02 July 2010

Panasonic DMC-ZS1

As mentioned the other day, I just purchased a refurbished Panasonic DMC-ZS1 for my daughter, a very sharp young photographer. I bought it for it's exceptionally wide 25-300mm equiv. lens, great image quality (per glowing reviews), and modest price. It also has a very close macro focus distance of just 3cm, and Tasha does love her macro.

The Good: It looks and feels like a high-quality camera. The 2.7in hi-res LCD is excellent, a big upgrade from past cameras. For the first time we own a compact that you can effectively review picture quality on. It has quite good ergonomics and great battery life, and in auto mode it produces consistently great photos. The images look very sharp and have great color. Perhaps more real that real, but to modern eyes, that's just how pictures should look. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing of highlights) is exceptionally well controlled, and overall the photos exhibit less clipping than most little compacts, which gives compact camera images a consistently plasticy look. These images look a bit more more SLR-like, with less harsh transitions between high and low contrast. And, most importantly, Tasha seems to love it.

The Bad: (1) As many people have commented, the top dial is too prominent and in the wrong place. You have to wrap your finger around it to push the shutter, which feels unnatural, and some people have problems with it getting turned inadvertently. (2) The focus is slow, probably a byproduct of that long lens. That's typical of compacts, but I find this camera annoyingly slow. (3) Images look great at screen resolutions and probably in prints, but at a pixel level, noise reduction and sharpening is very obviously too aggressive and cannot be turned off. Also, sometimes low-contrast areas suffer from slight dithering or blotchiness. This is odd, since sample photos I've seen on review sites lack these faults, at least to this extent. So I'm not sure what to think. Perhaps a badly done firmware revision. Again, you would probably never see this in regular viewing, and in all other respects image quality is excellent. But up close it's a bit disappointing.

The Verdict: If you want a wide-angle compact, this camera cannot be beat for the money. In fact, probably nothing else can be had for the money. It suits my daughter's photographic interests perfectly. I wish the pixel-level image quality was better, but as sensor densities continue to increase, that kind of quality will continue to decrease. Really the only place to go is to high-end compacts or DSLRs, for which you will pay triple over this camera, starting. So I give it 8 out of 10.

The Photographer. All images are straight out of camera.

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