The ZS8 gives you shooting options for fully automatic snapshots as well as manual and semimanual exposure modes. The Exposure button on the back lets you easily change shutter and aperture settings with the directional buttons. Apertures are f3.3-6.3 wide and 5.9-6.3 telephoto. Shutter speeds go from 60 seconds to 1/4,000 second. You also get Panasonic's Intelligent ISO, which adjusts sensitivity based on subject movement and scene brightness, and you can set a minimum shutter speed from 1 second to 1/250. If you come up with a group of settings you like, there is a Custom spot on the mode dial for creating three custom setting configurations. There's no manual focus option, so you'll have to live with the multiple AF options. Lastly, there's a Program mode, should you want to adjust things like ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation (not done with the Exposure button, mind you, but the directional pad), without worrying about shutter speed and aperture settings.
For automatic shooting there is the company's Intelligent Auto, which combines an ever-growing number of technologies to get the best results. Overall, it works very well, but photos can end up appearing overprocessed when viewed at full size. There are 29 scene modes for those times when you want to get specific with your auto shooting, and you can store two favorites assigned to MySCN spots on the mode dial. For the most part they are the ones you'd find on any point-and-shoot, but there are a few artistic modes like High Dynamic and Pinhole. There is an Underwater mode as well, but you'll need a casing if you want to get the ZS8 wet, as it's not waterproof.
As mentioned earlier, the ZS8's shooting performance is speedy, it's just not as fast as the ZS10's. And really that's only noticeable with the continuous burst shooting. The ZS8's shutter lag--how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed--is low, at 0.4 second in bright lighting and 0.8 second in dim conditions. It goes from off to first shot in 1.5 seconds with a 1.4-second shot-to-shot time; using the flash extends that to just 2.1 seconds. As for burst shooting, it can capture up to three shots at its best quality at 1.5 frames per second. That's with focus and exposure set with the first shot. The ZS10 is about twice as fast with autofocus on every shot; without AF it can do 15fps.
In appearance the ZS8 isn't much different from its predecessor, the ZS5. There's some slight styling change on front and a button that used to be on back is now on top. The camera's weight and size are approximately the same, remaining remarkably compact for its features and wide-angle lens with 16x zoom (that's wider and longer than its predecessor). Though it's a tight fit in a pants pocket, the ZS8 easily fits in an average jacket pocket or small handbag. The body--available in black or silver--has a nice, solid feel to it with a comfortable grip on the right side.
Controls are for the most part straightforward. On top is the shooting-mode dial, shutter release with zoom ring, power switch, and an Extended Optical Zoom (E.Zoom) button. The E.Zoom button quickly zooms the lens completely out with one touch. However, press it again and it activates the extended optical zoom that basically crops the 14-megapixel image down to its center 3 megapixels. This effectively gives you a longer zoom, but not at full resolution, making its name misleading. Press the button a third time and the lens goes back to its starting position. It can be handy when you need to fully extend the lens quickly, but the movie record button that's on the ZS10 is more valuable.
On back is the aforementioned Exposure button and a directional pad for moving through menus and settings and toggling among the exposure compensation, flash, macro, and self-timer options. There is also a Display button for changing the amount of setting information displayed on screen, and Panasonic's Q.Menu button that brings up a bar of commonly used settings like ISO, photo and movie resolutions, autofocus modes, and white balance. The main menu system is reached by pressing the Menu/Set button at the center of the four navigation buttons. Panasonic's cleaned up its menu navigation some, but it now requires an extra button press--an acceptable sacrifice.
The ZS8's battery life is very good. It's CIPA-rated for 340 shots and although using the zoom a lot or recording movies will cut into that time, it performed well on a single charge. The battery and memory card compartment are in the bottom of the camera, covered by a locking door. There is a second door on the right side covering a Micro-USB/AV port. There's no Mini-HDMI output, another loss from the ZS10.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 is a fine compact megazoom. It doesn't differ all that much from its predecessor, the DMC-ZS5; the ZS8's wider, longer lens is the biggest difference, along with an increase in megapixels and a slightly larger LCD. The larger display is nice, but the other two changes don't do anything to improve photo quality. Basically, there's little reason to upgrade from the ZS5, but if you just need a simple compact camera with a long lens, the ZS8 is very good. However, if you want the most features for your money, go with the ZS10. Panasonic really gives you a lot more for the $100 difference, although you may not need many of the enhancements.
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