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Panasonic has followed this design path for five years now… so I guess you could say things seem to be working for the approach.
The essence is an attractive, slim camera with touches of steel, easy to find external buttons and a delightfully simple viewfinder menu to adjust the taps and tools in your picture making … and available in black, silver, red and blue.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1 ventures into areas not touched before: for a kickoff, the CCD can capture 12.1 million pixels, a maximum image size of 4000×3000 pixels, imaged by a Leica-designed 8x optical zoom that gives a 35 SLR range equating to 25-200mm.
The camera continues to use the company’s optical image stabiliser that offers twice the shake suppression power of previous approaches — and the lens is described as having “the world’s first 0.3mm super-thin aspherical lens.” This allows the body — at rest — to have no more than an easily pocketable 26mm thickness; lens extended, it pokes out to only 42mm.
In even more ways this camera steps out from the crowd.
Take its continuous shooting feature: you can shoot 2.3 full resolution shots in one second; select a lower res, like 2048×1536 pixels, and expect to snare a run of 30 shots at a rate of ten pictures in each second. Pretty quick!
The exposure options are fairly basic: auto, intelligent auto and a bundle of scene modes. For newbies, Intelligent auto can take a lot of the angst out of photography and ensure you get the picture by taking care of the ISO setting, face detection, red-eye flash correction and any necessary backlight compensation.
Face Recognition is interesting: if a familiar face is recorded several times, the camera will prompt the user to register the face; if that face reappears in your frame, the camera displays the name you specified and optimises focus and exposure. Up to six people’s faces can be logged.
A useful feature is High Dynamic mode that handles scenes with extremes of brightness and contrast. Fiddlers can also dabble with the camera’s ‘artistic’ effects that can heighten colour or transform any shot to a B&W version or even add a photo frame to a picture for printing.
In my ISO tests I found the ZR1 performed admirably at ISO 80, with a sharp, noise free image but I was agreeably surprised at the ISO 800 level, believing this setting could be used for most applications — noise was low and definition high. Carrying further, ISO 1600’s performance was excellent, making it a real choice for photography at night and beneath low light levels. Very surprising.
I should also mention the manner in which the ZR1 handles ISO: you can select any ISO figure, from 80 to 1600. But there is an additional mode: Intelligent ISO … this sets up the camera to hover beneath three ceilings — ISO 400, 800 or 1600 — and allows the camera to vary sensitivity and shutter speed beneath these three levels.
Panasonic claims that all LUMIX cameras can shoot Full HD stills at 1920×1080 resolution. However, when it gets down to video it is really only average for cameras at this level, recording 1280×720 pixel movie clips. However, you can replay stills or movies through the camera’s AV or component output.
The wide angle end of the zoom showed some barrel distortion, while the tele end displayed a touch of pincushion distortion.
You can shoot your first shot about two seconds after power up, with follow-ons coming in at about a second a shot.
Quality: without doubt this camera can take above average snapshots that, when downloaded, print out with great clarity and vivacity.
Why you’d buy the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1: you can enjoy a stabilised 8x zoom lens in a small, compact, stylish camera.
Why you wouldn’t by the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1: not Full HD video capture; only auto operation, with no options for controlling lens aperture or shutter speed.
Image Sensor: 12.1 million effective pixels.
Sensor Size: 11mm CCD.
Lens: Leica DC Vario-Elmar f/3.3-5.9/4.5-36mm (25-200mm as 35 SLR equivalent).
Shutter Speed: 60 to 1/2000 second.
Focusing Range: Normal 50cm to infinity; macro W/T 3/100cm to infinity.
Metering: Multi zone.
Exposure Control: Program AE.
LCD screen: 6.9cm (230,000 pixels).
Memory: SD, SDHC and 40MB of internal memory.
Image Size (pixels): 4000×3000, 4000 x 2672, 4000 x 2248, 3264×2448, 3264 x 2176, 3264 x 1840, 2560×1920, 2560×1440, 2560×1712, 2048×1536, 2048×1360, 1920×1080, 1600×1200, 640×480. Movies: 1280×720, 848×480, 640×480, 320×240 at 30 fps.
File Formats: JPEG, Motion JPEG.
ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 80 to 1600.
Interface: SB 2.0, AV (PAL/NTSC) and component output, DC input.
Power: Rechargeable lithium ion battery.
Dimensions: 97.8×54.6×26 WHDmm.
Weight: Approx. 160 g (with battery and card).
Get a price on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1 at Amazon (currently 33% off recommended retail price).