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Performance & Photo Quality

Like its big brother, the DMC-ZS15 is a great all-around performer. You will do very little waiting with this camera, most importantly when it comes to autofocus and shot-to-shot speeds. The table below summarizes its performance:

Timing Measured Performance How it Compares

Startup

1.5 sec Average
Autofocus
(Wide-angle)
0.1 - 0.3 secs Above average
Autofocus
(Telephoto)
0.8 - 1.0 secs Above average
Autofocus
(Low light)
~ 1 sec Average
Shutter lag Not noticeable Above average
Shot-to-shot
(no flash)
~ 1 sec Above average
Shot-to-shot
(with flash)
~ 2 sec Above average

The DMC-ZS15 has a wide selection of burst modes, including an automatic mode (for Intelligent Auto only) whose frame rate varies depending on the scene, two modes where the camera refocuses between each shot (at 2 or 5 fps), three fixed-focus modes (10, 40, and 60 fps, though only the first one is at full resolution), and a 5-shot flash burst feature. The following chart summarizes the performance of the four burst modes you'll most likely use (and that I can measure):

Setting Performance
2 fps (w/autofocus) Unlimited @ 2.0 frames/sec
5 fps (w/autofocus) 4 shots @ 4.4 frames/sec
10 fps (fixed focus) 4 shots @ 10.0 frames/sec
Flash burst (3 MP) 5 shots @ 1.4 frames/sec
Tested with a Panasonic Class 10 SDHC card

While the DMC-ZS15 is perfectly capable of shooting continuously at high speeds, it has very little buffer memory, so the burst ends very quickly (you should be able to get a few extra shots if you lower the image quality to standard). The only exception is the 2 fps AF mode, which allows you to keep shooting until you run out of memory.

Image Quality

Indoors

Photos are taken under indirect lighting provided by two Smith-Victor Q80 lamps at a focal length of 40mm (equivalent) and an aperture of f/6.3 in aperture priority mode.

Now let's take a look at our studio test scene. Since the lighting is always the same, you can compare these photos with those taken with other cameras I've reviewed over the years. While you couldn't really see it in the macro test photo, there is a slight brownish cast here (mostly on the white wall), which Panasonic cameras tend to exhibit in artificial light. Anyhow, since the crops below only display a very small portion of the total test scene, be sure to view the full size images. And with that, let's go from ISO 100 to 3200:

ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1600 ISO 3200

Everything is nice and clean through ISO 400. There's some noise visible at ISO 800, but it's not that bad, meaning that a small or midsize print is perfectly possible. Detail smudging becomes pretty obvious at ISO 1600, so I'd save this for small prints only. I would pass on ISO 3200. Since the DMC-ZS15 -- like the ZS20 -- lacks RAW support, these JPEGs are as good as you're going to get out of the camera.

Nighttime

This scene was shot from a fixed position using a tripod at at a focal length of 130mm (equivalent). Exposure was manual, at an aperture setting of f/5.4 and image stabilization was turned off.

Now we're going to use that same night scene to see how the ZS15 performs as its sensitivity increases:

ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400 ISO 800 ISO 1600 ISO 3200

The DMC-ZS15's rendition of our night test scene looks pretty good. The main issue here is the yellowish cast that, as I mentioned, often occurs when shooting under artificial light. I shot this in "M" mode, so bringing in enough light wasn't a problem. Those who don't want to tinker with the exposure manually can also take night scenes like this in the Intelligent Auto or Scene modes. There is some highlight clipping here, as well as some unusual "feathering" (for lack of a better word) around overexposed areas. I retook these photos on three separate occasions to rule out weather or other errors, and got the same result every time. As it turns out, the DMC-ZS10 (from which the ZS15 borrows its lens) did the same thing. Noise levels are relatively low here, making the ZS15 competitive with other compact ultra zooms. Purple fringing was not an issue.

The ISO 100 and 200 shots are more-or-less identical. There's a bit more noise at ISO 400, so this is probably a good stopping point for most folks. At ISO 800 we start to see detail loss, so this one's for desperate circumstances only. The top two sensitivities are best avoided in low light.

Macro

There are two macro modes on the ZS15, though I'd only bother with the standard one. In this mode, the minimum focus distance is 3 cm at wide-angle and 1 m at telephoto. If you're in Intelligent Auto mode, there's no need to turn on macro focusing, as the camera will switch to it automatically when your subject is close. The macro zoom feature locks the lens at full wide-angle and lets you use the digital zoom to get closer. This, of course, will reduce the quality of your photo, so it's best avoided.

Our macro test shot turned out nicely. There's a slight brownish color cast here, most noticeable on the white background. I've had issues with Panasonic cameras and artificial lighting for many years now, so this wasn't a huge surprise. The colors on the figurine itself are nice and saturated. The subject is sharp, with plenty of detail captured. There are miniscule amounts of noise and detail smudging here, though not nearly enough to concern me.

Red-eye reduction

The DMC-ZS15 takes a two-pronged approach to reducing redeye. First, it'll fire the flash a few times (before the photo is taken) to shrink your subject's pupils, which tends not to work on compact cameras. If the camera detects any redeye after the photo is taken, it'll remove that digitally. I've found Panasonic's digital removal system to be pretty finicky -- sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

As you can see, the DMC-ZS15 produced a photo with strong redeye, which isn't surprising, given how close the flash is to the lens. Since there's no way to remove it in playback mode, you'll have to fix this annoyance on your computer.

Distortion

There's mild to moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the ZS15's lens. You can see this in the real world by looking at how the building on the right side of this photo appears to curve inward. Corner blurring wasn't a problem, and I didn't see any evidence of vignetting (dark corners), either.

Overall Image Quality

Overall, I'd say that the Lumix DMC-ZS15 has some of the best image quality in the compact ultra zoom category. Exposures were almost always accurate, so I didn't have to keep fooling around with the exposure compensation. Like most cameras, the ZS15 will clip highlights at time, and you can try using the HDR feature to reduce some of that. Colors were nice and saturated, except for the aforementioned difficulty with white balance in artificial light.

Images are what I'd call "lightly sharpened" with Intelligent Resolution off (which is the default in the P/A/S/M modes) and quite pleasing with it turned on (as it is in the auto modes). There is some noise and smudging of fine details at the lowest ISO setting, though it's competitive with the best cameras in this group, such as the Canon PowerShot SX260 HS. As the previous tests illustrated, the camera keeps noise levels down through ISO 400 in low light, and ISO 800 in good light. Purple fringing levels were low.

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