There’s been much debate and a little bit of revelation for the digital camera market when it comes to the emerging dominance of smartphone and tablet shooters. Once upon a time there was little question that in order to take a proper photo you had to have a dedicated point-and-shoot camera, but today that’s no longer the case as iPhones, iPads and Android devices have turned this remarkable specialty into an everyday occurrence. For the most part we here at Popzara are content with the immediacy of snapping a photo on our pocket touchscreens but Panasonic is out to remind people that dedicated cameras like the Lumix DMC-ZS15 12.1 Megapixel Digital Camera are still busy dominating the compact camera market and should be considered anything but extinct, or “vintage” for you hip types.
The last digital megazoom we reviewed was this model’s distant predecessor: the DMC-ZS7, there were plenty of things we liked and some things we didn’t. First off, the styling of the ZS15 is practically identical to the previous models in the lineup, there are subtle cues like a thinner door flap on the side (for Mini-HDMI and micro USB port), slightly revised button layout, omission of the GPS feature, and finished metallic accent surrounds for an polished industrial look. Other changes include the ability to take pictures in 3D and a very discreet increase in WHD dimensions (4.13 x 2.27 x 1.31 inch) that continues to be pocket-unfriendly.
As with most cameras of this caliber power is supplied by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that can provide roughly 4 hours of activity with included micro USB cable and wall charger. SD memory cards are the standard storage option aside from the internal memory (64GB SDXC cards is the ZS15’s accepted maximum) but you’ll have to get the latter accessories on your own dime.
If this review is starting to sound a bit familiar then our overall experience will come as little surprise as well. For the most part an extensive array of options buried within the interface is still there; fortunately the tab setup has done away with in favor of a sub-menu approach that makes better use of larger easy-to-understand icons whenever possible. Navigation is also zippier and more intuitive thanks to the refreshed UI and the Q.Menu button makes accessing the more important tweaks such as ISO (film speed/sensitivity), autofocus, and white balancing much less of a chore.
Getting cozy with this megazoom involved navigating through a plethora of control modes that began with the dial on top for immediate changes in how good your pictures will look: iA(intelligent), P (personal), A (aperture), S (shutter), M (manual), C1 (custom), C2 (custom), and 3D/SCN/picture effects (labeled with an easel icon). Most casual photographers should do fine with the picture mode dial alone, and that’s not even scratching the surface. In its default settings our pictures were fairly detailed in clarity with a hint of warm (reddish) temperature hues and much of the pre-shot focusing and recognition, for quick snapshots the ZS15 is probably more than enough camera than most will ever need.
Dive deeper, however, and you‘ll have control of over 20 unique modes that range from creative control, scene imaging, and continuous frame shooting. That’s quite a bit to take in for a 12.1 megapixel camera but during our tests we found that some of the modes were more for play (creative control) while a couple of the scene mode presets such as “baby” and “pet” we couldn’t make any real sense of.
Despite the more unusual features the lens performance is definitely the high mark for the ZS15 with 16x optical zoom and 32x intelligent zoom with resolution enhancement reduces unsightly blur in all but the most extreme close ups; a modest improvement compared to our previous tester. Taking wide angle 24mm shots is also unique to the ZS15 and lends itself well if you want to take larger straightforward shot without much effort. The biggest upgrades involve Panasonic making their own physical alterations to the already advanced LEICA lens itself by adding nano surface coating for reducing motion ghosting and flares and Optic Image Stabilization (O.I.S.) that supposed to automatically fix shaky hands, zoom-ins, and night photos. Seasoned photographers will notice how well the ZS15 copes (or interferes depending on preference) in most environments, most notably in darker areas this time around.
Video is another feat the ZS15 does moderately well and is capable of recording Full HD (1920×1080) at 30 fps (1080p/30), 1080i/60, and 720p/60 or lower. If you stick with the high definition options and AF tracking video typically turn out pretty sharp and only a scant amount of pixel artifacts. Unfortunately, sound quality is hampered by the lack of noise cancelling aides and leaves much to be desired. Basic format choices are also limited to MP4 and AVCHD, while 3D images (a feature which we didn’t have the opportunity to test) use an MPO file format.
For such a feature-heavy camera additions like the O.I.S. and user preferences that make the ZS15 so great can also its biggest weakness. During our tests battery life was downright poor with all of the menu enhancements turned on with the average session ranging between 90-135 min (about 40-60 pix) on a full charge, hardly enough time to capture those precious moment during an evening barbeque I went to. Of course, simply turning off the aides helps and adds a few more hours to your photo sessions but then you’ll have noise grain (snow) and sluggish performance detail in environments with stark B/W contrasts. Quite frankly, cheaper point-and-shoots do a slightly better job if you don’t plan on utilizing the most this camera has to offer.
Effectively, the Lumix DMC-ZS15 12.1 Megapixel Digital Camera is Panasonic’s answer to an ever-changing camera market; it dutifully competes with the other megazoom big boys and makes an indirect case for itself among a growing list of attractive cheaper alternatives (smartphones and tablets). Not fixing what wasn’t broken in the first place makes the experience familiar for those settled within the Lumix family, although many of the same complaints we had with previous models are present here, and it’s a shame that its battery life suffers at the expense of using many of its image-enhancing features. By no means perfect, the ZS15 is still one of the more attractive compact point-and-shoot cameras to grace the office in some time.
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