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Panasonic LUMIX DMC-ZS100 – Quick Review

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS100/TZ100 occupies a spot in the 1″-type enthusiast compact market that has been open since Sony created the genre several years ago. With a 25-250mm equivalent zoom lens and jacket-pocket-friendly body, the ZS100 gives users the perfect mix of focal range and size. At the time of publication, all of the other 1″-type cameras on the market either have much shorter or much longer lenses.

The ZS100 features a 20MP BSI CMOS sensor which is capable of capturing 4K video. Its video capabilities are also used for the camera’s clever Post Focus and 4K Photo features. Speaking of focus, the ZS100 uses Panasonic’s Depth from Defocus system which is, once again, very impressive. There’s also an electronic viewfinder, which isn’t great, but it’s better than no viewfinder at all.

As mentioned above, there aren’t any other cameras in the ZS100’s class. You can have compact cameras with less zoom (and faster lenses), such as the Canon PowerShot G7 X, or bridge cameras with huge zooms and the body size to match, like Panasonic’s own FZ1000.

Handling & Performance

The ZS100 is compact, but don’t expect it to fit into your jeans pocket. It fits easily in a jacket pocket, however. It has a solid-feeling metal body, but its surface is very slippery and quite the fingerprint magnet (the silver model might be better in that regard). The ZS100 has a boatload of customizable buttons – four physical and five on a ‘tab’ in the touchscreen interface. Reaching some of them requires a bit of a finger stretch while holding the camera, though. In addition to buttons, there are two dials on the camera: one on the top and another around the lens – both can be set to handle a wide variety of functions. The ‘Q’ menu can also be set up just the way you’d like.

You can compose your photos on a 3″ touchscreen LCD or an electronic viewfinder. The LCD is pretty standard for a camera in this class, with 1.04 million dots, and its touch features are well done. While having an EVF is very helpful, the one in the ZS100 disappoints, for two reasons. Firstly, it’s very small and secondly, it’s subject to color tearing, which can produce a ‘rainbow effect’ when your eye moves around the scene (some people are more sensitive to this than others).

The ZS100 is a responsive camera in nearly all respects. It starts up quickly, focuses in a snap and can shoot continuously at 10 frames per second (6 fps with continuous AF, which is impressive). In fact, the ‘Depth from Defocus’ autofocus system is one of the ZS100’s best features. Not only does it lock focus quickly but it proved itself to be excellent at both subject tracking and continuous AF. We were also impressed with how little ‘wobble’ there was in both continuous AF and when rack focusing in movie mode.

The ZS100‘s battery life is average in this class, with a CIPA rating of 300 shots per charge. The ZS100 is one of the first Panasonic cameras which can be charged using a standard microUSB cable, and it’s about time.

Features

Panasonic cameras are always packed full of features, and the ZS100 is no exception. While some of them are on the silly side (there’s a ‘cute dessert’ scene mode), others are genuinely useful, like Post Focus and 4K Photo. Post Focus takes a very short video clip in which the camera racks focus across the depths of the scene. You can then tap on the area on which you wish to focus, and then save that image as an 8MP still. It might sound gimmicky, but we found it helpful when shooting macros. 4K Photo also captures a short video clip, after which you can use a slick interface to swipe through a series of still images. You can then pick the exact moment you want, which allows you to capture the perfect moment that you might otherwise miss.

As for video capture itself, the ZS100 does not disappoint. It can record 4K/UHD video at your choice of 24p or 30p at a bit rate of 100 Mbps, or 1080p/60 and below. If you want high speed footage, a 1080p/120 option is available. The camera offers all four exposure models (P/A/S/M), focus peaking and zebra pattern, and a zoom microphone. A 5-axis hybrid image stabilization system is offered when recording at 1080p or below, and we found that it works very well. The touchscreen makes rack focusing very easy. What you won’t find on the ZS100 are mic or headphone sockets nor the ability to adjust exposure compensation with Auto ISO in manual exposure mode.

As with all mid-range and above Panasonic cameras, the ZS100 has on-board Wi-Fi. Its remote capture feature offers a lot of functionality and transferring and sharing photos is generally easier than in previous versions. Unlike Panasonic compacts in recent years, the ZS100 lacks NFC capability, which is a shame, as it would make pairing with Android devices a lot easier.

Image & Video Quality

Overall, the ZS100’s photo quality is very good, though not the best in the 1″-type sensor class. The 20MP CMOS sensor captures a good amount of detail, but its lens isn’t terribly sharp, and is downright soft at certain focal lengths. JPEG sharpening is on the weak side, and aggressive noise reduction kicks in far too early, obliterating detail at even modest ISOs. This means that low light JPEGs tend to lack the detail – particularly in low contrast areas – that more sophisticated JPEG engines retain. Colors lean toward neutral, and yellows take on a greenish cast, which can lead to pretty undesirable skin tones. In Raw mode we were pleased to see that we were able to ‘push’ the shadows stay without a huge noise penalty. Despite a few quibbles, the ZS100’s image quality is light-years ahead of any other compact travel zoom on the market, thanks to its larger 1″-type sensor.

Video quality is great. You really have to look hard to find noise, even at ISO 2000. As with JPEGs, colors aren’t terribly saturated, but they’re not flat, either. The camera handled rack focusing with ease and ‘wobble’ was rare. In our testing we encountered one occasion where the ZS100 really struggled to maintain focus, and that was in a situation in which many cameras would have the same problem. As is usually the case, while the ZS100’s wind reduction filter is helpful, but can’t work miracles.

Final Conclusion

Last year, while shopping for a holiday gift for my mom, I was disappointed with the lack of a travel zoom camera with a 1″-type sensor. There were small cameras with short lenses and giant cameras with long lenses, but nothing in-between. Finally Panasonic, the company that invented the travel zoom, came to the rescue. Its Lumix DMC-ZS100 (TZ100 in most regions) combines a 10X, 25-250mm equivalent zoom lens with a time-tested 20MP BSI CMOS sensor, and the results are very positive.

I like the ZS100’s size and build quality, though it’s almost slipped out of my hand on several occasions. While we at DPReview always appreciate an electronic viewfinder, the one on the ZS100 is a big step down from the other cameras in this class which include one. Having a tilting LCD would’ve been nice, though kudos to Panasonic for giving this 3″ screen an simple and responsive touchscreen interface.

The company’s Depth from Defocus system has impressed us on its mirrorless cameras, and it shines on the ZS100 as well. From focus speeds to subject tracking, the ZS100’s autofocus system is truly excellent. Panasonic should also get credit for its work on developing features like Post Focus that may sound gimmicky but actually help you capture better photos. Speaking of photos, the ZS100 takes pretty good ones, despite some issues with color and lens softness. 4K video quality is excellent.

As mentioned above, there’s a lot to like about the ZS100. It strikes the right balance between size and zoom and, at $699 (MSRP), it’s not that expensive, either. It ticks just about all the boxes that most photo and video travelers might desire, earning the ZS100 our top award.

Review by dpreview.com

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