on April 17, 2014
- 30X Zoom Lens (24-720mm equivalent)
- Adjustment ring around lens
- Adjustment wheel around 4-way controller
- GPS with logging and geotagging
- Amazing menus
- Internal battery charge via non-standard cable
- 18 MP sensor
- No Maps
The body is completely covered in an elastomer (all the black areas on the silver version), while great in hand, this rubber coating impedes the insertion into small pockets. No professional or user review has ever mentioned the rubber coating, it was a complete surprise to me. The front raised grip and rear thumb rest are well placed and are all you need for a secure grip of such a light camera.
LENS & SENSOR
The lens and sensor have to be discussed together. The 30X zoom would not be possible without the tiny sensor, even then the maximum aperture f/3.5-f/6.3 is dim. The lens has 5 aspherical elements with 10 aspherical surfaces, only possible at this price by molding, not grinding, the elements. A decade ago a single aspherical element was a big deal, how far we've come. The tiny CMOS sensor has the light gathering pixels on one side and control transistors on the other, unlike a CCD sensor. Why 18MP, only because the stupid MP race has yet to end, more tiny pixels is not better, just adds digital noise. Don't expect miracles, this camera is more about world class memories than world class images.
The two adjustment rings, one around the lens and another around the 4-way controller are amazingly handy and user configurable. Their function changes depending on the mode you set unless you "lock" them via the menu. I locked the lens ring to zoom only. When you zoom, it provides more steps and 35mm equivalent focal lengths on either display. The wheel around the 4-way falls easy to your thumb, I mainly use it to cruise the menus.
Optical image stabilization is the way to go and the ZS40 incorporates Panasonic's latest and greatest evolution of OIS. Yes you really can take steady photos at 720mm focal length.
The electronic view finder is a key element of the ZS40. In bright light conditions it is viewable when the LCD might not. It has a adjustment to compensate for your individual vision. Another benefit is placing the camera to your head affords an addition steadying point for long zoom photos and video. To those of us with bifocals, one's arms may not be long enough to focus on the LCD, the EVF solves this.
The GPS has both geotagging and logging. Add to this a POI database of 5-million points. I tested the geotagging, logging and POI database on a recent trip to the Grand Canyon and was impressed with all three. I was able to import the photos into BaseCamp and see them in map context, no more "where did I take that photo?". The logger will record a point every 15-sec and I can easily convert the NEMA or KML file to GPX to view the track distance or see it on a topo map. The GPS uses external data (Assist Data) to speed GPS acquisition. The ZS40 instantly found my router and downloaded the data, very impressed. The data is updated weekly and you'll need to update at least monthly for fastest acquisition. The battery life was as good or better than any Garmin I've used (I own five), still you'll want to carry spare batteries. The batteries are tiny, light and inexpensive, get an external charger while you're at it.
My test for pocketability is the chest pocket of my polo shirts, the ZS40 passes. I added a neck lanyard for the occasional out-of-pocket escape. This feature goes to the best camera is the one you have with you. For most that is the near ubiquitous smartphone.
The menus are very easy to read on the LCD and each has a text scroll to explain its function. There are so many menu options that Panasonic did an excellent job of attempting to simplify the complexity.
You can take AVCHD Lite (1280 x 720, 60p) video until the battery is dead. All the high end AVCHD formats are capped at 30-minutes. Most would find 30 min ample, but in case you want to set and forget, you can. I took a short video of a mountain stream with a series of falls and played it back on my HDMI monitor, just like being there, the sound and video were amazing.
For me a near perfect combination of a pocketable high zoom camera with a very functional GPS. The EVF solves many viewing problems of modern digital cameras while adding an insignificant amount to weight or size. For many hikes this will be all I'll need, for longer hikes I'll add one of the Garmin's for the Topo Maps. This a complicated computer that takes photos, don't expect to learn it in a day. It'll grow on you as you learn its many features. I'm still learning.
Update July 2015:
So after one year plus what have I learned about the ZS40? No in camera settings for saturation or sharping, bummer. I now batch process all my JPEGs saving to a new file 18MP > 1MP, add saturation, and sharpen. I use the included USB cable to charge the battery because it automatically updates the GPS Access Data. The GPS locks MUCH faster if your record a log files all the time, the battery hit is minimal. As expected the lens is no paradigm of sharpness, one thing to design it on a computer, quite another to manufacture and assemble. While the EVF is small and dim, it's a must for long telephoto shots and a brimmed hat is needed for shading in bright sun. I use 24mm much more frequently than 720mm. For all its flaws, I'd buy another if it dies.
Update Feb `16:
Well the ZS40 died, took it to Hawaii for a month in late-2015. Somewhere between the summit of Mauna Loa at 13,000' and my sea level apartment it lost the ability to focus. At turn-on at 24mm it was in-focus, as soon as I zoomed it went OoF. The GPS also stopped working. It wasn't the elevation, I had it to 13K many times in Colo. My WAG is that it was the salt in the air from living 100-yards from the ocean. Because the ZS40 is the only 30X with EVF and GPS, I bought another, a refurb from an Amazon seller.
on April 10, 2014
So I read all the reviews here as well as all the professional reviews I could find and purchased this camera from a third party to get it sooner. I've had it now a couple days and am impressed with the camera itself - I would give it 5 stars if I were just rating the camera.
The build quality is excellent and it feels solid. The image quality is excellent given the small sensor and 18 megapixels (though I agree with many that it might have been even better if there were only 16 or fewer megapixels). Yes there is noise at higher ISOs (above 400), but I expected that and it seems very good to excellent for this class of camera. FYI, [...] has sample shots and nice review of the Canon sx700 with a comparison to Panasonic zs40. His verdict is that the image quality and noise reduction are similar overall - one edges the other in some situations, the other edges ahead in other situations (it will be interesting to see the [...] review of the Panasonic when it comes out in the near future).
The 30x lens is lovely! Nice and wide to great distance. The image stabilizing works well. Focusing is fast, except at long zoom and very low light (which is typical of this class of cameras). I've seen some reviews complain about the low resolution of the electronic viewfinder (EVF), so I was surprised to find it is much better than I expected - once I used the diopter control to adjust it for my glasses. Best, at least it has an EVF for those bright, sunny days when that pretty much wipe out your ability to see the LCD!! Nothing else in this class has that. As for the LCD, it is large and sharp. The various display options show a lot of information, and there is an optional histogram (though small). There is a dedicated function button that you can program as you choose, and a programable wheel around the lens that I am impressed with, though I am just learning how useful it is. Again, I'm not aware of other travel zooms with these features. I saw one review that complained about the shadows from the lens barrel when it is at full zoom, so I tested this and I have not seen a shadow with the flash. I also saw someone complain that the flash was too bright for portraits and needed to be adjustable. Again, I haven't seen any travel zooms with adjustable flashes, but the other option is to decrease the exposure so the sensor captures less light - which this camera allows. In fact, the camera has exposure bracketing so that you can automatically capture 3 photos at different exposures then pick the best one (though I don't think this will work with the flash engaged). Again, something I can't recall seeing on most travel zooms. Finally, when you do take a picture, you have the option of saving it in raw format (capturing all information), or one of two jpeg formats, or both. Again, I can't recall a travel zoom that has allowed this in the past, though many people have asked for it.
A few advanced features that I've only just begun to try out. It has WiFi and I tried this out with my iPad using the free Panasonic Imaging App. It works ok, but the app really needs some documentation/help screens, because these are not provided in the little WiFi guide that comes with the camera. There is an airplane mode for when you fly, and I can see maybe setting the function button to that if you fly a lot. The GPS function seems easy to use and I like the landmarks feature that is included, but be aware the GPS stays on even when you turn off the camera, unless you put the camera in airplane mode. This means the GPS will be a constant drain on the batteries. So I've turned it off when I am at home - just hope I remember to turn it on when I travel. It is worth noting that other travel zooms may have WiFi and others have GPS, but only a few have both. Another feature I like is that you can turn on a display that shows both the horizontal and vertical axes of the camera vs. the earth in order to level the camera - very nice feature that I've never seen on a travel zoom before.
So overall, I really like this camera. It is well designed and lets you do so many things and produces great pictures. It is a great travel zoom.
So why don't I give this camera 5 stars? Because I'm rating what's in the box, as well as what isn't. What's in the box is a USB charger and cable, but the connection on the camera is to an unusual micro USB connection that is essentially proprietary to Panasonic. So if you lose that cable, you can't use just any old cable to charge the camera, you have to get a new one from Panasonic. Worse, digital cameras eat batteries, so you should always carry a spare and a charger so you can charge the spare while you are using the camera. The problem here is that Panasonic doesn't include a separate charger in the box - you only have the option of charging batteries in the camera. So what if you want to use the camera and have a spare battery that needs charging? TOUGH LUCK, SUCKER!! True, you can buy a third party charger (and get a good deal on a pair of extra batteries at the same time), but for a $450 camera, that is outrageous. So I knocked a star off of what's in the box due to the proprietary connector/cable and the lack of a separate charger. Neither of these are deal breakers since you can buy a third party charger, but they sure piss me (and others) off.
on April 14, 2014
I never thought I would go back to a small sensor compact, especially with quality options like the Sony RX series or any of the Olympus/Panasonic micro four thirds cameras.
Why the ZS40 then?
The main selling points to me on paper and now in actual use are:
1) 24-720mm lens
This is an amazing range for such a small body. The lens is sharpest from 24mm to around 300mm. Anything above that I will bump the aperture up a stop or two. This usually means I have to set the ISO around 400 to still get decent shutter speed. ISO 400 is quite good.
2) Built-in EVF
When I first looked through the EVF, I thought it was way too small. I took it to an Okaland A's baseball game in brutal sun and the EVF worked fantastic. The rear LCD was beyond useless in the overpowering sun and the EVF really saved the day. I was able to get nice wide shots of the crowd and zoom in super close to the players. Using the EVF also let me steady the camera better. The best part was that the camera was so small I had it in a belt case and barely knew it was there until the times I needed it.
3) RAW support
Usually RAW is just a waste on such a small sensor, but you can squeeze a decent amount of extra detail depending on how well you nailed the exposure. The latest LR and Adobe updates now support the RAW files so that's a big plus for me now.
4) 1080p 60p video and stabilization
Really great video quality. Already took some great family videos, footage at the ballgame, and some indoor action. The lowlight video is still not as good as some Sony cameras, but it's much better than previous Panasonic cameras.
This is a personal thing, but I really like the two tones gun metal grey and black body of the ZS40.
What about the negatives?
Lack of a separate battery charger is definitely a downer, especially for a compact camera that costs this much.
Image quality is still no match for larger sensor cameras.
Limited customization, no way to adjust flash strength or assign any function to custom buttons.
So why 5 stars?
Like most cameras, the ZS40 is a matter of trade offs. For me, there is nothing in this size class that has this much range, a built-in EVF, great video quality, and very good (or good enough) image quality.
My main camera is the Sony A7R with either the 35mm or 55mm prime attached to it. Superb image quality and great video, but larger, no stabilization, a slower shutter (which means not as great for capturing fast kids), and limited range.
But added in a camera bag with the ZS40, I have every situation covered, but with very little space taken up in the carry bag.
I wasn't sure paying close to five hundred dollars would make sense, but the real world usage situations the ZS40 excels at have me sold. I know this camera will come down in price in time, but this is a case where paying the premium of full price has so far paid off in shots and video I would have been hard pressed to get without it.
I purchased a set of two third party spare batteries that came with an external charger on Amazon to complete the ZS40 travel kit. It costs less than one official battery.
Wishlist for ZS50
I really would love a tilt LCD, even if it adds a bit of bulk to the body.
I would also love a hotshoe since adding better light is much needed for such a small sensor.
Bigger grip. The nub is not bad, but with such a big zoom range, a more substantial grip would go a long way.
Hope this helps.
UPDATE MAY 2nd 2014
I've officially owned the ZS40 for close to six weeks now and have been using it regularly since my initial review. I continue to be impressed by the camera.
Some tips I can share from my usage:
- You can playback images you've taken without fully turning on the camera (which extends the lens) by pressing and holding the Play arrow. The rear LCD will light up and you can look through your images, but the lens will not extend. Turn the camera back off by hitting the power button or you can fully wake the camera by tapping the shutter button
- The C1 and C2 dial save customs settings and are handy when you have things you shoot often, but require lots of menu diving. On mine, C1 shoots in manual mode with smallest quality JPEGS and locked at ISO 100. I use this setting to trigger off camera flashes to take product photos for the web. For C2, I've set it to the Sports mode setting which is perfect for capturing my fast moving kids. I could use the SCN function to activate Sports mode, but I like to use different SCN types so it's not always left on Sports. Assigning it to C2 allows me to change the dial once and go straight to shooting in Sports mode.
- The iAuto setting works extremely well. I've come to use it often for times I'm not going for a specific look. I also enable the flash as the fill flash function seems to work fairly well. In dark situations the light is still too bright though.
on October 31, 2014
Don't read this review - go out there and buy the camera!
Whoever design the Panasonic ZS40 had a brain! He made a camera for himself, filling it with the features that any photographer would want. Unlike the Canon SX700, Panasonic did NOT skimp on features that most of us want simply to knock a few dollars off the price tag.
I had the chance to have hands-on experience with the Canon SX700, Nikon S9700, SONY HX50, and the Panasonic DMC-ZS40. All are subcompact cameras with 30X optical zoom. Each camera will take acceptable photos and if you already have one of these cameras, enjoy it. None of these cameras is perfect but the Panasonic has some outstanding features and performs well enough to top my list.
How I used this camera and my standard for excellence are at the end of this write up. I know that you are most interested in Image Quality (IQ), so let's begin there.
Image Quality Generally excellent and better than the other cameras mentioned above.
- Macro photography - dead on, razor sharp images
- Closely zoomed subjects, using about 10X zoom or less - good. Good edge definition, no spongy water-color type blur. I think that Nikon S9700 does as good and Sony HX50 does noticeably worse. Panasonic did better than Sony at getting the exposure correct - Sony photos tended to be a bit too light.
- Longer zoomed shots, (photos taken at or near 30X) - There was, at times, a detriment in image quality. This is true for all cameras - at longer focal lengths, there is less light entering the camera and hence, less resolution. However, most of my long-zoomed shots are excellent, with good edge definition, and pleasing to look at even on the large-screened TV.
- Cloudy days/Shaded areas - image quality ranged from excellent to a bit soft. However, Image Quality was as good or better than the other cameras
In poorly lit scenes, or in scenes where there is high contrast between the brightest and darkest areas, the Panasonic takes several shots with a single push of the shutter button, then combine the shots to brighten the dark areas. This works very well!
Far away shots - a 30X photo of a subject just across the street will look better that a 30X photo of a subject a football field away - image quality deteriorates with increasing DISTANCE as well with increased ZOOM. Panasonic still produced excellent photos at long distances. Canon's IQ dropped off noticeably with increased distance.
In general, both cropped and un-cropped photos display well when shown on a large screen HD TV
Was every shot perfect? Absolutely not. There were numerous clunkers, just like with every other camera that I have owned. However, I feel that I made the right decision in picking this camera for my trip abroad.
Handling - excellent!!
Unlike the Canon SX700, the designers actually put some thought where each dial and button should go. The controls are logically placed and I never accidently hit the wrong button. You can keep your eye in the viewfinder and your fingers intuitively go where they are meant to - good job, Panasonic.
I think that SONY has the best menu system but Panasonics is not far behind. For a camera loaded with features, it's easy to navigate the menus and get to where you want to. In some ways Panasonic tops SONY because you can assign different functions to a dedicated (1) Function Button, to the (2) Back Wheel, and to the (3) Lens Ring.
Start up times to the to take your first photo is nearly instantaneous - I never missed a shot because of a slow start up. Shot-to-shot time is also decent.
Image Stabilization - Excellent!
At 30X, IS holds the camera rock steady. I was impressed how well it works. Unlike the Canon SX700 where the image dances the jitterbug once you zoom out, with the ZS40 you can forget about shake and concentrate on your photo. Again, good job, Panasonic
Night Photography - As with all cameras in this category, you can expect night photos to be softer, grainier. Panasonic did a very good job here. Panasonic offers FOUR night time scene modes.
If you use a tripod, you will be delighted with the Night Tripod Scene in the Scene Mode. Images are quite brilliant for a night shot. The ISO jumped around from 100 to 800 depending on the ambient lighting (photos were taken downtown), but most shots were clean, edges well defined, and ones you would want to share with friends.
When you chose the Night Hand-held Scene mode, image quality drops off, as can be expected, but still the photos are very respectable. The camera typically kept the ISO at 800 or less. One photo was shot at ISO 6400 and, surprisingly, was NOT totally terrible.
Panasonic takes multiple photos and combines them into a single photo, so photos come out brighter, showing more detail in areas that might otherwise be too dark. Objects in the scene that emit light, such as a neon sign, may appear to "wash out", that is, too bright because of the layering of multiple images. This affects only the lit object, the rest of the photo is fine.
There is a third night scene mode - for taking portraits in low light, and flash may be used. A four night scene mode, Starry Night, allows for longer shutter speeds at two speeds, specifically 15 and 30 seconds.
Digital Zoom - As a rule, I never shoot in digital zoom, but, in some modes/picture sizes combinations, there is no way to turn off the digital zoom. I'd rather NOT see the digital zoom bar on the screen because then I run the risk of accidently putting myself in digital zoom.
However, for the purpose of this review, I did take several digital zoom photos. Of course the images were softer, but, overall, they looked a lot better than I expected. Panasonic's Intelligent Zoom is a big improvement from digital zoom photos of just two years ago
At 115X digital zoom I was able to photograph and identify a Bald Eagle that was about 1000 feet away that I could not identify with a my Zeiss binoculars. Even at 115X, the Image Stabilization kept the camera steady
Extra Optical Zoom - does 30X = 36.7X ???
If you select a smaller Picture Size, the optical zoom bar lengthens, and it appears that you can get extra optical zoom - such as 36.7X in Program Mode if you step down to 12MB. I never saw this in other cameras.
I called Panasonic and they confirmed that you "gain" optical zoom if you decrease Picture Size. However, the girl on the phone couldn't tell me how to get rid of the Digital Zoom, so I don't know if she knew what she was talking about. I don't see any negative difference in image quality when shooting 36.7X compared to 30X, but I don't have any technical way to measure this.
Flash - I like that the flash is mounted on the front of the camera as opposed to popping up on top. However, the placement of the flash may interfere with macro shots if the camera is too close to the subject. Be careful not to place a finger from your right hand over the flash. Sadly, the flash itself is weak - the weakest I have seen any camera. However, the Night Scene modes compensate for this to a large degree. Also, sadly, there is no flash compensation adjustment.
Eye-level Viewfinder - Excellent! I wear glasses and I can comfortably use this feature. I got several shots of wildlife using this viewfinder which I would have missed otherwise. I wish that this viewfinder was larger, even if it added a bit of width to the camera. Otherwise, Good job, Panasonic!
WiFi control of the camera - set up is a bit awkward, but I got it up and running. I couldn't control the camera's zoom as smoothly I thought that I should. However, I didn't try out the WiFi on the other cameras so I have nothing to compare it to. I don't see myself using this feature very much.
Lens Ring - neat idea for a small camera - I'm glad that Manual Focusing is on the dedicated ring on the front of the camera and not just a doubling of function of some other dial or button on the back. You can also assign different functions to this ring. When testing the sensor's sensitivity, I assigned ISO to this ring and it made switching from one ISO to another a snap.
ISO - You know that Image Quality decreases as ISO increases, but you might be surprised how well the ZS40 does in this area. There is not much of difference in Image Quality from ISO 100 to 200. At ISO 400, there is a softening of image but probably would not be a problem for most people for general photography (buildings and other touristy sort of things).
I skipped over the other ISO's, knowing that I would never use them, and jumped directly to ISO 3200. ISO 3200 is noticeably worse but if you had to resort to that high an ISO, the results would be acceptable to an extent, and superior to the ISO 3200 results I found in other cameras.
Video - Well done, movies come out great. The stabilization seems to be less steady than when shooting still photos, but not enough to be a problem. High Speed Recording is in the Scene Mode and allows for slow motion playback. With regular video, you can adjust the zoom as you take video but, strangely, not so in High Speed Recording.
Panorama Shots - readily located on the main mode dial (not buried in a menu like on the Nikon), it's easy to use. I love the "clicking" sound as each shot is taken. The end result looks great - no visible seams. Canon actually left the panorama feature off their camera (probably knocked a nickel off the price tag)
Shoot-through-Glass - located in the Scene Mode - I congratulate Panasonic for including this mode. I like to shoot photos through hotel and airplanes windows. This mode does NOT eliminate glare but helps the camera to focus beyond the glass onto your target. In practice, it does make a difference, sometimes a lot, sometimes a little. When I was on vacation, this feature saved photos that were otherwise impossible to capture. Good going, Panasonic!
Really? However, photos of dinner plates taken in the Food Mode did "pop" when compared to the same photo taken in the Auto mode. A gimmick for sure, but it works. Perhaps there are other applications for the Food Mode besides dinner plates.
GPS - I don't use this. I know where I have been and don't need to run the battery down needlessly.
Battery Life - On vacation I got mixed results. After about 180 photos, one bar (out of 3 bars) on the battery icon will go out.
For the first two days of my vacation, the battery shut off after only 280 photos. However, for the next two days, the battery lasted 320 photos. In Venice, the battery lasted for 471 photos! Who knows why?!
On one day, I shot 1540 photos in the Rapid Shot Auto Focus mode and the battery bars did NOT go down. It looked like I was still on full charge! I can't explain this.
Strap holders - there are two!!!! One on both sides of the camera. Both are deep to allow easy attachment and removal of the straps. Having two holders allows the user to put the wrist strap where he wants it and , better yet, allows for a neck strap. What a pleasure it was not to have to tie up my hands when I wasn't photographing. Good job, Panasonic.
Creative Scene Modes - This doesn't interest me. This seems more of a gimmick. Some of the "creative shots" are simply senseless.
Custom Mode Button - easy to set up and I use this for night photography of insects. You can have 4 custom settings, each easy to set up and access. Canon offers NO custom settings (another nickel saved!)
Play Back - in addition to all of the usual information, the screen even tells you what mode you used to shoot the photo! I liked this.
Customer Support - Powered by the Three Stooges
- When I sign on for live help over the Internet, I had to specify my camera as well as the COLOR of my camera - does the color of the camera determine the what they can help me with? Idiots!
Later, when I later called customer support at Panasonic, the girl who answered my call kept asking me to hold while she relayed my question to some guy in the background. She didn't seem to understand the answer but merely parroted it back to me. When I asked WHY I can't turn the digital zoom off or WHY is the optical zoom goes above 30X, she didn't know.
I realize that the person who answers the phone can't be familiar with every camera on the shelf, but just to say "I don't know" and leave it at that is pathetic. She could have checked further into my questions and gotten back to me at a later time. Disappointing, Panasonic.
(1) Several times I left my camera in the Shoot-through-Glass mode When I turned the camera off. When I powered up again, sometimes (1) the camera would go directly to the Shoot-through-Glass mode, (2) sometimes it would present the Scene Mode menu, and (3) sometimes it would go into High Speed video recording. This latter event happened several times and I found myself video-recording when I wanted to take a photo. I don't know if I accidently hit a wrong series of buttons, but this was annoying.
(2) The Night scene modes often takes multiple shots with one press of the shutter button. This is usually great but can be a disaster when shooting a night shot out of the window of an airplane! I got better out-of-airplane night shots with my old SONY HX9.
(3) Shooting photos out of a moving vehicle (bus) is dicey at best, but the Panasonic seemed weak in this area. Subjects that are too close come out as blurs and subjects too far away suffered in image quality. In the past, I've done better with other cameras. Shooting from an airplane in sunlight is not a problem - my photos of the Alps out of the plane window in the day light are right on the money.
In all fairness, I have to play with the settings some more before I condemn Panasonic for #2 and #3 above.
My Standard of Quality: after loading the photo on my 17 inch laptop screen, I then enlarge the image to 3X. I expect good image quality at this level - sharp edges, no spongy watercolor-type blur, and, for birds and insects, razor-sharp eyes. After I crop and light-adjust my photos, I often show them friends on a large screen HD TV and expect the same level of sharpness.
So far, I have shot just under 8000 photos with the Panasonic in many conditions - sun, rain, clouds, indoors, evening, and night.
I shot far away birds, and nearby insects, people, buildings, inside cathedrals, night photographs in town, mountain and beach scenes, and photos through glass windows (buses and airplanes).
Pictures were typically shot at an ISO 100 except for photos where the ISO was picked by the camera (i.e. scene modes). In one section above, I comment on the camera's performance at selected ISO's.
on May 30, 2014
I bought it for an overseas trip after a lot of comparison shopping. I'm very satisfied with it. I love the fantastic zoom range and the HD videos (I set it to record mp4 videos before the trip, so no problems there). The rear screen is very sharp and clear. I never had to use the built-in viewfinder. I set up the WiFi so I could transfer photos to my smartphone and tablet easily with the app...really pretty cool! I recharged it every night and I never ran out of power even though I had a backup battery with me. I don't mind that it has its own cable, because I keep the cable in the camera pouch that I bought with the camera. It takes fine low-light shots too. It can take several low-light shots and add them together automatically. The panorama shots are easy and work well. I still haven't tried all of the features and picture modes, so I expect to have even more fun with it. The zoom is incredible, along with motion stabilization. I would say that's the best feature. I took many fine high-zoom pictures without a tripod. I recommend it!
on August 8, 2014
There are tons of camera reviews out there, most of which are very detailed with feature sets and functions, so I won't go into the mechanics of this camera's features. I will say that for me, this camera has all the great features you could want in a compact digital camera. There also has been much discussion on picture quality, sensor size and the limitations inherent in a camera this size, again read all about this from the other great reviews online here and elsewhere.
What you seldom read about is what I'm going to speak to in this review. Namely, why on earth would you want or need this camera? Interesting question, but I'm assuming you are like I was, researching the voluminous reviews on the dozens of offerings in the market place, and possibly by now, as I was, are getting model number punchy, having trouble remembering was it the Sony or the Cannon model that had this feature or that one... I got to the point where I couldn't keep the little black camera pictures straight and went a little loopy with all the input I was getting.
Then I remembered why I was wanting a compact camera, what I absolutely needed it to do, the kinds of photos I would primarily take and finally, picked a brand that I trusted, own and the model that would best fit the bill.
It was this camera, now I'll share with you why I chose it over the many great choices out there.
What kind of photographer am I ? An avid enthusiast, sometime semi-pro. A die-hard DSLR owner: I have a Nikon 600 and 7100, and am on my 6th or 7th DSLR over the last 10 years. But I needed a camera with this form factor, as I shoot lots of events, concerts that I get stopped at the door with my "pro gear" and end up with either nothing or some just ok cell phone shots. This camera will go in the door with me every time, I will not miss the shot. But the shot I do get must be really, really good. I need to zoom and shoot in theater lighting and if I need a video, I want it 1080P/60fps, I have a 300,000 hit YouTube channel and my videos are top quality. This camera will succeed in getting me my images and it will also do so for you.
I like the stills and videos I get from this camera ... they are much more than suitable, they are great.
What is not to like about this camera? What will you be disappointed with when you buy this camera and start using it? Here's my list, and the basis for the rating given.
- Propriety charge cable/port. Come on Panasonic, seriously?
- Battery life. It's just ok. DSLRs spoils me with 900 shots, expect to shoot 250 or so, depending on .... you know.
- It's a little sucker, hang on tight or down it will go. Put on the wrist strap and use it. It will fail the drop test, every time.
- The zoom motor extends the lens at inopportune times, see prior bullet.
- Wi-fi is nice feature, it really works, and if you carry your own hotspot (set it up as a favorite), you'll upload those great restaurant dinner shots just like your cell phone does
- Near field connection (NFC) ... haven't gotten it to work, bummer
- Power button is tiny, and on top, which is subject to erroneously turning off.
- The 18MP images are 4:3, if you want DSLR dimensions, you lose 2MP in the crop.
- The bottom battery door is very difficult to open... might just be me though.
- Low light video... not good, but if you know the numbers: F-stop, focal angle, shutter speed, you know you can't have everything. Physics is physics. That is not to say that a lit stage will not produce good videos, it will, no worries. But in general low light,.... not going to happen.
Pros (why you will love this camera)
- Fantastic shots. Period. Difficult lighting, action, portraits, landscapes. Does them all, very nicely.
- Quick to launch and shoot from power off. Shutter button triggers nicely. Very little lag
- A VIEWFINDER!!!! This is a must have when you shoot in dark theaters, or bright daylight. Not many compacts offer this, and one reason you are paying $450 for this camera. But to me worth its weight in gold.
- I like the lens ring, it's programmable...
- The menu system on screen is really not bad. After an hour of play time, I got it.
- No external charger. Again, Panasonic, seriously?
- 30X zoom. Are you kidding, really? Absolutely! It works and well.
- Great IOS, needed for bullet above.
- Great OOB color and dynamic range, as good as any DSLR I've shot with
- WiFi. Works quite well, I'm satisified with its capability
This is a backup camera for a demanding shooter. It's not a DSLR, it won't take the shots a DSLR will. Level set your expectations, learn the camera's capabilities and you will take this camera with you when you can't shoot your DSLR.
I bought this camera on a trial basis. I expected to send it back. I am keeping it because it does everything I need it to do at a high level.
on October 3, 2014
There are a lot of reviews of this camera, so I thought I'd write one that covers things not covered much by other reviews.
1) It does record high speed video, up to 240 fps in VGA resolution! It can make a hummingbird's wings visible.
2) It does wonderful panoramic shots. You just pan the camera across the subject, and it records the panorama! Awesome.
3) I can take 30x zoom pics hand held, with no blur! Wow.
4) It does have full manual setting capability, but the iAuto function does a great job. This makes it a wonderful camera for both beginners and photography hobbyists.
5) The HDR functionality is a must. Do not buy a camera without it. It lets you evenly expose a backlit subject, as well as those landscape scenes with contrasting bright and shadow areas. Absolutely wonderful feature.
6) The previous version had a touch screen. Seems like you'd be accidentally touching it too much while trying to take a picture. I'm with the people who say it isn't necessary to have a touch screen.
7) The viewfinder....not using it much. It's nice to have it for those hand held zoom shots, though.
8) It can store up to 4 sets of customized settings. It stores 1 in the first (C1) position on the mode dial, while the second (C2) position can store 3 more that are accessible through the menu arrows. See tip below for how to make great use of this.
9) Great low light capability. I'm impressed with how well it takes pictures in low light.
10) Pocketable. Comfortable to carry in normal fitting pants pockets, though not a shirt pocket.
11) The high speed burst mode is really good. If you use a high enough shutter speed, you'll get very good still shots of sports and hummingbirds.
Why not 5 stars? Well, it's not perfect. Here's my complaints:
1) You can't see the screen with polarized sunglasses on. The screen goes black. They could have polarized the screen 90 degrees off (like phones and gps screens), but they didn't.
2) While you can change the functionality of each of the two rings, any change you make is propagated to all camera modes, except the 4 C modes. For example, I'd like to set one of the rings to control ISO. This would be great if each mode (auto, A, S, M, etc) could have unique functions set for these rings, but the function setting is universal. Oddly, if you leave the ring functions set to default, then the functions will be unique to each mode. For example, the default setting for both rings in Aperture Mode is to control the Aperture, and the control the shutter speed in Shutter priority mode, while in iAuto mode, they both control the zoom. I would like to make one of them control the ISO, but not when in full manual mode, because then one should control the aperture and the other should do the shutter, which is how it does work if you leave them set to their default functions. However, if you have set one to control ISO, then it will always control ISO, not matter what mode you are in, making it really difficult to control both shutter and aperture in manual mode.
3) The same problem exists if you change the function of the Fn button. It applies across all modes.
4) Wrist strap is grey on my black camera. Should be color matched. (not a big deal, but just saying)
5) Included photo album/editing/organizing software is poor.
6) Somewhat cantankerous and slow image viewing when in record mode. I thought maybe this was due to my older memory card, but the speed problem goes away when in pure playback mode. Wish they would fix this, because it'd be nice to not have to switch into playback mode to be able to quickly flip through your pictures. As it is, it'll let you flip backward/forward through them when in record mode, but it's slow and clunky.
Tip for programming the rings and Fn button - Thankfully, the programmed settings for the rings and Fn button will stay unique if saved in one of the four (C) settings. I set up the camera the way I want it to work for full manual mode(large ring does shutter and small ring does aperture), and stored that in C1, which I now turn to for full manual. I can store up to 4 of these customized settings, each with its own functionality for the rings and Fn button. The other modes all get set to this... I set the large ring to control ISO, leaving the small back ring set to default control. This lets the back ring control aperture, shutter, filter and scene settings as appropriate for each mode, while giving me quick access to ISO. I also set the Fn to control the type of focus, giving me easy access to that.
Tip for improving the slow image viewing in record mode - it speeds up quite a bit if you format your memory card in the camera itself. This erases any pics on your card, of course.
Tip for battery usage - be sure to turn off the GPS functionality when the camera isn't in use. I was shocked that this runs the battery down in a couple of days of the camera being "off". The GPS regularly checks for signal, even when the camera is off, unless you turn GPS off.
If they could fix that polarized glasses issue, and let each mode have its own custom settings for the control rings and Fn button, I'd give this 5 stars.
on November 11, 2014
I was looking to upgrade my old-ish DMC-ZS3, and the DMC-ZS40 seemed the best from other reviews I read. For this class of camera, I could not be happier. This camera is by far the best pocketable camera I've ever used.
It isn't fair to compare the images to a current generation DSLR (which I also have), but in the end, the pictures I've taken look just as good as the DSLR. I'm talking color correctness, exposure, contrast, and focus.. I don't usually blow up my images much (part of the fun of taking pictures for me is composing in the camera, not later - and the 30X lens is absolutely perfect for that), so I can't comment on that. But, when I carry a pocket camera, I want to take the picture, and not fuss with the details, and the iA mode of this camera is totally amazing. It consistently turns out great images.
And, I'm old enough that my eyes don't focus like they used to. This means holding a little camera out in front trying to get the LCD screen in focus, hold the camera still, see the screen in the sun, etc., is really not all that great. So to me, the single deciding factor for this camera over similar cameras (including the ZS30) was the viewfinder. The resolution of the LVF is plenty, the diopter wheel makes it in focus, all the info is there and readable, I can see it in the sun, and the camera is steady. Wow - just like a real camera!
So for me, the LVF absolutely makes this small camera easy to shoot with. I don't know of any other cameras in this size that has an equivalent feature. I've seen some reviews complaining about the viewfinder size, but I have no issues with that. Preset the diopter, shove up my glasses, and it provides a perfectly adequate image that shows exactly what is in the shot, and all the other informative setting info. When you have old eyes, it is a real treat to be back to looking through a view finder on small camera again.
But I really believe this camera takes really good images for a camera with a small-ish sensor. After using it for a couple of trips, two of the really nice auto features are the HDR and handheld night images (really, the same thing). I took several images using both the auto HDR mode and normal P programmable mode. The auto HDR was always a better image - and equally in focus. The night images are like magic - no tripod necessary.
The video is also great. This camera has better slow motion options of any similar cameras I was able to find specs for.
So, when I want a camera that fits my pocket and lets me be a lazy photographer when I want to (I compose the picture, it handles the exposure and focus), this camera is, for the moment, in a class by itself.
+ LVF viewfinder
+ 30x zoom
+ auto modes - especially HDR
+ excellent image quality
+ all manual options you could want
+ multi-purpose lens ring - focus, zoom, whatever is natural
+ decent battery life
+ fast turn on to ready to shoot
- Just a little large - could slide into my pocked a bit more easily
- Stupid proprietary USB connector used for charging (get an external charger!) Why did they have to use a non-standard USB connector? Totally absurd.
- Auto focus slow at high zoom (maybe 20x and up, but it is easy to switch to manual focus)
- Almost too many options - a bit of a learning curve to use all the features effectively.
If you want a camera that fits in your pocket, take pictures way better than your cell phone or one of those cheap $150 cameras, this one deserves your serious consideration. This class of camera is the perfect step between a cell phone and a big DSLR.
The attached image has been resized and jpeg compressed (plus likely additional squeezing by Amazon), but otherwise has had no post image processing.
on March 31, 2014
4/18/2014 - see comments after 6 weeks with the camera at the end of this review.
The ZS40 marks the beginning of a new breed of pocket cameras with advanced features. Last year, when I was planning on replacing my aged Panasonic ZS15 I considered the ZS30 but eventually settled on the excellent Lumix LF1 - which had many of the advanced features of today's ZS40. In my dreams I envisioned a camera that combined the advanced features of the LF1 with the long and wide lens of the ZS30. The ZS40 is that camera, my dream come true.
Today's digital cameras differ from the film cameras of yesteryear in that they contain a very powerful computer. The computer in the ZS40 is able to analyze the picture you are about to take select the best settings. If it is too dark the computer will turn on the flash. To take maximum benefit of the computer use the control dial on the top of the camera (I will call it the PASM dial) and select iA (for intelligent Automatic). Some things to be careful about: Set your camera to take the best quality JPG. When saving the picture on your computer (any time, not just after editing) be sure to adjust the quality of the JPG compression to less compression - better quality. In Paintshop Pro the setting is under options in the "Save as" dialog. The program you use may be different.
Beyond iAuto the ZS40 has a multitude of advanced features that will allow you to take your photography to the next level. To begin using the advanced features switch to the "P" Programmed mode (on the top dial). In the "P" mode the camera uses (mostly) the same automatic settings but it allows the photographer to override certain settings. For instance, if your subject is backlit you might want to set the exposure compensation to over expose a little. That will lighten the entire picture making the shadow part properly exposed even though the rest of the picture will be too light. The thing to do is to just play with the camera and experiment with what settings can be changed - before you go out for that special picture. If in doubt take the picture two (or three or four...) ways, with different settings.
The A setting is APERTURE priority - which means you "insist" that the camera use the aperture you specify - but the camera's computer can choose the shutter speed (and the ISO). I recommend you go into the menu and set the ISO limit to 800 - before letting the computer manipulate it, higher settings may cause photos taken in low light to show noise (freckles of dark spots). The S setting means you to "insist" that the camera use a specific shutter speed but you will allow the computer to choose the aperture (to get the correct exposure) and of course the ISO. The M setting is for manual and it means you will specify shutter and aperture - but let the computer select the ISO (within the range you have previously set in the menu). You can also use the menu dial on the back to set a specific ISO.
A significant advanced feature of the ZS40 is the manual focus. Say, for example, you want to take a picture of a bird in a tree - but there are some twigs and leaves in the way so the camera mistakenly focuses on them instead of the bird. Switch to manual focus (on the menu dial on the back) and then focus using the large ring that surrounds the lens in the front of the camera. As you begin to turn the knob the LCD (and viewfinder) shows an enlarged picture of the subject to assist in the focus.
For years Panasonic cameras have led the way with their image stabilization. The top of the line was called Power OIS (Optical Image Stabilization - done within the lens). Now, with the ZS40 Panasonic is providing Power OIS plus Hybrid stabilization. What that means for us is that when use the camera it will try to compensate for any camera movement. Look carefully at your photos taken using the zoom lens at its fully zoomed setting. If the pictures look fuzzy or out of focus the cause may be camera movement. As you zoom to the maximum setting the image stabilization has to work harder to steady the image until at some point (depending on how steady you hold the camera) it can't keep up with the lens and the picture is "fuzzy". I find I can only hold steady up to about 20x (400-500mm equivalent). You may be able to hold steady longer, but it is a good idea to experiment so you know your limits.
If you find you can't hold the camera steady set the camera down onto something. A tripod would be nice if you have one with you. If you set the camera on a table, or fence post (or rock or anything) you can use the 2 second (or 10 second) timer to take the picture without holding or moving the camera. The ZS40 gives the option of controlling the camera with a phone or tablet. Once your phone or tablet has the Panasonic application you can change zoom, focus point and aperture or shutter settings on the touch screen of your phone before activating the shutter. That amounts to wireless remote from hundreds of feet away - great for wildlife.
The viewfinder is great for aiming the camera, especially for things like birds in flight. Because the viewfinder allows for optical correction it should be a favorite for folks who wear glasses. Shooting through the viewfinder makes for a steady camera (rather than holding the camera out front to look at the LCD) - a real boon for the long telephoto lens of the ZS40. For shooting birds in flight set the camera to use multiple focus points, rather than a single point. That way it will be easier for the camera to detect and focus on the bird.
All digital cameras process electrical signals from the sensor into RAW data (ones and zero's for the computer). Then the computer can use the RAW data to create a JPG image. The ZS40 allows the user to download the RAW data into their home computer and manipulate it themselves to create a JPG image that is different than the one the camera computer might create. Panasonic makes RAW manipulation software available to owners of the ZS40 - details come with the camera.
Depth of field refers to the area of the picture that is in focus. Various camera adjustments make the depth of field greater and some make it less. If you wanted, for example, to take a picture of a flower and have the flower sharply in focus while the background is blurry back up and use the telephoto to zoom. The greater the zoom (greater focal length) the shallower the depth of field. Take the first shot using iA, then switch to aperture priority. Adjust the aperture to the smallest number (larger aperture) and take the picture again. The larger the aperture the smaller the depth of field.
Now say you wanted to take a picture of a baseball bat, at just the moment the bat hits the baseball. The ZS40 has the ability to take many shots in rapid sequence. Use the menu dial on the back of the camera to set the camera to take 40 shots per second (reduced to 5MP images). The speed adjustment is activated by pressing the display button after choosing burst mode from the menu control. Pre-focus the camera at the spot where the impact will take place (by half pressing the shutter or switching to manual focus) then JUST before impact hold the shutter button down.
Enjoy the camera and HAVE FUN.
ADDED: If you would like to discuss the camera and/or have specific questions I suggest you go to Amazon's dpreview web site (google it) - then click on FORUMS and Panasonic Compact Camera Talk. There you will see examples and comments from other users of the ZS40 and other Panasonic Compact Cameras. Regards, Dave
ADDED April 18, 2014: After six weeks with the camera I stopped using it and have sent it on down the road (eBay). Looking at the pictures I took during my time with the camera - they were mixed; good snapshots but nothing that could hold up to any post processing in the computer - just not sharp enough. It is a real shame because the camera has all the good stuff and it is very well made - but in the end it comes down to getting good pictures. I blame Panasonic for putting too many pixels into too small a sensor (though it seems like all brands are doing it). I have gone back to using my trusty Lumix LF1 as a backup to my high end cameras - The LF1 is a truly amazing camera and I highly recommend it rather than the ZS40.
on November 29, 2014
Overall the camera is excellent but I bought it to get the GPS and automatic geo tagging of the pictures. It is in terms of the GPS that this camera falls short. I have two Bluetooth GPS units I use with my DSLR cameras and a Nikon Coolpix AW120 point and shoot that has GPS. I wanted a P&S camera with GPS and with Shutter Priority and RAW file capture and this Panasonic is the only one with all three of these capabilities.
The worst aspect of this camera which is unlike any digital camera I have owned or used is that it does not store user settings after the power is turned off. It reverts to Auto Flash and it reverts to JPG Fine when it is turned off. I want RAW files and bought this camera because it had RAW capture but I have to go into the settings each and every time I power on the camera or I find I have shot JPGs instead. I need to be able to get accurate color and adjust the white balance of the pictures and for this I need RAW.
I will be giving this camera away as in real world use it does not provide RAW capture or accurate GPS geotagging.
The problems with the GPS are three-fold. First it takes a very very long time for the camera's GPS to determine the location, as in 3-4 minutes. Second is that with the GPS functioned enabled it remains active and drains the camera battery even after the camera is shut off. So I need to turn on the camera, go to the menu to select enable GPS, wait 3-4 minutes for the GPS to acquire the location, take pictures, go back to the menu to turn off the GPS, and then shut down the camera. This makes the GPS aspect a pain to use. The only option is to carry along a couple of spare batteries for the camera and leave the GPS on during the day and remembering to disable the GPS before putting it away. Not a big deal though as spare batteries are tiny in size, weigh next to nothing, and sell for around $20. The last aspect though is the GPS accuracy. My other camera provide a GPS location that is accurate to within 10 feet while the Panasonic DMC-ZS40 camera is off by more than 100 feet. The GPS is so bad with the Lumix ZS40 camera that I do not bother to use it.
The other aspects of the camera more than make up for the GPS. It is very fast and even shooting RAW there is no lag with this camera. The camera has an infra-red autofocus assist capability that is remarkably good. I took a test shot outdoors on my deck at night and I could not even see outside but the camera accurately focused and perfectly exposed the shot. I can see where this would be great for use indoors in dark buildings including cathedrals where lighting is often very dim.
The camera also senses when a subject is too close to the camera and it switches automatically to macro mode. This is a very slick feature. I can see where when traveling and taking general shots of people and places and then wanting a closeup of a small item and then being able to take that shot and then continue with general shooting without missing a beat.
The camera has a quick menu feature that is controlled by the dial wheel at the back and this makes it super fast to change a setting, like the shutter speed or color temp or focus mode. It is better than anything I have seen on any camera, compact or pro DSLR.
The lens provides 30x zoom but the key feature is that it is 24mm at the wide end. It may not seem like a big deal but I have had P&S cameras that only went to 28mm and indoors that was often very limiting. The lens also has an integrated cap so the front element is protected when the camera is turned off. No cap to stash while shooting and nothing to get lost is a very nice feature.
If you don't care about the GPS and don't mind shooting JPGs all the time then this is an OK camera, only overpriced by about 50%.