Although some industry analysts have already buried Panasonic’s consumer imaging division, you couldn’t tell that at the company’s 2014 CES booth. They introduced four new point-and-shoots, a nice lens for its G-series Micro Four Thirds cameras, and five new camcorders. Now, what will happen at CES 2015 we’ll leave to the psychics but let’s describe what’s on display. Note: Panasonic never reveals prices until 30 days before products arrive in stores so this info is unavailable as of now – sorry.
No new models were unveiled for the G-series although the GX7 was given a high profile since it won a CES Innovations 2014 Design and Engineering Award. Owners of this camera and others in the series will soon be able to purchase a Leica DG Nocticron 42.5mm Power O.I.S. f/1.2 lens. Since the M4/3 digital factor is 2x, this equals 85mm – the classic portrait focal length. With Fujifilm’s similar announcement for the X-series, it seems lots of people will be taking portraits this year! You might wonder where Nocticron comes from and we’re always perplexed by Leica’s bizarro names. According to them it means a “remarkably fast f/1.2 aperture with M4/3 digital interchangeable lenses.” Along with a nine-blade aperture it has an internal stepping motor so camera mics won’t pick up any annoying noise when shooting videos.
Like every other mainstream camera maker, Panasonic has dropped barebones models while concentrating on high-zoom editions. One of our favorites is the DMC-ZS40, a compact with a 30x zoom (24-720mm). The 18.1MP CMOS ZS40 offers manual shooting and RAW capability, features you don’t normally find in this type of digicam. It has optical image stabilization (OIS), takes 1080/60p videos, and has a 10-frames-per-second burst mode. The ZS40 also has built-in Wi-Fi and NFC for sharing; a built-in QR code helps you pair up your smartphone or tablet. Also nice is a built-in GPS to geo-tag your images.
Not nearly as full-featured is the 16MP DMC-ZS35 with a 20x zoom (24-480mm). It has Wi-Fi but no NFC and HD video is not as robust (1080/30p). The camera does have OIS and a tilting 3-inch LCD.
The DMC-LZ40 and -SZ8 use CCD imagers so forget true Full HD video – 720p is top quality. The 20MP LZ40 does have a 42x optical zoom (22-924mm), OIS, and a 3-inch LCD, but forget Wi-Fi. The 16MP DMC-SZ8 has Wi-Fi capability, a 12x zoom (24-288mm), and OIS. When you see cameras like these, it makes you think the analysts may be right about the fate of the division or that Panasonic is just getting rid of old parts in the warehouse.
When reviewing the new camcorders for 2014, it’s painfully obvious the smartphone has also practically obliterated this category. There are new Full HD models all right, but it looks like action cams and 4K camcorders will be the eventual survivors – everything in between will slowly disappear.
Panasonic didn’t do 4K like Sony but it did introduce five models with the HC-W850 the standout because of its Twin Camera feature. Along with the main camera, there’s a small camera on the side of the LCD you can rotate so you can shoot two scenes at once (the smaller appears as an insert onscreen). It’s a nice creative option, but will it stop the smartphone video tsunami? Doubtful.
Another positive is a new lens, sensor, and processor for the HC-W850 as well as the new HC-V750. The system uses four lens groups to achieve high picture quality. The MOS sensor is rated 6.03MP and the basic optical zoom is 20x. The pair also has an enhanced OIS system and offer slow-motion recording.
Of the five new models, four have built-in Wi-Fi and NFC capability including the HC-W850, -V750, -V550 and -V250. The HC-V130 is clearly the entry-level model but it does have a 38x optical zoom. The top four have a Baby Monitor so you can watch your child from other room via your smartphone (you can even speak to an older kid if he gets too rambunctious on the PS4). The HC-V550 and -V250 have 50x optical zooms, far beyond any smartphone. Still, that doesn’t seem to matter when the world is quite happy posting smartphone videos to YouTube at the rate of what seems like a billion per hour!