Brian's Photo Blog — Article 410
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50 — Wi-Fi Remote Control
Wednesday 15 April 2015   —   Category: Equipment
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This article is the fourth of a five-part series about the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50 camera. If you have not read the previous articles, you might like to do so before continuing here.
  1. First Impressions
  2. First Photo Outing
  3. Sharpness Shootout
  4. Wi-Fi Remote Control
  5. Pros and Cons
  6. Special part six follow-up:
    Focusing Revisited
  7. Special part seven follow-up:
    Reader Responses
As I explained in the first article of this series, for a long time I have wished my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera could perform remote shooting, but it just wasn’t possible. So when I saw that my new ZS50 could (potentially) handle the job, I was eager to give it a go. Therefore, one day I attached the camera to one of my old video tripods — a Manfrotto Bogen 3246 — which can extend to an amazing 7.5 feet!

On top of these legs I attached my Manfrotto 410 Junior Geared Head, which allows for very precise adjustment of the position of the attached camera. All together, the tripod and head weigh about 13 pounds — definitely not a tripod to take hiking!

With this setup, shown to the right, I positioned the camera up to nearly the same level as the bird feeder hanging from the back of my house. Over a period of one hour I took 250 photos.

Once I looked at the results, I was astounded by the quality of the photos I had taken. You can see the best 21 shots in the new Bird Feeder 2015 album.

I was very, very pleased, happy, and even elated with the photos in this album! The ZS50 really surpassed my expectations! And I was also quite happy with the performance of Panasonic’s remote control app on my iPad.

For the rest of this article, I want to share with you the details of what I experienced when taking remote photos with the ZS50 and its companion remote control app, which Panasonic calls Image App.

Before we jump into the thick of things, I need to make it clear that this is not a comprehensive tutorial on using Image App. I merely want to share with you my experience using it one morning, and some of the things I learned while doing so.
Connecting my iPad Mini to the ZS50 was pretty easy. On the back of the camera, I pressed the small, black and white Wi-Fi button located just under the thumb rest, near the upper-right corner. Next, I opened the iPad’s Settings app, navigated to the Wi-Fi section, and selected the Wi-Fi network created by the camera. That’s all there was to it!

Once you have established a wireless connection, you can open the Image App on your mobile device, and then tap on either the large “Remote Operation” button on the left side of the screen, or the small “Live Control” button on the toolbar along the bottom of the screen. Doing so took me to the remote control part of the app, as you can see in the following screen shot from my iPad:
I’m sure you have heard of (and tasted!) spiked punch, and you have probably encountered spiked roads (hopefully not physically!), but have you ever seen a spiked bird feeder? I never had until I added spikes to this one!

I was getting fed up with large western scrub jays coming to the feeder and bullying the smaller chickadees, sparrows, towhees, juncos and finches. These smaller birds could perch on top of the rim of the feeder, but the greedy jays had to cling to the bottom since they were so big.

Therefore, in a vain attempt to keep the jays away, I had duct-taped a ring of large nails around the bottom rim. Unfortunately, western scrub jays are among the most intelligent of animals, and have learned to work around the spikes.

When I look at this spiked feeder, it seems like one that the orcs would hang at the Tower of Cirith Ungol in order to feed any foul fowls which might be living in the eastern border region of Mordor.

Well, enough of scrub jays and orcs ... it’s just my imagination, running away with me ... let’s get back to Panasonic’s Image App. The first thing I discovered is that when the camera is in Wi-Fi mode, you cannot use any of the controls on the camera to change any of its settings. The only things you can do with the camera itself are to turn off Wi-Fi mode, and turn off the camera completely. Otherwise, the screen on the back of the camera displays this message: “Under remote control.”

After I had wirelessly connected my iPad to the ZS50, I realized that I wanted to have the camera in Manual Exposure mode instead of Program (Auto) mode. But you can’t change modes from Image App on your mobile device. So I had to break the connection, change the mode on the camera, and then reestablish the wireless connection. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it is a pain if you are in an urgent photographic situation.

Once I was back in Image App, I realized that the ISO was at the wrong setting. In the App there is a button to tap on labeled ISO, but for some reason it was grayed out, so I could not access that function. I didn’t have time to research it then, so once again I had to break the Wi-Fi connection, change the ISO setting on the camera, and then reestablish, once again, the wireless connection.

Obviously, planning ahead, and even writing down the settings you want for the camera, will save you the time and headache of repeatedly establishing and breaking a wireless connection. After further research, I found a page on Panasonic’s Web site that says the ISO and WB (white balance) functions in Image App don’t work with 15 of their cameras, including, unfortunately, the ZS50. I wonder why, because that seems a bizarre and unnecessary limitation.

Well, that first screen shot I had shared has now scrolled way up the page, so let me show it to you again so it is handy for our discussion:
You will notice that the exposure compensation button is also grayed out in the App. That’s because I was in Manual Exposure mode. In the other PASM modes, that function is enabled and works fine. Now that we have gotten what doesn’t work out of the way, let’s get into the good stuff that does! The up and down arrow buttons, labeled T and W, work great for zooming the lens between telephoto and wide-angle focal lengths.

The button labeled F/SS opens another panel where you can choose the aperture and / or shutter speed settings, depending which PASM mode you are in. This screen shot shows the controls when in Manual Exposure mode:
The button right below the ISO button, which looks like blocky cross hairs, lets you choose what type of autofocus you want, as shown in this next screen shot. Because I wanted to be focusing on individual birds, I made sure it was set to 1-Area mode.
Tapping the shutter drive mode button, which looks like a stack of cards and a clock, opens a panel that lets you choose between taking a single shot each time you release the shutter, or multiple shots. You can also choose Auto Bracket mode and Self Timer mode, as shown in this screen shot:
Burst Shooting is great for action shots, when the subject you are photographing is moving quickly ... like birds. To further control the settings for Burst Shooting mode, tap on the Details button in the upper-right corner of the app. This opens yet another panel where you can choose how many shots per second will be taken with just one press of the shutter release.

From past experience, I have learned that lower frames per second are usually sufficient, and higher frames per second are often overkill. But it all depends on what you are photographing, and what kind of results you are looking for. For my session with the birds, I chose 3 frames per second, as you can see in this screen shot:
I am sure that you have noticed by now that the ZS50 camera transmits to the Image App the same image that would normally be shown on the LCD screen of the camera. This enables you to see remotely exactly what the camera is seeing.

Panasonic has used this live view to allow you to simple tap on the preview image in order to focus the camera on that spot. Seeing that the LCD on the camera itself lacks this ability because it is not touch sensitive, this Touch Focus functionality is great!

For example, in the next screen shot, if I want to focus the camera on the cell phone sitting on the table, I just tap the cell phone on the screen of my iPad, and voilà, it’s in focus!
You will notice that once you set the focus point in this way, an AF OFF button appears in Image App. Tapping this button re-centers the autofocus point back to the middle of the camera’s live view.
Image App gives you two ways to release the shutter and take a photo. One method is to tap on the large Shutter Release button with a camera icon on it, along the right edge of the app.

To enable the second method, tap on this button, which indicates that the Touch Shutter function is currently off. Once you do, the button will change, glowing yellow to indicate that the Touch Shutter function is now active.

This activated Touch Shutter button combines the functionality of the Touch Focus capability I mentioned above with the functionality of the Shutter Release button. Simply tap anywhere on the preview image, and the camera will focus on that spot and take a picture, all in one step!

This capability came in very hand at the bird feeder. Once a bird perched on it and was in a good position to photograph, I simply tapped on my iPad screen where the bird was, and the camera focused on the bird and took a picture. Very cool! And yet, there were some performance issues which dampened my excitement.
As I mentioned in the first article in this series, the ZS50’s autofocus can be really slow, especially in low-light conditions. I’ll admit that at 7:00 in the morning, on the north side of the house, with the bird feeder hanging under the eaves, the lighting was not optimal.

When I tapped on a bird on my iPad screen, it took, I would estimate, somewhere between half a second and a full second for the camera to attain focus. Considering how fast these birds can move, that was dismally-slow performance.

I am embarrassed to say that I think the slow focusing was more my fault than the camera’s. I discovered later that having the camera in AF Macro mode reduces the focusing speed dramatically. I most likely had the camera in AF Macro mode, because I mistakenly thought it did no harm to leave it there. For my next bird feeder shoot, I will have to make sure the camera is set for normal AF, and not AF Macro. I expect that the focusing speed will be much, much better.

For more details on my reassessment of the ZS50’s auto and manual focusing, be sure to read the special “part six” of this five-article series: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50 — Focusing Revisited.

Anyway, as you can see from the photo to the right, I was expecting to get a good shot of a bird, but by the time the camera thought it got the scene into focus, this bird had flown. Sometimes I got a picture of just an empty feeder with no bird in sight, even though there had been a cute little birdie there just a second before. Stupid me! Live and learn! Image App respects the Auto Review setting found in the camera’s menu. If you have it set for 1 second, then the photo you just took will appear on the screen in Image App for 1 second, and similarly for the 2 second setting. If you have Auto Review turned off in the camera, then the picture you just took won’t be displayed at all.

When using the camera, I much prefer the Auto Review “Hold” setting. This causes the photo I just took to be displayed on the camera’s LCD (or viewfinder) until I either press the shutter release halfway, or else press the Menu button to exit.

It works the same way in Image App, if the camera is set for Auto Review Hold. Once a picture is taken, it is displayed in Image App, and this Review Off button appear. Tap on it to exit Review mode.
For taking my bird photos, it would have been easier to set the Auto Review to 1 second, or even turn it off all together. In Auto Review Hold mode, I had to use my left index finger to tap the Auto Shutter button and my right index finger to tap the Review Off button, more than 200 times! Definitely a pain!

But it would have been a bigger pain to have to go outside, disturb the birds, exit the wireless connection on the camera, enter the menu system, turn the Auto Review off, exit the menu, press the Wi-Fi connection button on the camera, go back inside, reconnect to the camera’s Wi-Fi network, reestablish the connection in Image App, and start taking pictures once again. Whew!

It would be a LOT easier if Panasonic would allow you to change the Auto Review setting from within Image App. Which leads us to the next point....
Tapping on the Q MENU button takes you to another screen where you can access and change quite a number of camera settings. Whether some of these settings will be useful to you depends on your needs and the current photographic situation.

For me, most of them are useless because I would not be changing them right in the middle of a shoot, if at all. Now if Panasonic had included the ability to change the Auto Review setting, or the PASM mode, that would have been truly useful. Alas, they didn’t!
While writing this article, I decided to try out manual focus, which, incidentally, IS one of the settings you can change in Q MENU. Unfortunately, Image App’s manual focus slider control is very poorly implemented, and just as unresponsive as the camera’s focus control ring which I complained about in the first article of this series.

At least the focus peaking seems to work OK, and you can even switch between the high and low sensitivity settings with the Peak button. Click on the screen shot below to alternate between the screen shot in which I was focused on the bookcase in the background, and the screen shot in which I was focused on the keys in the foreground. In both shots, the focus peaking feature highlights the in-focus areas with an orange overlay.
When reviewing the pros and cons of my previous pocket camera — the Fujifilm FinePix F900EXR — almost exactly a year ago, I had complained about how hard it was to take this mushroom photo because of the F900’s non-tilting LCD screen. I was practically lying down with my face in the grass, trying to see the screen!

And even then it was very difficult to see what was going on. I ended up pretty much shooting blind, taking quite a number of shots and hoping one would turn out good. Thankfully, one did! A tilting LCD screen, like the one on my Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, would have made a huge difference.

Unfortunately, the ZS50 joins the F900 in lacking a tilting LCD. But its remote control capability goes a long ways towards making up for that lack. Imagine if I would have had the ZS50 for that mushroom shot. I could have established a Wi-Fi connection between the camera and my iPad, put the camera on the ground, and then controled the camera via my iPad without even having to crouch down!

This is also a good place to mention that, according to the few simple tests I did, the camera’s Wi-Fi range seems to be dozens of feet. This means you don’t have to be really near the camera in order to take remote photos. I can imagine all sort of situations, like taking this mushroom photo, where this remote control capability would come in very handy. Panasonic’s Image App has many more features and functions than I have the time, space or desire to cover. But what I have shared here ought to give you a good idea of its remote control capabilities, and whet your appetite enough to try it yourself.

Of course, everything I have shared in this article is meaningless if it does not result in some great-looking photos! As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I took 250 photos at the bird feeder within the space of an hour. Once I looked at the results, I was astounded by the quality of the photos I had taken. You can see the best 21 shots in the new Bird Feeder 2015 album.

Not only was I impressed by the image quality of the ZS50, but I was equally impressed with its Wi-Fi remote control capabilities, in conjunction with Panasonic’s Image App on my iPad. These two mobile machines make a great team, and I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing what they can achieve together in the future!

For a look at the practical use I have put this camera to, you might like to check out these articles:
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 410
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Reader Comments
On February 4, 2016, Charles Spence wrote:
Great Blog. Purchased the camera for the same reasons you did, Pocket Camera with a view finder.
This Blog has saved me hours of learning time. Looking forward to takeing advantage of the WiFi feature.
Thanks, Chuck
On March 15, 2016, Paul Robinson wrote:
Fantastic blog post. Great review of how the remote control app works. Informative, too, in that you explained well the issues as well as the pros.

Any updates on this? Have they improved the app?

One thing that wasn’t exactly covered was manual shutter control — i.e., setting the time to, say, 15, 20, 30 seconds. Not applicable in bird feeder shooting, unless one wants to captured a blurry mess of activity. However, it could useful for night time or low light situations.

Also, do I understand correctly that you can set this up in a intervals meter mode? I.e., taking a sequence of shots every so many seconds?! We’d like that for photographing the hummingbird feeder. The camera could automatically be snapping photos rather than our having to snapping shutter at just the right time! Any thoughts on that?

In any event, thanks for a colorful, information-rich post!

Another reason your post is so valuable is that Panasonic’s iTunes information on the app (and even its website) is so limited and poorly designed.

I did, though, find a semi-decent page on it that could be useful to others.

Still, though, yours is the best reference I’ve found in a couple of days of searching!
On March 21, 2016, Brian wrote:
I just fired up the Panasonic remote control app to check on some answers for Paul. If you put the camera in manual exposure mode before entering Wi-Fi mode, then you can pick your shutter speed and aperture in the app. But the longest shutter speed is only four seconds, whether you are choosing the shutter speed in the app, or directly on the camera. Also, there appears to be no intervalometer capability in the app (or on the camera). The only ways to take pictures with the app is to use the self-timer (2 or 10 seconds) or by tapping the shutter release button in the app. Either way, you have to initiate the picture-taking yourself. The app will not automatically take pictures for you. In the end, this camera (and app) is not designed for these kinds of photography — long exposures and/or intervalometer. You really need to use a better camera in those situations.
On April 1, 2016, Paul Robinson wrote:
Brian, appreciate the response! Too bad... Years ago, Canon had a tethered program called Remote Capture that could do that and it was quite spiffy for capturing the birds. You just discarded the photos when the birds weren't there.

Also, in reading this page, I discovered that you had already linked to that Panasonic web page on the Imaging App. Their page is confusing, though, as to which models can and can't do things. The problem is their non-standard way of using the asterisk. One keeps looking around to see where the original asterisk was!

In any event, I've gotten around to reading your other blog pages, too. All really good stuff... Panasonic should hire *you* to do their public outreach!

By the way, what do you think of the ZS40 as a less expensive choice?! I'm using a very old digicam right now and don't want to spend quite as much as the ZS50 costs. Of course, there's an even newer model out right, so maybe I need to keep an eye out on sales for the ZS50!

In any event, thanks for a great series of blog entries, with good photos, too!
On July 31, 2016, Richard Baguley wrote:
If Paul was asking about time lapse the camera does do this, unless p.150 of the manual is wrong.
On January 31, 2018, Harry wrote:
Brian, thank you for your wonderful articles and comments on the little Lumix ZS50. Good stuff.

We share an interest in birds, and I'd like to use the remote control to use the ZS50 as a bird watching tool. I tripod-mount the ZS50 and then use the remote to view the camera image on a pad. It's great for letting a group of people look at the live screen rather than having people sequentially peering through a tripod mounted telescope. I'd like to be able to go full-screen with the image to get away from all the control buttons, but have not figured out how to do this.

Have you found a way to go to a full-screen display on the remote control?

Thanks so much, -Harry
On January 31, 2018, Brian wrote:
I just gave it a try, and I don't think it is possible.
On January 31, 2018, Harry wrote:
Strange that we can't go full screen since the website shows the app going full screen. Weird.
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 410
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