Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8

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The Good The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 is a basic compact megazoom with very good photo quality and shooting performance for its class, as well as long battery life.

The Bad The ZS8 is somewhat expensive for what it's offering.

The Bottom Line The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 is a fine compact megazoom, if not the best value.

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

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
Price (MSRP) $299.99
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.

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