20MP 1-inch image sensor. 10x zoom range. Quick autofocus and 10fps burst rate. Raw and JPG capture options. Touch screen. Solid high-ISO performance. Good macro capability.
Lens disappoints at telephoto focal lengths. Soft edges at wide angles. LCD is fixed. EVF is quite small.
- Bottom Line
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS100 has a longer zoom than any other pocketable 1-inch sensor camera, but the lens doesn't live up to its potential.
By Jim Fisher
The use of the 1-inch sensor size in compact cameras has gone a long way to improve the image quality you can expect from a pocketable point-and-shoot. But typically these models, like our Editors' Choice Sony RX100 III, have used very short zooms with wide aperture designs that excel in low light and capture images with a pleasingly shallow depth of field. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS100 ($699.99) takes a different approach, squeezing a 10x zoom into a slim body. But its lens doesn't capture a lot of light and it loses sharpness as you zoom in, making its extra reach a questionable value.
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The ZS100 features a slim body with a lens that protrudes a bit, even in its collapsed state. It measures 2.5 by 4.4 by 1.7 inches (HWD) and weighs just about 11 ounces. It's offered in two colors—an understated black edition, and the silver finish we received for review. Looking at it, I wouldn't call it silver, though—it's more of a gunmetal gray, with a lighter gray corner, separated by a red accent line.
It's an attractive look, with very clean lines. Those lines present an ergonomic issue, however. There's a very modest handgrip, but it's so smooth that I don't feel comfortable simply holding the camera—it seems as if it's ready to slip out of my hands at any point. I would like to see some texture around the grip. That said, there are strap lugs and a tripod socket, so it's easy enough to secure it to your person using the included wrist strap, or add a strap of your choosing.
The 10x lens extends from the barrel when you power on the camera, and telescopes even further out as you zoom. It covers a 25-250mm range (full-frame equivalent), with an aperture that maxes out at f/2.8 at the widest angle and dwindles to f/5.9 when zoomed all the way in. Compare this with a camera like the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II, which features a more modest 24-100mm range, but does so with an aperture that starts at f/1.8 (capturing more than twice the light as the ZS100 at its widest) and narrows to just f/2.8 at 100mm—a setting at which the ZS100 maxes out at f/5.2, nearly two stops dimmer.
But that's the price you pay for a longer zoom in a pocketable form factor. Even cameras with smaller 1/2.3-inch sensors play by the same rules, although they typically have a much longer telephoto reach, often in the 750mm range.
The ZS100 is priced high, and as such its appeal is slanted toward those who are willing to spend. Demanding photographers tend to appreciate manual control, and the ZS100 does offer quite a bit between its physical buttons and on-screen interface. You'll notice a ring around the lens; its function is customizable, and I like to set it as a step zoom control that moves between common prime focal lengths—25, 28, 35, 50, 70, 90, 135, 160, 200, and 250mm. But you can set it to perform other functions, the most useful of which are EV compensation, ISO control, and focus mode. If the ZS is set to manually focus, the ring will always act as a focus ring; the camera displays a magnified portion of the frame to help you precisely set focus manually.
There's a pop-up flash recessed into the top plate, directly in line with the center of the lens. To its right you'll see the Mode dial, On/Off switch, shutter release and zoom rocker, Record button, and a control dial. It's a pretty robust layout for a compact camera; many pocketable long zooms omit a top control dial.
There are rear control buttons above the LCD and to its right. You'll find the Fn4/LVF button above the display, just to the right of the viewfinder. It's a programmable control, but by default it moves between the viewfinder, LCD, and automatic switching via an eye sensor. Next to it you'll find the mechanical flash release and the AF/AE Lock button.
Fn1 is placed toward the top right corner. It's also programmable, but activates the ZS100's 4K Photo mode by default. Below it you'll find Fn2, which enables Post Focus mode by default, and Play. Next in line going down the body is a four-way control pad Menu/Set at its center. Running clockwise from the top, the four directional buttons adjust EV compensation, White Balance, Drive mode, and Macro focusing. There are two more buttons below them, Fn3/Delete, which activates the on-screen Q Menu system by default, and Display.
The Q Menu is similar to the overlay menu systems you see on most cameras. A transparent menu system appears on the LCD, only partially obscuring the feed from the lens. It provides access to functions that may not have a button assigned—the metering pattern, for example. Panasonic's menu system is customizable, so you can add or delete the settings you use most.
A touch LCD dominates the rear. It's 3 inches, measured diagonally, and very sharp at 1,040k dots. Images pop on the display, and the touch interface allows you to tap to set a focus point. The only real downside is that it doesn't tilt like the LCD canon uses in the G7 X Mark II. A tilting design would have added a little bit of depth to the camera, but would also add some versatility for shooting from low or high angles.
There's also an EVF. It's very small, and fairly crisp. It sits in the top left corner and includes a diopter control which you can adjust to match your eyesight. It's certainly a plus to have an EVF option available, just be prepared for its size. It's not as large to the eye as the pop-up EVF that Sony uses in its premium 1-inch RX100 series. The ZS100 does have one trick that the RX100 III can't match, however—you can change the active focus area by sliding your finger across the rear display when using the EVF. I shoot with my left eye and found it to be a rather uncomfortable fit to squeeze my finger between my face and the small ZS100, but right-eyed photographers will find it more useful.
Connectivity and 4K Photo
Integrated Wi-Fi is available so you can transfer images to your smartphone for social sharing, or use your Android or iOS device as a remote control. Image transfers are speedy, beaming to the free Panasonic Image app with ease. And the remote control interface is also quite strong. You have full control over the ZS100 via your phone's screen. It's possible to zoom the lens, tap on an area of the frame to set focus, and adjust almost any setting you can think of. It's an excellent remote experience.
Images are stored on a standard SD/SDHC/SDXC card. The slot is located in the battery compartment, accessible via a bottom door. There are only a couple of ports—micro HDMI and micro USB. The camera charges via USB; no external battery charger is included. CIPA rates the battery for 260 shots using the EVF and 300 using the rear LCD. If you plan on using the ZS100 for travel, it's not a bad idea to pick up a spare battery, and an external charger so you can continue to use the camera as your second battery recharges.
Unique to Panasonic is the 4K Photo feature. It leverages the ZS100's 4K video capabilities for still capture. If you're shooting a very fast-moving subject, you can fire off 8MP JPG images at up to 30fps. Images are slightly cropped, just like the 4K video that the ZS100 records, so you won't be able to use as wide an angle as you can for full resolution photographs. Post Focus is also supported in this mode; it runs of a quick series of photos, each at a different focus point, minimizing the chances that your image is improperly focused.
Performance and Image Quality
The ZS100 starts, focuses, and fires in about 2.1 seconds—not bad when you consider that the lens has to extend in order to take a picture. Its autofocus is very quick, locking focus and firing in almost no time at its widest angle, and in about 0.1-second at 250mm.
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If you want to shoot at full resolution, the ZS100 fires off shots at up to 10fps—not as fast as 4K Photo, but 20MP Raw and JPG images are more versatile than 8MP JPGs. It can keep that pace for 12 Raw+JPG, 14 Raw, or 62 JPG shots. Those numbers are with fixed focus—if you want to refocus between each shot the burst rate drops to 6.1fps. When set to AF-C, the ZS100 nailed focus on every shot in our moving target focus test.
I used Imatest to check the quality of images captured by the ZS100's zoom lens. And that's where the camera falls on its face. At 25mm f/2.8 photos are a little soft, 1,791 lines on average, which is just shy of the 1,800 lines we look for in a photo. The central area of images is crisp, though, at 2,300 lines, but the middle third is on the soft side (1,670 lines) and edges are blurred (966 lines).
Narrowing the aperture to f/4 improves the average to 2,165 lines, with 2,500 lines at the center, 2,150 lines in the mid parts, and edges that are soft at 1,500 lines. Soft edges at the widest angle are pretty typical for a compact camera—don't fret about them too much. Image quality remains strong at 25mm f/5.6, at 2,103 lines, but drops at the minimum f/8 setting—1,880 lines.
Zooming to 50mm drops the maximum aperture to f/4.1. The lens scores a solid 1,836 lines here, with solid performance through most of the frame, but edges that are just a little soft (1,729 lines). At f/5.6 the average score improves to 2,017 lines, and there's a drop at f/8 (1,811 lines).
At 135mm the maximum aperture is just f/5.7, two stops dimmer than the brightest f/2.8 setting. It's also where image quality starts to become a problem; sharpness drops to 1,738 lines, just outside our acceptable range. Performance is actually a bit worse at f/8, 1,595 lines.
The trend continues at 200mm f/5.9, where the entire frame is soft, averaging 1,457 lines. You do see some slight improvement at f/8 here—1,552 lines. At 250mm f/5.9 it's worse, 1,334 lines, with f/8 showing about the same resolution (1,372 lines). Our copy of the ZS100 shows some evidence of decentering of the lens at 200mm and 250mm, with the left side of the frame netting better results than the right. This was reproduced in three separate batches of tests, a standard procedure when a lens exhibits odd behavior.
It's expected that a long zoom lens comes with a narrowing aperture, at least in this form factor. Usually that means that image quality holds up, but that's not the case here. It seems as if you want both a long zoom and excellent image quality in the 1-inch sensor format, you still have to look at a bigger camera with a lens that's much larger than the one here. Our favorites in this price range include the 24-200mm f/2.8 Sony RX10 and Panasonic's own 25-400mm f/2.8-4 FZ1000. Neither will fit in your pocket, however.
The ZS100 uses a proven 20MP image sensor. When shooting JPGs it keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 6400. Noise reduction does take its toll on image quality when pushing the camera that far. Our test images are the sharpest at the base ISO 125 sensitivity, and also quite clear at ISO 200. Some modest blur is visible at ISO 400, and it increases at ISO 800. There's more blur at ISO 1600, but you can still make out details. At ISO 3200 and 6400, details are a little bit lessened. Pushing to ISO 12800 is too far for JPG shooting, as lines that should be distinctly separate in our test image blur together. You should avoid using ISO 25600 when shooting JPGs if possible.
Raw capture is available if you want to eke more quality out of images, especially at high ISOs. Raw images show nearly as much detail at ISO 3200 as they do at ISO 125. As you'll notice in the crops that we include in our slideshow, Raw shots aren't quite as crisp as JPGs. We convert Raw images using Lightroom CC with default settings enabled, but you'll want to apply a little bit extra sharpening and contrast adjustment to net Raw images that match JPGs in crispness. That's something we've seen in almost every 1-inch sensor camera we've reviewed.
Grain is more pronounced at ISO 6400, but detail holds strong. The noisy grain is rougher at ISO 12800, to the point where it starts to be obtrusive. Images at the highest ISO 25600 sensitivity are very, very noisy, but show much more texture than equivalent JPG output.
The ZS100 supports 4K video capture. A lot of pocket cameras top out at 1080p, but Panasonic generally puts more emphasis on video than competitors. You can record in 4K at 24 or 30fps for up to 12 minutes at a time—if you want to roll footage at a more brisk frame rate you can select 1080p, where 60fps is available.
The 4K frame is a cropped, 37mm equivalent at the wide angle. Even at the maximum zoom, handheld footage is well steadied; the narrower field of view certainly helps there, as it gives the lens stabilization elements more room to move around. You're also using the crispest portion of the lens; where details falter in stills, they are relatively crisp in video, even when zoomed all the way in. Autofocus is responsive, racking smoothly as the scene changes, and the touch screen lets you tap to select a focus target. Audio isn't great—the internal mic is fine in close quarters, but outdoors wind noise is heavy on the soundtrack. There's no way to connect an external microphone.
It's unfortunate that the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS100's lens isn't of better quality. It's the weak link in an otherwise excellent performer. No matter how good an image sensor is, or how fully featured a camera is, if the lens isn't up to snuff, images won't be either. The long zoom is the big selling point here, and it's simply not crisp at telephoto lengths. If the idea of the ZS100 appeals to you, hold out for a better version.
In the meantime, your long zoom, pocket-friendly needs can be met with a 1/2.3-inch sensor camera like the Panasonic ZS60 (we haven't yet tested it, but the discontinued ZS50, which shares the same lens, was a solid performer). It also supports 4K video and has an EVF, and sells for about $450. And there's the Sony HX90V, which has a 30x zoom lens and an EVF.
If you're chomping at the bit for a 1-inch sensor with a big zoom, any Sony RX10 model—there are three versions on the market, each with different capabilities—or the Panasonic FZ1000 are better buys, but they won't fit in your pocket. For a pocket-friendly 1-inch camera, go for the Canon G7 X Mark II, which zooms to 100mm, or the Sony RX100 III, IV, or V, all of which offer a meager 24-70mm reach, but make up for it with an excellent lens and large, pop-up EVF.
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By Jim Fisher Senior Analyst, Digital Cameras
Senior digital camera analyst for the PCMag consumer electronics reviews team, Jim Fisher is a graduate of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he concentrated on documentary video production. Jim's interest in photography really took off when he borrowed his father's Hasselblad 500C and light meter in 2007. He honed his writing skills at retailer B&H Photo, where he wrote thousands upon thousands of product descriptions, blog posts, and reviews. Since then he's shot with hundreds of camera models, ranging from pocket point-and-shoots to medium format… More »
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