My ZS40 review, I have almost ditched it !

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Altruisto
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My ZS40 review, I have almost ditched it !
2 months ago

The first days I spent with ZS40 weren't that rosy. I quickly noticed the weak corners, photos were lacking definition, and the longest end of the zoom was far from stellar. I was willing to return the camera and pick a trusty Nikon P7800, but the hardware made me think twice. The ZS40 is a joy to use, good in hand, right weight for stable shooting but remaining pocketable, awesome and second to none stabilization (a lot better than my Canon S110), usable viewfinder that I was using all the time, great responsiveness (the camera never leaves you waiting even shooting RAW), a wealth of useful features such as the two way level gauge.

So I gave it a second chance, and took the time to learn the compromises it was involving. It was a revelation!

Such a big zoom range in such a sleek body, there had to be some compromises, and I think Panasonic have done the right choices. This is my assessment of the different focals quality after hundreds of shots:

- from 24 to 35 mm= good (sharp in the center but weak corners)

- 50 mm= excellent, this is the best focal of the zoom, sharp and with no distortion. It's the focal that gives the best macro magnification too.

- over 50 mm until 300 mm= very good (no weak corners, good micro-contrast)

- over 300 mm until 500 mm= good ( just adequate sharpness, but quite uniform)

- over 500 mm until 720 mm= usable ( in a stretch, but sharpness falls apart and micro-contrast vanishes)

These are some shots I've done in the zoo illustrating the lens performance.

The 50mm-300mm is a sweet spot for my needs, and I just loved the corner to corner sharpness at 50 mm. Look at this sample:

I insist on the fact that the longest range of the zoom is perfectly usable, but it just lacks the pop of the rest of the range. This one is at the 720mm end of the zoom:

This one is at 500 mm:

Another problem I had with ZS40 initially, was that focus was rarely tack sharp. I changed the focus mode to one zone, then I discovered it was possible to use a smaller focus point. That helped a lot for precise focusing. Look at this fox shot through the cage:

The camera surprisingly did a wonderful job with moving subjects which makes it a perfect street photography shooter:

It even managed to capture a plane passing by at 720 mm. Not the sharpest shot of the kind, but pretty good for a superzoom of that size.

I'm a RAW shooter, and i happen to hate Panasonic colors, so ZS40 was a savior in that respect. I hear many people complaining about the sensor size and the fact that it crams 18 MP. In fact, the 18 MP are giving real detail at low ISO, and allow more sophisticated treatment at high ISO. this sensor is a success! ISO800 is quite on par with my Canon S110 with a bigger sensor. i'm comfortable to push the ISO until ISO1250 in all kind of lightings. Actually, with the great stabilization, Panasonic tends to keep ISO low as long as possible, so I had to use Shutter Speed Mode to allow faster speeds. These are some high ISO shots:

ISO1250 (at dusk)

ISO1000 (at dusk)

All these shots are from the RAW files, opened in Lightroom, and having basic exposure and cropping adjustments. Testimony to the quality of the lens, its macro capability. I'm amazed at the quality of the macros I'm getting with the ZS40. Razor sharp details and smooth focus transitions (and even ISO400 doesn't hurt).

Focus is on the stamens (open the original file)

Focus is on the bug.

I like the focus transition here

So now I'm pretty sure the ZS40 is a keeper, and it's going to serve me very well. But it's not without quibbles:

- the manual focus and focus peaking are a joke. quite useless, you never seem to get the focus right.

- the ring around the lens is loose and have some lag, which results in many adjustment errors.

- at high ISO, there are a lot of hot pixels in dark areas (in RAWs).

- The camera is quick to boot, but it's slow to shut down which becomes quickly irritating for street photography.

To sum up, I'm pretty impressed but the level of image quality and user experience i'm getting with the ZS40. It's so good, that I think of retiring my Canon S110 (it has at most 1/2 stop better SNR performance). It's just a camera that pushes me to go out shooting. Kudos to Panasonic for upping the game in such a way!

A final picture:

the smile of satisfaction (this is how I feel too).

I didn't speak about video because I'm mostly a stills shooter. Maybe in an upcoming complement to this review. I hope it has been useful for those interested in ZS40.

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owning a Nikon D600 with a Tamron 24-70 f2.8 VC, and a bunch of Nikon primes, a Nikon J1 but not particularly a Nikon fanboy, since I have an Olympus E-PL5, a Panasonic GX7, a Sony RX10 and a Canon S110 too!

Altruisto's score
4.5
Average community score
4.8
bad for good for
Kids / pets
good
Action / sports
good
Landscapes / scenery
okay
Portraits
good
Low light (without flash)
good
Flash photography (social)
good
Studio / still life
okay
= community average
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