ZS40 user review for novice photographers

Started 5 months ago | User reviews thread
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daveh6700
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ZS40 user review for novice photographers
5 months ago

My dream camera

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).

I have considered myself a “serious” photographer for the past fifty years. I always carried “serious” cameras and I always tried to take "serious” pictures. Now I just want to have fun, so most of my photography will be done with the ZS40 and ninety percent of the time I expect to have the cameras set to iA. That way I can be quick at the draw – capturing pictures that would have eluded me with my “serious” cameras. Then, if time permits I may begin to take the picture again using some of the advanced features of the camera.

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 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.

On the PASM dial 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 improving by 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. 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 capable of working from hundreds of feet away – great for wildlife.

For years photo journalists have been telling us we can't get good pictures from cameras with small sensors and we've believed then despite the facts before our eyes. I regularly blow up my favorite pictures 24” x 36” and they turn out fine. Try this experiment. Pick your favorite picture and after you get done with it on your computer – get a large print from some place like Staples or Costco. Make your own decision on whether or not the picture is satisfactory. I generally have them mount the picture on foam board and laminate it before it hangs on my wall. 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.

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. A limited number of high end cameras (like the ZS40) allow 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 for download 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.

 daveh6700's gear list:daveh6700's gear list
Sony a6000 Sony E 16mm F2.8 Pancake Sony E 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 OSS Sony E 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 PZ OSS +1 more
daveh6700's score
5.0
Average community score
4.5
bad for good for
Kids / pets
excellent
Action / sports
excellent
Landscapes / scenery
great
Portraits
great
Low light (without flash)
great
Flash photography (social)
good
Studio / still life
great
= community average
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40 (TZ60)
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