Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50 sensor review: Few pixels equals better dynamics?

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DxOMark Sensor

Introduction

The Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS50 (known as the TZ70 in Europe) is a compact-sized camera with a large (30x) zoom range equivalent to a 24-720mm, complete with 5-axis image stabilization and a 12.1-Mpix 1/2.3-inch MOS sensor (down from the 18-Mpix of its DMC-ZS40 predecessor). The rangefinder-style camera also has a high-res 1.2M-dot electronic viewfinder, full manual controls (including a programmable control ring surrounding the lens), a built -n flash, and a fixed 3.0” 1.04M dot LCD to the rear. The ring surrounding the lens offers control over a number of features, including focal length, exposure, and focus.

Besides the option for RAW capture in stills, which is unusual enough in compacts, the ZS50 also has a number useful of features aimed at video enthusiasts. This includes focus peaking, a feature that will also appeal to still photographers, and a 50/60p Full HD 1920×180 option in addition to the usual 25/30p regional choices. Like other recent models from the firm, the Lumix DMC-ZS50 has integrated WiFI connectivity with NFC (or QR code as an option) for remote control and sharing images via a smartphone or tablet.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50 measures 4.4 x 2.5 x 1.4” / 110.6 x 64.3 x 34.4mm and weighs 8.57 oz (243g). It is available now at $397.99 (USD).

  • 12.1-Mpix 1/2.3-inch MOS sensor
  • 24-720mm equivalent Leica DC Vario-Elmar lens
  • Shake reduction
  • Venus Engine image processor with ISO 6400 max
  • Continuous shooting up to 10 fps (JPEG).
  • 1.2m-dot EVF
  • 3.0-inch 1.04m-dot LCD
  • Full HD 1080p video at 60/30 fps
  • Built-in WiFi with NFC

Measurements: Good, but behind best-in-class

Achieving an overall DxOMark sensor score of 44 points, the Lumix DMC-ZS50 achieves a good score for a 1/2.3-inch type sensor, although it is only an incremental increase in performance over similar-sized sensors used in earlier models from the company. Adopting a DSLR-style body and layout, the 16-Mpix Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ70 (for instance) achieved a DxOMark score of 41 points, and with the same 12.1-Mpix count as the ZS50, the DMC-FZ200 from 2012 managed just 37 points. Nevertheless, the 12-Mpix Pentax Q and Q10 (also from 2012) secured higher DxOMark sensor scores of 47 and 49 points, respectively, and the 12-Mpix Canon PowerShot SX50, also from the same period, achieved 47 points.

Comparison: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50 vs. Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 vs Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ70: Competitive dynamics

Despite the age advantage when compared with the slightly larger 1/1.7-inch type sensor found in the Lumix DMC-LF1 (a similar rangefinder-styled model from 2013 with an EVF and 12-1-Mpix back-illuminated CMOS sensor, and a 28-200mm equivalent f2.0-5.9 zoom), the ZS50 is still somewhat behind in sensor dynamics. It has lower color sensitivity, a not-so-forgiving dynamic range, and almost a stop lower low-light ISO.

Against the 16-Mpix Lumix DMC-FZ70 from around the same period, but adopting the same-sized 1/2.3-in type senso,r we can see that there’s not much to be gained from adopting a lower pixel count. With slightly lower noise levels, the ZS50 has an +0.6 bit advantage in color sensitivity and a slightly wider dynamic range of +0.4Ev at base, but it loses out to the FZ70 on low-light ISO by around –0.3Ev.

Conclusion

With exciting specs, including a Leica branded 24-720mm zoom and 5-axis stabilization squeezed into a compact rangefinder-style body complete with an EVF, the Lumix DMC-ZS50 looks tempting enough. Panasonic’s decision to return to a lower 12-Mpix sensor in the DMC-ZS50 to improve noise levels and low-light performance, however, doesn’t appear entirely justified (although we’ve yet to test its predecessor, the 18-Mpix DMC-ZS40). It’s not a bad performer under most situations, but low-light performance isn’t one of its strong points.