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Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30 review: Feature-filled and fun to use

With Wi-Fi, enhanced GPS, and solid performance and photo and video quality, the ZS30 is an excellent compact megazoom.

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Managing Editor / Advice

Josh Goldman helps people find the best laptop at the best price -- from simple Chromebooks to high-end gaming laptops. He's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software for more than two decades.

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9 min read

For the Lumix DMC-ZS30, Panasonic took what was already an excellent camera, the ZS20, tweaked it a bit and added Wi-Fi. The result is another excellent compact megazoom that gives you a bit more for your money.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30 (Black)
8.0

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30

The Good

The <b>Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30</b> gets you a lot of features in a compact body including a 20x zoom lens, 3-inch touch screen, Wi-Fi for remote control of the camera as well as easy sharing, high-speed and full HD movie capture, and GPS. Photo quality and shooting performance are very good for its class.

The Bad

The power and Wi-Fi buttons are too easy to accidentally press. There's no raw capture option. Battery life can be short if you do more than just take photos. Photos look soft and have visible noise/artifacts when viewed at full size even at its lowest ISO.

The Bottom Line

A fully loaded travel zoom that's fun to use, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30 has a lot to offer both advanced and casual snapshooters.

With so many good options in this category, perhaps what's nicest about the ZS30 is that it's fun to use. Even though it offers things like semimanual and manual shooting modes and a fair amount of control over results, casual snapshooters should have an easy time getting good shots out of it with little effort.

Basically, it's just what the ZS20 was -- a well-rounded travel zoom -- that now has Wi-Fi so you can shoot and share on the go.

Picture quality
Despite a resolution bump from 14 to 18 megapixels, the ZS30's photo quality isn't appreciably better than the ZS20's. Viewed at full size on screen, there is visible noise/artifacts even at its lowest ISO setting. Details start to soften at ISO 200 and at ISO 400, color noise becomes more noticeable, too. At ISO 800, you'll start to see faint yellow blotching, which becomes more pronounced at ISO sensitivities above that.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30 sample pictures

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Aside from the blotching and increased softness, though, color and detail are good and, for the most part, these things aren't visible at smaller sizes. Basically, if you're looking for digital SLR quality, you're not going to find it. If you're looking for good photos for prints up to 8x10 inches and Web use, and don't typically do a lot of enlarging or heavy cropping, you should be pretty pleased with the results.

Also, shooting with the camera's Handheld Night Shot mode with still subjects will improve your results. The mode takes several shots and combines them into one shot, reducing noise and improving blur from hand shake. Even if it needs to use a higher ISO, you'll get much better photo quality.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The ZS30 also does really well with video. It can record AVCHD-format clips at 1080/60p that are sharp and smooth with good exposure and color. Any issues that you see with the camera's low-light photos will show up in low-light video, too, but otherwise the quality is great and part of the reason why the ZS30 got a higher-than-usual rating for image quality.

The camera also records in MP4 format at resolutions up to 1080/30p (20Mbps) for easier editing and uploading to the Web. The zoom does operate while recording regardless of format, but its movement is picked up by the stereo mic. If you are recording in a very quiet environment, you will hear it in your movies, but otherwise it's difficult to hear. If you're looking for a compact camera for both photos and videos, this is a good choice.

Shooting performance
One of the big reasons to pay for the ZS30 over other cameras in its class is for its shooting performance. It's not quite as fast as the Fujifilm F900EXR, but it's close enough that you might not notice and the ZS30 has better burst shooting options.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Its time from off to first shot is 2 seconds. The lag between pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing is low at 0.3 second and 0.6 second in bright and dim lighting, respectively. From shot-to-shot without the flash you're waiting 1 second; adding the flash only increases that wait to 1.5 seconds.

Its fastest burst modes -- 40 and 60 frames per second -- are at reduced resolutions, but Panasonic packed in three at full resolution. There's one that captures up to six shots at 10fps, but that sets focus, exposure, and white balance with the first shot. What's better are the 2fps and 5fps options that set focus and exposure with each shot, so you're able to get a subject moving moderately fast in focus and properly exposed.

As long as you're shooting outside in daylight, the ZS30 is fast enough to catch fast-moving subjects like kids and pets and sports. Like most compacts, though, it slows down in low light or when the lens is zoomed in, so a blur-free picture of a toddler indoors is less likely.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Design and features
With the same size lens and screen as the ZS20, the ZS30's dimensions remain pretty much the same. That's a good thing since the ZS20 was small and light enough to stick in a jacket or even a pants pocket without feeling too bulky. Panasonic did flatten the top, making it more of a box, and the overall design is more understated and a bit classier.

Its controls are fairly straightforward, though they're easier to read this time around thanks to some new markings. Also, with past models, Panasonic used switches for power and moving from shooting to playback. Those have been replaced by buttons that are perhaps a little too easy to press; there were several times where I accidentally turned the camera on or off. There's a new Wi-Fi button, too, that takes you to the wireless settings. It's handy, but it is easily accidentally pressed as well.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30 Fujifilm FinePix F900EXR Canon PowerShot SX280 HS
Price (MSRP) $349.99 $399.95 $329.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4.3x2.3x1.1 inches 4.1x2.4x1.4 inches 4.2x2.4x1.3 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 7 ounces 8.1 ounces 8.2 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 18 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch high-sensitivity MOS 16 megapixels, 1/2-inch EXR CMOS II 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch touch LCD, 920K dots/None 3-inch LCD, 920K dots/None 3-inch LCD, 460K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 20x, f3.3-6.4, 24-480mm (35mm equivalent) 20x, f3.5-5.3, 25-500mm (35mm equivalent) 20x, f3.5-6.8, 25-500mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still / video) JPEG/AVCHD (.MTS); MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 (.MP4) JPEG, raw (.RAF)/H.264 linear PCM (.MOV) JPEG/H.264 AAC (.MP4)
Highest resolution size (still / video) 4,896x3,672 pixels/1,920x1,080 at 60fps (progressive; 28Mbps) 4,608x3,456 pixels / 1,920x1,080 at 60fps (progressive) 4,000x3,000 pixels / 1,920x1,080 at 24fps
Image stabilization type Optical and digital Mechanical and digital Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Li ion rechargeable, 300 shots Li ion rechargeable, 260 shots Li ion rechargeable, 230 shots
Battery charged in camera Yes; by computer or wall adapter via USB No; wall charger supplied No; wall charger supplied
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC SD/SDHC/SDXC SD/SDHC/SDXC
Built-in Wi-Fi/GPS Yes with NFC/Yes (geotagging also available via mobile app) Yes/No (geotagging available via mobile app) Yes/Yes

The ZS30's interface uses a mix of both touch and the physical controls. While I like having the touch screen to focus and shoot photos by tapping on your subject, menu navigation is primarily done with the directional pad. As a result, half the time you tap the screen to do something you end up having to use the physical controls anyway, which can lead to some frustration.

Sarah Tew/CNET

It charges via USB using a somewhat proprietary version of Micro-USB. While the cable is easy to come by, it's not the same type of Micro-USB widely used with mobile devices.

Wi-Fi and GPS
Panasonic's Wi-Fi implementation in earlier cameras was fairly dreadful. It was confusing to set up and use, didn't offer many features, and required you to sign up and register your social networks with its Lumix Club service for sharing straight from the camera. That last part is still true, but Panasonic's really improved everything else about the experience.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you have an Android device with NFC, you'll be able to get the most from the ZS30. Open up the Android app on your smartphone and simply tap the left side of the camera to the back of your device and the two will connect to each other via Wi-Fi. From there you'll be able to control the camera remotely and view and transfer photos and videos from the camera to your device. You can also tap to send individual photos from the camera to your phone.

The camera's Wi-Fi can also be used for other things including direct uploads to social networks. However, you have to sign up for a Lumix Club account and register all the services you want to use on there. Frankly, sending images from the camera direct to your device is easy enough that I would skip Lumix Club and just upload from your smartphone (or tablet).

For iOS users, you get much of the same functionality via Wi-Fi. But without NFC you'll have to input the Wi-Fi password for the camera into your device's wireless settings and there's no tap-to-send feature. You can read all about what's available on Panasonic's site.

The ZS30 also has built-in GPS. Using it is fairly simple thanks to a dedicated spot in the menu system. Once you've turned on the receiver -- it can be done from the Q.Menu or main menu -- you can have the camera retrieve the information for your current location. The addition of support for GLONASS (Global Navigation Satellite System) seems to have improved connection speed and accuracy, which makes having the feature that much more valuable.

Once locked, the ZS30 can display country, state, city, and landmark information and continues to update itself every minute. The ZS30 has the capability to copy map data for a particular city to an SD card from a bundled map DVD; detailed maps are included for about 90 countries worldwide on a scale of 1/25,000 or more precise.

Of course with the Wi-Fi and GPS, touch screen, zoom, burst shooting, and HD movie capture there's a lot here to drain the camera's small rechargeable battery. I strongly recommend picking up an extra battery if you're going to be traveling with the ZS30 or even just taking it out for a day of shooting.

General shooting options Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto,100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Incandescent, Custom
Recording modes Intelligent Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Custom 1 and 2, Panorama Shot, Scene, Creative Control
Focus modes Face Detection AF, 1-point AF, 23-point AF, Spot AF, AF Tracking, Touch AF
Macro 1.2 inches (Wide); 3.3 feet (Tele)
Metering modes Multi, Center-weighted average, Spot, Touch
Color effects Standard, Black & White, Sepia, Vivid, Happy (only in iA mode)
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) Six shots

As Panasonic's highest-end compact megazoom, the Lumix DMC-ZS30 has no shortage of shooting options. For automatic shooting there is the company's Intelligent Auto (iA), which combines an ever-growing number of technologies to get the best results. If you're looking to just shoot quickly without thinking about what mode would be best, it's fairly reliable in good lighting. In general, you're better off taking some control, and for that you get aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual shooting modes.

Apertures are f3.3-8.0 wide and 6.4-8.0 telephoto. Shutter speeds go from 4 seconds to 1/2,000 second (a Starry Sky scene mode gives you 15- and 30-second settings). To use them, you press the Exposure button on back, and change the settings with the directional pad. (A thumb dial would've been nice, but space is already pretty tight.) There are also two Custom spots on the mode dial for setting up three custom setting configurations. There's a Program mode, too, 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), but not worry about shutter speed and aperture settings.

There are also 18 scene modes that include the usual suspects like Portrait, Scenery, and Food, as well as an Underwater mode for use with a waterproof housing, and another for high-speed video. The high-speed video options include 120fps at 720p resolution and 240fps at VGA resolution.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Not to be outdone by Sony, Fujifilm, and others, the ZS30 has a pan-and-shoot panorama mode; a Handheld Night Shot that takes 10 pictures in a row and then combines them into one to reduce motion blur and noise; and a multiexposure HDR option. Panasonic also lets you turn on both the HDR and HNS modes for use when you're shooting in iA. That way if it detects low-light conditions or a backlit subject, it can use those options instead of you having to switch to them manually.

And if that's not enough, a Creative Control mode gives you 14 filters and effects to experiment with. About the only thing that isn't available is raw image capture. If that's a deal breaker for you, check out the Fujifilm F900EXR, which is the only camera in this class that has that feature.

Conclusion
If you're looking for a travel zoom with Wi-Fi, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30 is one of the best options available right now. Pixel peepers might find fault with its picture quality, but for me it doesn't have any real deal breakers and it's well suited as a family compact amera that can be used by advanced and casual snapshooters.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30 (Black)
8.0

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8Image quality 8
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