photographer looking for a compact camera to carry, or a beginner looking for great features and image quality. With a MSRP of US $399.99 US, its quality, versatility and features are well worth the cost.
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