Thursday, March 17, 2016

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40 - First Images, First Impressions

Fog On The Mountain - Tehachapi, California
ISO 100, f/6.4, 1/500, 720mm, captured in RAW format.
I purchased a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40 (called TZ60 outside of North America) pocket superzoom camera to partner with my Sony RX100 II. I love the Sony camera, and its compact size is wonderful, but it has a limited focal-length range. I thought that having pocketable camera that could reach well beyond that of the RX100 II's 100mm maximum telephoto length would be good.

I found the ZS40 on sale at Costco for $200 (it's normally $350). That's a pretty darn good deal, and for that kind of money you can't go wrong. The camera arrived in the mail last Tuesday afternoon. I've had a couple of days to play around with it, but not nearly enough time for a full review.

I thought that I would share with you the first photographs and my first impressions. Sometimes early impressions are proved wrong, but more often than not they are shown to be true.
Blue Blossom - Tehachapi, California
ISO 100, f/3.3, 1/125, 25mm, captured in JPEG format ("expressive" option).
The Panasonic ZS40 has a tiny 18-megapixel 1/2.3" sensor, but, happily, the camera is capable of saving in RAW. It has a Leica 24mm-720mm (equivalent) f3.3-6.4 lens attached to the front. The rear screen is fixed (doesn't tilt) and there is a really small built-in electronic viewfinder.

The camera is small, but slightly larger than the Sony RX100 II. It weighs just a tad less than the Sony and feels like it's constructed with more plastic. All of the buttons and control rings seem logically placed.

Image quality seems pretty good. I set the camera to capture RAW and JPEG simultaneously, and JPEG quality seems decent. Because of the small sensor the camera has a limited dynamic range and not-so-great high-ISO capabilities. Often, for best results, I had to use the RAW file. One thing I like is that you can capture RAW+JPEG even when using one of the "Creative Control" options.
Weeds - Tehachapi, California
ISO 400, f/7.1, 1/5 (handheld), 24mm, captured in RAW format.

The "border" around this image is actually the lens barrel. At the widest focal length it shows up in the image, but the camera automatically crops it out of the JPEGs. 
The dynamic range is narrow, similar to using color transparency film. The highlights and shadows clip sharply, and in high-contrast scenes it may be difficult to keep details in both the bright highlights and deep shadows. This is no surprise, it's a small sensor camera.

I was pleasantly surprised with high-ISO. I figured that ISO 400 would be the highest practical ISO, but I think you can go up to ISO 800 and get good results. Still, for best results, the ISO should be kept as low as practical.

The Leica lens is sharp, but not as sharp as the Zeiss lens on my Sony RX100 II. It's better than many zoom lenses and equal to some prime lenses. There is some noticeable barrel distortion (especially at the wide-angle end of the lens) and some minor chromatic aberrations.
Monochrome Leaves - Tehachapi, California
ISO 400, f/6.4, 1/25 (handheld), 720mm, captured in RAW format.
The lens seems sharpest when not at the longest focal length. I haven't played around with it enough to nail down precisely where the maximum sharpness is achieved, but I can tell right away that it's not at 720mm. Some of that can be attributed to atmospheric distortion and possibly camera shake, but I do think the lens is a little softer at the long end.

Bokeh is more difficult to achieve because of the small sensor and smaller maximum aperture, but it's not impossible. Simply focus at the closest point that the camera will allow (which depends on the focal length) and you will get bokeh. My initial impression is that the quality of the bokeh is good-but-not-great (it could be just a little more "creamy").

The RAW files don't have as much tolerance for post-processing as I'd like. You can manipulate the images a moderate amount and they hold up, but apply too much and they noticeably degrade. The JPEGs have significantly less tolerance for editing, but that is expected. All of the images (including the JPEGs) were post-processed using Alien Skin Exposure X software.
Jon's Hand - Tehachapi, California
ISO 400, f/6.4, 1/50, 720mm, captured in JPEG format ("dynamic monochrome" option).
The Panasonic ZS40 is fairly quick and snappy. Not the quickest I've seen, but good enough for most people and most purposes. The experience using the camera is pleasant.

The built-in image stabilization works very well, but not quite as good as the one in my RX100 II. With good technique, at the wide-angle side you can expect to get sharp images with he shutter as slow as 1/5, and at the telephoto end at 1/25. 

The real question is, of course, do the images look good? Do they look like they were captured on a cheap, tiny sensor camera? I think they look pretty good, above what the sensor size and price point would suggest. Certainly there are cameras with better image quality, but not many, if any, that cost less than $400, let alone the $200 that I paid.
War Paint - Tehachapi, California
ISO 160, f/7.1, 1/100, 400mm, captured in RAW format.
Fence Topper - Tehachapi, California
ISO 800, f/6.4, 1/125, 720mm, captured in RAW format.
Gas Pipes - Tehachapi, California
ISO 320, f/6.3, 1/60, 115mm, captured in RAW format.
Wave Maker - Palmdale, California
ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/640, 265mm, captured in JPEG format ("dynamic monochrome" option).

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