Panasonic LUMIX ZS100 Real World Review

The Panasonic LUMIX ZS100 is a camera I did not expect to like as much as I did, but it's different camera full of welcome surprises. Rather than go over specs, I thought I'd do something hands on, taking the camera to NYC and doing what I do naturally - create work I'm proud to show.

Note: all images in this review were captured RAW+JPEG then processed from RAW in camera or are SOOC.

The Utility of Style

Photo by Tom Curley

Photo by Tom Curley

The first thing I noticed was the unique retroish quad toned camera. It's a little like something from the early 90's, but I found that it really worked. It works like this: the ZS100 in the version I have looks so non-threatening that no one is paying attention to you on the streets. That's such a huge advantage to be able to blend in on the streets! After putting the camera in people's faces, no one said anything. I added a little personalization with a Lance Camera Strap and a Manfrotto Pocket Tripod.

The utility of stealth in plane view is enhanced with AF that's insanely fast. The autofocus on the LUMIX ZS100 is so fast I stopped thinking about it. That's one less thing I have to consider while capturing what I see on the streets. I can't recall the AF failing me to the point of losing a shot much. Then again, I was not using the EVF or the LCD most of the time. Capturing on the streets of Chinatown with my thumb on shutter release, I trusted the camera to do it's job and it did pretty much every time.

Putting my trust in the AF works most of the time.

Putting my trust in the AF works most of the time.

Not using the EVF or LCD here either. FYI the morie was visible to the naked eye it is not the sensor. 

Not using the EVF or LCD here either.
FYI the morie was visible to the naked eye it is not the sensor

The AF of the LUMIX ZS100 is FAST.  The LCD helps with framing.

The AF of the LUMIX ZS100 is FAST.  The LCD helps with framing.

ZOOOOOOOOOM and a Nice Screen Too

Wide end of the ZS100.

Wide end of the ZS100.

The reach of the ZS100 Leica is amazing

The reach of the ZS100 Leica is amazing

The zoom lens of the ZS100 spoiled me fast. While I'm a wide angle user most of the time, when I wanted to isolate something off in the distance the 10X Leica zoom was so good, I just kinda laughed, snapped and moved on. It was such a fun experience to isolate buildings off in the distance, I'm inspired to create more urban architecture images. When gear inspires, it's a win and when this massive 10X Leica zoom is paired with fast autofocus and solid (and I mean rock solid) image stabilization, the LUMIX ZS100 inspired me to consider making a new body of work. That alone is worth the price of $699 street.

I prefer using a screen to the EVF and it's no different with the ZS100. One of my all time favorite cameras is the LUMIX LX100, but not having a touchscreen was a real bummer. Considering that Panasonic engineered a nice UI around a touchscreen and not having touch makes using any camera without it tricky at times. I'm happy to say that not only does the ZS100 have a touch screen it's a good one too. The touch screen on the ZS100 is fast, accurate and clear. One of the first things I did when setting up the camera is turning on the 60fps refresh rate. I was a bit puzzled as to why this option was not default. The ZS100 is a small camera so no surprise that the EVF is also a bit small. It works fine, but it's not something I'd want to use for long periods with glasses on.

Video Features Designed for Photographers

Hope you're not surprised to learn that the video (read photo at 30fps) features of the ZS100 are baller. The future of capturing decisive moments is video and with the ZS100, Panasonic brings us closer to the holy grail of capture which is 8K at 120FPS. With the ZS100 you can use a variety of 1080 video, but it's the 4K that rocks. Features like 4K Photo and post focus in addition to the normal (for LUMIX) awesome 4K video completes the capture capabilities of this baby beast of a camera. When combined with the stellar image stabilization and massive reach of the zoom, you can really get some cool effects like compressing perspective as seen below. What's more amazing is being able to pull a 8 megapixel still from video at any time, wifi that to your mobile device, edit and share.

Connectivity and Workflow

Captured RAW+JPEG Monochrome, Processed from RAW in camera to color. Cropped in Photos for iOS. 

Captured RAW+JPEG Monochrome, Processed from RAW in camera to color. Cropped in Photos for iOS. 

Speaking of in camera wifi, the ZS100 is full featured. You can use the Panasonic Image App to fully control the camera including zoom, syncing time, GPS and using your smart phone or table as an external monitor. Also worth a mention: no password is required by default so you can easily connect and get to work. One workflow that I enjoy is connecting with a person on the street, making their portrait and sharing my image with them on the spot via wifi. If you're rocking a mobile printer like the Polaroid Zip Mobile or Fuji Instax, wifi the shot to your device and give prints to those you photograph on the go. Now that's how you connect in the social network called real life.

If you're shooting smart, it's RAW+JPEG with every shot. Even an iOS workflow like what I do can benefit from RAW+JPEG: if the shot is not to my taste I can quickly reprocess the RAW in camera then send a JPEG to my phone. Also, if you really want to get to know how your camera works best, use in camera RAW processing to understand how the ZS100 works with color and contrast then save your settings in camera so all your JPEGs have your custom look...awesome.

If you're utilizing in camera RAW processing, I highly suggest this camera. Small cameras are wonderful because you can take them with you. Using the built in wifi, you're able to capture and share on the go, fully utilizing a mobile workflow is key to enjoying small cameras in my opinion.

One Powerful Surprise for Mobility 

With two USB ports the Panasonic hybrid charger replaced my Mophie, iPhone and ZS100 charger. 

With two USB ports the Panasonic hybrid charger replaced my Mophie, iPhone and ZS100 charger. 

Of all of the happy surprises in the Panasonic LUMIX ZS100, the in-camera charging is top of my list. That's right, just plug a USB cord into your ZS and you're charging. What's more, you can opt to use the included USB charger, an iPhone (or Android) charger or a mobile battery pack. Love it!

Overall, the ZS100 is a camera that is fully featured so a pro can appreciate it, but it's simple enough for the more casual shooter too. The LUMIX ZS100 is packed full of features found in cameras like the LUMIX GX8 while the addition of features like in-camera charging add to the overall positive experience. Furthermore, I gotta mention again that this little camera inspired me to create a series of photos which to me is priceless.

If you already have a ILC kit and are looking for something small and full featured or looking for a dedicated camera with more reach than a smart phone you're gonna love the ZS100.

Recommend LUMIX ZS100 Kit

Here's a basic kit with affiliate links to Amazon:

LUMIX ZS100
32GB U3 SD Card *Note U3 cards are required for 4K video
Lance Camer Strap - Red Wrist Strap
Manfrotto Pocket Tripod
Polaroid Zip Mobile or Fuji Instax
Panasonic Hybrid Charger