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Body & Design

The Lumix DMC-ZS15 is a compact ultra zoom which looks more like last year's DMC-ZS10 than its current, curvier sibling, the ZS20. The body is made almost entirely of metal, and feels quite solid, save for the cheap-feeling mode dial and flimsy door over the memory card/battery compartment. The ZS15 is easy to hold and operate with one hand, with the small grip giving you added confidence. The important controls are within each reach of your fingers, though many of the buttons are quite small. Unlike its more expensive sibling the ZS20, the DMC-ZS15 is only available in black and silver color options.

The defining feature of the ZS15 is its 16X optical zoom lens, which spans an equivalent range of 24-384mm. As you'd expect, a big lens like this has an optical image stabilization system attached to it. The ZS15 uses Panasonic's lens-shift Power OIS system, which reduces the risk of blurry photos. There's also an "active" mode, which reduces camera shake even further when you're recording movies.At the upper left of the ZS15's front plate is a small built-in flash (see more details below) and at upper-right you'll see the AF-assist lamp, which also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer.

The rear of the ZS15 is domincated by its 3-inch LCD display, with the same 460,000 pixel resolution as the one on the ZS20. The screen has fairly good outdoor viewing characterisrtics (just make sure Power LCD mode is on), and it brightens up nicely in low light situations, as well. The ZS15 has a unique High Angle LCD mode that you can turn on, which makes viewing the screen when you're holding it above you a lot easier.

At the upper-right of the photo is the switch which toggles between record and playback mode. This sort of switch used to be common in compact cameras but has become unusual in recent years. Some people will appreciate the comfort of a modal control while others will be annoyed not to be able to exit image review mode with a simple press of the shutter button - something that will be second-nature to most digital photographers (except owners of Lumix compacts of course!)

There's plenty more to see on the top of the camera. At the far left, we have the speaker. Further to the right is the camera's monaural microphone (the ZS20's is stereo). Next to the speaker is the ZS15's mode dial, which is small and feels cheap. As you can see, it's loaded with options, and I'll tell you about them on the following pages of this review. Next to that we have the shutter release/zoom controller combo. The zoom controller works at two speeds, depending on how much pressure you apply to it. At full speed, the lens goes from wide-angle to telephoto in a leisurely 2.9 seconds. I counted around thirty-even steps in the ZS15's 16X zoom range, which allows for precise adjustments to the focal length.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 in the hand Big lens, small camera. The camera is easy to hold and operate with one hand. Despite all of its features, the ZS15 is actually light on buttons. That's because many things are accessed via the rear touchscreen or the menu system.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 in the hand The DMC-ZS15 has the same F3.3-5.9, 16X optical zoom Leica lens as last year's ZS10. This lens has a focal length of 4.3 - 68.8 mm, which is equivalent to 24 - 384 mm. The lens isn't threaded, so conversion lenses (or filters) are not an option. That said, there are ways to get more zoom power out of the ZS15, which I'll talk about later.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 in the hand Just northwest of the lens is the camera's built-in flash. The working range of the flash is 0.6 - 6.4 m at wide-angle and 1.0 - 3.5 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO), which is pretty good. You cannot add an external flash to the DMC-ZS15.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 in the hand On the ZS15's top plate you'll find the exposure mode dial, which is small and cheap-feeling. Next to that we have the shutter release/zoom controller combo. The zoom controller works at two speeds, depending on how much pressure you apply to it. A direct movie recording button and on/off switch complete the tour of this section of the camera.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 in the hand At the upper-right of the ZS15's rear is the switch which toggles between record and playback mode. 30 seconds (or so) after you switch to playback mode, the lens will retract. If you want it to return to its previous position when you go back to record mode, turn on the 'zoom resume' feature in the setup menu. Below that we've got a button for adjusting the exposure and for viewing the map in playback mode.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 in the hand The ZS15's rear four-way controller is used for menu navigation, adjusting settings, and replaying photos. There are also direct buttons for exposure compensation/bracketing, self-timer, flash, and macro mode.

The 'DISP' button toggles information on-screen and the 'Q.MENU' button opens the Quick (shortcut) menu as well as doubling as a delete button in playback mode.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 in the hand On the opposite side of the camera are the ZS15's I/O ports, which include mini-HDMI, and USB + A/V output. The ports are protected by a plastic door of average quality.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 in the hand On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount (hidden in this photo) and the battery/memory card compartment. As is usually the case, the plastic door over the battery/memory compartment is on the flimsy side. You also won't be able to open it while the camera is on a tripod.

Now let's take a look at how the DMC-ZS15 compares to other compact ultra zooms in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SX260 HS 4.2 x 2.4 x 1.3 in. 13.1 cu in. 208 g
Fujifilm FinePix F750EXR 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.4 in. 13.8 cu in. 209 g
Nikon Coolpix S9300 4.3 x 2.5 x 1.3 in. 14 cu in. 215 g
Olympus SZ-31MR iHS 4.2 x 2.7 x 1.6 in. 18.1 cu in. 226 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS15 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 in. 12.3 cu in. 185 g
Pentax Optio VS20 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.5 in. 15.8 cu in. 213 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX10V 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.4 in. 13.8 cu in. 204 g

As you can see, the DMC-ZS15 the smallest and lightest camera among this group of compact ultra zooms. It'll fit into most of your pockets - no shoe horn necessary.

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Comments

Connie1005
By Connie1005 (4 weeks ago)

I am one of three people in my town who bought this camera. WE all have issues with specks in the lens. We have not received support from Panasonic on this camera.

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