Panasonic Lumix ZS50 Superzoom compact camera passes its field test

Panasonic Lumix ZS50 Superzoom compact camera passes its field test

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50 Digital Camera (Black)No segment of the camera market has improved as quickly as the superzoom point and shoots. Originally more of a gimmick than a real tool, these tiny models are now quite capable of producing very usable images. However, to get their massive zoom ranges crammed into a few-ounce body means using a fairly small sensor. Likewise, electronics are limted by their weight and low price, so exposure, focus, and the EVF also suffer. To see what the new models are capable of, I brought along the new with me to Africa on safari to field test (in addition to my primary DSLR of course). For the most part I was pleasantly surprised with the results, but it certainly had some drawbacks as well…


Ergonomics and User experience


I found the camera’s controls reasonably easy to use, and similar to those found on other mid-range to high-end point and shoots. I shot with it in Aperture mode most of the time (out of habit), but the Auto mode also did a good job as long as there wasn’t much action. The menu system continues to be less user-friendly than Canon’s (at least for me), but nothing really serious. It also features a customizable control ring around the lens, which helps make the controls feel like those from a more advanced camera. I was surprised that the camera featured an EVF (given its tiny size and superzoom lens), so that was a nice plus. However, the EVF was very small and grainy (compared to the nicer ones found on larger cameras like the and , so it wasn’t really a pleasant experience to use it any more than necessary. Of course, the major ergonomic feature is the small-size (easily pocketable 2.5 x 4.4 x 1.4 inches) and light weight (8.6 ounces). 

At the wide-end the  is a very competent compact camera
Breeding herd of African Elephants


One quirk is the charging system. Panasonic uses an external AC adapter (included) that connects via an included USB cable to a proprietary connector. That means keeping track of yet another oddball cable when traveling. There is also no external charger, so carrying a spare battery requires some extra logistics for charging.

Cheetah resting after a meal, scouting for its next one,
, 720mm equiv, 1/640s @ f/6.4, ISO 800


Image Quality

For evenly-lit scenes in good light, the produced perfectly usable images for those wanting memories of a special trip, event, or vacation. I don’t think I’d try to submit one to a professional stock agency or sell it to a nature magazine (unless it had a very special subject), but for Facebook, photo books, or web albums, the camera works well. However, it didn’t do as well if there was too much contrast in a scene, with a tendency to blow out highlights. Animals with white fur patches were a particular problem. You can see in the image of the Lioness below that her chest has turned into one large, blown-out, highlight – even though the photo was captured in relatively soft morning light. Obviously I could have addressed that particular issue by dialing in minus exposure compensation, but that would in turn have lost shadow detail on the animal’s back. I took a look at the accompanying RAW image and it too featured blown-out highlights – interestingly only in the red channel. Overall image quality is limited by the small-size (1/2.3-inch) sensor – a necessity when putting a SuperZoom into a tiny camera. The 12MP resolution also means that the ZS50 has slightly-larger pixels than its predecessor (which featured 20MP), giving it better results in low light.

While the general quality of this image is excellent, the burnt-out areas in the Lion’s fur was disappointing,
since the image was shot in relatively soft light.


Should you buy this SuperZoom?

The one and only reason to purchase a SuperZoom model of point and shoot instead of a similarly-priced version with a larger sensor and a smaller zoom range is to take extreme telephoto images. If you don’t need the 30x range (about 24-720mm equivalent) of the , you should consider buying the excellent instead. It will give you better images, a better set of features, all for about the same price. That said, the SuperZoom on the does work pretty well, so if you need the option to “go long” it is one of the best compact options in the market today. As an example, this image of an Elephant’s Eye was shot at an equivalent of 720mm, as was the following image of a tiny SteenBok, one of Southern Africa’s smallest antelopes. If you want to have a camera that fits in your pocket and gives you the option to get images like this, the is a good choice.

The cool thing about a SuperZoom is you can move from wide-angle to extreme closeup in a couple seconds.
Elephant Eye, 720mm equiv. 1/800s @ f/6.4, ISO 800, Aperture priority, image resized for web


Steenbok Antelope, 600mm equivalent, 1/2000s @ f/6.1, ISO 800, Aperture priority


The  did surprisingly well with tricky white balance situations like this sunset over the plains in Hwange Park, Zimbabwe
, 140mm equiv, 1/1600s @ f/5.3, ISO 800
(a lower ISO would have been smarter here, of course)

(all images are straight-out-of-camera JPEGs, resized to 2560 pixels on the long-side for the web)

Full Specs:

Actual: 12.8 Megapixel
Effective: 12.1 Megapixel

1/2.3" MOS

File Formats
Still Images: JPEG, MPO, RAW
Movies: AVCHD Ver. 2.0, MP4

Max Resolution
12.1 MP: 4000 x 3000

Aspect Ratio
1:1, 3:2, 4:3, 16:9

Image Stabilization
Optical, 5-Way

Leica DC Vario-Elmar, 12 elements in 9 groups
5 Aspherical, 3 ED
EFL: 4.3-129mm (35 mm equivalent: 24-720mm)
Aperture: f/3.3 (W) - 6.4 (T) to f/8.0

Optical: 30x
Intelligent Zoom: 60x
Extra Optical Zoom (EZ): 36.7x
Extra Optical Zoom (EZ): 46.9x
Extra Optical Zoom (EZ): 58.6x
Digital: 4x

Focus Range
Wide: 1.64' (50 cm) - Infinity
Telephoto: 6.56' (2 m) - Infinity
Wide Macro: 1.18" (3 cm) - Infinity
Tele Macro: 6.56' (2 m) - Infinity

ISO Sensitivity
Auto, 80-6400

4 - 1/2000 seconds
15 - 60 seconds in  Starry Sky Mode

Exposure Metering
Center-weighted, Multi, Spot

Exposure Modes
Modes: Aperture Priority, Manual, Programmed Auto, Shutter Priority
Compensation: -2 EV to +2 EV (in 1/3 EV steps)

Shooting Modes
3D Photo
Baby 1
Baby 2
Dynamic Monochrome
Glass Through
Handheld Night Shot
High Dynamic
High Sensitivity
High Speed Shutter
Impressive Art
Low Key
Miniature Effect
Night Portrait
Night Scenery
Old Days
One Point Color
Pet Mode
Soft Focus
Soft Skin
Star Filter
Starry Sky
Toy Camera Effect

White Balance Modes
Auto, Cloudy, Daylight, Incandescent, Shade, White Balance Adjustment, White Set

Burst Rate
Up to 10 fps at 12.1 MP for up to 6 frames
Up to 6 fps at 12.1 MP
Up to 3 fps at 12.1 MP
Up to 60 fps at 2.5 MP
Up to 40 fps at 5 MP

Self Timer
10 Sec, 2 Sec

Flash Modes
Auto/Red-eye Reduction
Forced On
Slow Sync/Red-eye Reduction

Built-in Flash

Maximum Effective Flash Range
Wide: 1.97 - 21.00' (0.6 - 6.4 m)
Telephoto: 6.56 - 10.83' (2 - 3.3 m)

Built-in Memory
86 MB

Memory Card Type

Video Recording

1920 x 1080p: 60 fps, 30 fps
1280 x 720p: 60 fps, 30 fps
640 x 480p: 30 fps

Video Clip Length
Up to 40 Min

Audio Recording
Built-in Mic: With Video, Stereo + Mono

Viewfinder Type

Viewfinder Coverage

3.0" LCD Rear Screen (1,040,000 pixels)

Screen Coverage

AV / USB Multi, AV Output, HDMI D (Micro)

Yes, 802.11b/g/n built-in


Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery Pack, 3.6 VDC, 1250 mAh

Dimensions (WxHxD)
4.4 x 2.5 x 1.4" / 110.6 x 64.3 x 34.4 mm

8.57 oz / 243 g with battery and memory card