Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30 review

Panasonic's compact Lumix DMC-ZS30 features a long 20x zoom lens and integrated Wi-Fi, NFC, and GPS, but image quality disappoints.
Photo of Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30 ($399.99 direct) is a compact camera that manages to squeeze a 20x zoom lens into a pocketable form factor. The 18-megapixel shooter is sturdily built and boasts a sharp touch screen and built-in Wi-Fi to transfer photos to your phone. Performance is speedy, but image quality here is so-so. When you factor in a higher-than-average asking price, you have a camera that isn’t nearly as good a value as our Editors’ Choice superzoom, the Canon PowerShot SX280 HS.

Design and Feautres
Compact when you consider its ambitious zoom lens, the ZS30 measures just 2.3 by 4.3 by 1.1 (HWD) inches and weighs 6.1 ounces. It’s just slightly smaller than the 2.4-by-4.4-by-1.3-inch, 7.3-ounce Nikon Coolpix S9500. The ZS30′s lens is a 24-480mm (35mm equivalent design) with a variable f/3.3-6.4 aperture. That’s a pretty useful zoom range, and a standard f-stop rating for a zoom of this size. You’ll need to move up to a bigger superzoom like Panasonic’s excellent FZ200 in order to get an f/2.8 lens with better light-gathering capability.

The ZS30 is available in black or silver, and there’s a very modest front handgrip, covered in black leatherette, and a spattering of controls along the right side of the body. On the top plate you’ll find a mode dial, zoom rocker and shutter button, a movie record button, and the power button. Rear controls include  buttons to adjust the EV compensation, self-timer, flash output, and macro focusing mode. There’s an Exposure/Map button that allows you to adjust the aperture or shutter speed when shooting in the appropriate mode, or view GPS-tagged photos on a world map when in playback mode.

The camera utilizes Panasonic’s Q.Menu function for quick adjustments to shooting settings. It launches an overlay menu that deliver control over the GPS function, image resolution, ISO, white balance, focus area, drive mode, video quality, and display brightness. It’s similar to the overlay menu that Canon uses in its PowerShot series, save for the Panasonic implementation running across the top rather than the left side as Canon’s does.

The rear display is a 3-inch design with a 920k-dot resolution. It’s incredibly sharp, and supports touch input. Unlike other touch-capable cameras like the 4.8-inch Samsung Galaxy Camera, the ZS30′s interface is supplemental to physical controls rather than a replacement for them. It’s possible to tap an area of the screen to focus, or to focus and fire the shutter, and there’s also a zoom touch control. During image playback the screen can be used to swipe through images, or to pinch-zoom to enlarge a portion of a photo.

The Wi-Fi implementation here is impressive, not only allowing image transfer to an iOS or Android device, but also remote shooting control via that same device. Controls are limited, but you can adjust the focal length of the lens and fire the shutter via your phone’s screen; a Live View feed updates as the scene changes. It’s easy to set up via the free Lumix Link app, and direct pairing is supported with NFC or via a password. It’s also possible to view images wirelessly on a Wi-Fi-enabled HDTV and for your camera and phone to talk to each other if they are logged into the same Wi-Fi network. Photo transfer can take place on an image-by-image basis after capture, or you can set the ZS30 to automatically transmit photos to your phone as they are shot. In addition to Wi-Fi, there’s a GPS radio; when enabled, it adds geographic location data to your photos so you can view them on a map. It worked well, locking onto a signal within two minutes of its initial use, and embedding accurate locations.

Performance and Conclusions
The ZS30 starts and shoots in 1.5 seconds and manages a short 0.1-second shutter lag at its widest angle. Focus is reasonably fast when zoomed all the way in, it took about 1.2 seconds to bring an out-of-focus subject into crisp view and fire a shot. There are a number of burst shooting options; the fastest full-resolution option nets 10fps, but it does so with a single autofocus lock and is limited to 6 shots. Shooting at 5fps allows the camera to adjust autofocus between photos, but it’s still limited to 7 shots at that pace. There’s also a 2fps burst mode that is good for about 37 shots before it slows down. The Canon SX280 HS matches the startup and shutter lag of the ZS30, but while its 3fps burst rate isn’t the fastest, it can shoot at that pace for as long as you’d like it to.

I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the 20x zoom lens. At its widest angle and aperture the ZS30 scored 1,661 lines per picture height. That’s under the 1,800 lines we require for a sharp image via our center-weighted metrics, and it’s evident in the resulting images that have a bit of a soft look. Compare this to the Samsung WB800F, which has a slightly more ambitious 21x (23-483mm) zoom lens, which scores 1,992 lines on the same test.

Imatest also checks photos for noise, which can add an unwanted graininess and detract from detail as the image sensor’s sensitivity to light is increased. The ZS30 only manages to keep noise below 1.5 percent through ISO 400, which isn’t that impressive a result. The score jumps to 2.1 percent at ISO 800, but there’s not a huge drop-off in image quality at that setting. By the time you get to ISO 1600, photos are noticeably smudged. The SX280 HS does better job in terms of noise control, it keeps it under 1.5 percent through ISO 1600. But close examination of photos on our calibrated NEC MultiSync PA271W display show that there’s some smudging evident there as well, but it’s not as dramatic as it is with the ZS30.

Video recording is a strong point. The ZS30 records AVCHD footage at up to 1080p60 quality with stereo audio. The sound of the lens zooming in and out isn’t audible on the soundtrack, and the footage looks colorful and sharp with smooth motion. There’s a micro HDMI port, so you can plug into an HDTV, as well as a proprietary USB port that doubles as the charging port. An AC adapter is included, but you’ll have to buy an external charger if you don’t want to limit yourself to in-camera battery charging. Standard SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards are supported.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30 is, on the surface, an impressive camera. It’s well built, has an ambitious zoom range, a sharp touch-screen display, and a high-resolution image sensor, plus built-in Wi-Fi and GPS. But the sharpness of its lens is a disappointment, and it doesn’t do as well at high ISOs as other cameras in its class. At $400 it’s a tough sell, especially when we found the $330 Canon PowerShot SX280 HS to be a better performer that also packs Wi-Fi. But if you’re crazy about connectivity you may also want to consider the Samsung Galaxy Camera. It’s more expensive at $500, but its Android operating system and always-on cellular capabilities make it a top choice for intense social networkers.

Specifications
Dimensions 2.3 x 4.3 x 1.1 inches
Interface Ports Proprietary, micro HDMI
Sensor Type CMOS
Megapixels 18 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
Recycle time 0.1 seconds
LCD dots 920000
LCD size 3 inches
Touch Screen Yes
Media Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum ISO 3200
Type Superzoom
GPS Yes
Optical Zoom 20 x
Boot time 1.5 seconds
35-mm Equivalent (Wide) 24 mm
Weight 6.1 oz
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 0 feet
Video Resolution 720p, 1080p
Lines Per Picture Height 1661
LCD Aspect Ratio 4
Image Stabilization Optical
35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto) 480 mm
Shutter Lag 0.1 seconds
Sensor Size 1/2.3" (6.2 x 4.6mm) mm
Viewfinder Type None

Verdict
Panasonic's compact Lumix DMC-ZS30 features a long 20x zoom lens and integrated Wi-Fi, NFC, and GPS, but image quality disappoints.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc