Review: Panasonic DMC-ZS30

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Previous CreativePro posts looked at two iPhone-sized cameras with 20x zooms and manual controls. While the FujiFilm F900EXR was the only 2013 uber-compact, super-zoom camera that could shoot in RAW and RAW+JPEG, the Canon Powershot SX280 offered a more “digital camera-like” interface, with easier connectivity and better video.

Here, we’ll look at a third camera that also delivers 20x zoom and manual controls, the Panasonic DMC-ZS30 (TZ40). And we’ll also peek at the 2014 update to this camera (the DMC-ZS40 due late March), which will offer a 30x zoom plus added RAW support. Meanwhile, the 2013 model, the Panasonic DMC-ZS30, is at its best compared to the Canon and FujiFilm when it comes to the video implementation and with device connectivity. In fact, if you’re planning on shooting as many videos as stills, and/or you’d like to control that camera with your smart device, this Panasonic might be the device that you’re looking for.

As I mentioned in the previous post about the Canon camera, while the FujiFilm is known for film, and Canon for digital camera innovation, Panasonic has clearly been a leader in consumer electronics and video technologies. Like the FujiFilm (and unlike the Canon) the LCD feedback in Manual mode is absolute, and not WYSIWYG. With the Panasonic, if you press the shutter down half way to focus, you can see an exposure meter that indicates the range of data that you would capture; the PDF manual states “LCD monitor brightness may vary from the actual still picture recorded.” Also like the FujiFilm and not the Canon, you can shoot stills while you record video. However, in the case of the Panasonic, the video is significantly smoother and quieter than either of the others (the Canon is decent, but the FujiFilm is comparably staccato, noisy, and awkward). If you have in mind to shoot a lot of video with your camera, the Panasonic is certainly the best video recording of the three.

Connectivity

Panasonic’s experience in video and electronics technology is also demonstrated in its superior integration with (and connectivity to) other devices. In addition to connecting to WiFi networks, computers, smartphones, tablets, and (to some extent) social media, this camera allows you to use your mobile devices as monitors and controllers for your camera.

You can’t control every feature of your camera from a smartphone or tablet, but you can do quite a lot. From your smart device you can adjust exposure and zoom, enable touch-screen focus and/or shutter release, or switch into playback mode. You can move images to your smart device manually, or have it copy automatically (though this may slow down some functions). The Panasonic SZ30 does incorporate some touch-screen operation on the camera itself, although it’s not fully committed enough to the technology to be truly useful, and the 2014 model (ZS40) drops the touch screen functionality altogether.

The default method to charge the battery is in the camera, by plugging it into the wall with a USB cable with the AC adaptor, or by pluging it directly into your computer via USB (the camera charges when plugged in and powered off). Compared to the similar Canon and FujiFilm models, I personally found the Panasonic buttons and dials to be the least intuitive and a bit more cumbersome, though I’m sure if this was the only camera I was using (instead of switching between them) I’d adjust just fine.

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

While the FujiFilm is the only camera in this class of 2013 models to support RAW and RAW+JPEG, its video recording is the weakest of the three. 

If you’re willing to do without RAW, the Canon is a very strong contender, with a great digital camera interface, good video, and a well thought-out design throughout.

The Panasonic is the clear leader if you’re looking for a camera that provides the best on-board video, the widest range of connectivity, and is the only of the three to support using your smartphone or tablet as a monitor and/or a remote controller. The 2014 version update to this camera, the SZ40, is slated to ship late Mach with a retail of $150 more than the current model, however it will include a 30x zoom plus added support for RAW.

Even though there are a number of areas in which the Panasonic DMC-ZS30 (TZ40) might not be the frontrunner, this device really is significantly superior to its competitors in terms of how it: 1) provides the smoothest and quietest video recording; 2) offers the broadest range of WiFi connectivity to devices and social media; 3) allows you to use your smartphone or tablet as a remote viewing, and controlling, device for your camera.

All three of the 2013 cameras (Panasonic, Canon, FujiFilm) are only minimally bulkier than an iPhone, while delivering huge leaps of technology beyond the current scope of any smartphone. With significantly higher resolution, manual aperture and speed controls, superior low-light shooting, zooming HD video, and game-changing hand-held stills with 20x optical zooms, all of these cameras will allow you to shoot pictures you’d miss if you’re only carrying around your smartphone.

If you want maximize the digital data captured by shooting with an on-board exposure gauge and support for RAW, then in the currently available 2013 models, the FujiFilm is your only choice. If you’re looking for a well-designed powerful miniature digital camera with decent video and connectivity to your smartphone and tablet, then the Canon might be the best fit. If you’re hoping to find a small device that combines the smoothest video zooms with decent still camera technologies and includes the widest range of connectivity options including remote smartphone and tablet integration, then the Panasonic will be the best device for you. And finally, if you’re willing to pay a bit more and wait a few months, the Panasonic ZS40 will increase the zoom to 30x, and promises to include RAW support.

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