Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1

If you're looking for a compact zoom camera, the DMC-ZR1 is one of the best, if you can forgive some performance issues in terms of burst speed and average video quality.


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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.


It's a tough world in the compact camera market. So many options to choose from (to HD or not to HD?), cheaper prices, sexier designs, easier to use features ... it's little wonder that any consumer is going to be left bewildered by the options out there. The Lumix DMC-ZR1 is a piggy in the middle, squeezed between the ultra-compact cameras in the range like the FS15 and the full-on travel zoom TZ7.

Design

"A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips" is a mantra that the ZR1 definitely abides by. (Credit: Panasonic)

The ZR1 is the first (of many to come, we assume) in a new Lumix range from Panasonic, which takes a slim body and pairs it with an extended, though not extensive, zoom. Shaped a little like a squashed down version of the popular TZ7 and TZ6 models released earlier this year, the ZR1 features the same dial and button arrangement on the top (mode dial, shutter button and zoom rocker, and power switch) and at the back, next to the 2.7-inch LCD screen, a playback switch and a four-way directional pad. The layout is standard Lumix, and we appreciate the consistency amongst the new cameras throughout the range. The build quality too is exceptional, with a very solid feel that's not permeated with flimsy plastic or cheap components — it's all metal here.

That mode switch, which we whinged about on the TZ7, is now pleasingly resistive — no accidentally swapping between modes while taking the camera in and out of a case or bag.

At the side are standard ports for connectivity, just HD AV and USB out, no HDMI here. At the base of the camera is a combined battery and SD/SDHC slot. Available in four colour options (black, silver, red and blue), we like the looks of the ZR1 — it's conservative with a touch of class that puts it above the average stylish shooter.

There's one last thing to mention, and that's the "E zoom" button that appears at the back of the camera. Press it once and it extends the zoom from wide angle to telephoto. Press it again and it extends the digital zoom to a maximum reach of 15.6x.

Features

For much of 2009, the critical megapixel number has been 12.0. The ZR1 doesn't buck with tradition on this marker, with a 12.1-megapixel sensor. At the back is another number that's fast becoming standard on compacts, a 2.7-inch LCD screen.

It's not all "same old, same old" though, as there's a new optical image stabiliser technology from Panasonic called Power OIS, which upgrades the range of stabilisation as much as two times more than the conventional Mega OIS system.

The lens is 25mm at its widest and extends to a pretty impressive 8x optical zoom, impressive for such a small chassis that only measures 5.4cm high by 9.7cm wide by 2.6cm deep and weighs 138g. To give you some idea of how it fits in with other comparably slim cameras, the Olympus Mju 9000 sports a 10x zoom and measures 9.6cm wide and 3.1cm deep, and the Nikon S630 has 7x zoom and is 9cm wide and 2.3cm deep. So, not that slim compared to its zoomy brethren, but still svelte enough to slip into a pocket or handbag with relative ease.

It's not a particularly fast lens, though, with a maximum aperture of f/3.3 at the wide end and f/5.9 at the telephoto. We've got high hopes for image quality given our previous reviews of Lumix compacts such as the FS15, and because of the Leica optics. Read on for our full comments about image quality.

The other advantage of the optics is the world's first 0.3mm aspherical lens element, which allows the lens to be a lot more compact than previous iterations. Unlike a number of the new Lumix cameras, the ZR1 doesn't feature the proprietary AVCHD Lite format, just standard HD recording at 720p.

Performance and image quality

The ZR1 starts up in 1.1 seconds, and time from power on to first shot is an admirable 1.5 seconds. It's let down slightly in burst mode though, as it only manages to capture three frames before stuttering to a halt with a full buffer: average shot-to-shot time works out to be 0.65 second. In everyday use the zoom extension is a little slow, taking a good 2.5 seconds to go from one extreme to the other.

While overall image quality was good, especially in terms of sharpness and tonal range, the ZR1 had a little trouble representing colours accurately. We found that blues in particular looked a little too light and under-saturated, unless it was a vivid blue sky. Lens aberrations were pleasingly absent though — little barrel or pincushion distortion was evident at either extreme. There was also a nice sharpness to objects even at the telephoto reach.

Noise control wasn't so exciting though, with noticeable artefacts appearing at ISO 400 at full magnification, and ISO 800 and 1600 displaying very prominent grain. Surprisingly, the ZR1 didn't do as well as the DMC-FS15 in the noise stakes, a smaller camera from the previous round of Lumixes released in 2009.

Click image to enlarge (Credit: CBSi)

The intelligent auto mode did a great job of automatically determining the best scene type (whether macro or landscape) for the shooting situation. The Power OIS system worked well for the most part, but don't expect to be able to get blur-free results without a tripod — there's only so much hand shake that the stabiliser can offset. In this instance when using the automatic selection in Power OIS we were able to get down to a shutter of around 1/13 second before shaky hands became visible.

The video quality of the ZR1 wasn't particularly impressive, especially when compared to still image quality, with a fair amount of noise visible. The sound, while mostly clear, did pick up a fair amount of wind noise. Fortunately, Panasonic has enabled full use of the optical zoom while filming.

Conclusion

If you're looking for a compact zoom camera, the DMC-ZR1 is one of the best, if you can forgive some performance issues in terms of burst speed and average video quality.



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Maria
8
Rating
 

Maria posted a review   

The Good:Video is Excellent

The Bad:Low light shots are not good

I got this camera after reading good reviews about it but I was a bit disappointed with the shots it takes. My canon powershot A670 seemed to make much better shots. However, having said that, this compact camera is great, as long as you take shots with great lighting like outdoor photos, etc. The video it takes is superb, too, better than my Sony TRV.

 

Indego posted a comment   

The Good:Small- can fit in your pocket easily, good zoom

The Bad:No manual controls, soft/poor image quality, bad low light shooting, average video quality

I bought this camera after reading the great reviews. I have only been dissapointed! The main issue I have with it is photo quality. The images are soft and lack clarity. I often find they are overexposed. Photo quality is terrible in low light. It will do the job for a point and shoot camera with OK photos and good zoom- but if you want anything more you may be dissapointed.

Im going back to the canon ixus range and regret ever buying this camera!

 

Shaunie posted a comment   

Worst camera I have ever had!

I was so excited to get this camera I have waited 5 years to upgrade, been snapping away “happy” with what I saw on the cameras screen, but that is where my happiness ended!
When uploading the photos to my computer to share on Facebook I was shocked and horrified to see that not one single photo was acceptable! Every photo taken by this Panasonic ZR1 was slightly out of focus too dark and covered with noise and grain!
I cannot believe that in the year 2010 Panasonic could sell a camera that takes such bad photos???

Most expensive paper weight EVER!!!!!

duesseldorf 67
9
Rating
 

duesseldorf 67 posted a review   

The Good:Compact, the way it fits into any pocket yet boasts a 8x zoom and wide angle, battery life, HD movie quality

The Bad:low light shooting is average

very happy, best camera I have bought so far, but there is no perfect camera. They all seem to have good bits and bad ones. We looked at Sony but this one seems far more versatile. I don't agree with the below par HD video quality. I find it excellent actually.

JonR
9
Rating
 

JonR posted a review   

The Good:Compactness, great wide-angle, excellent zoom range, no great weaknessess

The Bad:Limited noise control and aperture -- more a function of high megapixels on small sensor than defect of this camera per se

The zoom range is spectacularly useful considering its small size. Picture quality very good and noise control, considering small sensor and too-high for sensor megapixels (6MP would be better, but not marketable given the inflated specs of all competitors. Especially good buy now (2/10) at Costco, $180 with free leather csse, 2GB SD card and 100 free 4x6 prints.

Loz
8
Rating
 

Loz posted a review   

The Good:Great features for the price

The Bad:Flash not available when filming

Being a novice when it comes to cameras, I did a lot of research before purchasing the ZR1. I mainly wanted an easy to use point and shoot with HD video 'just in case'. I am very happy with my choice - it takes very good photos especially in low light and allows you to play with the settings to get your photos just right. Pleased with the video quality, as I was not too fussy and didnt expect it to be as good as a video camera. Just make sure you have a high speed memory card or the ability to use HD video is limited.

mac
9
Rating
 

mac posted a review   

fantastic camera

Seraphim
9
Rating
 

Seraphim posted a review   

The Good:Nice and compact, excellent zoom

The Bad:Lack of Manual Controls and Video Quality

I can put up with the video quality since I generally buy cameras for photos anyway, but this was an excellent replacement for my aging LZ8.

Vasilii
10
Rating
 

Vasilii posted a review   

The Good:8x zoom

The Bad:No

Good!!!


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User Reviews / Comments  Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1

  • Maria

    Maria

    Rating8

    "I got this camera after reading good reviews about it but I was a bit disappointed with the shots it takes. My canon powershot A670 seemed to make much better shots. However, having said that, this..."

  • Indego

    Indego

    "I bought this camera after reading the great reviews. I have only been dissapointed! The main issue I have with it is photo quality. The images are soft and lack clarity. I often find they are over..."

  • Shaunie

    Shaunie

    "Worst camera I have ever had!

    I was so excited to get this camera I have waited 5 years to upgrade, been snapping away “happy” with what I saw on the cameras screen, but that is wher..."

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