GPS-Equipped Compact Ultra Zoom Cameras Review

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10

The Lumix DMC-ZS10 (known as the TZ20 in some countries) is the latest in Panasonic's line of travel zoom cameras. The TZ and now ZS series cameras have really been blockbusters for Panasonic, and they've made some pretty big changes to their newest model. Some of the most significant features on the ZS10 include the switch from a CCD to a CMOS sensor, a wider and more powerful lens, Full HD video support, and the addition of a touchscreen LCD (which seems to be showing up on more and more Panasonic cameras).


Here's what you'll find when you open up the ZS10's box:

  • The 14.1 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-ZS10 digital camera
  • DMW-BCG10 rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • Stylus pen
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring PhotoFunStudio 6.1 HD Lite Edition
  • 34 page basic manual (printed) + full manual (on CD-ROM)

Unlike the PowerShot SX230 that you probably just read about, Panasonic actually gives you a little onboard memory to work with. That said, 18MB isn't much, holding just two photos at the highest image quality setting. That means that you'll still need to buy a memory card, with the ZS10 supporting SD, SDHC, and SDXC media. I'd recommend going 4GB for stills and 8GB or higher for movies. Again, a Class 6 or faster card is recommended for best camera performance.

The camera uses the DMW-BCG10 lithium-ion battery, which was also used on the DMC-ZS5 and ZS7 cameras. This battery has a relatively low amount of energy inside its plastic shell -- 3.3 Wh to be exact. Panasonic is able to squeeze a respectable 260 shots per charge out of it, though, which places the ZS10 in the number two position in this group. To charge the battery, just pop it into the included external charger (which plugs right into the wall), wait for 130 minutes, and you're set to go.

The ZS10 is pretty light on accessories. Here's all I've got:

  • DMW-MCTZ20 marine case (about $300): take your camera up to 40 meters underwater
  • DMW-AC5 AC adapter ($60) + DMW-DCC5 DC coupler ($15): you'll need both of these hard-to-find parts to power the camera without draining your battery

Panasonic includes their PhotoFunStudio 6.1 HD Lite Edition software with the ZS10. While I'm not a fan of all the "wizards" in this Windows-only product, it's a fairly capable piece of software that can help organize, retouch, and share your photos. It can organize photos by location (if you've been using the GPS, of course), faces, scene mode, and more. It can also edit the videos produced by the camera, and can burn them to a DVD or just save them as MPEG-2 files.

As with all three of these cameras, Panasonic has split their manuals into two. In the box there's a 34 page leaflet to get you up and running. For more detail, you'll want to load up the full manual, which is in PDF format on an included CD-ROM. Panasonic's traditionally produces some of the, shall we say, less user-friendly manuals out there, and that's the case on the ZS10 as well.

Look and Feel

In most respects, the DMC-ZS10 looks exactly like its predecessor, the ZS7. Changes include a redesigned grip (such as it is), a dedicated movie recording button, and (of course) the new lens and touchscreen LCD. The body is almost entirely metal, and feels nice and solid in your hands. The plastic door over the battery/memory card compartment, however, is very flimsy. As with Canon, Panasonic has gone pretty light on the buttons, so you won't be overwhelmed. The buttons on the back of the camera are pretty small, though.

The ZS10 is available in five colors: black, silver, blue, red, and brown.

The Lumix ZS10 is tied with the Sony HX9V for having the biggest lens. This F3.3-5.9, 16X optical zoom Leica lens has a focal range of 4.3 - 68.8 mm, which is equivalent to a very nice 24 - 384 mm. The ZS10 is the only camera in the group that can maintain that same zoom range at all aspect ratios. Again, none of these cameras support conversion lenses or filters.

The ZS10 has Panasonic's "Power OIS" image stabilization system to reduce the risk of blurry photos. This lens-shift system can be used for both stills and movies and, like all the cameras in this comparison, there's an "active" mode for recording movies with lots of camera shake.

Panasonic made the switch from a CCD to a CMOS sensor on the ZS10. That didn't go over too well on some of their other Lumix cameras, with complaints about high noise levels. We'll see in a bit how things look in the photo quality department.

What else is there on the front of the camera? Toward the top-left of the photo you can see the ZS10's built-in flash. This flash has a working range of 0.6 - 5.0 m at wide-angle and 1.0 - 2.8 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO), which is good for a compact camera. You cannot add an external flash to the ZS10.

The last thing to see here is the AF-assist lamp, located to the upper-right of the lens. In addition to lighting up your subject in low light, it also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer.

The DMC-ZS10 features a 3-inch touchscreen LCD with a standard 4:3 aspect ratio. This display has 460,000 pixels, so everything is nice and sharp. Colors are vivid and motion is fluid. Outdoor visibility is excellent -- a strong point on Panasonic cameras. In low light, the screen brightens up nicely, though the PowerShot SX230 does a little better in that department.

The ZS10 is the only camera of the three with a touchscreen LCD, so I should devote some time to talking about what you can do with it. Here's the short version:

  • Touch focus: touch an area of the screen and the camera will focus on it; I actually turn this off, as I'm so clumsy that I touch the screen when I wasn't intending to
  • Touch shutter: goes beyond touch focus by actually taking a photo when you touch the subject that you want the camera to focus on; both of these features work in movie mode too.
  • Touch zoom: puts a virtual zoom controller on the screen; the real thing is much easier to operate
  • Touch playback: Swipe to move between photos; tap the screen to enlarge an image, and you can then scroll around with your finger

Unlike Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds cameras, you do not operate the menus with the touchscreen on the ZS10, except for the initial screen that comes up when you press the menu button.

To the upper-right of the above photo is the switch which moves the camera between record and playback mode. Under that is the exposure button, used to switch between adjusting the aperture and shutter speed when in full manual mode.

Under that is the four-way controller, which looks a bit different than it did on the ZS7 (no more individual buttons). In addition to being used for menu navigation, adjusting manual controls, and playing back photos, the controller also does the following:

  • Up - Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV) + AE bracketing + AF tracking
  • Down - AF mode (AF macro, macro zoom, macro off) - the second feature lets you use the digital zoom to get closer, at the expense of image quality though
  • Left - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 secs)
  • Right - Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, slow sync w/redeye reduction, flash off)
  • Center - Menu/Set

When you press the center button you'll open up the main menu, which I'll cover in a little bit.

Quick menu

Under the four-way controller are the Display and Quick Menu / Delete Photo / Back buttons. The Quick Menu allows you to get to commonly accessed options, without having to use the main menu system. I'll get to the notable options a bit further down the page.

There's lots more to see on the top of the DMC-ZS10. Starting on the left, you'll find the speaker, followed by the GPS and the stereo microphones. The GPS has an indicator lamp that illuminates when it's use. Unless you have the GPS set to airplane mode, it'll continue to track your location, even when the camera is turned off.

Past the microphones is the ZS10's mode dial, which is packed to the gills with options. They include:

Option Function
Intelligent Auto mode Fully automatic, with auto scene selection, face detection, dynamic range adjustment, intelligent sharpening, and more. Works for both stills and movies. Most menu options locked up.
Program mode Point-and-shoot, with full menu access. There's no Program Shift option available.
Aperture Priority mode You set the aperture, and the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. The available aperture range is F3.3 to F6.3, which is rather small.
Shutter Priority mode You pick the shutter speed, and the camera selects the aperture. The shutter speed range is 8 - 1/4000 sec.
Full manual (M) mode You select both the aperture and the shutter speed. Aperture range is the same, which shutter speed range widens to 30 - 1/4000 sec. While no bulb mode is available, the starry sky scene mode isn't a bad substitute.
Custom mode Save your favorite camera settings to this spot on the mode dial.
3D mode Pan the camera from side-to-side and the ZS10 will select the best images for the left and right eye, and will create an MPO file that can be played back on 3D TVs.
Scene mode You pick the scene and the camera uses the proper settings. Choose from portrait, soft skin, transform, self portrait, scenery, panorama assist, sports, night portrait, night scenery, handheld night shot, food, party, candle light, baby 1/2, pet, sunset, high sensitivity, flash burst, starry sky, fireworks, beach, snow, aerial photo, pin hole, film grain, high dynamic, photo frame, underwater, and high speed movie.
My Scene Mode 1/2 Quickly access your two favorite scene modes with these two spots on the mode dial.

Panasonic continues to offer the best point-and-shoot mode in the business with their Intelligent Auto mode. It literally does everything for you, for both still and movie recording.

Scene mode menu

If you want to choose a scene mode, there are tons to choose from. Some of the notable scenes include:

  • Transform: make people thinner or taller, while improving their skin tone. oh, dear.
  • Panorama assist: helps you line up photos side-by-side for later stitching on your PC
  • Handheld night shot: combines several exposures into one, for sharp photos in low light
  • Baby/pet: stores the name and birthday of two children and one pet in memory; the name and current age are saved into the metadata of photos taken in these modes
  • High sensitivity: Lowers the resolution to 3MP or below and boosts the ISO to 1600 - 6400; I don't recommend using these modes due to poor image quality
  • Flash burst: Takes 5 flash photos in a row, though the resolution is lowered to 3 Megapixel
  • Starry sky: the closest thing to a bulb mode on the camera; select from 15, 30, or 60 second exposures
  • High speed movie: records movies at 220 frames/sec (at 320 x 240) which are played back at normal speed, giving the impression of slow motion

There's also a 3D mode, which has you "sweep" the camera side-to-side, after which the ZS10 selects two photos (one for each eye), and saves the results into an MPO file. Seeing how Panasonic doesn't send out televisions with their cameras, I have no idea how the results look (same goes for the Sony camera).

The manual controls are all here, save for focus (though I suppose touch focus is an "okay" substitute). For some reason, the aperture range on the ZS10 is limited to just F3.3 - F6.3, while the other cameras top out at F8.

Returning to the tour, the next item of note on the top of the ZS10 is the zoom controller / shutter release button combo. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in 2.8 seconds. I counted around forty steps in the camera's 16X zoom range.

The last things to see on the top view are the power switch and dedicated movie recording button.

There's nothing to see on this side of the DMC-ZS10. The lens is at the wide-angle position here.

On the other side of the camera are its I/O ports, which are kept behind a plastic door of average quality. As you can see, the ports here include mini-HDMI and USB + A/V output.

The Lumix ZS10's 16X lens is at full telephoto here.

On the bottom of the ZS10 is a metal tripod mount (hidden from view here) and the battery/memory card compartment. The door over this compartment is very flimsy, so be careful. As you can see, you can't access the memory card slot while the camera is on a tripod.

The included DMW-BCG10 li-ion battery can be seen at right.


The "gateway" menu -- the only touchscreen menu on the camera Note the item descriptions at the bottom of the record menu

I've covered many of the DMC-ZS10's features already, back when I was talking about items on the mode dial. There are a few things worth mentioning from the menu system, as well. The ZS10 has a new menu system, which is attractive and easy to navigate. There's a description of each menu item, so you know what you're adjusting. As I mentioned before, with the exception of the initial "gateway" screen, all of the camera's menus are navigated with the four-way controller.

Here are the interesting items in the record and setup menus:

  • White balance: while Panasonic continues to have an aversion to putting a fluorescent WB option on their cameras, there is a manual option that should produce accurate color in unusual lighting conditions
  • AF mode: choose from face detection (up to 15 of 'em), AF tracking, spot, center, or 23-area AF)
  • Quick AF: the camera starts to focus when camera shake is minimized; like continuous AF but without as much battery drain
  • Face recognition: the ZS10 can "learn" who certain people are, and then give them focus priority whenever they appear in the scene
  • Intelligent Exposure: adjusts contrast and exposure for better exposure in difficult conditions; choose from low, standard, or high
  • Intelligent Resolution: can be used to intelligently sharpen images, or to provide 1.3X of additional zoom power, with a minimal drop in image quality
  • Burst: choose from Intelligent (only available in that mode), which picks a frame rate of 2-10 fps based on subject movement, or 2, 4.7, or 10 fps, all of which are at full resolution; there are also 40 and 60 fps modes, though the resolution is set to 5M and 2.5M, respectively.
  • Redeye removal: the camera can digitally remove redeye as the photo is taken

One item that's not in the menu but is worth a mention is Panasonic's Extended Optical Zoom feature, which all three cameras have, but with different names. Here, by lowering the resolution, you can get extra zoom power without a drop in image quality. Going down to 5 Megapixel gives you a total zoom of 27X. You can combine this with the i.Zoom feature (one of the Intelligent Resolution options) for 1.3X more zoom power.

The camera will tell display the nearest landmark on the LCD
Image courtesy of Panasonic

Now let's talk about the GPS feature on the DMC-ZS10, which is the most elaborate of the three cameras in this article. The ZS10 doesn't just track your location -- it has a database of over one million points of interest around the world. Usually, it works quite well. When I was standing in front of the Chinatown gate in San Francisco, the camera displayed that exact location on the LCD. Other times it was off, once saying that I was at a location that was over a mile away. Thankfully, Panasonic lets you see what landmarks are nearby, and pick the correct one (if it knows it). If a landmark isn't in the database, you can add it manually.

Unless you have the camera in airplane mode, the GPS will turn on every few minutes to keep tabs on your location. That means that when you turn the camera back on, you won't have to wait forever for it to reacquire the satellite signal and figure out where you are. Naturally, this is a big drain on your battery, so keep that in mind.

In playback mode you'll be able to search through your photos by location, so if you're looking for the photos you took in Vienna on that 10 countries in 10 days European vacation, you can easily find them.

I'll get back to playback options in a moment, but first I want to go over the ZS10's movie mode. The ZS10 can record movies at 1920 x 1080 at 60 interlaced frames per second (sensor output is 60p). Sounds is recorded in stereo, using Dolby Digital Stereo Creator.

You can select from AVCHD or Motion JPEG codecs on the camera, and each has their own advantages and disadvantages. If you want Full HD, you have no choice other than to use AVCHD. It also allows for long recording times, and easy viewing on an HDTV or any device that supports AVCHD playback. The bad news is that editing and sharing the movies is difficult (heck, just finding the movies on the memory card is challenging). Motion JPEG has larger file sizes, shorter recording time limits, and fewer resolution options than AVCHD, but it's easier to work with on your computer.

Here are the available codecs and resolutions:

  • AVCHD (both have 17 Mbps bit rate)
    • 1920 x 1080 (60i)
    • 1280 x 720 (60p)
  • Motion JPEG (all 30p)
    • 1280 x 720 - 7:40 time limit
    • 640 x 480 - 20:00 time limit
    • 320 x 240 - 55:30 time limit

With either of the two AVCHD resolutions, you can choose to embed GPS location data into your movie.

As with all of the cameras in this comparison, movie recording is a point-and-shoot affair. You can use the optical zoom all you want, and the image stabilizer is available, complete with an "active mode" for extra shake reduction. The camera can focus continuously, and you can turn on a wind filter for when you're recording outdoors. The camera will also let you snap a still photo while you're recording a video clip.

Some of the playback options The landmark location is shown in playback mode

Now, about that playback mode, whose options are split into two menus (image sorting and editing). Here are the notable features in playback mode:

  • Filtered playback: show only photos, videos, 3D photos, photos taken in a certain location or during a designated time period, by category, or if they're tagged as favorites
  • Calendar: quickly jump to photos taken on a certain date
  • Upload set: tag photos/videos for uploading to Facebook or YouTube using the included Lumix Image Uploader tool (Windows only)
  • Text stamp: print the date/time, names of detected people, location, and more on a photo
  • Image resize/rotate: just as they sound; I don't see a way to rotate photos manually, though
  • Video divide: trim unwanted footage off of a movie clip

Unfortunately there aren't any real retouching tools in playback mode, such as redeye reduction or some kind of shadow brightening tool.

Alright, that's all for the Lumix ZS10, for now. Next camera, please!

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