Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1 review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1

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The Good Compact wide-angle lens with 12x zoom; good build quality; uncomplicated operation.

The Bad Mixed performance; few manual features.

The Bottom Line With a flexible lens in a pocketable package, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1 is a pleasing point-and-shoot megazoom--both in design and photo quality.

7.4 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 7

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1 may look identical to its linemate, the ZS3, but give its specs more than a cursory glance and you'll find it's a different camera. The make-or-break difference, though, is the ZS1's lack of HD movie capture. So if you don't need that and aren't doing a lot of action photography, you'll probably be satisfied with what the ZS1 offers: a compact body, a wide-angle lens with 12x zoom, and very good photo quality.

Key specs Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1
Price (MSRP) $299.95
Dimensions 2.4 inches wide by 4.1 inches high by 1.3 inches deep
Weight (with battery and media) 7.7 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 10 megapixels, 1/2.5-inch CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 2.7-inch LCD, 230K dots/none
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 12x, f3.3-4.9, 25-300mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/Motion JPEG
Highest resolution size (still/video) 3,648x2,736 pixels/640x480 at 30fps
Image stabilization type Mechanical and digital
Battery type, rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, 320 shots

The ZS1 looks and feels good. It's a sturdy, comfortable handful with a nicely rounded right side giving you a secure one-handed grip. Though it's not small or light enough that you'll forget it's on you, the fact that a camera with its wide, long lens easily fits in a back pants pocket or small handbag is awesome. Available in silver or black, its controls are simple and straightforward enough that out-of-the-box use shouldn't be a problem for most familiar with digital cameras. A Mode dial on top lets you easily slip between shooting options. Actually, if there's one design complaint it's that the dial spins a little too freely, and because you have to reach over it to press the shutter release and use the zoom ring, it frequently moves out of place. Otherwise, the remaining controls on back are relatively large, easy to use, and logically arranged.

Likewise, the menu systems are uncomplicated. A Q.Menu button on back at the lower right brings up a vertical bar of shooting-mode-sensitive options. A general Menu button sits at the center of the four navigational buttons that double as exposure, flash, macro, and timer controls. The main menu system features two tabs: one for setup and one for shooting features.

If you're trying to decide whether the ZS3 is worth $100 more to you than the ZS1, there are noteworthy differences. For starters, the ZS1's LCD, though only slightly smaller, has half the resolution. The ZS1 uses a different image processor that does not support HD video with stereo audio, HDMI output, or the ZS3's face recognition and Intelligent Auto in Movie mode features. There's also a one-touch movie record button to go with the HD video capture. Lastly, the ZS3 has a different sensor with a total pixel count of 12.7 megapixels compared with the ZS1's 10.3-megapixel sensor. However, both are 10-megapixel cameras, so the ZS3's higher pixel count basically allows you to get higher-resolution photos at 3:2 or 16:9 aspect ratios. Really only the HD video is important and to us it's worth the $100.

General shooting options Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, Manual
Recording modes Intelligent Auto, Normal Picture, MySCN, SCN, Motion Picture, Clipboard
Focus Face, AF Tracking, 11-point, 1-point (high speed), 1-point, Spot
Metering Multi, Center-weighted, Spot
Color effects Standard, Natural, Vivid, Black & White, Sepia, Cool, Warm
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 5 photos (Standard), 3 photos (Fine)

The ZS1 is primarily a point-and-shoot camera. In Normal Picture mode you get the most control over results with settings for focus, light metering, color effects, white balance, ISO, and exposure. You also get access to Panasonic's Intelligent ISO for limiting the sensitivity to a maximum of ISO 400, 800, or 1,600 as well as the capability to set a minimum shutter speed from 1 second to 1/250. If you like scene modes the ZS1 has 27 of them as well as a MySCN option letting you associate one you use most often with the MS marker on the Mode dial. Of course there's a fully automatic mode--Intelligent Auto (iA)--that determines the most suitable Scene mode and helps correct any blurring, focus, and brightness issues. There is a Movie mode, but it maxes out at a resolution of 640x480 pixels. The last spot on the dial goes to a Clipboard mode that stores low-resolution images to the camera's 40MB of internal memory for fast recall. Panasonic recommends using it for taking pictures of bus/train timetables and maps, which is made more useful by the wide-angle lens.

Performance is mixed from the ZS1. The time from off to first shot is an average 2.3 seconds. Shot-to-shot times are a longer wait at 2.5 seconds without flash and 2.8 seconds with the flash on. Its burst mode is fairly fast, too, at 2 frames per second. The bad news is shutter lag. In bright conditions it takes just shy of a second to capture a photo after pressing the shutter release. That's a time we usually get for dim lighting; most point-and-shoot cameras come in at roughly half that time in good lighting. In more challenging lighting the ZS1 takes 1.1 seconds, which is a more typical result for its class, but still high.

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