If you walked into a store and saw Panasonic's Lumix DMC-ZS8 and its Lumix DMC-ZS10 next to each other, you might not immediately see the differences, let alone $100 worth of them. Even after picking them up, you might notice only that the ZS10 has a GPS receiver and a touch screen. And a stereo mic. Oh, and look, it records full HD video in AVCHD with a one-touch record button.
But if none of that matters to you, then maybe the more-hidden differences will, like the fact that the ZS10's screen is twice the resolution of the ZS8's and that it uses a high-speed sensor and better processor for faster shooting performance or, more specifically, faster full-resolution burst shooting and 3D photos.
So, though the ZS8 might not look like it is missing $100 in features, it is. Potentially more, depending on how much you value any of the ZS10's extra features or faster continuous shooting. However, if all you're after is a speedy camera with a long lens in a pocketable body, one that takes good pictures and decent 720p HD movie clips and has semimanual and manual shooting modes, then, yes, save yourself $100 and get the ZS8.
|Key specs||Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8|
|Dimensions (WHD)||4.1x2.3x1.3 inches|
|Weight (with battery and media)||7.4 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||14 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch CCD|
|LCD size, resolution/viewfinder||3-inch LCD, 230K dots/None|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||16x, f3.3-5.9, 24-384mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/Motion JPEG (.MOV)|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||4,320x3,240 pixels/1,280x720 at 30fps|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and digital|
|Battery type, CIPA rated life||Lithium ion rechargeable, 340 shots|
|Battery charged in camera||No; external charger supplied|
|Storage media||SD/SDHC/SDXC cards|
|Bundled software||Photofunstudio 6.0 Edition (Windows), Super LoiLoScope (trial version; Windows)|
The thing is, the ZS8's photo quality is just as good as, if not slightly better than, the ZS10's. If you were concerned that getting the less expensive model would mean sacrificing image quality, don't be. With plenty of light, the ZS8 can turn out very good photos, if a little soft. The color noise that I'm used to seeing from Panasonic's cameras isn't as prevalent in the ZS8's images. Don't get me wrong, it's still there and certainly visible at its highest full-resolution sensitivity, ISO 1,600, but it's just not as bad with this camera. Regardless, the ZS8 is best suited for daylight outdoor use or brightly lit indoor use. Photos at or below ISO 200 can stand up to some cropping or larger prints, but low-light/high-ISO photos are best left for small prints and Web use.
Color and exposure are very good from the ZS8 up to ISO 400. Subjects appear natural, bright, and pretty accurate. Above that sensitivity, colors start to look washed out. And, like most compact cameras, the ZS8 has a tendency to blow out highlights. White-balance presets are good for the most part; however, the auto white balance is not good indoors. Unfortunately, you're stuck with that setting if you're using Intelligent Auto. Whenever possible, use the presets or take a manual reading, which is really easy to do.
Video quality is good, on par with an HD pocket video camera. However, with the ZS8 you get the zoom lens. Panning the camera will create judder that's typical of the video from most compact cameras. Compared with the ZS10's AVCHD movies, the ZS8's Motion JPEGs are softer, and the file sizes are larger. If capturing movies is more of a nice feature than a must-have for you, then the ZS8 should suffice.
|General shooting options||Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600|
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Incandescent, Manual|
|Recording modes||Intelligent Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Custom, SCN, My SCN 1, My SCN 2, Movie|
|Focus modes||Face Detection AF, 1-point AF, 23-point AF, Spot AF, AF Tracking|
|Macro||1.2 inches (Wide); 3.3 feet (Tele)|
|Metering modes||Multi, Center-weighted average, Spot|
|Color effects||Standard, Natural, Vivid, Black & White, Sepia, Cool, Warm, Happy (only in iA Mode)|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||5 photos (Standard mode), 3 photos (Fine mode)|
The ZS8 gives you shooting options for fully automatic snapshots as well as manual and semimanual exposure modes. The Exposure button on the back lets you easily change shutter and aperture settings with the directional buttons. Apertures are f3.3-6.3 wide and 5.9-6.3 telephoto. Shutter speeds go from 60 seconds to 1/4,000 second. You also get Panasonic's Intelligent ISO, which adjusts sensitivity based on subject movement and scene brightness, and you can set a minimum shutter speed from 1 second to 1/250. If you come up with a group of settings you like, there is a Custom spot on the mode dial for creating three custom setting configurations. There's no manual focus option, so you'll have to live with the multiple AF options. Lastly, there's a Program mode, 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), without worrying about shutter speed and aperture settings.
For automatic shooting there is the company's Intelligent Auto, which combines an ever-growing number of technologies to get the best results. Overall, it works very well, but photos can end up appearing overprocessed when viewed at full size. There are 29 scene modes for those times when you want to get specific with your auto shooting, and you can store two favorites assigned to MySCN spots on the mode dial. For the most part they are the ones you'd find on any point-and-shoot, but there are a few artistic modes like High Dynamic and Pinhole. There is an Underwater mode as well, but you'll need a casing if you want to get the ZS8 wet, as it's not waterproof.
As mentioned earlier, the ZS8's shooting performance is speedy, it's just not as fast as the ZS10's. And really that's only noticeable with the continuous burst shooting. The ZS8's shutter lag--how quickly a camera captures an image after the shutter-release button is pressed--is low, at 0.4 second in bright lighting and 0.8 second in dim conditions. It goes from off to first shot in 1.5 seconds with a 1.4-second shot-to-shot time; using the flash extends that to just 2.1 seconds. As for burst shooting, it can capture up to three shots at its best quality at 1.5 frames per second. That's with focus and exposure set with the first shot. The ZS10 is about twice as fast with autofocus on every shot; without AF it can do 15fps.
In appearance the ZS8 isn't much different from its predecessor, the ZS5. There's some slight styling change on front and a button that used to be on back is now on top. The camera's weight and size are approximately the same, remaining remarkably compact for its features and wide-angle lens with 16x zoom (that's wider and longer than its predecessor). Though it's a tight fit in a pants pocket, the ZS8 easily fits in an average jacket pocket or small handbag. The body--available in black or silver--has a nice, solid feel to it with a comfortable grip on the right side.
Controls are for the most part straightforward. On top is the shooting-mode dial, shutter release with zoom ring, power switch, and an Extended Optical Zoom (E.Zoom) button. 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 14-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. It can be handy when you need to fully extend the lens quickly, but the movie record button that's on the ZS10 is more valuable.
On back is the aforementioned Exposure button and a directional pad 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. Panasonic's cleaned up its menu navigation some, but it now requires an extra button press--an acceptable sacrifice.
The ZS8's battery life is very good. It's CIPA-rated for 340 shots and although using the zoom a lot or recording movies will cut into that time, it performed well on a single charge. The battery and memory card compartment are in the bottom of the camera, covered by a locking door. There is a second door on the right side covering a Micro-USB/AV port. There's no Mini-HDMI output, another loss from the ZS10.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 is a fine compact megazoom. It doesn't differ all that much from its predecessor, the DMC-ZS5; the ZS8's wider, longer lens is the biggest difference, along with an increase in megapixels and a slightly larger LCD. The larger display is nice, but the other two changes don't do anything to improve photo quality. Basically, there's little reason to upgrade from the ZS5, but if you just need a simple compact camera with a long lens, the ZS8 is very good. However, if you want the most features for your money, go with the ZS10. Panasonic really gives you a lot more for the $100 difference, although you may not need many of the enhancements.
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