The stripped-down Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 used to cost less than other pocket ultra-zoom cameras. Experts hailed it as a bargain. But now, the top-rated Canon PowerShot SX260 HS (*Est. $230) usually sells for less than the ZS8 -- and the Canon boasts a longer zoom, better photo and video quality, more features and a tougher body.
Tiny and simple. Just as tiny as other pocket ultra-zooms, the Panasonic ZS8 is a little longer and thicker than a deck of cards. "Though it's a tight fit in a pants pocket, the ZS8 easily fits in an average jacket pocket or small handbag," says Joshua Goldman at CNET. A comfortable grip makes it easy to hold, Goldman says.
The 3-inch LCD screen is as big as its rivals', but only about half the resolution. Still, it has "a very wide viewing angle (so you can hold the Panasonic ZS8 above your head and still see the image on the screen)," says Mike Pasini at Imaging-Resource.com. "I had no trouble shooting with it in direct sunlight."
Point-and-shooters get the usual full-auto mode and scene modes. For advanced users, the ZS8 offers an array of manual controls like aperture, shutter speed and white balance. Unlike the top-rated Canon SX260, though, there's no manual focus.
Performance lags competitors. Bright-light photos generally look good, reviews say -- unless the Panasonic ZS8 gets dust inside, as it's prone to do.
"I didn't have any real complaints about image quality," says Pasini at Imaging-Resource.com. "Most subjects print quite well at 13x19 inches" at ISO 100.
In dim light, though, "photos are best left for small prints and Web use," says Goldman at CNET. Pasini gets a good 5-by-7-inch print even at ISO 1600, although some owners at Amazon.com find the ZS8's 14-megapixel photos too grainy and soft. Blown highlights pollute the images in Goldman's test -- a common failing of small-sensor cameras.
Quick reflexes make the ZS8 pleasant to shoot with, reviews say. Only one thing really crawls: burst shooting. Rivals can shoot 10 frames per second (fps), but the ZS8 shoots only 1.9 fps at best quality -- and only for three shots.
Video records in HD, but at only 720p (rivals shoot full 1080p HD). There's no one-touch video button, and the microphone is mono, not stereo. "Video quality is good, on par with an HD pocket video camera," Goldman says, "However, with the ZS8 you get the zoom lens." You'll hear the zoom noise on your audio, though, testers say.
Battery life is rated at 340 shots -- "very good," Goldman says. "Although using the zoom a lot or recording movies will cut into that time, it performed well on a single charge."
Dust on the sensor, plus other durability complaints. Dust easily creeps inside the Panasonic ZS8, say several owners at Amazon.com and BestBuy.com. This leads to speckled photos and eventually malfunctions.
"As soon as the sensor is contaminated, auto focus stops working, requiring a disassembly and a compressed air cleaning," one owner writes. "It is not long until the contamination returns. There seems to be a direct path for the dust to enter, through the lens assembly. ... Lens errors are starting now as well, and I expect total failure of the lens drive soon. One year of moderate use before failure is not acceptable for a digital camera."
Others say the ZS8 malfunctioned or broke. One Amazon.com reviewer says he took the ZS8 on trips in his carry-on luggage (where he carries other cameras with no problems). Once, the LCD screen broke, and another time, the shutter button fell off. Some owners report bad warranty service from Panasonic. Some say repairs take weeks; others say Panasonic refused to honor the warranty, saying the owner physically damaged the camera. The owners say they didn't.
Other owners say the ZS8 feels chintzy. "Don't get me wrong -- lightness is usually a good trait in a point and shoot -- but this camera just felt cheap, at some points hollow, almost," says one owner at Amazon.com. Another says, "I do have a concern about the on/off switch, the playback switch and the door over the battery and memory card. They all seem a little flimsy and I'm wondering how long they will last."
Not everyone agrees. Goldman at CNET praises the ZS8's "nice, solid feel." One Amazon.com customer marvels at how tough it is. "I'm an outdoor professional. I carried this thing on my belt in a case riding an ATV all summer long. I dropped it, bumped it, completely abused it. Even fell into a creek and submerged it, took out the battery and dried it, and it still worked afterword. Took me about a year to kill it -- I imagine the corrosion from the creek finally got to be too much for it."
Overall, though, the Panasonic ZS8 draws more durability complaints than its rivals.
Basic feature set. The Panasonic ZS8 is missing many bells and whistles that come standard on its rivals. You won't find GPS or 3D capability here. There's no HDMI jack to view your HD videos directly on an HDTV. The ZS8 can't stitch together panoramic shots for you; instead, it bundles software so you can stitch them together yourself on your computer.
Its 16x optical zoom is shorter than usual, too (20x is standard for this class). Digital zoom quadruples that reach, but it pixelates the image. The ZS8 also has a feature called Extra Optical Zoom (EZ) that "basically crops the 14-megapixel image down to its center 3 megapixels," says Goldman at CNET. "This effectively gives you a longer zoom, but not at full resolution, making its name misleading."
Like most other modern point-and-shoot cameras, the ZS8 offers the usual array of scene modes (soft skin, sunset, etc.), as well as a few special effects (pinhole, film grain, etc.) to add to photos.
Like other pocket ultra-zooms, the tiny Panasonic ZS8 lacks RAW image capture and a hot shoe. It has a built-in flash.
Review Credibility: Excellent A few flaws show up in this thorough test, but overall, experts here appreciate the wide-angle, long-zoom ability and decent manual controls of the compact Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8.
Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8, Mike Pasini and Stephanie Boozer, June 3, 2011
Review Credibility: Very Good Although it tests well enough to earn a Very Good 3.5-star rating (out of 5), the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 is "somewhat expensive for what it's offering," Joshua Goldman concludes.
Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 Review (Black), Joshua Goldman, April 10, 2011
Review Credibility: Good ConsumerReports.org tests 44 ultra-zoom cameras -- including the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 -- for image and video quality, ease of use, versatility and more. Editors pick the best buys, based on the results.
Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, Not dated
Review Credibility: Fair More than 250 owners review the Panasonic ZS8 here, and more than half of them award it a perfect 5 stars. Satisfied owners like having a big zoom that fits in a pocket or purse. But nearly one in five reviews gives the ZS8 1 or 2 stars, usually because it got dust in the lens or quit working.
Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 14.1 MP Digital Camera, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of February 2013
Review Credibility: Fair A couple of owners here report that their Panasonic ZS8s got dust in the lens, and a couple find the photo quality lacking. Otherwise, the ZS8 gets glowing reviews from more than 140 owners.
Review: Panasonic Lumix ZS8 14.1 Megapixel Digital Camera -- Black, Contributors to BestBuy.com, As of February 2013