DigitalCameraReview.com
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10 Review
by Jerry Jackson -  5/9/2008

Few camera companies seem to be creating waves with compact point-and-shoot cameras like Panasonic. Panasonic cameras are now widely respected thanks to Leica-branded lenses, combined with features, performance, and build quality that rival anything from Canon or Nikon.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
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The new Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10 is a budget compact digital camera designed for ease of use and creative control for the least possible expense.


FEATURES OVERVIEW

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10 is a 10 megapixel ultracompact digital camera and the top-level offering in Panasonic's LZ series of budget-friendly pocket cams. Equipped with an optically stabilized 5x zoom that begins at a wide 30mm, the LZ10 also makes use of a large, bright, and crisp 2.5 inch LCD that takes up most of the rear of the camera.

Unlike most of the auto-exposure only cameras priced below $200, the LZ10 offers full shutter priority, aperture priority, and manual modes for photographers who want more control over their images. Of course, like most Panasonic cameras the LZ10 also comes with an "intelligent" fully automatic mode that actively evaluates scene conditions and selects settings. A nice range of scene modes and a well thought-out approach to using them (which allows for quick switching between two different scene presets) should also appeal to auto mode users looking for easy access to a little more control. In short, the LZ10 offers photographic control for people who want it yet remains a true point-and-shoot in most ways.

One other intelligent feature of note is Panasonic's Intelligent ISO setting: simply set the maximum allowable ISO value and the LZ10 selects an appropriate sensitivity within the specified range for a given scene or subject - just like the auto sensitivity "cap" settings found on many DSLRs. What makes Intelligent ISO different than regular Auto ISO is that it isn't based simply on exposure values - it's based on subject movement and camera movement. With Intelligent ISO mode enabled, if the LZ10 detects rapid subject movement or severe camera shake the ISO will be increased all the way up to ISO 1600 (or lower if you limit the maximum ISO in the menu) to capture a blur-free image.

A separate High Sensitivity mode increases maximum ISO all the way up to 6400, though given the relatively low 3 megapixel resolution at this setting, many users may find this feature less useful for prints.

The Lumix LZ10's basic shooting modes are as follows:

In terms of in-camera editing options, the LZ10 is one of the more impressive budget compact cameras we've seen. Beyond the basic cropping and resizing options form the bulk of the playback mode choices, this camera has adjustable parameters for sharpness, saturation, contrast, and noise reduction (+/- 2). This is something you just don't find on most budget compact cameras.

For a detailed listing of specs and features, take a look at the specs table found at the bottom of the review.


FORM, FIT, AND FEEL

The LZ10 is an attractive, compact, and well built camera with a nice grip and small telescoping lens housing. The grip is actually much nicer than most cameras in the same price range, but Panasonic loses points in my opinion for putting a hard plastic pad on the front of the grip rather than a soft rubber insert. In hand, the LZ10 is light-weight and well balanced, making it a joy to use. The control layout is well thought out and extremely capable.

Styling and Build Quality

The LZ10 is very much in keeping with the rest of the Lumix LZ line: a reasonably compact body with a nice grip and simple controls. Everything is sleek, clean-lined, and straightforward, with a refined look that makes Lumix cameras look more expensive than the cheap plastic cameras in the same price range from other companies.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
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Compared to the older LZ7, the LZ10 is just a bit chunkier and just a bit heavier, at 0.31 pounds. The metal case is well made, and overall the newest Lumix models have exceptional build quality in the upper tier of current camera makers. That said, the use of a hard plastic grip pad on the front of the camera gives the LZ10 a bit of a cheap feeling.

Ergonomics and Interface

Ergonomically, the camera's slightly rounded shape makes it more comfortable to hold and use than most of the boxy compact cameras in the Lumix lineup.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
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The physical switch for moving between playback and shooting modes still has its drawbacks, but once you familiarize yourself with the switch it's really easy to use. I'm also still a fan of the fact that the switch can be used to prevent accidental lens extension and possible damage when toting the camera: simply put the camera in playback mode and you're good to go.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
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It's in the control arrangement that makes the LZ10 a joy to use. Navigating the LZ10's menus (which share a down-to-business look and feel with other recent Panasonic compacts) is an easy one hand, one thumb affair.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
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An icon-based Quick Menu with single-button access allows white balance, image stabilization, ISO, drive and flash mode, and similar adjustments, depending on the camera's shooting mode. While sorting and grouping of items was a little confusing in the LZ10's full-page menus, this camera is easy for first-time users to navigate.

Display/Viewfinder

As we've come to expect from Panasonic, the display on the LZ10 is nearly-perfect for a camera in this price range.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
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One of the LZ10's most impressive upgrades from previous generation LZ cameras is a 2.5 inch, 230,000 dot polycrystalline TFT LCD. Lag is virtually a non-issue in good light, and still good enough in poor light. Not only are viewing angles among the best we've seen in this price range, but Panasonic also incorporates a "high-angle mode" which alters the contrast of the screen and makes it easier to view from an oblique angle (such as when you hold the camera above you to take a photo over a crowd of people). The high-angle mode isn't as useful as a rotating LCD, but it's better than nothing.


PERFORMANCE

If you want as much creative control over your images as possible at a low price, the LZ10 delivers. It's quick enough for casual shooting in a variety of situations and has enough zoom range to capture nice landscapes or indoor group photos and moderate telephoto scenes scenes. Add to that list quick access to all the functions you need and the LZ10 becomes a budget photographer's best friend. In any case, the shooting experience is still as simple the name implies: point and shoot.

Timings and Shutter Lag

The LZ10 wasn't as quick as most of the other Lumix cameras we've seen, often turning in "pure" pre-focused shutter lag timings of just under a second. Autofocus usually takes more than a second to lock and fire at default settings. As noted with the FS3 and FS20 reviews, the LZ10 also has a Quick AF mode that engages the auto focus system continuously rather than waiting for a half-press; in testing, Quick AF alone cuts the lag without pre-focus in half, to around .5 seconds. However, I often found Quick AF to be less accurate with focus.

As expected, the fastest timings were turned in with the LZ10's Quick AF disabled and the high-speed center AF mode engaged (.4 seconds, press to capture). This is reasonably snappy, but not as fast as most consumers will want.

The LZ10 can take five full-resolution shots at 2.5 frames per second before pausing for buffer clearing.

Lens and Zoom

The LZ10's lens is a 5x Leica DC Vario-Elmar unit, with an equivalent range of 30-150mm. While the LZ10 adds a little bit of reach at both ends of the range over the commonplace 3x lenses found on most cameras, the slightly wider than normal 30mm wide-angle end proves much more useful in most normal shooting situations than the slight increase on the telephoto end. The lens does give up some speed over competitive models as well, with relatively slow f/3.3 and f/5.9 maximum apertures at both ends pushing exposure settings up against the top end of camera's clean ISO range at times.

Otherwise, the optically stabilized lens is whisper quiet in use and well built. There is some minor zoom lag, but like most other new Panasonic compacts, the LZ10 has an Easy Zoom button that quickly cycles the zoom from one end of the range to the other.

Auto Focus

The LZ10 utilizes four basic AF modes: multi-point AF, center AF, high-speed center AF, and face detection. As noted, high-speed center AF adds a significant amount of focusing speed. Otherwise, the auto focus system is usually acceptably quick, though the tendency of the system to want to search to infinity and back before locking focus shows up frequently enough to become irritating at times.

Face detection on this model is as good as any we've tested, tracking multiple faces with ease - even in low light. Likewise, macro focus works consistently down to the advertised 5 centimeters.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
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Flash

Like most cameras powered by two AA batteries, the LZ10 suffers from both a limited flash range and slower flash recycle times. On average, the flash took between 5 and 10 seconds to recharge. There's also a screen blackout period while the flash recycles.

All in all, flash performance was a bit disappointing here as well, with obvious red eye problems in most images. This seems to be something of a pattern with Panasonics compact cameras.

Image Stabilization

The LZ10 offers the now standard Mega O.I.S. lens-shifting image stabilization technology found on all cameras in the Lumix line. Our controlled testing showed the system to perform much as expected. Much like our site editor, I don't care for the "Mode 1"/"Mode 2" naming scheme for the single-shot/continuous IS modes. It would make much more sense to simply call them "O.I.S Single Shot" and "O.I.S. Continuous" instead.

Battery Life

One of the nice benefits of the LZ series cameras is that they are powered with standard AA batteries. This makes the LZ10 a great vacation camera because you can find standard Alkaline or even rechargeable NiMH batteries almost anywhere in the world.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
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With a claimed life of 460 shots with a set of NiMH AA batteries, I was a little skeptical of how the LZ10 would perform in terms of battery life. My final shot total reached more than 300 images and the batteries still had life left in them. Since the LZ10 lacks an optical viewfinder, conserving battery to extend life isn't easy; luckily the LZ10 seems to sip power rather than gulp it down like most AA-powered cameras. Bottom line, a good set of NiMH batteries should provide enough juice for a full day of non-stop photography.


IMAGE QUALITY

The overall look of images from the LZ10 is close to neutral, with colors that mirror those found in most Panasonic cameras.

Exposure, Processing, and Color

Colors are rendered well, without excessive saturation in any area. The look is extremely pleasant for outdoor scenes without too much contrast or sharpening introduced by default, which makes it easy to add "punch" to the images with some extra sharpening in post-processing software such as Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro Photo.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
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Default exposure was extremely accurate both indoors and out. Like most cameras in the Lumix line, the LZ10 did surprisingly well (for a compact) in terms of reproducing the full range of values in high-contrast scenes.

Basically, images tend to be printable straight out of the camera, but provide a lot of flexibility for serious users looking to take more direct control over their image output.

White Balance

Auto white balance in the LZ10 roughly as good as what we've seen on other compacts, although the image tone under incandescent lighting is a bit different (greener) than what we're used to seeing from Canon and Nikon. Another minor oddity seemed to appear when ISO values are increased. Specifically, the white balance tends to become cooler (more blue) as ISO sensitivity increases. You can actually see this in our studio test images below and my own sample images seemed to reflect these cooler colors at higher ISO as well.

Lens Faults

I found the lens to be the most disappointing single aspect of the LZ10's total package, which was quite a surprise, given the usually high quality of the Leica-branded optics used on Panasonic cameras. Edge-to-edge sharpness seemed to vary quite noticeably depending on the combination of focal length and aperture. Sometimes the lens seems perfectly sharp and other times it looks as if someone has smeared Vaseline on the edges of the lens.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
Top left-hand corner, 100% Crop

There's very little else to complain about here. Some very minor color fringing shows up in high-contrast boundaries, but the LZ10 actually controls this problem better than most cameras in this class. Color fringing never interfered with prints all the way up to 8x10.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
100% Crop

There's some noticeable barrel distortion toward the wide end of the zoom, but again, this is common for cameras in this price range and most cameras in this price range don't offer a 30mm wide angle lens.

Vignetting also shows up when the aperture is wide open, though it disappears pretty quickly when stopped down. Fortunately, the available manual controls on the LZ10 make it easy to control vignetting.

Sensitivity and Noise

Given that the LZ10 gets a slightly larger sensor size to go with its increased resolution, we were interested to see how it performed in terms of ISO. We were happy to find that the LZ10 performed quite well - besting the likes of Canon's competitive PowerShot A590.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
ISO 100
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
ISO 100, 100% Crop

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
ISO 200
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
ISO 200, 100% Crop

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
ISO 400
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
ISO 400, 100% Crop

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
ISO 800
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
ISO 800, 100% Crop

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
ISO 1600
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
ISO 1600, 100% Crop

Results are, in many ways, much improved from previous generation Panasonic cameras, with images showing less chroma/color noise than we typically see from cameras in this price range. The most noticeable jump in image quality degradation occurs between ISO 400 and ISO 800.

Thanks to the Venus Engine IV processing, the LZ10 also provides a full range of control for noise reduction. As mentioned before, this camera has a lot of adjustable parameters for a compact.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
ISO 1600, NR -2
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
ISO 1600, NR -2, 100% Crop

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
ISO 1600, NR +2
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
ISO 1600, NR +2, 100% Crop

I really felt that Panasonic had made a good step forward in providing a full range of control over the noise reduction with the LZ10. While the default settings are quite good, some photographers prefer less "detail smoothing" and want the least possible noise reduction. Other photographers want as much noise reduction as possible. Overall, it comes down to personal preference, and the LZ10 gives you the flexibility to make that choice.

Additional Sample Images

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10
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CONCLUSION

As we've seen across the entire range of Panasonic cameras, each generation of cameras in the Lumix lineup seems to provide clear improvements in resolution, screen quality, lens range, and image processing, all while keeping these upgrades within the same MSRP as the previous generation. At a street price of $200 or less, the LZ10 provides the performance and capability of a much more expensive camera. With its nice 30mm wide angle lens, 10 megapixel resolution and range of controls, the LZ10 really does come close to being a budget version of the popular Lumix DMC-LX2. However, edge softness in the photos, slower-than-expected autofocus, and sub-par flash images made this camera fall short of my expectations.

The final word in my mind is that while the LZ10 outperforms many other cameras in the same price range, it isn't perfect. Most consumers are likely to find the cheaper Canon PowerShot A590 IS or the slightly more expensive Nikon Coolpix P5100 to be more appealing choices. Still, the LZ10 is a solid little camera with a great deal of photographic potential.

Pros:

Cons:

 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 Specifications: 

 

Sensor 10.1 megapixel, 1/2.33" CCD
Lens/Zoom 5x (30-150mm) Leica DC Vario-Elmar, f/3.3-5.9
LCD/Viewfinder 2.5", 230K-dot TFT LCD
Sensitivity ISO 100-1600 (High Sensitivity mode to ISO 6400)
Shutter Speed 60-1/2000 seconds
Shooting Modes Intelligent Auto, Normal Picture, Scene 1, Scene 2, Motion Picture, Clipboard
Scene Presets Portrait, Soft Skin, Scenery, Sports, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Self-Portrait, Food, Party, Candle Light, Baby 1, Baby 2, Pet, Sunset, High Sensitivity, Hi-Speed Burst,
Starry Sky, Fireworks, Beach, Snow, Aerial Photo, Advanced Scene Mode
White Balance Settings Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, User Set
Metering Modes Intelligent Multiple, Center, Spot
Focus Modes Face Detection, Nine-Area, Three-Area High Speed, One-Area, One-Area High Speed, Spot
Drive Modes Normal, Burst, High Speed Burst
Flash Modes Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Slow Sync, Forced Off
Self Timer Settings
10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
Memory Formats SD, SDHC
Internal Memory
20MB
File Formats JPEG, Motion JPEG
Max. Image Size 3648x2736
Max. Video Size
640x480, 30 fps
Zoom During Video Not Specified
Battery Rechargeable lithium-ion
Connections USB 2.0, AV output, HD output, DC input
Additional Features Mega O.I.S., iA Intelligent Auto mode, Intelligent ISO, Venus Engine IV processing