Lumix ZS8 16X Zoom
This is one of the many images that I am currently shooting with my new toy, the Lumix ZS8. What follows is not intended to be a full review by any stretch of the imagination but rather a few early impressions. The image was shot with the ZS8 and edited in Adobe Lightroom 3.0. The two play well together despite the fact that this camera only shoots jpegs.
The 16X optical zoom is excellent with very little distortion anywhere along its range as far as I can tell. The range of the zoom is from 24mm to 384mm (35mm equivalent). If resolution is sacrificed the zoom goes even further. This same effect can be achieved by using full resolution then cropping when editing. I like using the in camera version though as I like framing in real time so I tend to set the resolution at around 5 megapixels which gives a zoom of around 30X if needed. I would guess that this would take the efl up to around 600mm. That is serious sports or bird spotting territory! The zooming is very smooth and there are a lot of steps so no having to make do with close enough.
Personally I am more of a wide angle shooter than a telephoto one so the fact that this camera goes as wide as efl 24mm was the major selling point for me. Many point and shoots only go to around 35mm, or in some cases 28mm. For anyone who doesn’t know, the difference between 24 and say, 28mm may not sound like much but it is huge. From a distance of around 4ft the view taken in by the camera will also be around 4ft from side to side.
The camera does full manual as well as both aperture priority and shutter priority. All three of these settings are incredibly easy and logical to use and instinct starts to take over very quickly. It also has a program mode which is excellent and something called an intelligent auto mode which basically knows what type of shot you are taking and sets everything accordingly. It seems to work every time.
It has loads of Scene settings which I’ve only just scratched the surface of. More about some of those in future posts I suspect. A couple worth mentioning are High Sensitivity which is very useful for low light work and grain, which sets the camera to black and white and increases contrast a lot. Of course the camera comes with a full set of usual scene settings such as portrait, landscape, babies, pets, etc.
Of course it has a video mode which does the 720i flavor HD and not the full bells and whistles variety. (I know very little about this so I won’t say any more. Movies do seem very smooth and well defined and more than good enough for my purposes – which are basically YouTube uploads. The zoom can be used while shooting and this is both quiet and smooth. The camera has a built in mic which seems up to the job but it can’t be muted during shooting though.
A couple of minor niggles, and they are minor believe me. Changing from record to playback is achieved by means of a switch. I would prefer a button for speed. The finish on the metal case is a little slippery. The battery life also seems a little on the short side – a spare would be high on the list of essential purchases. There is also no RAW option which will be a deal breaker for some.
At the time of writing the silver of version of the Lumix ZS8 can be had for around $160 while the black version of exactly the same camera is around the 200 mark. The recommended price is around $280 but they seem to be heavily discounted just about everywhere now. I actually paid around $218 from BestBuy for mine as I figured that their decent returns policy was worth an extra few dollars. Saying that, the thought that a camera with a fully usable 16X zoom manufactured by Leica can be had for less than $160 is mind blowing. If you are thinking of getting a sub-$200 Canon or Nikon compact I would seriously look at this camera.
From Amazon’s web site: Full specs, reviews etc:
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 14.1 MP Digital Camera with 16x Wide Angle Optical Image Stabilized Zoom and 3.0-Inch LCD (Black) (aff.)
UPDATE: This is a quick note about macro.
I tried it and wasn’t over impressed so I did something that goes against my nature and read the instruction manual. Turns out that the closest focusing distance (which is what macro is all about) does something interesting. It is closest at the 24mm wide angle end of the zoom range. Here it is about 3 cm. In the middle of the range the focusing distance goes out to around 6ft but then, comes back in to around a meter at the tele end of the zoom. For all I know all point and shoots/compacts may do this and I just haven’t noticed before.
Bottom line, the telephoto end of the range makes for much better macro shots than the 24mm wide end. Below is an example shot, each knob is roughly 3cm across.
Update 2 Low Light.
Many cameras have a low light function that for some reason they seem to want to hide. Canon Powershots do this by burying it in the scn settings with little clue to the fact that it is utilizing an approach not available by other means. Much more here: Low Light Point and Shoot Photography . Panasonic’s approach, at least with the Lumix ZS8, seems to be even more esoteric. Again it is hidden in a scene mode but the scene mode in question is burst shooting . So, if you want the best possible low light pics just find the scene setting that says burst but with no reference to low light. To add to the confusion this is not the cameras main burst function. Saying all this, the main thing is that it works, the minor downside, as with the Canon version, is that the image size is only around 3mb but this is fine for the web and most screen uses.
Update 3 Dust on the Sensor
Apparently this is a known issue with Panasonic Lumix big zoom cameras. The dust gets sucked into the camera when the lens extends at power-up. I have written a post about how to remove dust from the ZS8 here