BUILD AND DESIGN
The ZS10 is one of Panasonic’s “Travel Zoom” models – relatively compact digicams with GPS and very long zooms. The ZS10 is an attractively understated and (in black – like the one I used) fairly inconspicuous P&S digicam available in silver, blue, gold, red, and brown.
The Panasonic ZS10 is a well designed, precision-built and robustly constructed imaging tool that is designed for serious shooters. The ZS10 will function nicely as an auto-everything Point and Shoot digicam, but it is really aimed at photo enthusiasts. The ZS10 is an attractively understated (in black with silver trim – like the one I used) and fairly inconspicuous P&S digicam. The ZS10’s metal alloy body seems tough enough for just about anything; it’s clearly built to withstand the rigors of heavy use and busy modern lifestyles. Fit & finish are first rate and the weather/moisture/dust seals appear to be more than adequate.
Though it is small enough to slip into a pocket, the Panasonic ZS10 is a solidly built digicam. When you walk around with this camera in your shirt pocket you (and everyone else) will know you are carrying something fairly substantial. This 14 megapixel digital camera has a 1/2.33-inch (6.12 x 4.51mm) sensor giving it higher resolution, but from a smaller sensor than many of today’s entry level DSLRs. Continually crowding more pixels onto tiny sensors results in a hefty increase in image degrading noise – more on this later in the review. Like its predecessor, the ZS10 includes a built-in GPS receiver, allowing for automatic geo-tagging of images with the longitude and latitude where they were shot.
Ergonomics and Controls
The ZS10’s user interface is logical and uncomplicated – all buttons and controls are a bit small, but they are all clearly marked, sensibly placed and easily accessed by right handed shooters with the exception of the one touch video capture button.
Most digicams with a one touch video capture button place this control in the upper right corner of the camera’s rear deck – since that placement allows the camera user to simply push the video start/finish button with their right thumb. The ZS10’s tiny one touch video capture button is on the camera’s top deck, right where the shutter button is traditionally located. In my opinion, this is counterintuitive, but that minor design flaw is somewhat ameliorated by the ZS10’s vestigial handgrip.
The wrist strap should be used at all times – small cameras are easily dropped. The ZS10’s shutter button is fairly large and surrounded by a standard back-and-forth zoom tab. While the zoom tab is small, zooming from wide-angle to telephoto and back is smooth, easy, and fairly precise. The ZS10, unlike the auto exposure only point-and-shoots currently dominating the imaging marketplace, permits full manual control of exposure.
Menus and Modes
The ZS10 features a user-friendly, icon-driven four tab (record mode, playback mode, GPS mode, and setup mode) menu system. It’s accessed via a dedicated button below the compass switch that is logical and simple to navigate.
Menu navigation is accomplished using the touchscreen LCD monitor or by using the more traditional compass switch route. Using the touchscreen – menu icons are displayed around the edges of the screen with submenus displayed in the center. Menu navigation is fairly straightforward, but some of the icons are a bit cryptic.
The ZS10 provides a comprehensive selection of shooting modes including:
- Intelligent Auto: The camera automatically selects all exposure parameters by analyzing the subject in the frame and then selecting the most appropriate exposure settings based on conditions – including choosing the correct Scene mode for the subject.
- Program: Auto exposure with limited user input (sensitivity, white balance, exposure compensation, etc.).
- My Scene 1&2: Choose two favorite scene modes (Landscape and Portrait spring immediately to mind) and the camera will automatically go to that scene mode when the mode dial is turned to the MS1 or MS2 setting.
- Scene: Portrait, soft skin (smoothes skin texture), transform (makes person’s image fatter or thinner), self-portrait (activates timer), scenery, panorama assist, sports, night portrait, night scenery, food, party, candle light (tripod use recommended), baby, pet, sunset, high sensitivity, high speed burst (3, 2.5 or 2 megapixels), flash burst, starry sky, fireworks, beach, snow, aerial photo, pinhole, film grain, and high dynamic range.
- Aperture priority: Users select the aperture and the camera selects a shutter speed appropriate to the existing conditions.
- Shutter priority: Users select shutter speed and the camera selects an aperture appropriate to the existing conditions.
- 3D: Hold the shutter button down in this mode and pan horizontally for about 4.0-inches (10cm) and the camera will capture 10 images and then analyze them before combining the two with the greatest degree of parallax difference to create a single 3D image for viewing on 3D TVs.
- Manual: Users select all exposure parameters.
- Custom: The camera will remember a favorite set of exposure preferences.
- Movie/Video: The ZS10 captures HD video at 1920 x 1080i & 30/24 fps), VGA video (640×480 & 30 fps) or QVGA video (320×240 & 30 fps). Zoom and focus can be adjusted during video capture – video clips are limited to a maximum of 2GB.
The ZS10 (like most currently available point-and-shoots) doesn’t provide an optical viewfinder, which obliges shooters to utilize the LCD screen for all framing/composition, captured image review, touchscreen command pad, and menu navigation chores. The ZS10’s wide viewing angle 3.0-inch LCD (460,000 pixels) dominates the camera’s rear deck. The default (full screen) aspect ratio is 4:3, but 3:2, 16:9, and 1:1 (square – like 6×6 medium format) aspect ratios are also available.
The ZS10’s TFT LCD screen is bright, hue accurate, fluid, automatically boosts gain (brightens) in dim/low light, and displays almost 100 percent of the image frame. The ZS10’s LCD screen performs as expected for framing and composition, captured image review, and menu navigation, but its performance as a touchscreen command pad is only adequate. In touchscreen mode, users will notice that the controls are not as responsive as expected on a camera designed for photo enthusiasts.
I love digital cameras, but I’m still waiting for the first touchscreen digital camera that interacts seamlessly with the user. The ZS10’s touchscreen is slow and imprecise in use, often requiring multiple taps or strokes to the screen to activate the desired function. If you own a smartphone or an iPad, then you’ll probably like the ZS10, but if you don’t generally like touchscreen devices – you probably won’t like this one either.
For what it’s worth, I do like the ZS10’s touchscreen more than I liked the touchscreen on the Canon SD3500 I tested recently. The great thing about the ZS10’s touchscreen is that you can easily ignore it in favor of the redundant traditional controls.
What I did find pretty neat is the ZS10’s approach to the whole idea of touchscreen command pads. Users can tap the screen where they want the camera to focus, then tap the screen again to zoom in (or out), and then in again to capture the image. This requires some practice, but it does work as advertised. Users can also do the frame/focus/zoom/capture operation with one touch – but this doesn’t work as well in practice as it does in theory.
Those with large hands must be careful not to rest their right thumb on the edge of the screen or the focus point will be shifted to the top right hand corner of the frame. ZS10 users can tap the AF icon to turn off touch-focusing, but a single inadvertent tap anywhere on the LCD screen will re-enable this feature.
The ZS7’s tiny QWERTY keypad has been replaced by a cell phone style screen keypad, but the new keypad is NOT touch sensitive. Instead, shooters must use the compass switch to select and enter text, which seems a bit strange – given that the ZS10 is a touch driven device.
The DCR test lab measures LCD peak brightness and contrast ratios to assist our readers in making more informed buying decisions. A decent LCD contrast ratio should fall somewhere between 500:1 and 800:1. That would be bright enough to use the LCD for framing and composition in outdoor lighting, and it would provide a better sense of color and contrast.
The ZS10 weighs in on the very high end of that scale at 900:1 – for comparison purposes a couple of Canon’s entry level point-and-shoot models score in the mid 400’s. Peak brightness for the ZS10 (the panel’s output of an all-white screen at full brightness) is 360 nits and on the dark side the measurement is 0.40 nits. For reference purposes, anything above 500 nits will remain very bright even in sunny outdoor lighting.
The default info display provides all the data this camera’s target audience is likely to want or need, in fact this is probably the best information display I’ve seen to date. The ZS10 provides three info display options: Clear screen (no data), grid line display for compositional assistance, and the full info display – just tap the info button until the screen you want appears.