Key Features

  • 20.1MP 1"-type BSI CMOS sensor
  • F2.8-5.9, 25-250mm equiv. lens
  • Depth from Defocus AF
  • 4K/UHD video capture
  • 3" touchscreen LCD
  • 1.2M-dot equiv. EVF
  • Post Focus / 4K Photo functions
  • Wi-Fi

As the 1"-type enthusiast compact market has grown over the last 2 years, there has been a noticeable gap in the market. There were small, standard zoom (24-70mm) models and long zooms (24-600mm), but nothing in-between for those who want a longer lens without sacrificing body size.

Enter Panasonic, a company with a long history of making travel zoom cameras. In fact, the company made what many would consider the first one: the DMC-TZ1, way back in 2006. Panasonic entered the 1"-type market in 2014 with its DMC-FZ1000, a camera we liked enough to give it a Gold award.

At this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the company announced the DMC-ZS100 (TZ100 outside of North America), which took the guts of the FZ1000 and shrank the body down to the roughly the size of a Sony RX100 IV. Naturally, you can't stuff a fast 25-400mm lens into a compact body, but the ZS100's 25-250mm equiv. F2.8-5.9 lens is nothing to sneeze at, either. The camera uses the same 20.1MP sensor as the FZ1000 which is more than likely the same as the one in the Sony RX100 II and III.

The ZS100 is chock full of features, most notably its Depth from Defocus autofocus system, 4K video capture and electronic viewfinder. It also has a 3", touch-sensitive LCD, Wi-Fi (but, unlike most Panasonic products, no NFC) and useful 4K Photo and Post Focus features.

Why Pay More?

Imagine you're shopping for a compact travel zoom camera, and you're viewing the selection at a Big Box retailer. You reach the Panasonic section and see the DMC-ZS60, which offers a 30X zoom and costs $450, next to the ZS100 which 'only' has a 10X zoom but costs $250 more. It's not a stretch to imagine a camera buyer asking themselves why they should pay more for what seems like less.

While the ZS60 does indeed have a longer lens than the ZS100, there is a trade-off:

Above is a graph showing equivalent aperture vs equivalent focal length, which is described in detail here. The yellow line at the top is the ZS60 (1/2.3" sensor), while the ZS100 (1" sensor) is in blue below it. In terms of equivalent aperture (which takes into account sensor size), the ZS60 is effectively around 2 stops 'slower' than the ZS100.

This means several things. For one, the ZS100 can capture roughly four times the total light at every focal length, if you keep the aperture open and use the same shutter speed. Since the sensor is gathering more light, you get a better signal-to-noise ratio, which in turn leads to higher image quality. This will be especially noticeable in low light, when the ISO needs to go up.

There's another benefit to having a 1" sensor rather than the 1/2.3" one. The lenses used on larger sensors tend to offer more control over depth-of-field, allowing you for blurrier backgrounds in portraits.

The one area in which the ZS60 bests the ZS100 is in terms of zoom, as you can see by how much further the yellow line extends.

Understanding the math behind all of this is a bit confusing, but the end result is the same: the ZS100 will produce better quality images and can produce more background blur than the ZS60, though you'll have to sacrifice both zoom power and money in order to get it.

Compared to its peers

Using what we've learned from above, let's take a look at how the ZS100 fits among its 1" sensor peers:

In this group, which includes cameras from Sony, Canon and Panasonic, you'll notice that the benefit of shorter, faster lenses: their equivalent apertures start low, and stay low. For example, Canon's G7 X I and II, which have focal ranges of 24-100mm equiv., are  2 stops faster than the ZS100.

The Sony RX10 I/II reaches out to 200mm (not far from the 250mm on the ZS100), but since it has a fixed F2.8 lens, its equivalent aperture is over 2 stop faster than the ZS100 at full zoom. That said, the RX10 I and II are also much larger and heavier cameras. The FZ1000 isn't quite as large as the RX10s and even with its F2.8-4 aperture range, it still has a 1+ stop advantage over the ZS100 for much of its zoom range.

So what can you conclude from this chart?

  • Smaller cameras sacrifice focal range to keep size down but can offer fast apertures
  • Long zoom cameras sacrifice size for focal range. This is especially the case with the RX10s. Canon's G3 X strays from the group, with its slower F2.8-5.6 lens.
  • In order to have a 25-250mm equiv. lens in a body that fits in your jacket pocket, Panasonic had to make some compromises. Its lens isn't as long as the large-zoom cameras or as fast as those of the small cameras - instead it's a blend of the two. If the ZS100 had a faster lens like, say, the FZ1000, you'd be looking at a camera nearly as large, which would make the ZS a lot less desirable.