Panasonic’s Lumix ZS40 is a 30x long-zoom compact we’re drooling over

One trend we’ve talked about before and evident here at CES 2014 is the importance being placed on bridge cameras. Since it’s difficult to compete with smartphones at the low end, camera companies are strengthening areas where smartphones can’t compete, and that includes long-zoom. Bridge cameras traditionally have a bulky DSLR-like form-factor, but they’re starting to become more compact like pocket point-and-shoot cameras. One really exciting new product is the Lumix DMC-ZS40 ($450) from Panasonic, “the world’s slimmest 30x zoom” camera. If we didn’t tell you it has a very long optical zoom, you would have thought it was a plain compact camera, but it packs a lot. We saw a good amount of bridge cameras introduced at CES, and some of them have slim bodies as well, but the ZS40 takes the prize.

Like every other mainstream camera maker, Panasonic has dropped barebones models while concentrating on high-zoom editions. One of our favorites, the ZS40 is a compact with a Leica 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, a control ring, 10 frames-per-second burst mode, GPS, and focus peaking,  and Panasonic managed to fit a very usable electronic viewfinder as well. It’s highly pocketable, although folks with very large hands might find it too dainty; we didn’t think so. Despite our admiration for this camera, we’re going to hold final judgement until we get our hands on one to test performance.

To achieve the thin form-factor while accommodating the long optical zoom, Panasonic utilized a “sliding structure” that shifts internal components to the side when the lens retracts back into the body. Panasonic may be considered a mid-tier company when it comes to cameras, but it knows how to make great cameras. For all the talk about Panasonic possibly exiting the camera biz, it makes us sad because we’d be missing out on cameras like this. The ZS40 is one advanced compact that we’re lusting over.

Click here to read more about Panasonic’s other digital imaging products at CES 2014.

(David Elrich contributed to this story.)

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