With plenty of light, the ZS8 can turn out very good photos, if a little soft. The color noise that I'm used to seeing from Panasonic's cameras isn't as prevalent in the ZS8's images. Don't get me wrong, it's still there and certainly visible at its highest sensitivity, ISO 1,600, but it's just not as bad on this camera. Regardless, the ZS8 is best suited for daylight 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.
On the upside, the ZS8's photo quality (top) is just as good--if not slightly better than--the ZS10's (bottom). If you were concerned that getting the less-expensive model would mean sacrificing image quality, don't be.
For those who like to take more control, the ZS8 does offer aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual shooting modes. Apertures are f3.3-6.3 wide and 5.9-6.3 telephoto. Shutter speeds go from 60 seconds to 1/4,000 second.
Though the ZS8 is just slightly slower than the ZS10 for much of its shooting performance, it can't match its burst shooting performance. However, it's still pretty good 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.
The ZS8 does have faster burst shooting in its scene modes. The Hi-speed Burst mode will capture 3-megapixel photos at about 10fps or 5.5fps, depending on whether you make speed or image quality a priority. Either way, the results are pretty bad, but might be OK for Web use at small sizes.
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, just getting slightly softer at the edges and in the corners.
Fringing in high-contrast areas can be a bit of an issue for the ZS8. Mainly, it's more than I'm used to seeing from a Panasonic camera. This is a 100 percent crop of the inset photo. You can see the fuzzy purple glow coming off their shoulders and around their collars. The problem is even at smaller sizes, it will change the color of photo.
Color and exposure is very good from the ZS8 up to ISO 400. Subjects appear natural, bright, and pretty accurate. Above that sensitivity colors start to look washed out. And, like most compact cameras, it has a tendency to blow out highlights. 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. On the left are examples of the ZS8's Pin Hole and Film Grain modes. On the right from top to bottom are its High Dynamic mode options: Standard, Art, and B&W.
For those who want to share photos or videos as quickly as possible, Panasonic added a new Lumix Image Uploader application to the ZS8 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.