Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5 review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5

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The Good Lots of features to experiment with; manual, semimanual controls; 25mm-equivalent wide-angle lens with a 12x zoom.

The Bad Disappointing low-light photos.

The Bottom Line If you just want a decent compact megazoom, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5 is one of the better options thanks to a well-rounded feature set and very good photo quality at lower ISOs.

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

Editors' note: Many of the design, features, and shooting options are identical between the DMC-ZS5 and the DMC-ZS7 we reviewed earlier, so readers of the earlier review may experience some déjà vu when reading the same sections below.

Several of the major camera manufacturers have two compact megazooms in their 2010 lineups; one with all the bells and whistles, the other stripped down to essentials. The Lumix DMC-ZS5 is Panasonic's lower-end version of the DMC-ZS7. Mainly it loses the ZS7's GPS receiver, has a smaller, lower-resolution LCD, and records HD video in Motion JPEG instead of AVCHD Lite. There are a few more differences, but none that have a big impact on photo quality or shooting performance. What remains makes the ZS5 a smart choice for those simply looking for the flexibility of a wide-angle lens with a 12x zoom and semimanual and manual shooting modes, as well as a reliable auto mode.

Key specs Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5

The design of the ZS5 doesn't change much from its predecessor, the ZS1. Its weight and size are approximately the same, remaining remarkably compact for its features and wide-angle lens with 12x zoom. Though it's a tight fit in a pants pocket, the ZS5 easily fits in an average jacket pocket or small handbag. The body--available in black and silver versions--has a nice, solid feel to it with a comfortable grip on the right side. The 2.7-inch LCD looks good and gets reasonably bright, though it gets reflective in direct sunlight so you may struggle occasionally to see what you're shooting. Lastly, though the sensor is 14 megapixels, the camera only uses 12 megapixels, making it possible to have three aspect ratios--16:9, 3:2, and 4:3--with the same angle of view across the entire zoom range of the lens.

Controls are straightforward despite the appearance that there's a lot going on. On top is the shooting-mode dial, shutter release with zoom ring, and power switch. Moving to the back to the right of the LCD is a switch for changing between shooting and playback; an exposure button for accessing changes to shutter speed and aperture; an Extended Optical Zoom (E.Zoom) button; and four navigation buttons for moving through menus and settings and toggling among the exposure compensation, flash, macro, and self-timer options. There is also a Display button for changing the amount of setting information displayed on screen; and Panasonic's Q.Menu button that brings up a bar of commonly used settings like ISO, photo and movie resolutions, autofocus modes, and white balance. The main menu system is reached by pressing the Menu/Set button at the center of the four navigation buttons. The E.Zoom button quickly zooms the lens completely out with one touch. However, press it again and it activates the extended optical zoom that basically crops the 12-megapixel image down to its center 3 megapixels. This effectively gives you a longer zoom, but not at full resolution, making its name misleading. Press the button a third time and the lens goes back to its starting position.

Menus by and large are easy to get through with individual tabs for photo/video settings, Travel Mode, and setup options. However, there are a lot of options if you're in a mode other than automatic; it can take some time to adjust and learn where everything's located. By the way, Travel Mode allows you to program in the dates and destination of a trip so that all photos taken within those dates get organized into one folder.

As we said up top, the ZS5 and ZS7 are separated by about $100 in price. What does that money buy you? The more expensive ZS7 has face detection, Intelligent Resolution (discussed later in this review), and scene modes available for photos and movies; on the ZS5 they're available for photos only. The ZS5 records movies in Motion JPEG instead of the ZS7's more compact AVCHD Lite format; the ZS5 doesn't have a stereo mic, Mini-HDMI output, or movie record button, which the ZS7 has; and the ZS5 has a 2.7-inch 230K-pixel LCD compared to the ZS7's 3-inch 460K-pixel display. The ZS5 has only one MySCN setting (also discussed later) and uses a slightly less powerful image processor, the Venus Engine VI; the ZS7 uses the Venus Engine HD II. Lastly, and probably the most significant difference is that the ZS5 doesn't have the ZS7's built-in GPS receiver for geotagging photos. The price difference is certainly warranted, but might not be worth it to you.

General shooting options Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5

The ZS5 gives you shooting options for fully automatic snapshots as well as manual and semimanual exposure modes. The Exposure button on back lets you easily change shutter and aperture settings with the directional buttons. Shutter speeds go from 1 minute to 1/2,000 second and aperture ranges are f3.3-6.3 (Wide) and f4.9-6.3 (Tele). You also get 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. There are controls for sharpness, contrast, saturation, and noise reduction so you can fine-tune results to your liking. If you come up with a group of settings you like, there's a Custom slot on the Mode dial they can be stored under. There's no manual focus option, so you'll have to live with the multiple AF options.

If you like scene modes, the ZS5 has 29 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. The Movie mode records at resolutions up to 720p HD at 30 frames per second and you do get use of the optical zoom while recording. 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.

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