The ZS100 is a camera for your inner Goldilocks
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.
|MSRP||$699 / £549|
|Body type||Large sensor compact|
|Body material||Metal, composite|
|Max resolution||5472 x 3648|
|Image ratio w:h||1:1, 4:3, 3:2, 16:9|
|Effective pixels||20 megapixels|
|Sensor photo detectors||21 megapixels|
|Sensor size||1″ (13.2 x 8.8 mm)|
|Color filter array||Primary color filter|
|ISO||Auto, 125-12800 (expands to 80-25600)|
|Boosted ISO (minimum)||80|
|Boosted ISO (maximum)||25600|
|White balance presets||5|
|Custom white balance||Yes (4 slots)|
|Image stabilization notes||Hybrid 5-axis available in movie mode|
|JPEG quality levels||Fine, standard|
|File format||JPEG (Exif v2.3)Raw (Panasonic RW2 format)|
|Optics & Focus|
|Focal length (equiv.)||25–250 mm|
|Autofocus||Contrast Detect (sensor)Multi-areaCenterSelective single-pointTrackingSingleContinuousTouchFace DetectionLive View|
|Autofocus assist lamp||Yes|
|Digital zoom||Yes (4X)|
|Normal focus range||50 cm (19.69″)|
|Macro focus range||5 cm (1.97″)|
|Number of focus points||49|
|Screen / viewfinder|
|Screen type||TFT LCD|
|Minimum shutter speed||60 sec|
|Maximum shutter speed||1/2000 sec|
|Maximum shutter speed (electronic)||1/16000 sec|
|Exposure modes||ProgramAperture PriorityShutter PriorityManual|
|Scene modes||Clear PortraitSilky SkinBacklit SoftnessClear in BacklightRelaxing ToneSweet Child’s FaceDistinct SceneryBright Blue SkyRomantic Sunset GlowVivid Sunset GlowGlistening WaterClear NightscapeCool Night SkyWarm Glowing NightscapeArtistic NightscapeGlittering IlluminationsHandheld Night ShotClear Night PortraitSoft Image of a FlowerAppetizing FoodCute DessertFreeze Animal MotionClear Sports ShotMonochrome|
|Flash range||8.00 m (at Auto ISO)|
|Flash modes||Auto, Auto/Red-eye Reduction, Forced On, Forced On/Red-eye Reduction, Slow Sync., Slow Sync./Red-eye Reduction, Forced Off|
|Continuous drive||10.0 fps|
|Self-timer||Yes (2 or 10 secs, 3 shots @ 10 sec)|
|Exposure compensation||±5 (at 1/3 EV steps)|
|AE Bracketing||±3 (3, 5, 7 frames at 1/3 EV, 1/2 EV, 1 EV steps)|
|Resolutions||4K/UHD (3840 x 2160 @ 30p/24p), 1920 x 1080 @ 60p/60i/30p/24p, 640 x 480 (30p)|
|Storage types||SD/SDHC/SDXC card|
|USB||USB 2.0 (480 Mbit/sec)|
|Remote control||Yes (via smartphone)|
|Battery description||Lithium-ion battery & charger|
|Battery Life (CIPA)||300|
|Weight (inc. batteries)||312 g (0.69 lb / 11.01 oz)|
|Dimensions||111 x 65 x 44 mm (4.37 x 2.56 x 1.73″)|
The ZS100 is a very video-centric camera, and not just for recording. The camera uses its video functions for two unique (and helpful) features: 4K Photo and Post Focus. But first, video.
Like its big brother, the FZ1000, the ZS100 has the ability to capture 4K video at 30p or 24p, with a top bit rate of 100 Mbps. At Full HD (1920 x 1080), 30p and 60p frame rates are also available, with bit rates of 20 and 28 Mbps, respectively. A high speed, 1080p/120 option is also available. Switching to the AVCHD codec gives you the option of 1080/60p, 60i, 30p and 24p.
Do note that the difference crops change the effective focal lengths in movie mode to 37-370mm at 4K and 26-260mm at 1080p, so plan accordingly.
While you can shoot video in any mode, you’ll want to switch to the camera’s dedicated movie mode to gain full control. The main thing you’ll gain access to is the ability to select your exposure mode (P/A/S/M) but there are a few other things, too, including the high speed video and snap movie features.
The video above shows two things. One, that 1080p videos are quite detailed: if you look at individual frames in the original file, you’ll see for yourself. On a less positive note, the camera’s Hybrid OIS system (described below) struggles with panning the camera, making the video jumpy. While there is a panning IS mode, it’s for stills only.
The majority of the features in still shooting mode can be used here as well plus focus peaking, zebra pattern, a wind filter and a zoom mic. The ZS100 lacks a mic input port – you’ll need to get the FZ1000 if you want that – as well as audio level monitoring.
In any video mode you can take full advantage of the camera’s touchscreen LCD, which allows for easy rack focusing as well as changing settings, without having to press any physical controls which could bump the camera. Our ZS100 was able to switch from a near to distant subject smoothly and with virtually no ‘wobble’ from its CDAF system.
If you’re shooting at Full HD (1920 x 1080) or below you can take advantage of the camera’s Hybrid 5-Axis OIS system, which adds digital rotation shake reduction to the camera’s existing 3-axis IS system. While your field-of-view will be cropped, the video below, taken at the long end of the lens, shows that it’s works very well but, as shown above, it struggles when panning the camera.
One other feature related to camera’s ability to correct for rotation is Level Shot. Simply put, this levels the horizon in videos taken at Full HD and smaller.
Below are two ‘supercuts,’ taken in daylight and low light. We’ve provided the ISO sensitivity whenever possible. Enjoy!
Video quality is excellent in the daylight clip, with just a bit of detail smudging on the tree trunks at the back-right side. You’ll also see a little focus hunting in the very last clip. There’s quite a bit of wind noise outdoors, but in-camera digital wind reduction can’t work miracles.
The ZS100 did a great job in low light, as well. There’s some noise but, even at 4K, it’s not bothersome. You will notice the camera going in and out of focus at around 0:40 seconds, as it struggles with the silhouettes in the foreground and the brightly lit musicians in the background.
4K Photo / Live Cropping
You can tell that Panasonic is excited about its 4K Photo feature when it puts a dedicated button for it on the back of the ZS100. Simply put, the camera will use its 4K capability to capture short clips (though not necessarily in the 16:9 aspect ratio of its video footage) from which you easily extract 8 Megapixel stills, which makes reduces the amount of ‘luck’ needed to capture that perfect moment. The interface for selecting the photo you want is clever, involving just a slight drag of your finger.
|This shot was grabbed using 4K Photo and brightened slightly. You can view the original image here.|
The example above was ‘grabbed’ from a short 4K video clip using the 4K photo start/stop mode. In order to use a shutter speed fast enough to freeze motion we did need to crank up the ISO to 400, so it’s a bit noisy, but you can still see how the feature lets you capture the shot you’re looking for.
4K Live Cropping allows you to pan or zoom in or out in a video without actually moving the camera. As its name implies, the camera crops a 4K clip to capture that area you’ve chosen in advance, and produces a 1080p video with the panning and/or zooming effect you requested. To do this you select a start and end point in the frame, which can be different areas of the frame, the size of the area cropped, or both. You must also set a duration of the clip, which can be 20 or a lengthy 40 seconds. After that, just press the video recording button to get started.
As you can see above, the results are pretty good. You’ll want to use a tripod to avoid any camera shake.
This somewhat hidden feature lets you capture short 2-8 second clips with pull focus and fade in/out effects which can be slotted into longer videos, if you wish. The pull focus feature is clever: you set the beginning and the end point with the touchscreen and the camera will slowly shift focus from one subject to the other as you record. Click here to see a very short example that we took with the DMC-GX8.
The fade feature, which can be used in conjunction with focus pull, offers white-in/white-out, black-in/black-out, and color-in/color-out (where it fades to or from black-and-white) options. Do note that snap movies are recorded at 1080/30p (or 25p in PAL countries).
A very cool feature, which even has a dedicated button on the ZS100, is post focus. While not nearly as high-tech as what Lytro has done with its Light Field camera, the results aren’t that different. After recording a very short video clip during which the camera racks focus across the depth of the scene, users can then tap the area on which they wish to focus with the rear screen, and then save that frame. Ideally you want to keep as still as possible during capture, which takes a second or two, but even with slight motion, post focus still works very well.
|By using the clever interface, I was able to simply tap the area on which I wanted to focus to get just the shot I wanted. The lighting conditions required a high ISO (1600 in this case), hence the noise.|
You can see another example of this feature in our review of the Panasonic GX8 mirrorless camera. As you might expect from a video-derived feature, Raw shooting is disabled and output is limited to 8MP when using Post Focus.
The ZS100 offers two Auto ISO modes: Auto and Intelligent. Auto ISO is a very simple implementation: it doesn’t let you specify a shutter speed (or relationship to focal length) at which the camera will increase the ISO setting but does let you choose an upper ISO limit. Intelligent ISO is a little more clever: it doesn’t allow any user input beyond setting the upper limit, instead trying to detect movement in the scene and increases the ISO to ensure a suitable shutter speed is used.
Auto ISO is available in manual exposure mode but the camera won’t let you use exposure comp to specify how bright the image should be. Auto ISO is only available for video when shooting in P, A or S modes (so there’s no way of setting your shutter speed and aperture, then getting the camera to maintain brightness).
The ZS100’s Wi-Fi features aren’t appreciably different than those from other recent Lumix cameras. Since the camera inexplicably lacks NFC, you must pair the camera using a QR code or by selecting its ad hoc network manually.
The app has been refined considerably since earlier versions, meaning that you no longer have to use the awkward ‘drag an image to side of the screen’ in order to share it (though you can, if you really want). On Android, sharing an image is just like it is in any other app.
iPhone and iPad users have a slightly different setup. When viewing an image in the app, choosing ‘share’ requires a Lumix Club account. However, if you just transfer the image to your phone or tablet, you can then send photos ‘normally.’
|Remote Capture in Panasonic Image App for Android. Behind that tab are the controls for zooming the lens.|
The remote capture portion of the app is quite robust, giving you access to all of the important camera settings. You can record stills and videos with tap-to-focus (and shoot) and control over white balance, ISO, drive mode and AF mode. All AF modes are available, though in many cases (such as with tracking), you need to watch the camera’s rear screen to actually see what happens. Since you cannot switch exposure mode in the app, you’ll need to do so using the camera’s mode dial.
The app also lets you record video at resolutions of up to 4K and you can even watch it on your phone after it’s been recorded. You cannot, however, transfer videos to your mobile device. Finally, a ‘jump shot’ feature lets you stuff your phone in a pocket, put the camera on a tripod, and have it take a photo when you’re at the top of your leap, based on the phone’s accelerometer.Tags: review, panasonic, superzoom
At the center of the frame at base ISO the ZS100 is on the soft side, due to both a light-handed JPEG sharpening engine and slightly soft lens. When looking at the text: the RX100 III is the clear leader, thanks to Sony’s intelligent JPEG sharpening algorithm and sharp lens. One more place to compare detail and sharpening is the print right here.
At ISO 1600 sharpness has dropped off markedly and a bit less detail is captured compared to the three other cameras in this group. If you look at the hair set-piece you can see that individual strands of hair are easier to see on the Sony than on either Panasonic. When really pushing the cameras at ISO 6400, the ZS100 does come off looking rather blotchy. In low light you can see that Panasonic is trying to defeat both luminance and chroma noise (note the false color blotches), at the expense of detail. Compare to Sony’s latest engine in the RX100 IV, and the ZS100’s JPEG engine appears even more unsophisticated: the RX100 IV retains far more detail, while keeping noise levels down, at higher ISOs.
Colors in JPEGs is rather dull at default settings, especially compared to the Canon G7X, whose saturation is similar to that of the company’s DSLRs, which many consider the benchmark for color saturation and likability. As with the GX8 we recently reviewed, the Panasonic ZS100’s color rendering tends to take yellows and push them toward green, which makes skin tones rather unappealing. Under tungsten light the auto white balance leans toward the warm side (though not nearly as much as the RX100), though you can still see a bit of that green color cast.
Looking at the resolution chart in Raw mode you’ll see that the ZS100 comes in fourth place, with noticeable moiré. At high ISOs the amount of chroma noise is comparable to the other three cameras, though the Sony has a bit less, due to the fact that they are performing noise reduction in its Raw files.
To show off the benefits of Raw, we took this very underexposed photo and worked some magic in Adobe Camera Raw to make it more appealing:
|Original JPEG, ISO 1600, 1/125 sec, F2.8, 25mm equivalent.||Raw conversion (ACR 9.5)|
Adjustments: +2.7 EV, highlights -53, blacks -5, clarity +5, lights +9, luminance NR 15, warmer white balance.
We’ve taken that dark image and pulled the exposure up by 2.7 stops, which gives the room the appearance that it’s lit by the setting sun. Even with that increase in exposure, noise levels are reasonable (especially when you consider that this was taken at ISO 1600) and there’s no banding to be found. You can download the original Raw file here.
Next, we wanted to see what happens when you really push a ZS100 Raw file. In the photo below, shot at the base ISO of 125, we exposed for the highlights, keeping them from clipping. As a result, everything else is completely dark. But this sensor is so capable that you’ll be amazed at what’s hiding in the shadows.
|Original JPEG, ISO 125, 1/320 sec, F4.7, 79mm equiv.||Raw, processed ‘to taste’. Exposure +1.75, highlights -88, shadows +100, whites +29.||Raw, heavily pushed. Exposure +3.15, highlights -85, shadows +100, whites -30, blacks -53.|
It’s really amazing seeing just how much detail hiding in the shadows. In the heavily pushed image, which you’d never actually use in reality due to the high levels of noise, there’s a Holiday Inn sign that just wasn’t there before, and the windows at the bottom of the scene are well-defined. There is some mild banding at the lower-left of the pushed image, which isn’t surprising given what’s been done to that Raw file.