Panasonic announces ultra-thin Lumix DMC-ZR1 with 8x wide-angle zoom

For those looking for a less expensive and more compact alternative to the recent spate of compact megazooms, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1 may just fit the bill with its 8x wide-angle zoom lens, extra slim body, and $280 price tag.

Panasonic's excellent Lumix DMC-ZS3 got me hooked on the compact megazoom category as a go-to general purpose point-and-shoot, especially for folks like me who love to travel. But while the it remains my favorite of the category, some may find their pockets aren't deep enough for the ZS3 -- literally and figuratively.  For those looking for a less expensive and more compact alternative, Panasonic's new Lumix DMC-ZR1 may just fit the bill.

The new 12 megapixel shooter's 25-200mm equivalent, f/3.3-5.9 8x zoom lens is impressively wide, and though it isn't as flexible as the ZS3's 25-300mm equivalent, f/3.3-4.9 12x zoom, it's pretty damned impressive considering the ZR1 is barely an inch thick. According to Panasonic, it was able to cram the 25-200mm zoom into such a compact body (3.85x2.14x1.02 inches, 4.87 ounces) by using "the world's first 0.3mm thin aspherical lens" (first in a digital still camera, that is). Of course we'll have to wait for hands-on testing to see how that lens performs in terms of image quality, but the camera has plenty more to recommend it. The ZR1 (along with two other cameras announced today) utilizes Panasonic's new Power Optical Image Stabilizer, which improves performance up to five shutter stops and is twice as effective at reducing low-frequency vibrations (i.e., hand shake) as the company's previous image stabilization system, according to Panasonic. Furthermore, a new image processing engine contributes to much faster start up and autofocus operations, addressing two of the most frequent complaints about digital point-and-shoots.  Other highlights include improved battery life -- approximately 330 pictures per charge based on Camera & Imaging Products Association (CIPA) standards -- as well as a Travel Mode, which allows you to organize travel-related information (such as destination, date, and time) and playback specific images based on this data.

The Lumix DMC-ZR1 will be available in black, red, blue, and silver and sell for about $279.95 when it starts shipping in September.

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