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One of the few segments of point-and-shoots that’s growing is megazooms, a category that Panasonic pretty much started. Now all manufacturers have them, though, so trying to stand out isn’t easy. So for the Lumix DMC-ZS10, the update to 2010′s ZS7, Panasonic did what most manufacturers do: made the lens wider and longer, kept the body size the same, and packed in a ton of features.
The basic specs include a 24mm-equivalent wide-angle lens with a 16x zoom (with nano coating to reduce ghosting and flare), a 3-inch, 460K-dot resolution touch-screen LCD, and a 14-megapixel MOS sensor. The sensor is the same type that’s found in its top full-size megazoom, the FZ100, and it’s paired with Panasonic’s Venus Engine FHD processor. This combo allows for high-speed burst shooting–full resolution at 10 frames per second–and full HD movie capture in AVCHD format among other things.
For all its features, though, its photo quality is no better or worse than other recent high-end Panasonic point-and-shoots I’ve tested. Like those cameras, whether you’ll like the photo quality from the ZS10 comes down to how you’ll use the photos and how much cropping and enlarging you hope to do.
With plenty of light, the camera can turn out very good photos, if a little soft. When viewed at full size, there is noise present even at ISO 100. The higher the ISO, the more noise you’ll see and the softer your photos get. Yellow blotching from noise is a particular problem with Panasonic’s JPEG processing, and it’s present in varying degrees through its ISO range. It’s most visible at ISO 1,600, which pretty much makes that ISO unusable. Panasonic seems to correct for the blotches at ISO 400, but in the process destroys fine detail and makes subjects look smeary. In the end, the ZS10 is best suited for outdoor use or indoors if brightly lit. Photos at or below ISO 200 can stand up to some cropping or larger prints, but low-light photos are best left for small prints and Web use. And unfortunately, with no option for raw capture, you’re stuck with Panasonic’s image processing.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10
While there is little sign of pincushioning when the lens is extended, the wide end of the lens shows some barrel distortion. The lens has good center sharpness and is reasonably consistent edge to edge. Fringing in high-contrast areas can be a bit of an issue for the ZS10. Mainly, it’s more than I’m used to seeing from a Panasonic camera, but still average for this class of camera.
Color and exposure is very good from the ZS10 up to ISO 400. Subjects appear natural, bright, and pretty accurate. Plus, there are a number of ways to tweak your color results. White-balance presets are good for the most part; however, the auto white balance is not good indoors. Unfortunately, you’re stuck with that setting if you’re using Intelligent Auto. Whenever possible, use the presets or take a manual reading, which is really easy to do.
Lastly, though the sensor is 15 megapixels, the camera only uses 14 megapixels, making it possible to have four aspect ratios–16:9, 3:2, 4:3, and 1.1–with the same angle of view across the entire zoom range of the lens.
As for movie quality, its AVCHD clips are sharp with good exposure and color and some of the smoothest motion I’ve seen from a point-and-shoot. Low-light recording suffers from the same noise problems as in photos. The zoom does operate while recording, but its movement is picked up by the stereo mic. If you are recording in a very quiet environment, you will hear it in your movies, but otherwise it’s difficult to hear. The camera also has an option for continuous AF for movies, which performed very well, as did its wind noise filter. Also, the ZS10 can capture 3.5-megapixel photos while shooting video as well as extract single frames for photos when in Playback mode.
As Panasonic’s highest-end compact megazoom, there is no shortage of shooting options. For automatic shooting there is the company’s Intelligent Auto that combines an ever-growing number of technologies to get the best results. Overall, it works very well, but photos can end up appearing overprocessed when viewed at full size. There are 29 scene modes for those times when you want to get specific with your auto shooting or get creative, and you can store two favorites to MySCN spots on the mode dial. For the most part they are the ones you’d find on any point-and-shoot, but there are a few artistic ones like High Dynamic and Pinhole as well as a Handheld Night Shot that takes 10 pictures in a row and then combines them into one to reduce motion blur and noise. The downside is that it only works if your subject is stationary. There is an Underwater mode as well, but you’ll need a casing if you want to get it wet; the ZS10 is not waterproof in any way. Lastly, many of the scene modes are available for movies, too, giving you a little more freedom to experiment.
For those who like to take more control, the ZS10 does offer aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual shooting modes. Apertures are f3.3-6.3 wide and 5.9-6.3 telephoto. Shutter speeds go from 60 seconds to 1/4,000 second. To use them, you press the Exposure button on back, and change the settings with the directional pad. (A thumb dial would’ve been nice, but space is already pretty tight.) There is also a Custom spot on the mode dial for setting up three custom setting configurations. There’s a Program mode, too, should you want to adjust things like ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation (not done with the Exposure button, mind you, but the directional pad), but not worry about shutter speed and aperture settings.
If you shoot a lot of moving subjects, namely children, pets, and sports, the ZS10′s multiple burst shooting options give you a lot of flexibility and a fighting chance of getting a good photo. Its fastest burst modes–40 and 60 frames per second–are at reduced resolutions, but Panasonic packed in three at full resolution. There’s one that captures up to 15 shots at 10fps, but that sets focus, exposure, and white balance with the first shot. What’s better are the 2fps and 5fps options that set those things with each shot so you’re able to get a subject moving moderately fast in focus and properly exposed. However, in our lab tests, the 5fps setting averaged 3.2fps.
Other aspects of its shooting performance are excellent as well and significantly faster than its predecessor. Shutter lag is low at 0.4 second and 0.7 second in bright and dim lighting, respectively. From shot-to-shot without the flash you’re waiting only 1.1 seconds; adding the flash drags that time to just 1.4 seconds. It’s time from off to first shot is 1.9 seconds.
The high-speed shooting also gets you 3D photos. The ZS10 fires off 20 shots as you move the camera horizontally across a scene and then picks the two best for overlaying to create a 3D MPO file that can be played back on 3D-enabled TVs, computers, and photo frames. The results are good, but your subject has to be motionless, as does everything in the scene. Any movement really kills the effect. It’s a nice extra to play with, but not a must-have mode.
The appearance of the ZS10 doesn’t change much from its predecessor, the ZS7. Its weight and size are approximately the same, remaining remarkably compact for its features and wide-angle lens with 16x zoom (that’s wider and longer than its predecessor). Though it’s a tight fit in a pants pocket, the ZS10 easily fits in an average jacket pocket or small handbag. The body–available in black, brown, silver, blue, and red versions–has a nice, solid feel to it with a comfortable grip on the right side.
The 3-inch touch screen on the back looks good and gets reasonably bright, though it gets reflective in direct sunlight, so you may struggle occasionally to see what you’re shooting. Also, Panasonic didn’t do much with the touch screen, only using it for a handful of functions. For example, you can use it to focus and shoot photos by tapping on your subject, but menu navigation is primarily done with the directional pad. In playback you can use it to flip through your shots, but you can’t do any editing or drawing or writing on photos. It just seems that if you’re going to be paying for a touch screen, you should get more use out of it.
One of the main attractions of the ZS10 is the built-in GPS. Using it is fairly simple, and the process has been streamlined from the ZS7 thanks to a dedicated spot in the menu system. Once you’ve turned on the receiver–it can be done from the Q.Menu or main menu–you can have the camera retrieve the information for your current location. In tests this took anywhere from less than a minute to several minutes depending on how much open sky was above me. Once locked, the ZS10 can display country, state, city, and landmark information and continues to update itself every minute. You can then go into the GPS Area Select menus and pick the correct information for your location. For example, if you’re standing in the middle of New York, it could quite possibly have a couple pages of landmarks to pick from. Also, you can choose to limit what area information is attached, in case you only want the name of the city for instance. The area information covers 173 countries or regions for all over the world and more than half a million landmarks in 73 countries or regions.
For everyday shooting, attaching GPS information is probably not that exciting. But, if you do a lot of traveling, hiking, or other activity where you might want to remember where you were, then it’s a great feature to have. Longitude and latitude is seamlessly added to the EXIF data and, again, you can have the camera include country, city, state, and landmarks.
There’s an option to record AVCHD movies with GPS data as well. The location information can be viewed when videos are played back on a computer using the bundled software or directly from the camera. Unless you simply must have the information, you’ll probably want to stick with the non-GPS AVCHD format option.
One last thing regarding the GPS: once you’ve turned it on, the receiver stays on until you turn it off, 2 hours have passed since it’s refreshed its position, or after 3 hours of the camera being off. So even if you shut off the camera, it’ll continue to update its location every 15 minutes. This is fine if you’re shooting for an extended period of time, but it’ll eventually run down your battery. If you want the GPS to turn off when you shut the camera off, you must select the Airplane mode option from the camera’s menu. This is all explained in the manual, but battery life is something to keep in mind with features like GPS.
In fact, battery life with the ZS10 is an issue in general. With the GPS, touch screen, zoom, burst shooting, and HD movie capture there’s a lot here to drain its small rechargeable battery. Even without all those things, the camera’s battery life is pretty short. I strongly recommend picking up an extra battery if you’re going to be traveling with the ZS10 or even just out for a day of shooting.
The cost of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 goes primarily to its abundant feature set. That fortunately includes some very fast shooting performance and a nice zoom lens in a pocketable body. It’s not unreasonable to expect excellent photos, too, for its price, but the fact is the ZS10 is still a point-and-shoot with a sensor no bigger than you’d find in a smaller, less feature-laden camera. If you’re after awesome low-light photos or need to regularly make large prints, you probably shouldn’t consider this camera. But if most of your photos are for sharing online and 8×10 prints or smaller, the ZS10 is a very good option. Especially if you want something that can double as a pocket video camera.
Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Typical shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim)
Shutter lag (typical)
Find out more about how we test digital cameras.