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Panasonic Lumix ZS100 (TZ100, TZ110) review: The ZS100 is a camera for your inner Goldilocks

Straddling the line between consumer and enthusiast compacts, the Panasonic Lumix ZS100's trade-offs will be worth it for a lot of folks.

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Reviews

I've been writing about and reviewing consumer technology since before the turn of the century. I'm also a photographer and cat herder, frequently at the same time.

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8 min read

Occupying an interesting middle ground between the company's LX100 enthusiast compact and FZ1000 megazoom, the Panasonic Lumix ZS100 offers a general-purpose compromise among image quality, zoom and size that adds up to a highly recommendable camera for families, travelers and even hobbyists who get frustrated with the short lenses in most enthusiast compacts.

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8.2

Panasonic Lumix ZS100 (TZ100, TZ110)

The Good

The Panasonic's ZS100's 10x zoom lens is thus far the longest we've seen in a compact camera with a 1-inch sensor, and it offers a broad set of features including 4K video.

The Bad

It lacks a flip-up display and its autofocus speed is just middling.

The Bottom Line

The Pansonic ZS100 offers great blend of quality, size and features for people who want better photos and are willing to trade off a little quality for a lot of lens.

Part of Panasonic's "travel zoom" series of compacts -- hence its alternate names TZ100 in the UK and TZ110 in Australia -- the ZS100 goes head-to-head with the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 IV. That's a pretty good deal for its price, as well: $700, £550 and AU$1,000.

The ZS100 incorporates the same 1-inch sensor as the excellent FZ1000, but the lens is a shorter and slower 10x lens -- 25-250mm f2.8-5.9 -- compared to the FZ1000's big 16x f2.8 lens. That allows Panasonic to keep it small, making it the longest-zoom compact in the 1-inch class. There are some trade-offs to get that zoom, however; its lens isn't that great, and because it has a greater area to focus over it does more slowly than competitors.

Photo and video quality

Though it's not quite up to the standard of the best cameras with 1-inch sensors, I think most people will be perfectly happy with the photo and video of the ZS100, which ranges from very good to excellent. In auto mode the photos tend to come out darker than in manual or priority modes which results in very dense shadows, but for the most part it delivers.

Panasonic Lumix ZS100 full-resolution photo samples

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A lot depends upon how far you're zoomed in and what aperture is set in addition to the typical factor of the ISO sensitivity setting. The lens doesn't seem to be particularly sharp in general, with more than usual distortion around the edges. And at the longer zoom and narrow apertures -- essentially from f4 to f8 -- photos get a lot softer. You reach those apertures very fast; it reaches f4.1 by the time you hit 50mm. And that's the tradeoff for the benefits of a 10x zoom. As long as you're not scrutinizing the photos at full size, though, I think you'll find it worth the slight sharpness sacrifice.

There's a Diffraction Compensation setting which theoretically counteracts the softening effects of the narrowed aperture, but since the only choices are auto or off, it's impossible to tell whether it's actually doing anything.

In bright light JPEGs look very good; as the light dims, they start to look very smeary. Keep in mind that in low light (i.e., at high ISO sensitivities) for any camera, out-of-focus areas start to degrade a lot faster than those in focus. So the ZS100's naturally soft photos start to show artifacts in low light faster than ones shot with a better lens. Color and exposure look pleasing, though.

You can get better results in low light by shooting raw -- in some cases, without even doing anything to the file other than opening it and saving as a JPEG. That's because raw avoids Panasonic's aggressive processing.

Its 4K video is excellent for point-and-shoot purposes, though you do see visual noise in low light and slight movements of the camera produce wobble, which is pretty typical.

Analysis samples

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JPEGs look clean through ISO 200; by ISO 400 you can start to see just a little detail loss.

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By ISO 800 the JPEGs are noticeably soft, but they're still pretty usable. At ISO 1600 and above they start to lose a lot of detail, but they look okay at small sizes.

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While the ZS100 didn't show great white balance under our test LED lights, in normal daylight and even under cloudy skies it's very good. Colors are bright, saturated and very pleasing.

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In low light it pays to shoot raw since you can adjust colors and regain some detail where the camera's noise reduction smears it.

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The camera's out-of-focus highlights look reasonably smooth.

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Performance

Shooting with the ZS100 didn't feel slow; I don't remember missing any single shots because of sluggish autofocus, or experience delays with playback or ability to change settings because of image processing. The one exception: because the lens drives so slowly, if you have zoom resume turned on (so it remembers your last zoom position) it takes too long to be ready to shoot when the camera wakes up from sleep.

It's not the fastest horse in the stable. It doesn't sink to the overall lows of the Canon PowerShot G5 X, but it's still relatively slow.

It takes about 2.3 seconds to power on, focus and shoot, which is about the same as the rest of the field. Focusing and shooting in good light is its best trick, coming in at about 0.1 second. But in low light that rises to 0.6 second, which is a little slow. It also takes about 0.6 second to shoot two consecutive images, which is close to other cameras. With flash enabled that's about 1.7 seconds.

On the other hand, its 5.7 frames-per-second continuous-shooting speed ties with the Sony RX100 IV, excellent performance for this type of camera. That's with continuous autofocus for more than 30 JPEGs. It's not quite as nimble for raw, which slows considerably after 18 shots.

In full autofocus mode -- letting the camera select where to focus rather than choosing yourself -- the ZS100 is as frustrating as most cameras, consistently selecting incorrectly. Even the custom multizone AF, which lets you select a specific group of autofocus areas for the camera to select from, never seems to choose wisely. I also found the tracking autofocus fairly ineffective, and the image stabilization not great when zoomed all the way out (I still had to set a relatively high shutter speed). In the sports mode the camera chose the wrong settings -- it set the shutter speed too low, even for slow-moving bicyclists -- though the pet-shooting mode did a better job for general action.

Its battery life isn't rated very high at 240 shots with the viewfinder, my preferred method of shooting, but it seems to last a lot longer than that. The viewfinder is small but comfortable, though it can't really keep up with high-speed continuous shooting.

Shooting speed

Sony RX100 III 0.3 0.1 0.5 0.5 2.0Panasonic Lumix LX100 0.2 0.2 0.4 0.5 2.5Sony RX100 IV 0.2 0.3 0.2 0.2 2.1Panasonic Lumix ZS100 0.1 0.6 0.6 0.6 2.3
  • Shutter lag (typical)
  • Shutter lag (dim)
  • Typical shot-to-shot time
  • Raw shot-to-shot time
  • Time to first shot
Note: Seconds (smaller bars are better)

Continuous-shooting speed

Sony RX100 III 2.1Panasonic Lumix LX100 4.1Sony RX100 IV 5.7Panasonic Lumix ZS100 5.7
Note: Frames per second (longer bars are better)

Design and features

The camera is a great size given its lens, fitting comfortably in a jacket pocket, and a pleasure to shoot with. The ring around the lens, which can control a number of settings depending upon how you program it, is a little bigger than you usually find in a compact and a little more comfortable.

Most of the controls are well designed, easy to feel and manipulate and logically positioned. I have just two complaints: the video record button is hard to press and the diopter control on the viewfinder (which adjusts the focus distance for people with glasses) rotates too easily and loses its position every now and then. I also think that it could benefit from a flip-up LCD, since the camera has a lot of appeal for the selfie-and-groupie taker. Panasonic does have a great app for wireless file transfer and remote shooting, so that's one way to get around the lack of a movable display.

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With Panasonic's Post Focus feature enabled, the camera takes a short 4K movie, focusing at different distances in the scene. You then choose which of the frames have the focus you like -- in camera -- and export them as JPEGs.

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You'll find the full set of Panasonic's features, which includes a broad set of customizable filters plus time lapse, stop-motion animation and various 4K-resolution modes for extracting stills from video. It incorporates the company's Post Focus mode which is implemented better here than in previous cameras; there's a direct-access button to toggle it on and off. And the short videos it creates, which show the focus changing, are cool in and of themselves.

For a complete list of its features and operation, download the ZS100's manual (PDF).

Conclusion

If you're ready for better-than phone or point-and-shoot quality but don't want to give up the flexibility of a zoomier lens, the ZS100 hits the Goldilocks combination of quality and capabilities.

Comparative specifications

Canon PowerShot G5 X Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS100
Panasonic Lumix TZ100 (UK)
Panasonic Lumix TZ110 (AU)
Nikon DL24-85 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 IV
Sensor effective resolution 20.2MP HS CMOS 20.1MP MOS 20.8MP BSI CMOS 20.2MP Exmor RS CMOS
Sensor size 1-inch
(13.2 x 8.8 mm)
1-inch
(13.2 x 8.8 mm)
1-inch
(13.2 x 8.8 mm)
1-inch
(13.2 x 8.8 mm)
Focal-length multiplier 2.7x 2.7x 2.7x 2.7x
OLPF Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sensitivity range ISO 125 - ISO 12800 ISO 80 (exp)/ISO 125 - ISO 12800/ISO 25600 (exp) ISO 160 - ISO 6400/ISO 12800 (exp) ISO 80 (exp)/ISO 125 - ISO 12800
Lens (35mm equivalent) 24-100mm
f1.8-2.8
4.2x
25-250mm
f2.8-5.9
10x
24-85mm
f1.8-2.8
3.6x
24 - 70mm
f1.8-2.8
2.9x
Closest focus 2.0 in/5 cm 2 in/5 cm 1.2 in/3 cm 1.9 in/5 cm
Burst shooting 4.4fps
n/a
(5.9fps with fixed focus)
6fps
unlimited JPEG/12 raw
(10fps without AF; 30fps at 4K)
20fps
n/a
(60fps with AE/AF/WB locked on first frame)
5.5fps
(with electronic shutter; 16fps with fixed focus and exposure)
n/a
Viewfinder
(mag/ effective mag)
OLED EVF
2.4m dots
100 percent coverage
EVF
0.2-inch/51 mm
1.2m dots
100% coverage
2.6x/0.5x

Optional tilting EVF
2.4m dots
n/a
OLED EVF
0.4-inch/10.2mm
1.44m dots
100% coverage
Hot shoe Yes No Yes Yes
Autofocus 31-area
Contrast AF
49-area
Contrast AF
105-point phase detection
171-area contrast AF
25-area
Contrast AF
AF sensitivity n/a n/a n/a n/a
Shutter speed 250 - 1/2,000 sec 60 sec - 1/2,000 sec (1/16,000 electronic shutter); Time to 4 minutes 30 - 1/1,600 secs (1/16,000 sec electronic shutter); Time to 120 secs 30 - 1/2,000 sec (1/32,000 electronic shutter); bulb
Metering n/a n/a n/a n/a
Metering sensitivity n/a n/a n/a n/a
Best video H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/60p
MP4 UHD 2160/30p; AVCHD 1080/60p, 60i, 30p H.264 MP4 4K UHD/30p, 25p; 1080/60p; slow motion 1080/120p; 400x144/1200p XAVC S 4K UHD 2160/30p, 25p, 24p @ 100Mbps
Audio Stereo Stereo Stereo Stereo
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes n/a Yes
Maximum best-quality recording time 4GB/29:59 minutes 15 minutes n/a 5 minutes
Optical zoom while recording Yes Yes n/a Yes
Clean HDMI out n/a Yes Yes n/a
IS Optical Optical
5-axis hybrid
Optical Optical
5-axis hybrid
LCD 3 in/7.5 cm
Articulated touchscreen
1.04m dots
3 in/7.5cm
Fixed
1.04m dots
3 in/7.5cm
Tilting, flip up, touchscreen
1.04m dots
(97% coverage)
3 in/7.5cm
Tilting
921,600 dots
(plus another set of white dots for brightness)
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless connection Wi-Fi, NFC Wi-Fi Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth Wi-Fi, NFC
Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes
Wireless flash No No n/a No
Battery life (CIPA rating) 215 shots
(1250 mAh)
300 shots (LCD); 240 shots (EVF)
(1,025 mAh)
290 shots
(850mAh)
280 shots (LCD);
230 shots (EVF)
(1,240 mAh)
Size (WHD) 4.4 x 3 x 1.7 in
112 x 76 x 44 mm
4.4 x 2.5 x 1.7 in
110.5 x 64.5 x 44.3 mm
4.2 x 2.5 x 2.0 in
105 x 61 x 50 mm
4.0 x 2.3 x 1.6 inches
101.6 x 58.1 x 41 mm
Body operating weight 13.3 oz (est.)
377 g (est.)
10.9 oz
308 g
12.3 oz (est.)
350 g (est.)
10.4 oz
294 g
Mfr. price $750
£650
AU$990
$700
£550
AU$1,000
$650
£670
AU$900
$950
£920
AU$1,400

Release date (US) November 2015 March 2016 June 2016 July 2015
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8.2

Panasonic Lumix ZS100 (TZ100, TZ110)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 7Image quality 8