Panasonic LUMIX DMC-ZR1 digital camera
A tiny LUMIX camera with a huge 8x zoom
- Compact body, huge zoom, relatively crisp shots, excellent focusing
- Mode dial is too loose and is easily knocked out of place, wide-angle shots have some distortion
The Panasonic LUMIX DMC-ZR1 is a versatile camera with specifications that belie its small size. It can take photos at a maximum wide angle of 25mm, and its 8x zoom can reach up to 200mm. It's easy to use, has excellent focusing, and can take vibrant and reasonably clear photos.
Price$ 549.00 (AUD)
Fine control of the zoom is lacking after you get past the lens’ halfway point. For example, there are approximately 31 zoom steps that you can land on when you dab the zoom lever, but approximately 25 of those are before you reach the 6x zoom level.
Leaving aside old churches for the moment, the long zoom can come in handy at sporting events and concerts, too. The picture below was taken inside a basketball stadium (for the Australia versus New Zealand match) using the normal picture setting, ISO limiting at ISO 800 (ISO limiting tells the camera not to use a value more than what you've specified) and maximum zoom. You can see that the picture looks soft (it was shot at a shutter speed of 1/60 while the players were moving) but the definition is actually quite good; the colours look vibrant and there isn’t any chromatic aberration. There is some noise, which manifests as discolouration in the dark areas, but you can’t really notice it unless you view the picture in its full size.
The LUMIX DMC-ZR1 comes in useful at sporting events and concerts: depending on your vantage point, you can get nice and close to the stars of the show (Nathan Jawai and Brad Newly) and even get some candids of famous faces in the crowd if you’re lucky.
The above picture was shot with steady hands — elbows resting firmly on knees. To allow plenty of light in through the lens, the aperture needs to be big. However on the ZR1, the maximum that the camera can select is f/3.3, and this is when you are zoomed out (you can't change the f value or shutter speed manually). When you are zoomed in all the way, the aperture closes to f/5.9. As such, the camera has to boost the ISO speed, which increases the sensitivity to light and produces noise, and slows down the shutter, which introduces blur. If you hold the camera in the air, without any support at full zoom, the images will come out blurry. This is despite the ZR1 having new and improved methods of image stabilisation technology to counter hand shake.
Without steady hands or something to rest the camera on, full zoom shots in low light can end up containing noticeable blur.
Like all recent Panasonic LUMIX cameras, the DMC-ZR1 is easy to use. It has a simple control layout and a quick menu button that allows you change its focus, metering, ISO, and shooting settings when it’s in ‘normal picture’ mode. You also get intelligent auto mode, which picks all the settings for you automatically. There is also a comprehensive collection of scene modes (29) including film grain and pin-hole modes.
One of the best features of the camera is its focus. It focuses fast (thanks in part to the parallel processing performance of the camera’s internal chip) and it focuses accurately, even in low light.
We particularly like the face recognition and object tracking focus modes. Face recognition can be programmed to pick up faces that you register. It will then focus on those when it recognises them, rather than unregistered faces. Meanwhile, tracking mode will follow your desired target across the entire screen (you can see the little yellow crosshairs dip under the icons of the screen, even go off the screen and then come back onto the screen when the object comes back into view. It’s a very useful feature for keeping pets and kids in focus while you snap them at playtime. However, similar shaped objects can confuse the tracker, and fast moving objects can be lost.
The build quality of the camera is acceptable for a compact digital camera with a 2.6in LCD screen, although its mode dial is too easy to knock out of place. Its battery life is long, although it will drain quicker if you take videos. It can take videos at 1280x720 using the Motion JPEG format and you can see an example video below.
There’s nothing really wrong with the LUMIX DMC-ZR1, although its images are feathery when you scrutinise them at the maximum 12-megapxel resolution. It’s easy to use, small, yet has an 8x zoom. It’s capable of capturing good looking shots and we think it’s just the ticket for anyone who wants a small camera for taking photos at sporting events, concerts, or while travelling.
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