Check out an examination of photo quality from Panasonic's top-of-the-line 16x compact megazoom, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10.
Like most compact cameras, whether you'll like the photo quality from the ZS10 comes down to how you'll use the photos and how much cropping and enlarging you hope to do. With plenty of light, the camera can turn out very good photos, if a little soft. When viewed at full size, there is noise present even at ISO 100. The higher the ISO, the more noise you'll see and the softer photos get. Yellow blotching from noise is a particular problem with Panasonic's JPEG processing and it's present in varying degrees through its ISO range. It's most visible at ISO 1,600, which pretty much makes that ISO unusable. Oddly, Panasonic seems to correct for it a bit at ISO 400, but in the process destroys fine detail and makes subjects look smeary. In the end, the ZS10 is best suited for outdoor use or indoors if brightly lit. Photos at or below ISO 200 can stand up to some cropping or larger prints, but low-light photos are best left for small prints and Web use.
Due to the camera's high-speed capabilities, Panasonic includes a Handheld Night Shot mode that takes a series of photos and then layers them to remove noise and blur from hand shake. The photo on the left is taken in this mode while the one on the right is in the camera's Intelligent Auto mode. Both are at ISO 800 at f3.3 at 1/6 second.
Again, thanks to the fast sensor, the ZS10 has a nice selection of burst shooting options. The bottom is a 100 percent crop from the top photo taken at ISO 100 with the lens fully extended. You probably wouldn't want to blow up these photos, but you can crop in and still get good results for small prints and Web use.
Panasonic's Intelligent Zoom technology allows for a usable digital zoom, extending this lens to 21x. While I don't recommend digital zooms in general, the results are really no worse than an optical zoom of that length on a compact camera. On the top left is the camera's optical zoom, on the right is the Intelligent Zoom. Below each is a 100 percent crop from them.
Panasonic's Intelligent Resolution (which is used for its Intelligent Zoom) automatically detects outlines, detailed texture areas, and soft gradation areas and performs "optimum signal processes" to each area. I've been thinking of it as smart sharpening and it definitely works. On the top is with the IR off, the shot on the bottpm is with it on. With it on, the yarn has more texture and looks sharp and clear. Occasionally shots appeared oversharpened and crunchy, but in general the results were very good.
While there is little sign of pincushioning when the lens is extended (bottom), the wide end of the lens shows some barrel distortion (top). The lens has good center sharpness and is reasonably consistent edge to edge.
Color and exposure is very good from the ZS10 up to ISO 400. Subjects appear natural, bright, and pretty accurate. Plus, there are a number of ways to tweak your color results. White-balance presets are good for the most part; however, the auto white balance is not good indoors. Unfortunately, you're stuck with that setting if you're using Intelligent Auto. Whenever possible, use the presets or take a manual reading, which is really easy to do.
If you want to experiment, Panasonic offers up a few of its creative-minded scene modes. At the top left is a normal standard color photo followed clockwise by Pin Hole, High Dynamic Standard, High Dynamic B&W, High Dynamic Art, and Film Grain.
For those who want to share photos or videos as quickly as possible, Panasonic added a new Lumix Image Uploader application to the ZS10 and other 2011 models. Formatting your memory card with the camera drops the software on your card. Just select what you want to upload in playback on the camera and connect to a computer or pop your card in a reader. Launch the software from the card and follow the directions. It's pretty straightforward and works well.