The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS15 ($279) is a compact ultra zoom camera, and the little brother to the ZS20 that earned a mixed review when I reviewed it recently. Normally I don't review a pair of cameras that are this similar, but since there's a lot of interest in the ZS15, I'm doing both.
The DMC-ZS15 is more-or-less the same as the ZS20, but with a 12 Megapixel sensor (borrowed from the FZ150 super zoom), 16X zoom lens (from last year's ZS10), slightly less impressive movie mode, and no GPS functionality. The chart below compares the two models side-by-side.
ZS15 and ZS20: Specifications compared:
|Lumix DMC-ZS15||Lumix DMC-ZS20|
|Sensor resolution / type||12.1 MP (MOS)||14.1 MP (MOS)|
|Lens focal range (zoom)||24 - 384 mm (16X)||24 - 480 mm (20X)|
|Lens max aperture||F3.3 - F5.9||F3.3 - F6.4|
|Burst rate (full resolution)||4 shots @ 10 fps||10 shots @ 10 fps|
|Movie resolution||1920 x 1080 / 60i *||1920 x 1080 / 60p|
|Stereo sound recording||No||Yes|
|High speed movies||No||Yes|
|Built-in memory||70 MB||12 MB|
|Battery life (CIPA)||260 shots **|
|In-camera battery charging||Yes||Yes|
|Dimensions||4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 in.||4.1 x 2.3 x 1.1 in.|
|Weight (body only, empty)||185 g||184 g|
* Sensor output is 30p
While the ZS20 is the clear winner in the specs department, I have a feeling that the ZS15 will one-up it when it comes to image quality. Keep reading to find out if that's the case!
What's in the Box?
Camera bundles have really gone downhill in recent years, as camera manufacturers try to keep their costs down. Here's what you'll find in the box with the ZS15:
- The 12.1 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-ZS15 digital camera
- DMW-BCG10 lithium-ion battery
- AC-to-USB adapter
- Wrist strap
- USB cable
- CD-ROM featuring PhotoFunStudio 8.0 Advanced Edition and LoiLoScope trial
- 28 page basic manual (printed) + full manual (on CD-ROM)
For whatever reason, the DMC-ZS15 has more built-in memory than the more expensive ZS20. Panasonic has put 70MB of memory into the ZS15, which holds fifteen photos at the highest quality setting. While that's good for emergencies, you'll definitely want to buy an SD, SDHC, or SDXC card right away. Most folks will do just fine with a 2GB or 4GB card, though movie enthusiasts will want an 8GB or larger model. While buying a high speed card (Class 6 or greater) is a good idea, you certainly don't need to go overboard.
The DMC-ZS15 uses the same DMW-BCG10 lithium-ion battery as the ZS20 and other recent models in the series. This battery packs just 3.2 Wh of energy into its plastic shell, but thankfully Panasonic manages to squeeze pretty good battery life out of it, as you can see in this table:
|Canon PowerShot SX260 HS *||230 shots||NB-6L|
|Fuji FinePix F750EXR||300 shots||NP-50A (1)|
|Nikon Coolpix S9300 *||200 shots||EN-EL12|
|Olympus SZ-31MR iHS||200 shots||LI-50B|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS15||260 shots||DMW-BCG10|
|Pentax Optio VS20||200 shots||D-LI122|
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX10V *||340 shots||NP-BG1|
* Built-in GPS
The ZS15's battery life is just a bit above the average for the group. If you do want to pick up a spare battery, a Panasonic-branded one will set you back around $35. Panasonic cameras can be fussy about generic batteries, so consider yourself warned.
Panasonic has changed the way in which batteries are charged on their 2012 models. Batteries are now charged internally via the USB connector, which can be plugged into the wall or your PC. The reason why manufacturers are using this method more and more is pretty obvious to me: it costs a lot less to include a small AC-to-USB adapter than a full external charger. The bad news is that internal charging is a lot slower -- it takes a whopping 260 minutes to fully charge the ZS15's battery. Thankfully, Panasonic still sells the external charger (model DE-A65BA), which can be yours for about $25. It's more convenient than internal charging, allows you to charge a spare, and it's 100 minutes faster, too.
Something else about the included charger: while it's an AC adapter, you cannot use it to power the camera - it's for charging only. If you want to use the ZS15 on "shore power", then you'll need to buy the hard-to-find AC adapter listed below.
There are just a few of accessories available for the DMC-ZS15. They include:
|Underwater housing||DMW-MCTZ20||$244||Take the ZS15 up to 40 meters underwater.|
|External battery charger||DE-A65BA||From $25||An old-fashioned external charger, which is considerably faster than in-camera charging. Also allows for charging of a spare battery.|
|While not an official ZS15 accessory, the combination of these parts will let you power the camera without draining the battery. These can be very hard to find.|
|A/V cable||DMW-AVC1||$9||Composite audio/video cable for connecting to a standard television.|
|$50||A leather case which comes in black and tan. Includes a battery case. Good luck finding these.|
|Prices were accurate at time of publication|
Not the most exciting list, but hey, it's a sub-$300 compact camera.
Panasonic includes PhotoFunStudio 8.1 Advanced Edition software with the Lumix DMC-ZS15. This Windows-only software handles basic tasks fairly well, though the whole "wizard" system gets tired quickly. On the main screen you'll see the usual thumbnail view, and you can view photos by folders, date, or by things as specific as scene mode. The software can learn to recognize faces (much like the camera itself), which offers you another way to browse through your pictures. Available editing features give you the ability to crop, rotate, or change the aspect ratio of your photos, as well as adjusting color, brightness, saturation, and more. You can apply special effects to photos, overlay text, or remove redeye. Something else that's nice is that the software maintains a history of the changes you've made to a photo, so you can go back in time if you don't like something you've done.
PhotoFunStudio can also work with the movies produced by the ZS15. You can trim unwanted footage from a clip, overlay titles or "stamps", and convert the video to the easier-to-edit MPEG-4 format. If you want to use something else to edit your videos, most modern Windows video editing suites can work with the AVCHD files produced by the ZS15. On the Mac side, you can use iMovie or Final Cut Pro to work with the AVCHD files. Another option is to record your videos in MPEG-4 (MP4) format, which will be much easier to edit in the software of your choice.
As with other recent Panasonic cameras, the ZS15's manuals are split into two parts. In the box is a leaflet that will get you up and running, but not much further. For more information about the camera, you'll have to load up the full manual, which is in PDF format on the CD-ROM that comes with the camera. The full manual certainly won't win any awards for user-friendliness, but it should answer most questions you'll have about the ZS15. Instructions for using the included software is installed onto your PC.
This review was first published at www.dcresource.com, and is presented here with minimal changes, notably the inclusion of a full set of product images, our usual studio comparisons and an expanded samples gallery, plus the addition of a standard dpreview score.