Lumix ZS100: A Goldilocks camera for image lovers who need more zoom from their point and shoot

Lumix ZS100: A Goldilocks camera for image lovers who need more zoom from their point and shoot

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS100 Digital Camera (Black)A common theme in compact cameras is the tradeoff between zoom range and image quality. The very top rated () has the best image quality, but a small zoom range of 24-70mm. The () stretches that to 24-100mm, but that’s not much of a gain. On the other extreme, the () provides both an amazing zoom and great image quality, but is much larger and more expensive. Enter the . It is larger than the RX100 or Canon G series, but not by a huge amount. In exchange it offers a larger, 25-250mm, zoom range but doesn’t trade off much in image quality.

The ZS100 holds its own with other compacts in image quality.
Note that there isn’t a comparison score for the G3X, so I included my favorite inexpensive model,
the , which is always in my pocket unless I’m reviewing something else

The ZS100 has a high-quality, integrated, EVF – which I much prefer to the “pop-up” style that requires fiddling to use. Coupled with both a touchscreen and a familiar-feeling set of classic “point-and-shoot” controls, the camera is about as easy to use as a compact camera can be. Front & top controls are also a welcome feature for those used to high-end cameras.  It has customizable function buttons for even more flexibility. It’s small pop-up flash is certainly okay in a pinch, and about as good as you can expect from a small camera. Purists won’t like that there is no hot shoe, but that is pretty typical for all but the largest of the compact cameras. The camera’s AF system is snappy, and keeps up with bursts up to 6 fps (10 fps without AF). However, it is only based on Contrast detection, while some of the more expensive models, like the have added the faster Phase detection technology. It includes face and eye tracking to keep focus once acquired.

The Leica-designed 10-element lens is a fairly-bright f/2.8 at the wide end, stopping down to a respectable f/5.9 at full zoom. A 5-axis “hybrid” optical image stabilization system rounds out the camera’s optical system. There’s a kind of cool “Level Shot” capability, that will try to re-orient a video to keep horizontal lines level as you tilt the camera. The Panorama feature also works well (one of the few features missing from my tiny ).

In-camera panorama of the Desert Trip festival taken with the  
I shot at –1.5 e.v. to avoid the highlights blowing out, and then used a simple “Auto Curves” in Photoshop to try to save some of the shadows

Generally good image quality, especially at the wide end

If you keep the ZS100’s lens fairly wide (about 100mm here) you get okay apertures (f/5.1 here)
and can get quick shutter speeds (1/250s here) at plausible ISOs (3200 here)
Stanford Women’s Volleyball, indoors at Maples.

Even though I completely messed up by leaving the –1-2/3 e.v. dialed in
this scenic from our hotel room recovered nicely with a little tweaking
That speaks well of the camera’s native ability to capture shadow detail.

Do you need more zoom? You know who you are!

I’m a big believer that the best camera is the one you have with you, so even though I have a shelf full of various “large” cameras, I always have my compact in my pocket, just in case. Even if I have a DSLR out and set up, often I want to take a quick shot of something else and the quickest way is to grab for it. For its size and cost, it’s great and shoots RAW, so its awesome. But sometimes, you need more reach. If you find yourself doing a lot of cropping of your images, you’re a candidate for a longer zoom range. Especially with small-sensor cameras, heavy cropping is going to seriously impact image quality. In my case, I was headed down to the “once in a lifetime” Desert Trip (aka Oldchella) concert. Without a media credential, I’d be limited to a “non-Pro” camera. Not sure what that meant, but knowing I’d need more than the 70mm zoom of my little Canon, I did some research and decided the would be perfect for the job.

The Rolling Stones, Desert Trip @ 250mm
1/100s @ f/5.7, ISO 1600
-1 2/3 e.v. per usual for night concerts

All in all, I was very pleased. I shot in RAW+JPEG for stills, and in 4K resolution for videos. The concerts were mostly at night so, even with stage lights, I had to push the ISO to 1600 or 3200. That’s far from ideal for a compact camera, but the images came out reasonably well. As you’d expect, the lens is variable maximum aperture, so as I zoomed in, I needed to increase the ISO to keep my shutter speed. As a result, my 250mm shots were far from ideal, but the fact that I could take them at all was sort of amazing. I actually also really liked the in-camera JPEGs (like the above image of The Rolling Stones. I felt that the camera’s noise reduction was actually better than I was able to do with some simple fiddling in Adobe’s Raw converters. Unfortunately, my favorite noise defeater, DxO’s OpticsPro with PRIME, doesn’t have support for the ZS100, so I couldn’t compare it.

Great Video, but don’t count on great audio

The 4K video I shot came out really well – especially after I ran it through YouTube’s image stabilization (which, if you haven’t tried it, is quite impressive). The audio, in contrast, even though stereo, came out a little tinny. Of course, expecting a pocket camera to mimic a multi-million dollar sound system is a little silly, but the certainly had much better audio. You can see some of the video clips I recorded online as a Desert Trip playlist:

The Bottom Line: Should you buy a ?

For a change, this one is pretty straightforward. If you need a 10x zoom in a compact camera, and don’t want to sacrifice the image quality you get with a 1-inch format sensor, the is well worth its $700. Just about the only downside is that it is a little bulkier than some of its competitors that have a smaller zoom range. In a perfect world, I might pair this with my , carrying the smaller Canon most days, and switching to the Lumix when I’m planning on photographing an event.

Some more sample images from Desert Trip:

: Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones

: Neil Young and Paul McCartney

: The Who and Roger Waters

Full specs:

Actual: 20.9 Megapixel
Effective: 20.1 Megapixel

1" MOS

File Formats
Still Images: JPEG, RAW
Movies: AVCHD Ver. 2.0, MP4
Audio: AAC, Dolby Digital 2ch

Max Resolution
20 MP: 5472 x 3648

Aspect Ratio
1:1, 3:2, 4:3, 16:9

Image Stabilization
Optical & Mechanical, 5-Way

Leica DC Vario-Elmarit, 12 elements in 10 groups
5 Aspherical
EFL: 9.1-91mm (35 mm equivalent: 25-250mm)
Aperture: f/2.8 (W) - 5.9 (T) to f/8

Optical: 10x
Extra Optical Zoom (EZ): 14x
Extra Optical Zoom (EZ): 20x
Intelligent Zoom: 20x
Digital: 4x

Focus Range
Wide: 1.64' (50 cm) - Infinity
Telephoto: 2.30' (70 cm) - Infinity
Wide Macro: 1.97" (5 cm) - Infinity

ISO Sensitivity
Auto, 125-12800 (Extended Mode: 80-25600)

Type: Mechanical
Speed: 60 - 1/2000 second
Type: Electronic
Speed: 1 - 1/16000 second
120 - 0 second in  Time Mode

Exposure Metering
Center-weighted, Multi, Spot

Exposure Modes
Modes: Aperture Priority, Manual, Program, Shutter Priority
Compensation: -5 EV to +5 EV (in 1/3 EV steps)

White Balance Modes
Auto, Cloudy, Color Temperature, Daylight, Flash, Incandescent, Shade, White Set 1, White Set 2, White Set 3, White Set 4

Continuous Shooting
Up to 50 fps at 20.1 MP
Up to 10 fps at 20.1 MP
Up to 6 fps at 20.1 MP
Up to 2 fps at 20.1 MP
Up to 30 fps at 8 MP

Self Timer
10 Sec, 2 Sec

Flash Modes
Auto/Red-eye Reduction
Forced On
Forced On/Red-eye Reduction
Slow Sync
Slow Sync/Red-eye Reduction

Built-in Flash

Maximum Effective Flash Range
Wide: 1.97 - 26.25' (0.6 - 8 m)
Telephoto: 2.30 - 12.47' (0.7 - 3.8 m)

Memory Card Type

Video Recording

3840 x 2160p: 30 fps, 24 fps
1920 x 1080p: 60 fps, 30 fps, 24 fps
1920 x 1080i: 60 fps
1280 x 720p: 30 fps
640 x 480p: 30 fps

Video Clip Length
Up to 29 Min 59 Sec

Audio Recording
Built-in Mic: With Video, Stereo

Viewfinder Type

Viewfinder Coverage

3.0" LCD Rear Touch Screen (1,040,000 pixels)

Screen Coverage

HDMI D (Micro), Micro-USB, USB 2.0

Yes, 802.11b/g/n built-in

1x Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery Pack, 7.2 VDC, 1025 mAh

Dimensions (WxHxD)
4.4 x 2.5 x 1.7" / 110.5 x 64.5 x 44.3 mm

11.01 oz / 312 g with battery and memory card

Package Weight
1.15 lb

Box Dimensions (LxWxH)
5.4 x 5.0 x 2.6"