Panasonic followed up its recent budget compact camera announcements with six new models ranging in price from $249.95 to $399.95, all due out in April. The new cameras are the Lumix DMC-TS1, ZS3 and ZS1, FX580, FX48, and FS25--in order, from most interesting (to me) to least.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS1 I can't wait to check this one out, as it's Panasonic's first waterproof still camera. The 12.1-megapixel shooter is waterproof to 10 feet in depth, shockproof to a 5-foot drop, and dustproof. Its $399.95 price puts it squarely up against the similarly priced Olympus Stylus Tough-8000, and though it doesn't match the Olympus' 33-foot waterproof spec, the TS1 bests its competitor with not only a longer (28mm to 128mm equivalent) lens, but also, more importantly, its ability to record AVCHD Lite HD video, a format which Panasonic claims allows almost twice the recording time in HD quality versus conventional M-JPEG format. Like its other recently announced cameras, Panasonic's TS1 features an Intelligent Auto mode (in this case for both still- and video-shooting mode). One interesting new Intelligent Auto feature for still images is Panasonic's face-recognition technology, which one-ups previous versions by remembering faces that you've shot before and allowing you to register them. Registered faces can be named and given priority for focus and exposure when they are identified in a scene. There's also a useful (and self-explanatory) Panorama Assist scene mode and a new Macro Zoom function that lets you use the 3x digital zoom at the widest angle to create extreme closeups.
A dedicated button on the back of the camera lets you start recording video and another nice touch for video is the Wind Cut function that reduces noise from background wind. You can also use the 4.6x optical zoom while in video mode. An added bonus is that the camera comes in two of my favorite colors (orange and green) as well as standard silver.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 and DMC-ZS1 Until these came across the wires, I had had my eye on the Samsung HZ10W, an ultra-wide megazoom that was among my favorite camera announcements at CES this year. The DMC-ZS3 (and its step-down sibling, the ZS1), however, delivers a similarly wide (25mm equivalent) lens but ups the ante with its 12x zoom capability that goes up to 300mm (vs. the Samsung's 24mm to 240mm lens)--all in an even slimmer package (at 4.07x2.35x1.29 inches). Interestingly, the ZS3 has a 12.7-megapixel CCD, but shoots a maximum effective resolution of 10.1 megapixels, due to its multiple-Aspect CCD which allows you to capture images with 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9 aspect ratios simultaneously (at anywhere from 25mm to 300mm).
Like the TS1, the ZS3 can record AVCHD Lite HD video, has a dedicated video-recording button, and delivers Intelligent Auto mode for both stills and video. It also includes the face-recognition memory feature, Macro Zoom as well as the Panorama Assist scene mode among others. The $399.95 ZS3 sports a 3-inch, high-resolution (460,000 dots) LCD and will come in silver, black, blue, and red. Its lower-priced sibling, the ZS1 ($299.95) uses the older Venus IV engine, drops the LCD down to a 2.7-inch, 230,000-dot version, lowers CCD resolution from 12.7 to 10.3 megapixels (also 10.1 effective), and doesn't have some more advanced features like the cool face-recognition (oh, and it will only come in black and silver).
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX48 Odd that this camera is so far down the list for me when I've been such a fan of its predecessors, the FX37 and the FX35. Don't get me wrong, the compact FX48 is still a fine update--adding many of the new 2009 features like face recognition with memory, Panorama Assist, and Macro Zoom, while maintaining the 25mm to 125mm, f/2.8-5.9 lens--but I don't consider the bump up to 12 megapixels on the same-size sensor a plus, and now that wide 25mm lenses are popping up across all the Lumix lines, phrases like ultra-compact megazoom and waterproof! shockproof! dustproof! are too enticing to ignore. The FX48 will come in black and silver and sell for $349.95.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX580 A successor to the FX500, the FX580 is Panasonic's new touchscreen model. Lens specs remain the same at (25mm to 125mm, f/2.8-5.9), but the new model bumps resolution up to 12 megapixels (on the same size sensor) and adds the whiz-bang features like face recognition, Panorama Assist scene mode, etc. Like its predecessor, its touchscreen controls are augmented by a regular joystick-type control for easy access to basic settings. No word yet on whether it will ship with the weird little "stylus-pen" that came with the FX500. Pricing is set at $399.95 and the camera will come in silver or black.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS25 Not sure why this one wasn't announced a couple of weeks ago with the virtually identical DMC-FS15, (maybe to keep the earlier group to cameras under $200?) but the only difference appears to be the 3-inch LCD (vs. 2.7-inch for the FS15), and of course a tiny bit of girth to accomodate it. Oh yeah, and this top-of-the-FS line model will only come in black, silver, and gold and will cost $249.95.