This super-lightweight digital camera comes with a host of intelligent auto features that help even a photography novice take a good snap.
Part of the ‘stylish zoom’ range from Panasonic, the Lumix DMC-SZ1 is a 16.1MP camera with a 25mm wide-angle Leica lens offering 10x optical zoom and up to 40x digital zoom. Photos can be shot in a range of sizes, including widescreen and square aspects, making use of the camera’s 16MP, or down to just 0.3MP 640 x 480 shots – perfect for straight-to-web uploads.
The camera comes with 70MB internal memory and is compatible with SDHC, SD and SDXC memory cards to keep you happily snapping away.
Look and feel
The first thing you’ll notice about this compact camera is its discreet size and light weight. At 10 x 2 x 6cm and just 113g, you’ll hardly even notice this device in your pocket when travelling light.
The 3-inch LCD screen can be adjusted for a perfect view at high angles (so you can still see the screen even when you’re not looking at it face-on) and for outdoor use. This can even be set to auto-adjust, so your screen is optimised for viewing no matter where you are.
Because there is a switch to take you from shooting to playback, pressing the shutter won’t automatically bring you to shooting mode, which can take some time to get used to for users accustomed to this function. That said, it does prevent you from accidentally jumping out of playback when you don’t mean to.
What makes this compact camera ideal for novice photographers who just want to point and shoot without fiddling around with a load of settings is the intelligent auto functionality. Shooting in this mode means the camera decides what are the best settings for the shot, and it does this extremely well.
One of the key features the DMC-SZ1 offers is auto-focusing at ‘sonic-speed’ and, in this respect, it won’t let you down. From powering up to point and click, the camera is extremely quick. Though using flash will delay you slightly as the bulb warms up between shots, you still won’t have to wait more than three seconds to take a photo.
As auto-focus modes go, you’ve got a range of options with focus for a single point or up to 23 areas, tracking focus for moving subjects, and face detection. That said, the camera will always choose the focus point for you and, though it generally does a good job of this, users wanting more power over this setting may be frustrated by this limitation.
The optical image stabilisation technology (Mega OIS) works really well for even the unsteadiest of hands, and the iZoom setting extends digital zoom up to 40x while maintaining sharpness and resolution.
For low-light photography, you will see a fair bit of noise when higher ISOs are selected, but at least there’s an auto-focus assist lamp to help you focus on your subject even when you can’t quite make them out.
Miniature-mode and other scenes
Panorama mode is becoming a standard addition to many point-and-shoots (and even smartphone cameras) these days, so Panasonic have come up with another little treat to aid creative photography. Miniature mode processes a photo to make your real-world photographs look like miniature models. Fans of tilt-shift photography will get a kick out of this function, and the effect is at its best when photographing wide spaces from a height. You can also film in miniature mode and these videos playback at 10 times normal speed, giving a comedic mini-world effect.
Other scene modes aim to give you the best settings for photographing children, pets, night-time scenes, landscapes and action shots, but with the intelligent auto function being so good at judging the best settings frame by frame, there’s little need to play around with these. That said, you may be happy with the results of some, such as the portrait mode, which is particularly good at picking up human subjects and highlighting them against a background. However, soft skin portrait mode, which is supposed to detect and soften flesh tones to give a smooth effect, was a bit of a letdown.
HD video with editing capabilities
A dedicated record button for video makes switching from photographer to videographer really simple and many of the settings available for photographs still apply here, such as continuous auto-focus. Video can be shot in HD (1,280 x 720) or basic 640 x 480 and outputs to mp4.
While you can crop and resize photos in-camera, you can also edit videos using the video divide function, which lets you choose a point to split a video file so you can cut to the best part.
While I don’t think a manual photographer will enjoy the runaround required to adjust settings on this camera, I think no-fuss users who want to switch on and snap with ease and speed will find this compact camera a dream. Simply pop slip on intelligent auto, pop it in your pocket and away you go!
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ1 comes in black, red and silver and the recommended retail price is €223, available from Panasonic stockists.