Panasonic’s Lumix SZ1 Ultra Compact looks an impressive package with its 10x optical zoom lens and 16-megapixel sensor, but is it? What Digital Camera finds out.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ1 review – Features and Handling
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ1 has an ultra compact body, particularly for one with such a broad zoom lens range that runs from a wide 25mm wide angle to a telephoto end of 250mm; a 10x optical zoom. Optical image stabilisation is recruited to help keep things steady, which is a pretty much essential as the small body size and the long zoom combine to make steady hand held shots a real challenge, particularly in low light.
The camera has Panasonic’s so called “sonic speed” fast AF system and it really is fast and features a focus assist lamp that struts its bright orange LED stuff when needed – if turned on. I have to say however, it’s rarely needed (I had almost as good performance with it on as off in terms of the AF speed) and if anything, with it switched on, it slows things down, as you must wait for the AF emitter to stop shinning.
In a first for a Panasonic Lumix camera, the SZ1 has a miniature photo-effect shooting mode and this is joined by a built-in panoramic stitching mode, both of which work well. The miniature effect is best used on larger vistas shot from a distance looking at my results. It’s fun to have to hand though and can be applied in movie mode too, although, oddly, it creates a very short high-speed movie clip rather than a “normal” movie.
Interestingly, the camera uses a USB cable to charge the battery in-camera, that’s great all the time you have access to a power socket; my preference is for a “normal” charger, which allows for charging of a spare battery even whilst using the camera.
The HD 720P video looks a tad mediocre by many of this camera’s competitors, that typically sport 1080P HD, but the high resolution 16.1-megapixel CCD sensor used by the video and stills systems to record your images and video seems good, at least at lower sensitivities.
The camera has an all-metal body, which feels tough and well made, a retro-style on/off switch joins the shutter release button, its encircling lens zoom leaver and a video record button grace the top of the camera. There are also slits for the microphone and speaker above the bulge on the top formed by the lens housing.
A record/playback switch on the back makes it very easy to switch between record and playback; a dedicated mode button comes next and this provides on-screen shooting options of iAuto (intelligent Auto), Normal, Miniature and finally Scene modes with a dedicated video record button. The latter enables video recording from any mode the camera is set to, but one demerit is the lack of any form of hand grip, there’s just an area of small raised plastic blobs on the back, so a wrist strap is essential, particularly if you’re going to shoot one handed.
Menus are activated from a (yep, you guessed it) menu button sat at the centre of the four way jog buttons on the back of the camera; menus are easy to use and have clear text plus a neat, built-in help system that shows what each mode and setting does.
Menus displaying multiple modes, using multiple icons (such as with the scene modes) then here each has a text explanation scroll along underneath, ticker tape fashion, letting you know what the mode is for.
Another benefit is the number of menu options changes depending on the mode the camera is in, which is even better for novice users or those getting to grips with the camera for the first time, as you get less to worry about in the full auto settings than in the more advanced shooting options.
Despite my reservations about charging the battery in camera, (to be fare though charging via the USB cable and supplied mains power adapter means you don’t have to be tied to a computer to do the charging) the battery life is pretty good given its 680mAh rating.
Panasonic reckon its good for up to 250 shots. But of course, this will vary on the amount of video you shoot, how much flash you use and the amount of image reviewing you do.
As well as being modest in terms of its capacity, the battery is physically very small too, helping keep the camera nice and small; even so, I shot 100 shots before it registered any drop on the battery indicator. I recon Panasonic’s 250-shot estimate as an average is about right.