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POOR low light pics, even after FW update (SEE PICS)
on August 29, 2011
This is my fifth Panasonic digital camera, (my eighth digital camera of any brand if you don't count 6 or 7 camera-phones - I like gadgets). I have Panasonic's FZ-28 and just sold my pretty blue ZS-7 to a relative needing a great camera, as I was anticipating this year's model to be even better. I wish I had read the reviews first. Once I did, I was really disappointed, so I ended up buying a Sony HX5V first, since it was only 189 bux and had similar features and was touted to have good low-light performance. I take a lot of low-light pics, so this is a feature I always look for. The Sony pics came out pretty good, but I really missed the Panasonic interface (it just made more "sense" to me & obviously, I was used to it), and the longer zoom (16x vs 10x on the Sony). After a few weeks with the Sony, I took another look at the ZS-10. I found that there had been two firmware updates since the initial release, one which claimed to improve detail. I fell in love with the brown, and took a leap of faith. It arrived and boy, is it gorgeous! The touchscreen is cool, but not totally needed (not totally implemented, either), but that's ok, as the idea of smearing up my LCD with fingerprints, or accidentally touching the screen all the time didn't really appeal to me.
A few days in, I decided to compare apples-to-apples. I set up a little "still life" and took some shots with the Sony and some with the Panasonic, using the same (as much as possible) settings and lighting on each shot, both, before the firmware update, and after (on the ZS-10). I lowered both cameras to 5 megapixels (I usually use this setting). I took some with flash, without flash, and in low-light (60W bulb, diffused, 8' away) and very low light (dark room, with only hall light filtering in) - I wanted to push the boundaries and see what happens - almost any camera can take a good picture on a bright, sunny day. I used the auto modes, the tripod modes (with a tripod), the handheld modes (handheld), the twilight modes, even the self-timer to reduce blur from shutter button presses. I did not use the manual modes (M, S, A, P), as the Sony only has M & P, and I usually take very quick shots in varied environments and do not have time to "fiddle" with settings, like I do when I use my wonderful FZ-28. I am saddened to report that the Sony HX5V beat the Panasonic ZS-10 hands-down. Really saddened (see photos and notes in the Product Images section, Brown color version). I don't care that the Sony costs less money, or that the batteries cost less money (I always buy two), or that it's smaller, or that there's no play/shoot switch (just hit the shutter), or that the panorama mode is super-cool and easy, or that it has a directional thingie with the GPS to tell you what direction you're facing, I REALLY wanted the Panasonic to beat it. Unfortunately, to my eyes, and for my purposes, it does not. I'm so bummed.
PROS (things I care about):
- gorgeous brown exterior color
- stereo mics in sensible place (rarely covered by fingers when recording)
- 16x optical zoom (more, in some modes)
- compact (considering all the features)
- cool GPS implementation with landmarks already inputted
- 30 SCN (scene) modes - these are great when you want a certain "look" to your pics, but don't have time to change the settings (or aren't familiar with them) - the icons are in color, now.
- CUST (custom) setting on dial, so you can set your favorite settings for a frequent scene
- tripod socket in the middle = more well-balanced on weaker/smoother tripods (the sony's is on the edge)
- the battery/card door 'springs' open when unlocked (this makes it easier to access contents with one hand)
- did I mention the gorgeous brown wrapper?
This camera has many more features (3D, 10fps burst shooting, face detection, face recognition, etc.) that are cool, but not important to me, so I did not include them in my PROs, or in my review, as I don't even use them.
CONS (things that bother me):
- disgraceful IQ in very low-light (I realize this is not an SLR, but it's really bad, even when compared to the older, cheaper Sony)
- awful IQ/inexcusably high noise in low light (light from a 60W bulb, diffused, 8 feet away)
- low-light modes "hidden" in sub-menus (the sony has two, right on their dial) - may be possible to assign one to the CUST (custom) setting on the dial
- even when using flash, image is "blown out" (compared to the Sony)
- solid colors appear grainy, image appears fuzzy (even when viewing at 62% - full-screen). I didn't even bother pixel-peeping - the horror!
Yes, there are fewer CONS, but these are higher on my "priority" list and Image Quality is more important than where the tripod socket was placed, etc. After all, I show my photos to many people, but I'm the only one who really looks at my camera.
I am so disappointed and I feel so let down by the 2011 "travel zoom" camera department over at Panasonic. I know they "owe" me nothing, but I feel I have been a great customer and have now been presented with a poor product (when the previous version was fantastic). I have heard the ZS-8 has better IQ (fewer "bells & whistles" & a different sensor), I might have to try it out. But, right now, I feel so upset that my beautiful brown camera is only pretty on the outside, especially once the sun goes down.
As much as it pains me to say this, (especially after being a Panasonic Lumix fan for so many years), my recommendation, for now, would be to look into other cameras. There are other, lower cost cameras that take better pictures and have some of the "ooohhh-aaahhh" features this ZS-10 has. Even if you don't take a lot of low(er) light photos, the IQ when using the flash really concerns me (when compared to the Sony), and, considering the high cost, I don't even think this would be a good "barbecues and birthday parties" camera. Unfortunately, there are many reputable reviews on the web that report the same findings. I was hoping they just got a "bum" camera.
I really want to love and utilize this camera, and I am certainly not a professional photographer, so if you have any practical advice or tips which may improve my low-light results with this camera, (other than increasing the light in the image) please leave your tips in the comments section of this review. Even if it is months from now, as other low-light users may find them helpful. Thanks!
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