PROS / Its 30x zoom offers great versatility.
CONS / This camera’s protruding lens sometimes gets caught on the way in and out of pockets.
VERDICT / While its small sensor and aperture range limit the types of photos you can take, this camera's focus is clearly on the impressive zoom lens that enables you to shoot tight portraits. Features such as Wi-Fi and manual controls give it good versatility.
When you’re looking for a point and shoot camera, there are many important questions to keep in mind. How’s the image quality? What about performance factors like battery life and zoom range? How’re the camera’s features and design? While not every camera gets everything right, keeping these things in mind will help you choose a camera that offers a combination of features that fit your needs.
Although there is no camera that’s best for everyone, through our research and testing we have brought the best options to the forefront. Our favorite, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50, may not have the longest zoom range, best battery life or the highest resolution, but it is a solid multipurpose camera. And with excellent image quality and a good combination of features, we think it’s the best choice for most people. For this reason, we’ve awarded it our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award.
Since the cameras in our comparison are all around $350 or less, the average sensor size is fairly small. While they’re still larger than smartphone sensors, they’re not going to produce image quality on par with DSLRs or more expensive premium contacts. That being said, the ZS50 performed very well when compared with other similarly priced cameras.
Image resolution, at just 12.1 megapixels, is significantly lower than our category average of 15.3. While this can make a difference, 12 megapixels should still be enough for the vast majority of applications. The only time you may run into issues is if you're enlarging or heavily cropping images.
In low light situations, cameras must increase the sensitivity of their sensors in order to produce properly exposed photographs. While this increase boosts the brightness of an image, it also degrades its quality by introducing noise. Different cameras handle this to different degrees, and we found the ZS50 performed as well as or better than anything else in its price range – keeping noise to a minimum without the characteristic smudging sometimes caused by in-camera noise reduction.
Much like low light performance, details across shadows and highlights, also called dynamic range, isn’t the forte of inexpensive compact cameras. Despite that, we thought the ZS50 captured a good deal of detail in both the shadows and highlights of its images, at least better than most of its peers.
Color accuracy has a major effect on the overall look and feel of your images. If the colors are washed out, your images can appear dull and lifeless. If colors are too saturated, they look unnatural and overemphasize blemishes. The ZS50 did a fantastic job to produce vibrant colors without compromising the realism of the scene.
If you enjoy editing images on your computer, you can also take advantage of this camera's RAW image format. When shooting in RAW the camera will no longer process your images automatically and compress them into the smaller JPG format. Instead, your RAW images are uncompressed and contain all of the information gathered at the time of shooting. These files are larger and require more space than JPGs, but they allow you more freedom when editing.
At 300 shots per charge, the ZS5o's battery life is about 10 shots above average. The longest-lasting point and shoots offer up to 470 shots per charge. If you're shooting in circumstances where you'll likely need more than that, it's a good idea to either look at some of our longer-lasting models or simply purchase spare batteries from Panasonic.
One of the ZS50's strongest features is the zoom range of its lens. While one of the cameras on our lineup reaches up to 4ox zoom, the ZS50 is no slouch- offering a whopping 30x optical zoom. For the size of this camera, that's frankly a gigantic range. With a lens like this you can zoom in stunningly close on distant subjects.
As far as aperture is concerned, the ZS50 maxes out at f/3.3. While this is about as good as it gets in this price range, it’s nothing special. A wider aperture like f/2 or f/1.8 would gather much more light and decrease the cameras or produce the same DSLR-esque background blur. Unfortunately, those are things you won’t likely find in a camera without spending significantly more.
Features & Design
With an average-sized sensor and average aperture range, this camera, like most in its price range certainly isn’t a low light specialist and needs all the help it can get to gather light in those situations. At times like this optical image stabilization is a big advantage. It allows the camera to shoot at a slower shutter-speed while keeping camera-shake induced blurring to a minimum.
This camera has a clean and well-thought-out design, with a built-in electronic viewfinder as well as dials and buttons to give you manual control. For exposure control, you have a ring around the lens and a rear thumb-dial, both of which you can use to adjust aperture or shutter speed. ISO adjustment is a little trickier as it requires you delve into the menus. There are, however, two programmable function buttons that you can customize to make reaching commonly used settings easier. Design-wise, our only complaint is that its lens tends to get snagged on the way in and out of pockets.
Help & Support
The ZS50 also features a Wi-Fi connection to give you more options for editing and sharing your images. Rather than having to upload your images to a computer, you can just connect your camera to a tablet or smartphone and instantly share them using Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.
Panasonic offers solid support for this camera. It comes with an instruction manual as well as Panasonic's support web address, phone and email. You can also contact support using a live chat feature on the website. Any problems you may encounter with construction or materials are covered for one year under warranty.
Despite its place on our lineup, the ZS50 isn’t the perfect camera. It has relatively good image quality but doesn't have the largest resolution and is a little bulkier than other point and shoots we tested. But those who want a versatile camera for capturing and sharing memories don't always require the utmost in image quality or a camera the size of a pea. What they need is a lens that can capture a wide range of images and reliable Wi-Fi for connecting to a smartphone or tablet. The ZS50 does that exceedingly well. In other words, it represents a solid do-it-all option for the average shooter.