Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ9

Even though it's light on the wallet and in the pocket, the SZ9 delivers good image quality and seamless Wi-Fi functionality that belies its list price.


7.8
CNET Rating

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About The Author

CNET Editor

Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.


Design and features

Sliding easily into a pocket or handbag, the Lumix SZ9 comes equipped with plenty of features for a compact camera. The key selling point is the 10x optical zoom Leica lens, which opens out to 25mm and can reach up to 20x, thanks to Panasonic's intelligent (read: interpolated) zoom.

Behind the lens is a 16.1-megapixel, high sensitivity MOS sensor, which is designed to optimise low-light photography, though the lens itself is not particularly fast — at f/3.1-f/5.9.

While the physical dimensions of the SZ9 are small, there's still room for a 3-inch screen at the back, which has 460,000 dots. It isn't the highest resolution screen available, but the camera does have an automatic adjustment feature that alters screen brightness based on ambient conditions.

For photographers looking to share photos instantly, the SZ9 comes with built-in Wi-Fi to share photos and videos to a smartphone or tablet. The Panasonic Image App (Android or iOS) also acts as a remote viewfinder, to capture images without being physically tethered to the camera.

Though the SZ9 does not have NFC like some of the higher-end cameras in Panasonic's range, connecting via Wi-Fi is easy once the app has been installed. Simply connect the mobile device with the camera's Wi-Fi name and password, then the app gives you the option to use remote viewfinder or to transfer photos and videos.

The Image App lets you control the camera's zoom, as well as snap photos remotely.
(Credit: Panasonic)

There is hardly any discernible lag when connected via remote viewfinder at 30 frames per second, which makes the connection incredibly fluid and easy to use. The app also gives a few options for still image control, like the option to use a flash, self-timer and the ability to use the optical zoom.

The SZ9 is a compact camera with limited manual controls, so if you are looking for exposure options here in the form of program, aperture or shutter priority modes, look elsewhere. What it does give you is Panasonic's intelligent automatic mode, a program mode, as well as scene, panorama and creative filters.

A panorama taken with the impressive art filter.
(Credit: CBSi)

Photo-effect enthusiasts will enjoy the 12 filter options provided, including cross-process, retro, sepia, high key, dramatic monochrome and one-point colour. These filter options can also be applied to panoramas, as well as regular still images.

A selection of filters available on the SZ9.
(Credit: CBSi)

The SZ9 uses in-camera USB battery charging, which is a change from earlier Panasonic compact cameras that relied on dedicated battery chargers. The camera has micro-HDMI and USB out ports.

Performance

General shooting metrics (in seconds)

  • Max FPS
  • Average FPS
  • Min FPS
  • 1.710.3
    Panasonic Lumix SZ9
  • 21.40.4
    Sony Cyber-shot WX100
  • 2.91.40.3
    Nikon Coolpix S6400

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Continuous shooting speed (in frames per second)

  • 11.9
    Nikon Coolpix S6400
  • 7.3
    Sony Cyber-shot WX100
  • 5
    Panasonic Lumix SZ9

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

The SZ9 has the ability to shoot continuously for 2 or 5 frames per second (fps) with continuous AF. When using the 5fps mode, it does stop periodically to process shots after the first few frames, so it doesn't actually maintain the capture rate. To the camera's credit though, it keeps grabbing frames until you release the shutter button.

Panasonic rates the battery at 220 shots.

Image quality

For an AU$299 camera, the SZ9 produces pretty impressive photos. There are a few things to note though, including the fact that the SZ9 has a tendency to blow out highlights.

The lens resolves a lot of detail, and it is reasonably sharp from edge-to-edge, though there is some definition loss on the far left-hand side of the frame. A small degree of barrel distortion is noticeable when shooting at the wide-angle. At the furthest extent of the optical zoom, the image stabilisation system works reasonably well to alleviate camera shake, though the camera does need to ramp up the ISO sensitivity to compensate for the slower aperture at this furthest extent.

Automatic white balance is definitely on the cool side, with the SZ9 preferring to err on the side of a slight blue cast when shooting in outdoor light. Macro performance is good, with a minimum focusing distance of 5cm when in the dedicated mode.

An original, untouched image from the SZ9 (left) shot under a skylight shows just how cool the automatic white balance can be. The photo on the right has been adjusted for a more accurate colour cast and white balance in Photoshop.
(Credit: CBSi)

Sensitivity levels at ISO 800 and above cause the camera to lose a lot of detail, even when inspecting photos at a reduced resolution. The highest native resolution is ISO 3200, which produces photos that are a bit of a mess, but then again, that's to be expected on any small-sensor compact camera.

On a more positive note, automatic exposures are generally very accurate, and the SZ9 produces impressive colours that are vibrant, but not oversaturated. Autofocus performance is swift, particularly when using the 23-point AF mode.

Video recording is in 1080/50i, but outputs at 25p in AVCHD, 720/25p in AVCHD Lite or 1080/25p, 720/25p and 480/25p in MP4 format. On top of regular video recording, the SZ9 also offers a miniature effect mode that plays back footage with a tilt-shift effect at 10x speed. The zoom is enabled during video recording, and stereo Dolby Digital sound accompanies the video image.

Video quality is not spectacular on the SZ9, and the video image exhibits the same issue as still photos — blown out highlights. The image is also fairly soft, too, but sound quality is good and well-separated, thanks to the microphone. A wind cut mechanism is available as well, and the 10x zoom can be used during filming.

Image samples

Exposure: 1/80, f/3.1, ISO 100

Exposure: 1/125, f/4.7, ISO 1000

Exposure: 1/60, f/3.1, ISO 125

Exposure: 1/125, f/5.9, ISO 400

(Credit: CBSi)

Conclusion

Even though it's light on the wallet and in the pocket, the SZ9 delivers good image quality and seamless Wi-Fi functionality that belies its list price. Provided that manual controls are not on your list of priorities, this is a very functional little camera that will suit a beginner photographer or someone who just wants a lot of zoom in a tiny body.

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