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

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MSRP: $399.99

The Good The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30 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.

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8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 8

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.

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.

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
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.