Panasonic describes the Lumix DMC-ZX1 as the Lumix DMC-TZ7's 'little sister'. It's basically a compact superzoom that's sacrificed a small part of the zoom range for a big reduction in size. It's no bigger than a standard compact with a 3x zoom, but offers an equivalent focal length of 25-200mm -- pretty amazing stuff. It's available from PC World and other retailers for around £220.
Tiny, sharp lens
Panasonic claims to have designed the world's first 0.3mm, super-thin spherical and aspherical lens elements, and the result is an 8x zoom that takes up no more space than a 3x lens. It's not just a wideangle zoom, but a super-wide one, with a minimum focal length of just 25mm. That's noticeable when you use it, too, because the DMC-ZX1 can squeeze just slightly more into the frame than competitors.
Miniaturised lenses don't always work that well, but this Leica-badged lens is sharp right across its focal range, producing good definition even at full zoom, and hardly any chromatic aberration at all. It's crisp from the centre of the frame right to the edges, too.
Panasonic likes to bombard us with 'intelligent' technologies, but the 'intelligent exposure' is worth a mention because it effectively adjusts the ISO in different parts of the scene to capture a wider brightness range. The little DMC-ZX1 certainly resists highlight blow-out pretty well for a compact camera. The colours are good, the exposure system rarely makes a mistake, and the optical image stabilisation's been improved, making it more effective at counteracting slow camera movements, rather than just high-speed jitter.
The bigger Lumix DMC-TZ6 and DMC-TZ7 superzooms have long been considered the perfect travel cameras, but the DMC-ZX1 maybe goes one step further, offering a 'travel' mode in which you can browse your photos and movies using a calendar display.
Although it doesn't shout about it on the outside, the DMC-ZX1 also shoots 1,280x720-pixel, high-definition movies. Interestingly, Panasonic's dropped the AVCHD Lite movie format on this camera, sticking to the less efficient but simpler Motion JPEG format instead.
Feel the noise
What's wrong with the DMC-ZX1, then? Well, it's possible to make the usual complaints about noise reduction. Like all high-resolution compacts these days, the DMC-ZX1 uses heavy noise-reduction processing even at low ISOs. Provided the detail in your photos has plenty of contrast, the DMC-ZX1's definition is excellent. But lower-contrast textures can often dip beneath the processor's recognition threshold and get smoothed over as 'noise' instead. To be fair, the DMC-ZX1 is no worse than its rivals in this regard, but its otherwise excellent definition makes this problem all the more obvious. You'll only really notice it if you go looking for it, though.
The other possible issue is the price. The DMC-ZX1 is selling for around £220 initially, which is cheaper than the DMC-TZ7 and more expensive than the DMC-TZ6. These cameras may be bigger and older, but they come with 12x zooms, making them even more versatile than the DMC-ZX1, and the DMC-ZX1's 2-megapixel resolution advantage is of very dubious value, especially when you factor in noise and noise-reduction issues.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZX1 is a great little camera that delivers an unprecedented zoom range for its size and also manages to produce clearer and sharper pictures than the majority of its rivals. Its build quality is excellent and its controls are clear and straightforward. The only problem is that you can get the DMC-TZ7 for a little more money, or the DMC-TZ6 for a little less.
Edited by Charles Kloet