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You are hereHome > Digital Camera Reviews > Panasonic ZR1 / ZX1

Panasonic Digital Cameras

   

Panasonic ZR1 / ZX1 Review

Review Date: Oct 02, 2009

Category: Point-and-Shoot

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1 / ZX1

Photoxels Editor's Choice 2009 - Compact Ultra Zoom
Photoxels Editor's Choice 2009 - Compact Ultra Zoom 

HANDLING & FEEL

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1 is a beautifully designed 8x ultra zoom digital camera that is only 26mm (1.02 in.) thick, making it currently the most compact long zoom digital camera, easily carried in a large trousers pocket or small fashion purse. It is even thinner than the ZS series (at 32.8mm / 1.29 in. thick), though retaining more or less the tried-and-tested body design. It uses the Secure Digital (SD) and large capacity SDHC memory cards.

The Lumix ZR1 is available in 4 different colors (color availability is country dependent): Black, Silver, Blue or Red (also White in some countries). My review camera is blue with chrome accents. There is a small, but quite effective handgrip.

Panasonic has probably some of the best designed digital cameras. Nothing gaudy or over the top, with seemingly every design element having a practical reason to be. I like these small touches:

  • A strap eyelet that does not poke your hand and makes it easy to attach the strap.
  • An Easy Zoom button that takes you to maximum tele focal length with one press.
  • A plastic door for the I/O ports that opens -- and stays open -- for easy access to the USB port.

As we've come to expect of Panasonic digital cameras, the build and construction is excellent with a professional and quality look. The controls feel right to the touch without being too soft or too hard to press. The chrome finish is very good but can get easily scratched so be careful what you carry into the same pocket. The one improvement I would like to see is a stiffer Mode Dial: it can rotate out of place when putting the camera into and retrieving it from your pocket.

The lens is flushed with the body when the camera is off, but powered on, the lens extends approx. 17mm (0.7 in.) at wide-angle and 31mm (1.25 in.) at full tele.

Startup is very good at just above 1 sec. but shot to shot time is on the slow side at about 3 sec. (5 shots in 15 sec.), with most of that time taken with writing the image to card.

With a contrasty subject and good lighting, there is no practical shutter lag and autofocus is quite fast and precise. In low light, AF lag can reach to just under 1 sec. with the help of the AS-assist lamp. That's pretty good performance, overall.

Included in the box is a rechargeable Li-ion battery that can take about 330 shots with LCD on (CIPA standard) on a fresh charge, and a Battery Charger DMW-BCG10P that will recharge a new battery in approx. 130 min. The Battery Charger is of the type that conveniently plugs directly into a wall electrical outlet.

Controls

Panasonic ZR1 / ZX1 top view

Panasonic ZR1 / ZX1 top view

The top of the camera has, from right to left, the Mode Dial (which thankfully is free rotating, i.e. you can rotate either way to select a mode), the large Shutter Release Button with the Zoom lever around it, and the Power ON/OFF switch. The one dot is the microphone, and the four dots are the speaker. The Mode Dial has iA (Intelligent AUTO), Normal Picture, My Scene Mode, Scene Mode, Motion Picture, and Clipboard.

I like the large shutter release button which makes it easy to press the button gently and avoid camera shake. As I mentioned earlier, the Mode Dial may move out of its current position when you take the camera out of your pocket, so it pays to verify it each time. The Power button is a switch; it's no big deal but I would much rather have a simple button. Ditto for the REC/PLAYBACK Selector switch on the back of the camera: a Playback button would have sufficed and allowed a quick return to Recording mode at the touch of the shutter release button.

A nice touch is the visual representation of the Mode Dial that displays on the LCD monitor whenever you turn the dial. This way you don't have to take your eyes off the LCD monitor as you change shooting mode (and it is also perfect in low-light situations where there may not be enough light to read the dial).

The Clipboard mode can be quite useful if you are travelling and want to save pictures of time tables and maps. These are saved into Internal Memory. You can zoom in and position to a particular position on the picture, then mark it with a press of the OK button. In Clipboard Playback, simply toggle the Zoom lever toward the Tele position to immediately zoom and reposition to the marked position.

The Zoom Lever is around the Shutter Button and it takes about 3 sec. to zoom from wide to max. tele. I counted about 30 intermediate steps, which is very good. There is a zoom indicator displayed on the LCD as you zoom, together with the min distance the camera will focus as well as the zoom factor. Well done, Panasonic, for giving us useful information!

To select an Optical Image Stabilizer mode, you'll need to go into the Menu (or reach it faster on the Quick Menu): set it to OFF when putting the camera on a tripod; MODE 1, if you want to see the effect of image stabilization at all times; MODE 2, for the most effective stabilization, which takes place just before the image is taken.

Burst Mode allows you to take up to 3 or 5 images (depending on Quality selected) at 2.3fps. There is a Hi-Speed Burst scene mode that takes from 15 to 100 images (depending on image size selected, from 3M to 2M) at 10fps (Speed Priority mode) or 6fps (Image Priority mode).

You can record movies with sound (approx. 2GB clips until the memory card is full) at either 1280 x 720 (HD 16:9 aspect ratio), 848 x 480 (16:9 aspect ratio) or 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 pixels (both at 4:3 aspect ratio) at 30fps. You can zoom while filming videos, and the zoom and autofocus noise are very faint as to be not too noticeable. [The ZX1 (but not the ZR1) can record motion pictures continuously for up to 15 minutes.]

If you plan to purchase a 4GB or larger capacity card, ensure it is SDHC high-speed (at least 10MB/s) and has the "SDHC", and not just the "SD", logo.

The ZR1 model for North America records, but unfortunately does not output, HD movies. [The European and Asia ZX1 model can output HD movies, though you'd need to purchase the optional HD component cable DMW-HDC2 and confirm that the TV you are connecting to has a component input terminal compatible with a 1080i signal.]

Panasonic ZR1 / ZX1 back controls

FUNCTIONS ACCESSIBLE BY CONTROL BUTTONS
-

RECording / PLAYback switch.

-

E.ZOOM button. Conveniently allows you to zoom at high speed to the max. tele position, and back.

-

CURSOR buttons.

UP ARROW (Exposure Compensation, Auto Bracket, WB Adjust); RIGHT ARROW (Flash); DOWN ARROW (Macro, AF Tracking); LEFT ARROW (Self-timer 10s, 2s).

Bringing up Auto Bracketing using the UP ARROW (press twice) is super convenient!

MENU/SET button in the middle calls up the Menu; use CURSOR buttons to navigate the Menu screens; press MENU/SET again to accept a screen choice.

-

DISPLAY. Press button repeatedly to cycle through: Normal, No Info displayed, Guide Lines.

To display a Histogram, you have to enable it in SETUP, then the Live Histogram will display in Normal and Guide Line modes.

You can also specify in SETUP whether you want image info to be displayed when the Guide Lines display.

For Guide Lines, you can specify in SETUP whether to display the vertical/horizontal lines or vertical/horizontal/diagonal lines.

-

Q.MENU button.

Recording Mode: QUICK MENU. Press to bring up a convenient way to change options without going into the Menu proper. This makes for really quick (this is what the "Q." stands for) access to all the functionality you'll used most often.

Playback Mode: DELETE. Delete Single, Delete Multi, Delete All. Fast and intuitive and, best of all, no need to access the Menu!

   
EXPOSURE COMPENSATION
- Exposure Compensation is accessed with the UP ARROW
- Once set, the Exposure Compensation Indicator conveniently stays displayed on screen until it is reset to "0".
- Range: -2 EV to +2 EV (13 steps in 1/3 EV increments)
- The screen brightness will increase or decrease to reflect the value you use
- Note: the exposure compensation value selected is retained even when the camera is turned off. So remember to reset to "0" after using it or the next time you turn the camera on, your shots may be over- or under-exposed (the exp. comp. value does not display until you press the shutter release button).
- Press UP ARROW again to call up Auto Bracket. Very convenient.
- When a White Balance is selected, pressing UP ARROW one more time will call up WB Adjust.
   
SHUTTER SPEED RANGES
- P: 1 - 1/2,000 sec.
Fireworks scene mode: 1/4 sec. (O.I.S. ON) or 2 sec. (O.I.S. OFF)
Night Scenery scene mode: 8 sec.
Starry Sky scene mode: 15, 30, 60 sec.
   

There is no viewfinder but a large 2.7 in. LCD monitor with 230,000 dots resolution. The LCD has a fast enough refresh rate for a smooth display. The LCD monitor's brightness can be adjusted in SETUP. The LCD unfortunately does not gain up in low-light.

Usually in sunny conditions or when there is a bright backlight, it can be difficult to see the image on the LCD of a digital camera. The Lumix ZR1 has an Automatic Power LCD option that will automatically brightens the screen and it works quite well.

At the max. tele range of 200mm, even tiny movement handholding the camera usually translates to large jerks of the image on the LCD screen. Fortunately, the optical image stabilizer on the ZR1 (O.I.S. Mode 1) is very effective and replaces the jerkiness with a smooth picture, allowing you to more easily compose your shot.

A couple of other nice features: the hinged plastic Terminal door opens up wide to allow unimpeded access [don't you hate fighting with a rubber flap?] to the AV OUT/DIGITAL (USB) socket. There is a very nice Battery/Card door and the battery has a latch to keep it from accidentally falling. Because the [metal] tripod socket is at the opposite end of the battery compartment, chances are you might well be able to change battery when the camera is on a tripod (of course, depends on tripod used).

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1 is well-built and handles very well. Performance is very good for an ultra zoom and the controls are extremely intuitive, which all add up to one ultra zoom digital camera you will definitely enjoy using. Now smaller than ever!

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