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Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10
14.1MP | 28-336mm (14X) ZOOM | $299/£260

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 is the successor to the ZS7, which was featured in last year's group test of compact travel zoom cameras. The ZS10 boasts a 14MP CMOS sensor, an increase on the ZS7's 12MP, and a wider zoom range, too, of 16x, up from 12x in the previous generation. The ZS10's optical zoom doesn't span the widest zoom range in this group, but at 24-384mm it is impressively versatile, and a little more so than its predecessor. Also updated is the movie mode, which now offers full 1080i HD video capture.

In terms of aesthetics, the ZS10 looks very similar to its predecessor, but the few changes that have been made are actually quite fundamental. The ZS10 has a sculpted, more substantial hand grip than the ZS8 (and indeed most of the other cameras in this group, with the exception of the Pentax RZ10) and the rear LCD screen is touch-sensitive. The addition of a touchscreen hasn't had a dramatic effect on the camera's physical design though, and the ZS10 is still one of the most 'hands on' cameras in this group in terms of physical control points.

  • 14.1 effective Megapixels (CMOS sensor)
  • 24-384mm equiv lens with optical stabilization
  • 1080i HD video and HDMI connection
  • 3.0 inch touch sensitive LCD with 460,000 dot resolution
  • ISO sensitivity up to 1600 (up to 6400 at reduced resolution)
  • 10 shooting modes (including PASM), 30 Scene Modes
  • In-built GPS
  • Intelligent Auto (iA)
  • Enhanced 'Active mode' Mega O.I.S. stabilization in movie shooting

Click here for full product information including reader reviews and image samples (opens in new window)

Key Features

The ZS10's feature set is one of the richest of any camera in this test, and as we've come to expect from Panasonic's travel zooms, it offers an excellent mixture of manual, 'expert' features and beginner-friendly, fully automatic settings. Panasonic's iA (intelligent auto) mode has been a staple of its compact cameras for some years now, and has since migrated into the company's G-series Micro Four Thirds cameras as well. Unlike a conventional fully automatic mode, iA (intelligent auto) is designed to recognise the type of scene that you're trying to capture, and select the most appropriate automatic 'scene' mode to do the job.

Automatic scene selection isn't unique to Panasonic but we're pleased with its performance in the ZS10. A new twist to iA, courtesy of the ZS10's touch-sensitive LCD screen is that if you touch the LCD to position the AF point, the camera analyses that target area to determine the appropriate scene mode response. So if you position the AF point on a face, the ZS10 will automatically switch to portrait mode. It works well, and the same applies to Panasonic's face recognition technology, which can be programmed to recognise up to six people. Both intelligent scene selection and face recognition might sound like gimmicks, but they are genuinely useful, and serve to make the ZS10 easier, as well as more fun to use. Also useful is the ZS10's built-in GPS, which is the most versatile of any camera in this group. It works well, and crucially has a negligible effect on battery life.

If you want to, you can more or less ignore the ZS10's touchscreen most of the time. Some operations (like flicking through captured images in review mode) can simply be performed quicker using the 4-way controller, but others, like the useful touch AF (pictured) can only be performed by touch.
A logical evolution of face detection, face recognition works by detecting up to six individuals, programmed into the camera's database of faces. Adding a new face takes only a few seconds and most of the time the ZS10 can accurately 'remember' someone once they have been programmed in.
Amongst its many automatic scene modes, the ZS10 features three HDR effects. Normal, 'Art' and monochrome. The difference between normal and 'art' is subtle (and comes down mostly to increased saturation in the art version) and images shot in any of the three modes can look rather smudgy when viewed close up. These are definitely effects modes, rather than serious dynamic range expansion tools.

Perhaps the biggest 'new' feature in the ZS10 is its touch-sensitive LCD screen. Although Panasonic hasn't gone down the Samsung route of replacing external controls with a touchscreen, after spending a little time with the ZS10 we can't imagine going back to Panasonic's traditional button-led operation.

Although the touchscreen isn't compulsory (you can select which menu you want to get into using touch, for example, but once you're in, you must navigate and select options using the 4-way controller) some touchscreen-specific operations, like touch AF, are genuinely useful. Our biggest gripe with the ZS10's screen is that it is uncoated, meaning that in bright sunlight, it is very hard indeed to use. Depending on the direction of the sun, image composition can be a matter of guesswork, and in this situation it is impossible to gauge exposure or color response.

Image quality and performance

As far as image quality is concerned the ZS10 is something of a mixed bag. If all you need in a compact camera are images that you want to share on the web, and the occasional small print, you will be perfectly happy with it, but more critical consumers might be a little disappointed, especially when it comes to low light, high ISO performance.

Image quality at the ZS10's lower ISO settings is very good, although like all of the cameras in this group (and indeed all digital cameras, period) it gives its best performance when presented with bright, high-contrast scenes. When the light gets low, though, and especially towards the upper end of its ISO span, the ZS10 struggles. By ISO 800, fine detail is smudged by the effects of noise (and of course noise reduction) and saturation drops, too. But although it doesn't give the best all-round image quality of all the cameras in this test in all of the environments in which we used it, in most shooting conditions the ZS10 can be relied upon to deliver attractive, print-ready JPEGs without undue fuss. To check out more real-world images, take a look at our ZS10 samples gallery.

The ZS10's image quality depends on the shooting conditions. It is common for cameras of this type to give better images in bright, high-contrast environments than in overcast conditions, but we're disappointed that even at ISO 100 (left) and ISO 200 (right) detail looks smudged and 'crunchy' when viewed at 100%. Crucially though, color and exposure are spot on.

Operational speed and handling are hugely important to any assessment of cameras of this type, and here the ZS10 shines. Startup time is around a second and it takes roughly 3 seconds for the ZS10's 24-384mm zoom to traverse through its range. Zoom speed is controllable though, and a gentle pull on the zoom control zooms the lens more slowly, for more precise framing (the slower zoom speed is used in video shooting too, to reduce motor noise on the soundtrack of movie clips).

In general, the ZS10 goes about its business very quickly, and in terms of responsiveness, it is one of the best cameras in this group. Although Panasonic's quirky button-driven exposure control isn't the fastest, once you've become used to pressing the 'exposure' button before doing anything it's quick enough. We're more equivocal about the mechanical shooting/playback mode switch though. This sort of design used to be common in the early days of consumer digital imaging, but we'd love to see Panasonic following the crowd and adding a 'shooting priority' review mode, where a half-press of the shutter button returns to shooting readiness. That's the way all of the other cameras in this test work, and in our view it is simpler and quicker than a hard shooting/review mode switch.

Image Stabilization

To test image stabilization we shoot a standard test target at the long end of these cameras' zooms, at 1/30sec. We take ten images at each stabilization setting (including 'off') and average the results, expressing performance as a percentage of shots which we judge to be 'very blurred', 'blurred', 'soft' (usable at small print sizes) and 'sharp'.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 features Panasonic's Power O.I.S optical stabilization system. Power O.I.S is automatically enabled in iA mode, but can be manually activated/deactivated in PASM and selected scene modes. Power O.I.S does a great job of stabilizing images taken in our test environment but out in the 'real world' performance depends on a number of factors, including camera panning. Although it is an obvious point, we also found that in especially cold and/or windy shooting environments, where the degree of camera shake is increased, the ZS10's optical stabilization system becomes proportionally less effective.

The ZS10's image stabilization mode is very effective, as you can see from our graph. With IS turned off, at 1/30sec with the lens at its longest telephoto setting of 384mm (equivalent) we didn't manage to capture a single truly sharp image, but with IS turned on, our hit rate is 100%.

Summary

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 is a solid and capable camera that delivers decent images quickly, reliably, and without fuss. Panasonic has been making travel zoom compact cameras since 2006, and the ZS10 is the latest product of that evolution. In terms of versatility, the ZS10 is one of the best cameras in this group, and enthusiast photographers will love the amount of manual exposure control the camera offers, as well as the power-efficient and versatile GPS system and the sensible implementation of its pressure-sensitive LCD screen. Optical quality from the ZS10's 24-384mm lens is amongst the best in its class, and Panasonic's impressively effective Power O.I.S system helps keep images free from camera shake even at the longest extent of the zoom.

Our main complaint about the ZS10 regards its image quality. In bright, high-contrast scenes, detail reproduction is high, but the ZS10 has real problems when it comes to resolving low contrast detail. Even at its base ISO, images taken on overcast days look mushy and lifeless at 100% on screen, and image quality drops as the ISO sensitivity is increased. Whilst perfectly usable for small prints or web use, we're disappointed that even at ISO 200, images from the ZS10 show visible chroma noise, and the smudging effects of noise reduction. Quite simply, there are other cameras in this group which match the ZS10 in terms of features and manual control, but also produce better pictures.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 (Lumix DMC-TZ20 / Lumix DMC-TZ22)
Category: Travel Zoom Compact Camera
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Exposure and focus accuracy
Image quality (jpeg)
Flash performance
Low light / high ISO performance
Optics
Performance (speed)
Movie / video mode
Value
PoorExcellent
Good for
Fair weather photography, where manual photographic control is a priority
Not so good for
Low light and dull weather, or any situation where operational speed is important
Overall score
72%
The ZS10 is one of the best-specified cameras in its class, and as well as a plethora of automatic modes it also offers full manual exposure control. Although image quality is acceptable in daylight conditions, it really struggles in poor light, which – coupled with the rather clunky button-lead interface – means that it isn't quite as competitive as it should be at this price.

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