Friday, July 28, 2017

Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS70K Review - The Pocket FZ1000

Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS70K Review- The Pocket FZ1000
July 2017, Carl Garrard

So I'm out and about on a hike recently shooting with one of my favorite compacts, and I run into a pretty rare bird of prey that lands on a branch not too far on the other side of the hill from me. I sneak up and find him, get him sighted on my camera and zoom all the way in. I make a few shots of the Coopers Hawk. I know full well that I don't have the zoom range with this camera to get close enough for an excellent shot, but at least ill be able to crop the image later and document him. After I post the image online, I'm thinking, well... it would be really nice to have a  small compact camera with a longer zoom that I could grab much closer shots of this bird with. It was time to look at the market again and see what I could find out there. More of the story continued...
Panasonic DC-ZS70K Lumix Amazon Best Price

Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS70K Review- Part I

INTRO AND DESIGN

Since the ZS50, I haven't looked at Panasonic's offerings in the compact small sensor long zoom class. That camera simply felt unfinished to me. However, since I was inspired to take another look at the market the day after that hike, I decided to take another look at all of the super zoom compacts available today. I already own the lovely Leica Vlux Typ 114, but I wanted something tiny and light to carry that could possibly get 'similar enough' results. I was asking for a lot, I know. My experience in the past with compact super zooms said that I'm off my rocker. Yet, perhaps with a newer design I could make images in good light that are good enough.

24-720mm f/3.3-6.3 lens with superb macro capabilities, raw, 20mp BSI CMOS sensor, could this be the sleeper compact for 2017?

Motivated a bit, I start looking around at the compact market and come across the DC-ZS70K. I had originally ignored the press release in April when it came out. All I saw was "A 20mp 1 2/3" sensor", crazy, I thought. However, with a new need to find a super zoom compact that will allow me to document bird species, I was on a fast track to find something that would be good enough for that task. I've reviewed the ZS100, and it's a fantastic camera, but the zoom reach was just a bit lacking for the longest range shots. Then, I had a flashback moment when I was reading specifications again- The ZS70's sensor is backside illuminated.... "hmm ,that could help things a bit" I thought. And because I'm usually in good daylight when I spot birds, this camera could possibly do my bidding. So I decided to test it out and see.

Will backside illumination help this small pixel crammed sensor?

After the decision is made, I start looking into the camera's specifics more. Surprisingly the super clean exterior design really started to stand out in the press images, a huge improvement over the previous ZS-50 before it. "Panasonic really listened!" I thought. Thoughtful design decisions such as recessed strap lugs really get my heart thumping. And all the little details: The LCD is properly aligned on the back, and the new flip up design is useful, ingenious, and clean looking. Hmm indeed.

Well sorted exterior, super clean, good controls, not too much, not too little. Just right.
Note that the evf has an auto proximity sensor and diopter adjustment. Cleanly organized too. 


Overall, the ZS70 is slightly thicker than its predecessors, and much more refined on the exterior. There's a customizeable button right under the thumb that allows for AEL lock. The front and rear grips look more substantial, which will help with camera shake. Even the front of the camera looks well sorted and cleanly organized (the flash, Lumix logo, and excellent grip are all in line for example). The exterior looks perfect for a pocket camera such as this, which begs the question: How come I ignored this camera?

That my friends, is a very clean well organized minimalist looking camera. All the textures look right, all the important parts are there, nothing extra, no huge logos or adverts- clean, refined, functional, and in line. I wish all cameras were designed this well. The front sports the Lumix logo, flash, and the nice front grip (all three inline). There's a dedicated AF assist lamp. The big Leica lens and logo are tucked in nicely. Nothing brash or annoying about this camera. Top points to Panasonic for design aesthetic here!


Why is exterior design so important to me? Well for two reasons. One, it just looks nicer first of all (I appreciate logical aesthetics). And since it appears more organized its easier on the eye when you are using it. Two, when a manufacturer is paying that much attention to details, it usually means they paid attention to everything else too. Exceptionally designed cameras are really hard to find.

The rest of the review goes into details of the DC-ZS70K. I expect improvements over the ZS50 but I do not expect miracles. I have reasonable expectations of such a small sensor. A camera such as this will need to fill a specific type of niche photography for me, it will not be my all in one solution for imaging. So please note, I'll be fair and reasonable with my expectations of its performance for a camera of its class. Based on what I'm seeing so far, I expect this camera to impress me for what it is.


Simple top panel, everything you need. Simple on/off button, video button, zoom rocker, large flat shutter release, mode dial, and stereo audio pickups. Notice there's no adverts for 4k or silly stuff like that. The camera is a bit thicker than previous models and the thumb grip and front grip look well placed and just the right size. Even the EVF housing is in line with the LCD panel and looks like part of the camera- not an afterthought. Lastly the customizeable ring on the front isnt too small or large and fits right in. I love the flat paint and satin metal exterior- gorgeous camera! Again top marks here Panasonic!

Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS70K Review- Part II

UNBOXING AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The weight of the box tells me that there's a pretty dense little camera inside. And opening the box I found exactly that, a nicely dense camera that isn't flimsy or plastic. Very well built, and just the right size and weight, precisely what I figured based on the images and specs I looked at prior to receiving it. So far, so good. Immediately I installed the battery and started charging it.




The Lumix ZS70K comes in a small box but its packed with all the essentials except a large printed manual. The manual is found online here: PANASONIC LUMIX DC-ZS70K OPERATIONAL MANUAL. Inside there is a bigger than normal battery, a 7.4Wh 1025mAh unit. You can charge the camera via a computer or standard socket, everything is included that you need including a lanyard (not pictured).





While it was charging I took a moment to evaluate the quality of the camera. Indeed this is a premium product. The control ring on front is buttery smooth and precise without detent marks. This makes it great for manual focusing for stills or video since it should be ultra quiet. The lack of detents may not be ideal for those wanting to change aperture or shutter speed with it, since there is no tactile feedback as you change your settings. But wow, how smooth and nice it is.


Nice that it has an easy to see charging indicator light on the back.

Flipping up the glass, anti smudging LCD display, I noticed how precise and smooth the mechanism is, and it snaps back into place with a soft tap. How pleasant, it's hard to describe. All of the buttons are nicely sized for a compact and give a good feedback click. The rear control wheel is plastic but with nicely tensioned detents (this may be the best control point for choosing your aperture or shutter speed, ISO etc.). The main mode dial has just the right tension, it will be hard to accidentally change your settings, even without a lock. The on/off button is in the perfect location, closer to the shooter and easy to remember.

Although the door is a flimsy unsprung/unhinged type, it houses ports that are easily identifiable. Just one of many thoughtful little details in its design.

Most of the edges of the camera are nicely rounded, just enough to feel nice, but look fantastic. It's much a pleasure to hold as it is to look at. This might just be the nicest externally designed compact t that I've come across in a very long time. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, but its naturally functional too- an artistic blend of the two design philosophies merge at last! That is difficult  to pull off, and Panasonic has done it.

I hate to gush on like this but you don't know how frustrating it is to have so many cameras come across your desk only to completely disappoint you functionally or aesthetically. And because it's so well designed, the ZS70 begs you to pick it up and shoot with it, which is precisely what cameras should do. Hats off to the design team. Well done.

Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS70K Review- Part III

USING THE ZS70, OVERALL EVALUATION

Boy oh boy Panasonic really listens. I'm glad I didn't budge under the weight of  all the criticism I received of the several online reviews I completed of the ZS50 when it came out. You may recall that I noted the Jpeg engine allowed for no fine tuning, and that to me was absolutely unthinkable. I was vocal about it on three reviews on the net, one here as well. Other issues were overshadowed by the Jpeg issue, but alas were also there. I felt it was an incomplete product overall, thus I did not recommend that camera on my review.

Well, a couple years later and Panasonic allows for fine tuning of contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction in all the normal Jpeg modes, and also when you are recording a simultaneous raw file. BRAVO! Don't thank us (all the honest reviewers), just enjoy the ZS70. Edit: The ZS60 also allowed also for photo styles adjustment, but the sensor was a step back in performance over the ZS50.

For Jpeg shooters, you now have customizeable in camera image settings. Contrast, sharpness, noise reduction, and saturation are all available to tailor in all of the normal image modes.

There are so many little fine design improvements of this camera vs. the ZS50, I'm almost overwhelmed. In many respects it seems like a whole new redesign. First impressions are rarely this good. So in no rational order I'm going to list all of the great things I'm finding with this compact. Since there are so many I'm going to divide them up into different sections for easier reading.

Pros: Build, Design, etc.
  • Exceptionally engineered build quality, feels like a fine watch
  • Tight tolerances, great materials and workmanship
  • Excellent design decisions, near perfection for a compact in this category
  • Practical rangefinder-like layout/design
  • Form and function design, fused perfectly
  • Auto lens dust cover/protector
  • Controls operate without fuss
  • Butter smooth front control ring (quiet for video recording)
  • Comfortable, secure, and effective front and rear grip
  • Just the right size and weight for a compact
  • No smudge glass touch, highly detailed LCD screen on a precise flip up platform 
  • LCD design allows for hands free angled sky shots (like a bipod)
  • Easy waist level and/or group/selfie shots
  • Lens extends buttery smooth, no play or wiggle (all metal tubes)
  • EVF optics/resolution are the same as ZS100, much improved over ZS50, completely usable
  • EVF has diopter adjustment and auto detect on/off sensor
  • EVF excellent eye relief
  • Jack of all trades, master of some
  • Begs you to use it, a ton of fun
Pros: General Performance
  • Awesome macro area (50mm and 74mm are my favorites)
  • Step Zoom (can be assigned to either control dials or zoom rocker)
  • Fast start up, then brief zoom extension
  • Very fast AF, even in lower light (reminds me of FZ1000)
  • Unrivaled AF point selections and features (I chose a custom 5 point diamond center pattern)
  • Excellent Battery life (based on size and specs, I always out perform specs on long term use) 
  • Highly effective image stabilization (needed for such a long zoom)
  • No shot to shot lag time, fast processing
  • Manual (1/2000th) or electronic shutter (1/16,000th second)
  • Blazing fast 10 fps with decent subject tracking
Pros: Image Quality
  • Better image quality than a 1 2/3" sensor should allow
  • Jpeg engine can fine tune all parameters , even when using w/raw
  • Inclusion of Raw (and in camera raw development)
  • Excellent lens overall, only limited by diffraction of small sensor
  • Noise control better than expected
Pros: Features and Value
  • Excellent video options and overall video quality
  • High resolution 20mp BSI CMOS sensor (surprising amount of detail)
  • Time lapse and Time lapse movies (Panasonic does this the best)
  • Versatile Lens, from wide to ultra telephoto to great usable macro focal lengths (um, wow?)
  • Comprehensive set of features without being daunting or unorganized (too many to list!)
  • Awesome bang for the buck
  • Like having a mini FZ1000 in your pocket, only with more reach 

Being able to save a customized array of any of the 49 AF points is Panasonic genius. I chose a 5 patterned array for most of my everyday shooting.

Now I am going to reach deep down in order to list some cons of this camera. Mind you, I'm thinking of the end user along with myself. I'm so smitten with the camera's design, build, and features, it's a rather difficult feat.. Alas, I am objective.

Cons: Build and Design etc.
  • Non hinged port door (typical flimsy type)
  • Tripod mount is not centered to lens
  • As boxed, in camera charging only (both pro and a con), recommend separate battery charger
  • Lack of threading on lens for filters 
  • Lacks a flash hot shoe
Cons: General Performance
  • Flash can be covered by hand if you aren't careful, hold it properly
  • Slight delay for zoom extension
  • Misses focus on occasion
  • Requires a steady hand and good light at full telephoto
Cons: Image Quality
  • Small sensor so keep expectations realistic
  • Diffraction sets in fast, use wider apertures for more detail
  • Highest ISO (6400) almost unusable
  • Ultra fine detail lost to noise over ISO 200
Cons: Features and Value
  • None come to mind for its price

So as you can see above, the pro's far outweigh any con's that were frankly very difficult to find. Considering the price of this camera and all of its capabilities and features, a con's list is almost unnecessary. Truly, there are no deal breakers with this camera so long as you do not have pie in the sky expectations of the image quality. Although I'm surprised on how well it performs for such a sensor, it still is a very small sensor. The limitations of it will provide some challenge to the discerning photographer, but if you do things right you can squeak some very high quality images out of this camera. And in a way, that makes it charming. A little challenge is always good.


Base ISO 24mm. Processed in raw, ACR. No noise removal or sharpening of any kind. Good flare control on the lens, some fringing, but really not bad at all.

Overall the lens is well behaved too, color fringing is reasonably tamed even at wide angle, beyond that almost not an issue at all. Flare is also well behaved, as noted above. Sharpness is only limited by diffraction and the sensor.. In other words, I'm sure the lens is not the bottleneck in the image quality department here.

When I said in the pro's section above that this feels a lot like a mini FZ1000, I truly mean it. The menu system is so similar (almost identical), and focal length equivalent make it feel like a pocket FZ1000. You will notice that image quality cannot keep up as well, but it can make totally decent photographs in good light that should print well if you use raw. That being said, the ZS70 does certain things  better than even my beloved Leica Typ 114 can. It has more reach, better macro, and is likely to come with me much more often because of its size. Obviously the image quality isn't as good, but what if its good enough?

ISO 80, good dynamic range for sunsets. Seems to handle red channel pretty darn well. Processed in ACR to taste. Tad bit of sharpening, no NR (only 5% color reduction).


ISO 500 f/5, ACR conversion, no NR or sharpening applied. Underexposed 1/2 stop.

What amazes me about the FZ70, is the versatility of the lens. Having the ability to shoot 24mm wide angle, 720mm super telephoto, then at 50mm be able to shoot a minimum macro area of 1 3/8" wide optically is insane freedom (you can shoot a smaller area using Jpeg only, but it's just a crop). But what the ZS70 does so well is to provide image quality that exceeds what I would normally expect a small super zoom to accomplish (guess I've grown accustomed to let down). In the case with the ZS70, you can almost have your cake and eat it too.


This little guy was about 15' away from me. Shot at 720mm, ISO 80. Cropped 75% and processed to taste in ACR (result is about 5mp resolution, good for a detailed medium sized print). A little care is needed to get the most out of the raw files, but a good quality image. This is what I bought the ZS70 for, to document bird species, and often that will require full telephoto.


At 275mm f/5.6, ISO 80, a bit more detail comes from the lens at this focal length. Hard to say if the added detail comes from a slightly larger aperture (less diffraction) or if the lens is just sharper in the mid range. Likely it is the latter. Cropped with just over 5mp of resolution for this image.

Macro on a dime. ISO 80, f/5.6, 50mm. What I like is that the best magnification comes at exactly 50mm from the ZS70. When using step zoom, its really easy to get there. If  you need a bit more distance from the subject, the 70/90mm settings work great too.

At ISO 1250. No NR or sharpening, processed in ACR. Noise is controlled well enough here. I do not recommend going higher however.

ISO 6400 no NR or sharpening, processed in ACR. And so the limitations of the size of the sensor are obvious here. Lots of color shift and noise. Still you could probably salvage a usable image out of this with some noise removal.

Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS70K Review- Part IV


 CONCLUSION

This camera is simply an engineering feat, no doubt about it. The freedom you have with its capabilities are almost too good to be true. But, it's true. What is so fantastic though, is that Panasonic made it fuss free to shoot as well. A little time reading the manual is all you need to understand its vast capabilities. I haven't even gone into its 4K video capabilities, or its time lapse/movie modes, etc. I've used them before. I'll leave video to the video experts, but I am definitely going to be using this camera for time lapse, as I have my VLux Typ 114.


The ZS70 is about the same size as my Ricoh GR II. It gives my GR a run for the money in the comfort and ergonomics category, and frankly I thought no compact camera would ever infringe on the GR's ergonomic dominance. Both designs are an example of form meeting function. Beautiful and great to use.

Ergonomically, It's easily one of the most comfortable well sorted compact cameras I've ever used, nudging in the top 3 of all time. During this review I quit writing several times just because I was inspired to go shoot with it more. It's a fun camera to create with. That in itself has serious value. When you are motivated, you can make great images with almost any camera. But what I can't get over, is how liberating about a camera like this is. Its not just that a camera be capable of doing something, its how much fun it is to work with and how well it actually does it. And the ZS70 has both of those attributes. Granted, I'm less likely to exhibit gallery worthy prints with this camera versus, say, my full frame equipment, but I wouldn't rule it out either.

Considering how many compacts I've tested, reviewed, and owned, that's seriously saying something. The only other camera(s) I can recall that can match the comfort and ergonomics of the ZS70 would be Ricoh's GR series. Panasonic are on to something great here. I'd like to see an identical body style with the latest generation 1" sensor found in the FZ2500. Maybe that camera will be the ZS200, who knows.

All in all Panasonic rule the super zoom categories. With the FZ1000/2500, ZS100, and now the hit wonder ZS70, nobody can touch Panasonic's dominance with these offerings.

Highly Recommended (for realists)

Be safe, and happy shooting.

-Carl Garrard

Panasonic DC-ZS70K Lumix Amazon Best Price






















6 comments:

  1. I have owned several generations of Lumix and, after reading this review, I'm glad I skipped the ZS50 (plastic lens housing). The one thing above all else about this line (and it's happened to me 3x with different iterations) is that the lens is not sealed. Therefore in a dusty environment - e.g. in a mine shaft or on a dusty day - one has to be very careful not to get a speck of dust into the lens face housing. I've had to send two back to have them cleaned. A third camera is sidelined indefinitely because of a "dust mite". I would literally pay $100 - $150 more for this feature. It is such a prevalent occurrence that I get nervous whenever I find myself in a "dusty" environment. Nevertheless, I will now be shopping for this fine new version, and hope to pick one up within the next two months! Tremendous review! After looking at the 50, with its plastic lens housing, it seemed like Panasonic was going to just "cheap it out" as it no longer competed with a lot of what the iPhone can do. Glad to see they've stepped up once again to the value/features/cost plate. BTW, your review greatly exceeded my expectations. Thanks for the education!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. good review
    thanks for the helpful information

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you David! Much appreciated and good information for readers here too :).

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you so much for this detailed review. My zs70 will be arriving in 2 days and I am excited, especially after reading this educational article. I owned the zs40 and didnt like it, gave it to my granddaughter. I do, however, love my fz300 which has a similiar sensor and zoom range so I decided to take the plunge with the zs70.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Glad you liked the review, thank you. Good luck with it, hope you like it!..Please spread the word about my blog if you get a chance :).

    ReplyDelete
  6. I really want to buy this camera before my trip to Portugal next year and you provided me with the information I was looking for. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete