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

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5

Joshua Goldman
Joshua Goldman Managing Editor / Advice
Managing Editor Josh Goldman is a laptop expert and has been writing about and reviewing them since built-in Wi-Fi was an optional feature. He also covers almost anything connected to a PC, including keyboards, mice, USB-C docks and PC gaming accessories. In addition, he writes about cameras, including action cams and drones. And while he doesn't consider himself a gamer, he spends entirely too much time playing them.
Expertise Laptops, desktops and computer and PC gaming accessories including keyboards, mice and controllers, cameras, action cameras and drones Credentials More than two decades experience writing about PCs and accessories, and 15 years writing about cameras of all kinds.
7 min read

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.


Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5

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.

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.

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.

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.

Shooting performance is fairly average for its class, though its high-contrast shutter lag is a bit long. The camera starts up and captures a shot in 1.3 seconds. The shot-to-shot time is 1.7 seconds without the flash. Use the flash and you're waiting an average of 4.8 seconds between shots. The shutter lag in bright conditions--how quickly the camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed--is 0.6 second in bright conditions and 0.7 second in dim lighting. On the upside, the full-resolution continuous burst mode captures at a decent 1.6 frames per second, though it's limited to three shots at Fine quality. These numbers still mean it's a little slow for fast-moving subjects such as pets, kids, and sports.

The photo quality from the ZS5 is very good with the understanding that this is a compact camera--regardless of its features. Photos at ISO 80 and 100 are great; they're sharp with nice color and fine detail. Jump to ISO 200 and subjects get slightly softer, but still very good. At ISO 400, noise starts creating color issues, including yellow blotching, though detail remains good. Going up to ISO 800, photos get pretty bad; they're soft and yellowy with visible noise. Forget about ISO 1,600 unless you're shooting in black and white and don't mind graininess. In other words, if you're looking for great low-light photo quality or if you typically do a lot of heavy cropping, the ZS5 will disappoint.

The ZS5 has a High Sensitivity mode for shooting in very low light. In this mode, photos have visible yellow blotches from noise--even at lower ISOs. Basically, it's there for getting a shot without using a flash, but the results aren't good for much more than Web use at small sizes.

Panasonic keeps both barrel distortion at the camera's wide end and pincushion distortion at the tele end under control. There was no purple fringing visible in test shots, either. As long as you're shooting at ISOs below 400, colors are just shy of accurate and overall rich and pleasing. Exposure is also very good. And if you're not happy with the results, there are controls for adjusting sharpness, contrast, saturation, and noise reduction.

Worth mentioning is Panasonic's Intelligent Resolution feature that automatically detects outlines, detailed texture areas, and soft gradation areas and performs "optimum signal processes" to each area. I've been thinking of it as smart sharpening, and it definitely works giving textured subjects better definition. Occasionally shots appeared oversharpened and crunchy, but in general the results were very good.

Video quality is good, on par with a pocket minicamcorder. However, with the ZS5 you get the zoom lens. Compared to the ZS7's AVCHD Lite, the ZS5's Motion JPEGs are softer, and the file sizes are larger.

There is a ton of compact megazoom cameras available. 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. Like many point-and-shoots, its photo quality drops off at higher ISOs, making it less attractive for anyone taking a lot of indoor/low-light photos without a flash. Still, it's an impressive camera, especially to those looking for something that can do full manual and full automatic with little effort.

Shooting speed
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Fujifilm FinePix JZ500
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5
Canon PowerShot SX120 IS
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55
Nikon Coolpix S8000

Typical continuous-shooting speed
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find out more about how we test digital cameras.


Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Image quality 7
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