2016 January 25    Digital   Camera Reviews





Pre-ordering newly-released cameras can be a valid strategy, and sometimes it's worth it to do that. 

In fact I've been thinking about that, because Panasonic has the new ZS60K digital camera available soon.

Well, I don't have a ZS60 to test yet, but I do have a ZS50 right here, right now.  As you may know, the ZS50 is a travel camera that also has a 30x zoom.

Today, we're going to see if this camera is still any good as we go into 2016. 

And that should give us some idea of whether the new ZS60 will be worthwhile.



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In This Article


Some Specifications

Battery

Power-Up / Basic Use

Auto Mode

Video

Flash

Image Quality

White Balance

Lens

Low-Light / High ISO Performance

Zoom

ZS50 vs. ZS60

Conclusion



Some Specifications

35mm Zoom Equivalent:  24-720mm
Apertures Available:   f/3.3-6.4
Batteries:  Panasonic DMW-BCM13E   (3.6V, 1250 mAh, 4.5 Wh   Li-ion battery)
Battery Charges Outside Camera?  No

Connectors:  USB multi (AV out / digital);  Mini-HDMI out
Crop Factor:  5.2
Exposure Compensation:  +/-2 EV in 1/3-stop increments
Exposure Control:   Auto, Programmed Auto (P), Aperture Priority (Av), Shutter Priority (Tv), Manual (M), & Smart Auto scene modes
Flash:  Built-in only
Focus:  Auto;  Auto Macro;  Manual Focus also available
GPS:  No
HDR:  Yes (in-camera)
Image Formats:  JPG and 12-bit RAW
Image Processor:  Venus Engine
Image Stabilization:  Optical
Introduced:  2015 April
ISO settings:  ISO 80 through 6400, with Auto ISO available
LCD:  3" fixed TFT (1,040K dots)
Lens:  non-interchangeable zoom lens, Leica DC Vario Elmar, 4.3 to 129 mm
Memory (Built-In):  86 MB
Metering:  Multi, Center-Weighted, & Spot modes
Microphone:  Built-In only (Stereo) / no mic input jack
Panoramic Modes:  Yes (in-camera)
Resolution:  12.1 megapixels
Sensor:  1/2.3 inch MOS (7.7 mm diagonal)
Shutter speeds:   4 to 1/2,000th (can set it for up to 60 sec. in Starry Sky scene mode).
Video:  1080p @ 60 fps (AVCHD);  1080p @ 30 fps (MP4)
Viewfinder:   Electronic (1,166k-dot EVF)
Weight (no batteries):  about 8 1/2 ounces with battery
Wi-Fi:  Yes
Zoom magnification:  30x (optical) (24-720 mm equivalent) 




Battery


The ZS50 has a removeable battery, but it has to be in the camera when charging it.

Serious photographers tend to prefer batteries that can charge externally, but for a travel camera it's not as critical. At least you can swap out the battery, which means you can carry spares that are already juiced up.  You just have to charge them while they're inside the camera, that's all.



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Power-Up & Basic Use

The Panasonic bridge cameras, such as the FZ70 and FZ200, have the power switch in a very convenient place where you can activate it with the flip of a thumb.

The ZS50 has a power button which, presumably, is supposed to be pressed with your index finger.  You know, the same finger you'll use to press the shutter button when you're taking pictures.  In theory this sounds easier, although I greatly prefer the power switch on the FZ70 / FZ200.

Zooming is fairly intuitive, just as on the bridge cameras. 

Given the small size of this camera, there are quite a few buttons in the control space that was designed for your right index finger. It's definitely less spacious than you'll find on a bridge camera or a DSLR, but I doubt anyone will be surprised here.  It's very compact, which is one of the main selling points.

Basically, we've got something that's almost as compact as a smartphone, but it has a somewhat larger sensor, a much more powerful zoom, and a host of actual, physical controls like a serious camera.  That's because it is a serious camera, or at least as serious as you're going to get in a camera with a point-and-shoot sensor (1/2.3").

Right away, one other stand-out feature is the control ring around the lens.  Mine is set to control white balance, but you can program it to do other functions instead.  (I think I probably bumped something accidentally to set it that way;  it's probably supposed to control the aperture.)



Auto Mode

The ZS50 has "iA" mode (Intelligent Auto), just as you'd find on the bridge cameras (FZ70, FZ200, FZ300). 

One thing I like about this is that it knows when to switch between macro and regular focus modes.  The only drawback is that it doesn't always get the AF right on macro, but that's not an issue with Intelligent Auto mode.

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Video

The video record button on the ZS50 is near the shutter release, just as you'll find on the FZ200, FZ70, etc;  however, it's a bit smaller, as you'd expect.   

You can activate Record from almost any mode, which is handy. 

Probably, no one is going to expect a mic input jack on a camera this small, and there's not one.  It's a travel camera;  if you're that serious about doing video on your vacation, you'll probably be bringing along a DSLR anyway. 

The ZS50 supports both MP4 and AVCHD formats.  You might recognize AVCHD as a digital camcorder format;  it's not something I remember seeing on many still cams. 

The MP4 format on this camera gives you 30 fps across the board, whether you're shooting at 1080, 720, or 480p.  If you want higher framerates, use AVCHD;  you can get 60 fps in 1080 or 720 here. 



(Purchase this camera  or pre-order the ZS60K)

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Flash

No external flash unit, because there's no hotshoe.   Not surprising at all for a camera this small and compact.  The built-in flash works pretty well, even as a fill-flash.   

One of the first things I look for with camera flash is anything annoying, like those awful, headache-inducing pre-flashes that some cameras use (*ahem* Canon). 

I didn't see that here;  even the anti-redeye mode fires the flash only once before the main flash goes. 


Christmas Ornament With Flash

Panasonic DMC-ZS50K

No significant adjustments.


The flash seems to illuminate evenly, although I didn't test it at ridiculous ranges (like across-the-street at night).  

Overall, I like the implementation;  and it's just one of many things to like about this camera.


(Purchase this camera  or pre-order the ZS60K)

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Image Quality

At 12.1 megapixels, the ZS50 has what I consider the ideal resolution for this sensor size (which is nominally 1/2.3"). 

Higher pixel counts start to lose detail from diffraction.

There's also the Leica lens, which is about as close as I'll probably get to owning a Leica.  (I'd consider a Leica film camera, but their digital cameras do not interest me.)

So far, we've got the basis for good image quality, but there's one more major element.

The colors.

Right out of the box, straight-from-camera, photos from the ZS50 seem a little too blue/cyan-- as if they need a warming filter or something.  It's not that noticeable;  here's a photo taken in late-afternoon shade which somewhat accentuates the effect. 

Actually I'm nitpicking here;  the colors look pretty good in most conditions. 


Vise

Panasonic DMC-ZS50K

Overcast / late afternoon shade

No significant adjustments


One definite issue: the ZS50 doesn't let you adjust saturation.

The advanced user manual does not contain one instance of the word "saturation", so it's not that I'm overlooking it.  It's just not there.

There is some control over white balance, though;  see White Balance.

The ZS50 seems to be designed for users who are semi-serious, but not serious enough to want control over color rendition.  Instead there are a few pre-set "Scene" modes.  These are great for vacations, but somewhat limiting for an enthusiast.

Now, if you're even halfway competent at post-processing, this is not going to be that much of an issue for you.  

And besides, the colors are usually OK right from the camera;  on this one, all I did was increase the brightness and contrast a bit.


Maple Leaves and Blue-Grey

Nov. 2, 2015

Panasonic DMC-ZS50K
ISO 80
1/320th sec.
66.8mm focal length

Brightness and Contrast were adjusted on computer.





(Purchase this camera  or pre-order the ZS60K)

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White Balance


Unlike the Panasonic bridge cameras, the ZS50 doesn't offer as much fine-adjustment of the white balance.  Instead of a two-axis adjustment, there's a one-axis adjustment.  

The ZS50 allows you to shift the white balance toward red or blue only.  This is better than nothing, but if you want more DSLR-like color control in a superzoom, get the FZ200, FZ300, or at least the FZ70.  They're larger cameras,  but that's usually how it goes;  the really compact ones forego some of the advanced features.


(Purchase this camera  or pre-order the ZS60K)

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Lens

Leica DC Vario-Elmar (12 elements in 9 groups). 

Meanwhile, the FZ200 has a Leica DC Vario-Elmarit lens (14 elements, 10 groups).

As far as I know, the major functional difference between Elmar and Elmarit is the maximum aperture.  The Elmarit goes to f/2.8 at the widest, while Elmar goes to f/3.3. 

Thus far the lens on the ZS50 seems very good.    As with any real-life zoom lens, the corners are not going to be quite as sharp as the center, but I didn't find it to be distracting here.  It's relatively mild.


Blue Sky With Tree Branches

Panasonic DMC-ZS50K
ISO 80
1/500th sec.
4.3mm focal length

No significant adjustments.



Under some conditions, I think the FZ200 has sharper pictures overall, but I'll have to compare to be sure.  If anything, it seems to be a matter of the focal length you're currently using.

For everyday shooting it's not significant enough that I'd give it much thought.  I'm more interested in this camera as a "portable sketchbook" for composing film photographs.  And for that, it works great.


(Purchase this camera  or pre-order the ZS60K)

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Low-Light / High ISO Performance


A 1/2.3" sensor is good up through about ISO 800 in dim light, and maybe 1600 in brighter light. 

In very dim lighting, you'll either need to use a tripod or flash.  

This, again, is par for the course with small-sensor digital cameras.   As with its bridge-camera brethren, the ZS50 is primarily a daylight camera.  You'd want to take this along to the wildlife park at noon, but it's not the kind of camera you'll want for ambient-light pictures when you go to that restaurant later in the evening.  

(For that use, I'd pick this.)

If you're somewhere you can use a flash, then it's not an issue. 

Besides, if you're like me, you will begin to annoy your wife and kids while you're trying to take all those ambient-light photos while the dinner slowly gets cold. 

My advice:  stop trying to pose the food thirty different ways.  Just take a quick snapshot with a flash, put the camera away, and enjoy your meal. 





Zoom

The 30x optical zoom is quite significant for a camera this compact.  (Consider that the Panasonic FZ200-- a full-fledged superzoom camera-- has a 24x optical zoom.)  The FZ200 will have sharper images across more of its zoom range, but the little ZS50 is surprisingly good for what it is.  

The 35mm-equivalent zoom range on the ZS50 is 24 through 720 millimeters.


(Purchase this camera  or pre-order the ZS60K)

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ZS50 vs. ZS60

There are several key differences which could easily swing the decision in favor of the new Panasonic ZS60:

1.  The ZS60 can shoot 4K video.  This will probably become increasingly important as the rest of technology moves onward.

2.  The ZS60 has a touchscreen.  Although this doesn't matter so much to me, some people practically require one.

3.  The ZS60 has 49-point autofocus, whereas the ZS50 has 23-point.  The ZS60 is supposed to have faster AF, also, which isn't surprising.  Fast AF is one of the key requirements for being able to use a superzoom with any success.

4.  The ZS60 has a ridiculously fast maximum shutter speed of 1/16,000th of a second.  This would be more useful to me if the camera also had a flash hotshoe, but as it is, I'm sure you'll find situations where the fast shutter speed can be useful.

Is there anything in favor of the older ZS50? 

Well, aside from the fact that it costs less, I'd still prefer the ZS50 for pure still-shooting.  That's because 12 MP is about the largest number of pixels that should rightfully be on a sensor this small.  At 18 MP, the ZS60 is almost certainly going to show the effects of diffraction more obviously.  That, and it probably won't be as good in low-light photography.

Probably the ZS60 can handle its megapixel count better than the older ZS40 (which also had 18.1 MP), because I would expect the ZS60 to have better JPG processing.  Then again, there are limits.

As for the ZS60 vs. the ZS50:  both cameras have RAW image capability, both have Wi-Fi, and both have the same resolution LCD's and EVF's.   You can't go too far wrong with either camera;  the ZS50 is definitely more affordable.


(Purchase this camera  or pre-order the ZS60K)

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Conclusion

The Panasonic ZS50 lives up to its design purpose:  it's a great little vacation camera. 

It has a good lens, powerful zoom, and great image quality... all in a very compact form factor that should actually fit in the pocket of your jacket or vest. 

As with any of these small-sensor cameras, it's primarily for daylight photography, but if you don't mind bracing it against something and using low ISO's and slow shutter speeds, you can get good photos without too much noise and blotching.

Color rendition and image quality are very good, even if the control set doesn't cater to the advanced enthusiast.  Most of the photos straight-from-camera have nothing to complain about.

Overall, I'd say this camera is worth getting;  the newer ZS60 has several improved features, with the one possible drawback of having more pixels stuffed onto the same 1/2.3" sensor.    Either way, it's going to be a solid choice, as long as your goal is not low-light photography.



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