on June 6, 2010
Panasonic makes the best compact superzoom cameras! Here's why. I was a professional photographer for over twenty years and recently sold all my professional film cameras (35mm, 21/4"x 23/4" and 4" x 5"). I've been searching for a compact superzoom camera that I can keep with me at all times to catch those once-in-a-lifetime shots without the expense or weight of a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera. Keep in mind that a compact superzoom has a smaller imaging sensor and will never truly compete with a high quality DSLR but if you want the best camera available in the compact point-and-shoot category then Panasonic DMC-Z series of cameras wins hands down. I've conducted an exhaustive search of camera review sites and have found Panasonic to consistently meet my standards of excellence. You don't have to take my words for it, you can check out my claims for yourself at the digitalcamerareview and dpreview web sites.
The heart of any camera is the lens. Nothing else in photography counts without good optics. Panasonic uses Leica DC Vario-Elmar lenses in many of their cameras. Amongst professional photographers Leica has a reputation for quality akin to Rolls Royce. Leica appears to have maintained their reputation in Panasonic cameras by avoiding significant optical flaws. Most superzoom camera optics suffer from multiple flaws. Two optical flaws that I find completely unacceptable are chromatic aberration and uneven or soft focus.
You'll see chromatic aberration as a color fringe (red on one edge and blue or green on the opposite edge) along the edge of an object. It's often most visible near the corner of the image and along the edges of high contrast subjects like a dark car in front of a bright building. Sometimes chromatic aberration is so bad that it can be see in the center of a 4" x 6" photo but it's most often only visible when enlarged to full screen on a 17" or larger monitor. In my opinion, when it comes to chromatic aberration, Panasonic consistently out performs all competitors including Nikon, Canon, Olympus and Sony. I strongly suggest you see this for yourself by looking at web reviews that have full resolution images. Click on the full resolution image, zoom in and scroll from corner to corner and you'll see what I mean.
The second major optical concern is focus. Some camera lenses are sharp in the center of the photo but go slightly out of focus towards the edge of the photo. This usually isn't a problem if you are only going to use your multi-hundred dollar camera to make 4" x 6" prints but soft focus can be a huge disappointment when making larger prints or viewing the photo as a full screen image. The Leica lenses on the Panasonic cameras appear to excel in the category of sharp focus. Again, I suggest you see for yourself by zooming in on full resolution images available from some web review sites.
Other optical concerns include barrel and pincushion, which describe how vertical and horizontal lines can be curved in the photograph even though they were straight in real life. Some barreling or pincushioning is inherent to every zoom and are usually only noticeable at the widest angle or strongest telephoto settings. This type of distortion can be so severe that it distracts the viewer from appreciating the subject of the photograph. Leica does a superb job of minimizing barreling and pincushioning to the point that I find this type of distortion within acceptable limits.
My final comment on the Panasonic DMC-Z series optics is that the wide-angle setting on the zoom lens is equivalent to a 25mm lens on a 35mm camera. In my experience, the wide-angle lens is the most important feature of a zoom lens. You can always crop an image to get the equivalent effect of a stronger telephoto (of course you'll lose some resolution) but there is no similar way to compensate for not having a wide enough lens. Sure you can paste images together using a panoramic mode but you wind up with a long narrow picture that's difficult to put in a frame. Plus, except for the latest top-of-the-line Sony, you can't paste a large group photo together because people will move between shots.
If the heart of a digital camera is the lens then the soul is the imaging chip and the camera's internal image processing software. Panasonic excels in this area too. Again, I strongly suggest you see for yourself by zooming in on full resolution images available from some web review sites. Every digital camera has software that is designed to minimize the noise introduced into the image by the sensor. If noise reduction is too strong then details are lost and objects start to look like cartoon drawings. If noise reduction is too weak then smooth areas like blue sky or concrete look unnatural because they're covered with dots. Panasonic has managed to achieve a pleasing balance in this category.
Finally, I'd like to mention that, for the most part, I don't care about what photo editing or cataloging software comes with a camera. There's plenty of great software available from third party vendors and if the camera is not capable of producing a quality image then the accompanying software is absolutely useless to me.
So the bottom line is that the Panasonic DMC-Z series has the best combination of lens & sensor/built-in image processing software of any of the point-and-shoot cameras and is the most capable of producing an image that can stand up to being enlarged. Additionally, considering Costco has the Panasonic on sale this month along with their great return policy, I consider Panasonic a great buy.
on July 20, 2010
Like some obsessive compulsive reviewers I literally spent days pouring over that latest generation of digital equipment. My goal: to find the best all around performer that had the fewest compromises for typical family outings, including vacations. As background, I'm a former Nikon F 35 mm photographer, back in the day when high end photography was a real hobby. Not that it isn't today, but there are simply too many choices and not enough to base a decision on. Back then, if you had the money, you bought a Nikon F series.
Goal: Excellent photos and videos. Good machine ergonomics. Pocketable.
This seems to be the desire of many manufacturers but how many actually get there?
How many get close?
Their Lumix Z series especially with the decent Leica lenses take photos worthy of a pro. Make no mistake, these are not SLR quality, but they are close enough that when intertwined with the compromises, makes them the end of the rainbow, at least as far as I'm concerned.
As for video, the HD video from this unit is excellent. Is the sound perfect? Nope. Is it in any of these cameras? None that I've seen. Does it matter? I've flipped and flopped between splitting the purchase between a flash memory video and a cheaper point and shoot.
But for the average family photographer, why don't you want both in one? Why don't you want something in your hand all the time that lets you capture that Kodak Moment? Heck I take more stills and videos with my Iphone than with any camera these days just because . . .its there.
On a planned vacation or outing, you want more detail. And the Lumix Z series comes through. Crisp photos. Sharp video. And adequate sound.
On the sound, I almost passed on this camera because someone dissed it for the sound. A low level hum. After all, I'm a details kind of guy, so how could I live with that? Do you actually hear it?
Yes, you hear it when you are zooming. No surprise here. The mic is integrated with the body so there is no way to isolate it. Is this a minor matter. I believe so. The key is that you will get decent stereo sound of your family and you will be listening to THEM and won't care if you hear a minor hum in the background. For reference, my 3 chip panasonic miniDV camcorder had a minor hum too. But everything else line up so well, I loved that camera.
The key thing with the Lumix Z, is that the audio is crisp and you will get the shot.
Windnoise is an issue with ALL video cameras and addressing it is fairly straightforward. After noticing this on my first outing, I came up with a cheap fix. I cut a square of paper towel and two strips of blue tape, loosely covering the mic. I experimented in medium wind and it suppressed the wind significantly. As you probably know, you can buy blue tape at any Home Depot or probably Staples. If this sounds like a pain, remember, that pro photographers go to a lot more trouble to get great shots, so consider this trivial.
File size of this older model: An 8gb sd card will give you 8min in HD movie mode. Considering most of your shooting will average 30 sec, you've got 16 segments, before you offload to your laptop. How much usage time does the average home video camera in a year? Just 30 min. Some years more, some less.
Should you buy the Z7 instead, with the fancy new AVCHD? Certainly you will get more recording time, but will you need it? What you may get is the hassle of dealing with a new codec to decompress those files, not something you bargained for. On hassles, I almost gave up and chose a Sony, only because it is so user-friendly. But the photos were class C, and Z's were Class A.
By the way, steer clear of the cheaper FH series. It may have HD video, but side by side it with the Z series and you will see its not worth consideration.
For those interested, my runner up is the Canon 780. But its form factor is too small and the lcd shrunken. Its actually not as comfortable to use. And the images are class B.
Hope this helps!
on June 11, 2010
This, the latest in Panasonic's ZS-line of point-and-shoot cameras, is a huge improvement over the ZS3 I previously used (see review at: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 10.1 MP Digital Camera with 12x Wide Angle MEGA Optical Image Stabilized Zoom and 3 inch LCD (Black)), and addresses many of the admittedly minor issues I found with my original camera.
The new ZS6 (and it's stablemates the lower end ZS5 and upper end ZS7) now allows complete exposure control. The camera comes with Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority, and a Manual Mode that allows adjustment of both. All three of these modes are accessed on the relocated Mode Dial and when in Manual Mode a light meter-type display is superimposed on the screen.
Another big complaint I had was lack of in-camera control of picture adjustment parameters. This has also been addressed, with complete user control over the big four -- Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation, and Noise Reduction.
Same great 25mm-300mm Zoom (35mm equivalent) carried over from the previous ZS1/3 line. This is quite simply the best compact travel zoom on the market in my opinion.
Battery life is still a major issue, and SterlingTek's remarkable replacement battery (see my review at: SterlingTek's POWWER Panasonic DMW BCG10PP Digital Camera ID secured battery) with much longer life (which I purchased for my ZS3) will not work in the New ZS5/6/7 line. SterlingTek advised me today that they are aware of the problem and are working on a fix.
The ZS6 only allows for one My Scene selection on the main dial. The ZS7 to my understanding retains two because it also retains the separate activation button for video mode whereas the ZS6 has a selection for that on the Mode Dial.
Still no RAW capability.
There is no hard-copy of the instruction manual; it's on the accompanying disc. This is quite simply unacceptable for a camera with this many features and which requires extensive study of the manual to truly master. And I shouldn't have to go to the expense of printing out 150+ pages to make up for this cost-cutting scheme.
I purchased this camera a month ago at Costco, complete with belt-attach leather case and 2GB card, for just under $290. Then just yesterday I went to Costco and got an additional $50 off because they came out with a coupon for this marvelous point-and-shoot.
Highly recommended as a backup for your primary DSLR camera, or for when carrying a big, heavy DSLR is not practical.
on June 18, 2010
Note: This is more like 4.5 stars. Panasonic DMC ZS6 is basically a compromise mixture of Panasonic ZS5 and ZS7. It more closer to the ZS5 although some features like 3 inch 460k LCD from ZS7 is there. It is mostly sold through Costco or in this case, Amazon.
I brought this to replace my Panasonic TZ4 which had an unfortunate accident. I must say that as a casual shooter (not a high demanding professional), I found this camera superior to my old TZ4 in just about every single feature. If you are old Panasonic hand, you will be able to get into this camera almost instantly. If not, its still pretty easy camera to learn, they even got a short printed booklet for you. The detail stuff lies in their CD.
The outside photos are quite excellent. Indoor photos are also quite good but I thought the flash was bit on the weak side and I was slightly unhappy that I could not find a flash compensation mode in this camera. My Canon point and shoot like SX120 got one, why not a Panasonic?? The camera was pretty easy to hold and control. It can handled all types of SD cards. It uses a lithium battery with pretty decent lifespan. I shot two videos and 300 photos and the there are still two bars left. I strongly recommend that you carry a spare anyway. The scene modes are pretty good. I tried out their "Ai" mode and it work pretty well. I would have test it out for a prolonged period of time before I can say one way or another. By that time, Panasonic could be out with their "ZS1000" or something.
The video is HD but uses a MPEG mode. There is a certain limitation due to that. You can only use about 2 gig of memory space regardless of the size of your card. I am not really sure why but that is way Panasonic has it designed. But the video is pretty good and it will serves as a back up to my regular camcorder. In this area, I think Canon's point and shoot cameras got everyone beat.
There is a definite improvement in their macro section. It far more clearer then any of the Panasonic I owned before (about ten counting this one). I love the Panasonic camera because of their extra optical zooms. The regular optical zoom is 12x, pretty impressive range at 12 meg mode. When you scale down to 8 meg, the zoom goes up to to 14.7x. When you scale down to 5 meg, the zoom goes up to 18.8x and I usually shoot my p/s camera at that scale. At 3 meg range, you can shoot up to 23.4x zoom, all optical of course. ZS6's 25mm wide angle is truly impressive. When you add the wide angle with the super zoom, you got a camera that is truly awesome in what it can do for you. You won't get this with any other brand name.
Another thing worth mentioning is the autofocus and capture speed. Compared to my old TZ4 camera, this camera is like super fast. Even at 8 meg or 5 meg scale, I was able to focus and shoot and do it again over and over at a speed I thought totally impossible with my old TZ4. This is pretty impressive feature.
So if you are looking for a great point and shoot camera that can take great photos, got good video and impressive range of zoom, this is it.
on June 24, 2010
Selected the Lumix ZS6 after researching, and changing heart that was set on a Canon. And Costco was selling it for $240, with case and 2gb memory. Hurry, ends in June 2010. So played with it a bit. Like the HD video. Records in MOV format. Very nice, but not like DVD sharp, but still great. Photos are excellent, like top 3, not THE best.
It has manual features up the wazoo it appears. But for a guy like me that doesn't tinker much at this point, the iA (intelligent auto) is amazing. Just set it and forget it. Don't need to worry about exposure, aperature, lighting, not even what scene mode as it picks that by itself as well. Face finder is cool. 3" LCD screen is amazing. Zooming in video is wonderful, something my Sony couldn't do. Feels solid. Feels heavier than most it's size.
Will be on vacation in July. Will fill in more afterwards.
UPDATE AFTER VACATION:
Took the camera to Albuquerque, Pikes Peak, Oregon coast, Washington coast, Seattle, Vancouver. I use iA mode, for the most part. I think everyone elses comments are right on so, I won't duplicate comments.
Here's what I found with iA mode, the red item on the dial. It worked wonderfully mostly. In the highest zoom, took clear, sharp photos, even though I felt a little unsteady. Because it's wider angle lens, I have zoom in on subjects or objects far more often than cameras with a smaller angles. Image stabilizer worked well. Out of 1000+ photos, I had about 4 that were blurry. This camera did what I want to do, just point and click. For mountain scenes, it picked landscape setting automatically. For faces, the Lumix selected portrait. In dark areas, selects lower light settings. For macros, it selects the macro setting. For scenery way over there, selects infinity setting. I don't do a thing.
It's not perfect. Here's a couple of annoyances. In iA mode, there isn't a quick force flash on setting, only a force flash off. In areas, like shadows or sun behind subject, it wasn't always smart enough to know to flash. In fact, it flashed less than 50% of the time. I wanted to force flash, but doesn't seem to be available in iA mode. So I had to switch to "P" mode to force flash. Also, when you want to do a macro, and the scene is a little busy, it has difficulty to focus on that one object you want clear. Because I don't know the manual settings yet, there were a handful of macro shots I could not take, the iA mode couldn't focus on.
Some reading about this camera said the sound is mono. But it has left and right microphones.
I just want non-blurry, decently lighted photos most of the time. It takes care of that, that my previous Sony DSC-W5 couldn't do.
By the way, I also bought this extra battery, I think 2, with car charger as well for about $35. Works well. Then at another website, bought an 8bg, class 10, memory card, brand AData, for $17. That's what I used. Worked very well. And save tons of money.
on August 19, 2010
I bought this camera to take as my "extra" small camera to fit in my purse ... it turned out that I used it more than my Sony F828, because the pictures and video were spectacular! We just took a Scandinavia/Russia cruise and I'm in the process of going through the over 2000 shots I took. When I look at the photos, it's obvious which ones were taken with the Panasonic. I'm not a weekend photographer; I've sold some of my stuff here and there, and this camera will make sure that I sell even more photos. It's great for Macro shooting, too - very easy. The video quality for such a small camera is detailed. One of the best things I've noticed is that my reds aren't saturated and flat-looking; they actually look like the shade of red they are with real definition.
I'm extremely happy with this purchase; I got a package deal for $289 at another store because I didn't see it on Amazon, but the price is well worth it for what you get. The only drawback, as I find with all smaller cameras, is the battery life; too brief! I also used 8G Sandisk flash cards with no problem at all.
Loving this camera!!!
on July 6, 2010
I did a lot of research before buying this camera. I started with consumer reports which did not rate this particular camera. I found this camera by reading Amazon reviews of the other cameras recommended by consumer reports. I found that unlike consumer reports top picks, this particular camera was recommended highly by both users and experts alike.
I am very satisfied with my purchase. I use a digital camera to store and view my pictures on the computer. I am not one to make prints so I can't comment in that area. I rated the photo quality as 4 stars just because I don't see an improvement in that department on the computer compared to my 6 year old Canon that died, but I might be impressed if I made prints and compared them. I am extremely pleased with the video feature. The camera makes high quality video clips that are super easy to download and view from your PC. I am most impressed with this feature as I am not one to carry a video camera and always wanted to be able to make digital video clips.
The camera is loaded with features and adjustments that you can make for different types of photos taken. I am currently using the Intelligent Auto feature which is fine for most pictures. When you are doing closeups you need to play with the manual settings, turn the flash off, etc. I haven't spent any time with the manual yet but am impressed with the number of features available. I am using it as a point and shoot but I would imagine that someone who knew anything about photography might be able to use the advanced features for different purposes.
on June 14, 2010
It is just couple of days since i got the Panasonic ZS6 from costco..Photo quality is good in its class.The video quality is also very good..This is surely one of the best point-and-shoot camera to have.Low-light photos are not life-changing but good.
Zoom in video more is one of the cool features and works flawlessly..i viewed the videos on HDTV and looks ok..
Controls takes a while to get used to...
Worth the money spent...very happy
on January 27, 2011
Although I didn't buy this item from Amazon, I just returned from a tour overseas, and I'm moved to publish this review because I'm very impressed with this camera. I'd just purchased the camera and immediately took off on the trip, so I didn't have much time to explore the various manual photo options -- but I found I could do a lot by intuitively exploring the straight-forward menu options, including the huge number of "Scene" options.
In fact, I was the envy of my tour group. People were startled with the clarity and color of the photos, and the extra wide capability allowed landscape and group shots that no one else could take. It was so satisfying to use this camera that I wound up taking a few thousand photos over a couple of weeks.
I would suggest, however, that people who buy this camera may want to use at least a Class 6 SDHC memory card rather than a Class 2 or 4. I found that the difference in lag time between shots was significantly better with the 6 than with the 4 I also brought on the trip.
I would also suggest that others avoid the Lowepro Rezo 30 for this camera. It is simply too snug a fit, and the inner stitching of the zipper makes it difficult to extract or replace the camera quickly. I wound up carrying the camera in my pants pocket -- where, btw, it is a very easy fit.
on January 16, 2011
I just wanted to comment on part of Bill's review:
"File size of this older model: An 8gb sd card will give you 8min in HD movie mode. Considering most of your shooting will average 30 sec, you've got 16 segments, before you offload to your laptop. How much usage time does the average home video camera in a year? Just 30 min. Some years more, some less".
I just put a 16 GB card in my ZS6, and was surprised to see I still only had 8 minutes 20 seconds of video space! But then I shot 8 minutes, stopped shooting, and checked the video time remaining for the next video. I was happy to see that I had another 8 minutes and 20 seconds of space!!! Bottom line is, if you look at the manual, it states that you can only shoot 8 minutes of continuous video, but with a 16 GB card you can still get over an hour of total video! This is great news for those of you who may have been put off by the lack of
video space. The only downside is that you may have to stop shooting in the middle of a particularly long performance, sports event, etc.
So now I have over 17 minutes of total video stored on my card, and still have space to shoot 4017 photos at 5 megapixel resolution. (And by the way, the photo quality and intelligent auto feature are really is stellar as everyone hear notes.)
Hope this helps!