updated 10:15 am EST, Tue January 27, 2009
Panasonic Lumix ZS
Panasonic on Tuesday rolled out sweeping changes to its Lumix cameras that include firsts both for itself and the whole industry. The Lumix ZS3 is the first compact camera to hold a 12X optical zoom lens and so has range comparable to an ultra-zoom in a smaller size. The 10-megapixel camera also has a wider 25mm lens that can capture more of the scene as well as face detection for portraits.
Video is also a heavy focus for this and the similar but slightly stepped down ZS1. Both record 720p60 HD video; the ZS3 is unique as one of the first compacts to include autofocusing in its movie mode and, thanks to dual processors, will not only recenter on subjects but also adjusts the scene mode and brightness values to avoid over- or under-capturing the shot. This top camera is also the first to encode video in AVCHD Lite, a new spec designed to even further reduce the amount of space used by HD video beyond regular AVCHD (H.264).
Besides the absence of movie autofocusing, the ZS1 scales back from the ZS3 by dropping face detection and using a smaller 2.7-inch LCD instead of the 3-inch on the flagship. Both are due in April at prices of $300 for the ZS1 and $400 for the ZS3.
The TS1 is a close relative of the ZS3 that shares the same AVCHD Lite and movie AF modes but with a different emphasis. It drops to a more conventional 4.6X zoom lens but gains 12 megapixels and a new, ruggedized body that Panasonic claims is dustproof, shockproof and waterproof at US military 810F limits. It also keeps the face detection and sensitivity up to a manually-specified ISO 6,400. Panasonic ships the TS1 in April for $400.
The company's touchscreen camera also gets an upgrade in the FX580. The new model has a 12-megapixel sensor and 5X lens but includes a fairly rare hybrid control scheme that includes both hardware navigation buttons as well as a touchscreen that can be used to enhance scenes beyond traditional controls: users can tap subjects or other elements to change the autofocus and exposure for that object rather than move the camera or use directional keys. It preserves face recognition and ISO 6,400 but shoots movies without autofocus and is limited to 30 frames per second at 720p. Shipments again start in April and will cost the same $400.