Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50 — Focusing Revisited
Monday 20 April 2015 — Category: Equipment
Believe it or not, I didn’t have to repeat kindergarten. I did learned how to count to five. So I realize it’s an oxymoron to have a “part six” in a five-part series. But despite my advancement to first grade (and beyond!), it is my own ignorance and stupidity which has put me into this awkward situation.
After posting five articles about the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50, I need to revisit the subject of focus — both auto and manual. New light on these subjects has revealed that I made some incorrect negative judgments about this camera. Now that my ignorance has been illuminated and my folly exposed, it is vital that I set the record straight.
In the first article of this series, I lamented: “My first impression of the ZS50’s autofocusing is that it can be really slow!” As an example, in the fourth article I complained:
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.Within the last day or two, it suddenly dawned on me that it wasn’t the camera (or Panasonic’s mobile remote control app) that was the problem. As Robert Plant famously and passionately sang, it’s nobody’s fault but mine (video). Let me explain how this happened.
Most cameras of this class have some sort of macro focusing mode, but the implementation and performance varies from camera to camera. My wife’s Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V automatically engages its macro-focusing capability, so she doesn’t have to change any settings herself. This allows her to seamlessly move between taking photos of very close objects and very distant objects without any fuss.
With the Fujifilm FinePix F900EXR I had been using for the past year and a half, I had to change a menu setting to allow close focusing. Once in macro mode, the camera could sometimes still focus on distant objects, but at other times it refused to. Therefore, when not wanting to take a close-up shot, I really needed to exit macro mode for the best performance.
My new Panasonic ZS50 also has a menu setting for close-up photography, called AF Macro. Unlike the F900, the ZS50 seemed to be able to focus on distant objects even in macro mode. So in my mind it seemed to work more like my wife’s camera. Therefore, I chose to keep the camera permanently in macro mode. But then again, why was there a separate setting if there was no difference between regular AF mode and AF Macro?
I guess sometimes I’m just pretty dense! I really don’t know why it took me so long to make the connection between the camera’s very slow focusing and my choice of AF Macro mode. But after doing a few tests, I fully realized my stupid mistake. Once I put the camera back in normal AF mode, the focusing was very responsive and quick. Problem solved — live and learn!
Before I move on to manual focus, let me add that for the best autofocusing in low-light situations, you will want to make sure the AF Assist Lamp option is turned on in the menu.
The main thing I don’t like about Panasonic’s implementation of manual focus is that you have to turn the large control ring at the front of the camera around and around many times in order to work your way through the entire range of focus. While this does allow for very small adjustments in focus, it is really too fine for practical purposes.As soon as I had finished the last of the five articles (or so I thought!), I posted a summarized review of the Panasonic ZS50 on the Amazon.com and Digital Photography Review (DPReview.com) Web sites. In the reviews I encouraged the readers to read the entire series of articles on my Web site for all of the details.
Shortly after my DPReview post went live, a photographer named Ian Odgers in Australia posted this information in his reply to my post:
... there is a better alternative than using the lens control ring, which I agree is unwieldy as it does take many turns to adjust if you are far from the focus point.... For manual focus I use the small rear control wheel.
#1: The trees in my backyard are very blurry
when focusing manually to the closest possible
distance. Click to see the next photo.
The adjustment for MF is simply accessed from the Quick Menu (after setting the focus to MF). After navigating to “MF” in the symbols shown along the bottom of the Quick Menu screen, the rear control wheel can be rotated many times very quickly, just using a finger, to locate the focus point. The display on the screen is the same as when using the lens control ring.
That is actually explained in the manual, although it is rather hidden away. The description there is rather vague though and it took me quite a while to work it out. However, now that I’ve found that method I always prefer it when I need to use MF.
After embarrassing myself in the incident described in the previous section, it is time to embarrass myself once again! I have to admit that I didn’t even know the ZS50 had a Quick Menu. Worse yet, even after staring at the back of the camera for a while, I still didn’t see how to access it! Gosh! Well, I am in my 50s, and I do need reading glasses to see clearly up close. But I didn’t think I was that blind!
So I opened up the PDF manual for the ZS50 which I keep on my iPad Mini, searched for “Quick Menu,” and was amazed and chagrinned to learn that it is activated by pressing the “trash can” button at the very bottom-right corner ... the one with “QMENU” printed underneath it in letters large enough for me to read without my glasses. Who’d’a’ thunk it? Boy, I sure was on a roll!
Once I had “discovered” that elusive Quick Menu, I followed Ian’s instructions, and found that my experience matched his description. This truly is a better way to perform manual focusing on the ZS50. “I have the lens control ring always set to control the zoom, as it allows a more precise adjustment than the zoom lever.”
This sounded like something interesting to try out. So in the camera’s menu I assigned zoom to the front control ring. I was delighted to find that this large ring does allow for more precise control of the focal length than the regular zoom lever does.
In my first impression of the user interface, I had mentioned that when the camera was set to display the actual (equivalent) focal length instead of a 1-30x zoom level, then each nudge of the zoom lever would adjust the lens to the next labeled focal length. If that sounds a bit confusing, follow the link to read all the details.
But when using the front control ring to zoom as Ian has suggested, there are two important changes. The first is that the camera displays a totally different user interface, and gives both the focal length and the zoom level, so that I get the best of both worlds.
The second change is even better! Using the control ring, I can now set the focal length to values in between the numbered focal lengths, as shown in the screen shot to the right.
And although it’s not very important, I like turning the control ring on the front of the camera to zoom the lens, because it is in the approximate location of the zoom ring found on almost all interchangeable zoom lenses. On the other hand, I have to use two hands: one to hold the camera, and the other to zoom. However, when I want to use only one hand, I can still use the regular zoom lever. Again, it’s the best of both worlds.
Before I wrap things up, I want to encourage you to check out Ian’s recent article which compares the image quality of the ZS50 with its predecessor, the ZS40. It is a detailed, multi-page analysis, and he makes some interesting observations.
Well, I suppose that brings part six of my five-article series to a close. Hopefully I have rectified my earlier hasty, incorrect, negative conclusions about the Panasonic ZS50’s auto and manual focusing.
I sincerely hope that no one has decided not to buy this camera because of my mistakes. But I have done all I can do, so now I need to let go and leave it at that.
I have definitely learned some lessons. And I am glad to have received some very helpful input from a fellow photographer via DPReview.com. So to all the lucky ZS50 owners around the world — happy shooting!
UPDATE October 2016: I’ve added a seventh article to this Panasonic ZS50 series: Reader Responses.For a look at the practical use I have put this camera to, you might like to check out these articles:
On April 28, 2015, Amy wrote:
Great review on this camera. I have been researching compact cameras for the past 2 weeks, and I keep returning to the ZS50. I am a very beginner photographer and I have no idea on aperture and other terms but I am an avid traveler and I just need to updgrade my pocketable camera with a better zoom, which I think this one definitly does. In your honest opinion, do you think if I kept the camera on Auto, will it take great pictures? I am starting to take some courses on how to manually change my settings and take better pictures, but right now, i need the auto. I am heading to Australia and New Zealand for 3 weeks of travel and I think this would be a great camera to have. Thanks for your great review and I have enjoyed all of your albums. Thanks
On April 28, 2015, Brian wrote:
Actually, I use the ZS50 most of the time in Auto exposure mode, because I use it when I want a spur-of-the-moment photo, not when I'm on a photo outing. Because I have the knowledge and experience, I like to have as much control of the camera as possible when on outings, so I generally use my larger and better quality Micro Four Thirds equipment in those situations.
As many others have pointed out, the most important factor for great photos is the photographer. A good photographer can still take good photos with poor equipment. And a poor photographer will often have poor results, even with great equipment.
I think the composition of the shot matters more than the exposure. Just now I am processing some photos I took recently in downtown Portland, Oregon. I have some shots with very nice composition, but which are poorly exposed (mostly because I was shooting towards the sun). But with some work (primarily by converting them to black and white, and then adjusting as necessary), I am able to transform them into keepers. On the other hand, I have some pictures with almost perfect exposure, but the composition is so boring and uninspiring that they are ending up in the reject pile.
Even when in Auto exposure mode, you can still adjust the Exposure Compensation (see the owner's manual for the details). If the camera is not exposing the scene properly for some reason, you can override its decision somewhat, to allow more or less light, with this control. It is a quick way to have some manual control while still having all the conveniences of Auto exposure.
I would encourage you to get a camera as soon as possible so you have time to try it out and get familiar with its operation before your trip. That way, once you are Down Under in Middle Earth, you won't miss shots because you are still trying to learn how the camera works. Although I suppose if you are setting everything to automatic, there is not that much to learn. Still, it is good to be familiar with your equipment before you get into the thick of things.
A couple of spare batteries and an external charger (Panasonic expects you to charge the battery IN the camera) could be lifesavers on such a trip. I've linked to the products that I bought on B & H Photo's Web site. Normally I buy most things on Amazon, but they don't have these items and/or they are too expensive there (last time I checked). Also, 32 GB memory cards are cheap, so there is no reason not to have some spares. You for sure don't want to be on your trip and run out of storage space for your photos!
You might also want to read some other reviews of the ZS50, including the three I referred to in my articles:
I hope the info I have shared here will help. Have a great time with your new camera on your awesome trip!
On September 12, 2015, Larry wrote:
I have been investigating a replacement for my sony hx-30v camera, 3 years old and now having some issues. When repair was estimated toward $200 I decided to look at a new sony hx-90 or as it turns out, looking at the Lumix as well; that's when my search brought me to your reviews of the lumix. Typically I do not shoot RAW but not having a viewfinder for the past 3 years has been annoying. You in depth review and observations fo the Lumix were good insight for me to help with the decision on which camera- as I am now leaning to that model. I enjoy nature shots, close-up shots and night shots. my hx-30 handled them pretty well- I am assuming the lumix can meet or exceed that capability.
Thanks- Larry in Conway NH
On October 11, 2015, Michael Stec wrote:
Question. How do I set the control ring to zoom. I have searched the menu thoroughly. The control ring has only two settings. I would like the ISO setting not to be on the control ring. Thanks
On October 20, 2015, Brian wrote:
In reply to Michael's question above: To change which function is assigned to the control ring, press the MENU button, choose the Setup menu, then scroll to the 3rd page. The first item is Ring/Dial Set. Choose that option. On the next screen choose the top item, which is for the Ring. From the resulting list, choose whichever function you want to assign to the Ring control, like Zoom. There should be more than two options, unless you have a different camera. Hope this helps.
On November 19, 2015, Michael Esarey wrote:
I can't tell you enough how much I enjoyed your review. You have a wonderful writing style, relaxed yet informative. Now a question: it seems like I remember reading in the owner's manual a discussion about Highlight Warnings. Unfortunately, if it's there, I can't find it. Any suggestions? Thank you for your time. I look forward to reading more of your reviews...M.
On December 3, 2015, Jim Carlson wrote:
I just take pics, not a fanatic. I bought the ZS50 recently and have started using it in iA. Taking pics at night was not so good, some OK some were blurry, the camera most of the time sounded like it was rapid firing, there were rare flash firings. I noticed 2 settings called C1 & C2 which seems to be customized settings. Is there any suggestions for night photos? And how do you do it. My wife bought the ZS50 for me thinking I wouldn't have any more out of focus pics of my grand-daughters!! I have a Nikon S9100 which generally has been great but might have been damaged on a misty humid day but still does pictures good except once in a great while spots in same place.
On December 7, 2015, Brian wrote:
In reply to Jim's comments above: As with all cameras, you will get better results with the ZS50 in low-light situations if you use a tripod. According to page 39 of the ZS50 user manual, when in iA mode: If a night scene is detected automatically while the unit is being handheld, iHandheld Night Shot can record a still picture with less jitter and less noise without using a tripod by combining a burst of pictures.
This would account for the rapid firing of the shutter, because in low light multiple photos are being taken and combined into a single result. If the flash is not firing, you most likely have the flash turned off. You can turn the flash on or off by pressing the little lightning icon on the right part of the control wheel on the back of the camera. The flash might also not fire if you are focusing on a subject too far away from the camera. The flash is not very powerful, and will reach only 10 to 20 feet (see page 88 of the manual).
Using the iA mode can often result in pleasing photos, but because the camera is making almost all of the decisions, under some circumstances it might make bad choices. You might consider some beginning camera lessons, either online or through local agencies (like your city parks and recreation department). The more you learn about using your camera, the more you can make it do what you want instead of what it wants. You might try using the Program Mode (P) instead of the iA mode, to see if you get any better results. The P mode is also an automatic mode, but different from the iA. That is the setting I most often use.
In the big picture, no pocket camera is a great camera. For most of my photography, when I want the best results, I use a bigger, more expensive camera with interchangeable lenses — in my case, the Olympus OM-D E-M5. But in some situations I value the compactness and discreetness of the ZS50, and in those cases I am willing to live with the reduced quality and functionality in order to gain the other advantages.
I don't think you are going to get good night shots without any effort on your part. The best bet is to use a tripod. If you must shoot handheld, you need to learn more about how your camera works, and which settings and techniques will give you the best results with a limited pocket camera.
On December 24, 2015, Ginny Diehm wrote:
Thanks so very much for your lengthy article on the ZS50. I have been searching for some time for a pocket camera that shoots raw AND has a viewfinder, both of which are difficult to find. I currently use a Canon 7D and there are times that it's just not convenient to carry around the heavy camera and several lenses. After reading your article, I think the ZS50 has just about everything I require.
On May 12, 2016, Mark H. wrote:
Thank you so much for your comprehensive review of the ZS50, which is not only useful for those who already own the camera but also for those of us who are considering purchasing a pocket cam for the first time in more than 15 years (in my case). Your review is well balanced, honest and tells us enough about you as a person and experienced photographer to arrive at a good purchasing decision with reasonable expectations for a camera of this size and cost. A year ago I *rented* a Sony DMC RX100 Mark III for a week for about $112 all in, and while it is undoubtedly an excellent miniaturized picture-taking machine with a fast but very limited zoom, it wasn't much of a *camera.* It was fragile, fussy, and too small, and reports from consumers said that the lens-cover blades frequently stopped opening all the way after a few months of use, and worse, that Sony refused warranty repair service for internal computer boards that were damaged by humidity, which is a problem for those of us who live on the coast. To protect the camera from the normal humidity of my skin, I wound up keeping it in a small plastic baggie in my shirt pocket. Because of the above vulnerabilities and the general unhandy fussiness of it, I took very few pictures with it and was happy that I had rented it instead of paying $800 to purchase it. Now that B&H is offering the ZS50 in black for about $300 (the silver is still about $400), and based on your wonderful review, I think I have finally found the perfect pocket cam for me. I can't thank you enough for all the time and work you put into this six-part review! With kind regards, Mark H., Eureka, California
On May 29, 2016, Grant Amann wrote:
Thanks so much Brian! Really great review, though you don't have to be so hard on yourself! We appreciate it!
On June 10, 2016, Dwight Parker wrote:
I just ordered a used mint ZS50 off of eBay for a good price considering the extras that came with it. I was curious if over a year later you still enjoy and use this camera, or are you like us with GAS, and have moved on to other gear?? (Like the ZS100 !!) I will wait to get one of those as well, probably used to save tons of money, and I have always seemed to luck out and get good gear used off of eBay......
On July 8, 2016, Brian wrote:
In response to Dwight Parker’s comments:
Yes I still use and enjoy this camera, although it is not my primary camera, and I don’t have much occasion to use it. For a more in-depth reply, see my article When a Pocket Camera Is the Right Tool For the Job.
On July 16, 2016, Shai wrote:
I consider buying the ST50 and find your info and tips very helpful. Only one question: is it possible to transfer images from the camera directly to PC via the USB cable, or is it done only by Wi-Fi?
On July 17, 2016, Brian wrote:
In reply to Shai’s question: I’m not sure why you referred to it as the ST50 ... perhaps that was a typo?
Anyway, I’ve never tried transferring images directly from the camera to my computer via WiFi ... and only one time from the camera to my iPad. You can for sure use a USB cable, even though I don’t use that method either.
For many years I’ve always removed the memory card from my cameras and used a USB card reader on my computer. I like this method because it doesn’t drain the camera battery during transfer, and I think it might be faster as well (but I’m not sure).
So, the transfer of photos from camera to computer is definitely not WiFi only.
On April 5, 2017, Don wrote:
I just recently bought this camera after much research, I hope I have made the right decision. Is there a tutorial site to setup my camera for preferred settings step by step. Thanks for the help.
On April 5, 2017, Brian wrote:
In reply to Don’s question: I have never looked for a tutorial Web site, so I don’t know if one exists or not. You will need to use Google or some other search engine to take a look around the Web.
On May 23, 2017, Maureen wrote:
My brief experience with this camera is that it is not able to take as high res, in focus a shot as my 12+ year old Canon S80 (now un-fixable). The Canon was 8MP but even in low lights there is lots and lots of detail. The ZS-50 seem not even to get up to the stated resolution at 3000x 4000 180 dpi (very close to old camera setting) you could zoom into like 600 percent and still see stuff. The Pani is blurry before 100 percent. I am photographing large paintings. The ZS-50 seems to be able to focus on small things in macro, but not on my large 5-foot wide or more paintings where I do want to be able to see brush strokes and texture.
On May 23, 2017, Brian wrote:
In reply to Maureen’s comments: The bigger the sensor in the camera, the better the results (in general). If you don’t want an interchangeable-lens camera — a Micro Four Thirds or larger sensor would give the best results — then a fixed-lens compact camera with a larger 1-inch sensor should give you better results than the tiny sensor on the ZS-50. In addition, how you take the photos and the camera settings can make a huge difference. Make sure there is plenty of light illuminating your paintings. Put the camera on a sturdy tripod. Don’t leave the ISO on Auto, but set it to it’s lowest setting. Pick an f-stop in the middle of its range. Don’t press the shutter release to take the picture, but set the self-timer on a short setting, so that the camera stops vibrating before the picture is taken. Taken together, all of these recommendations should help improve your image quality.
On July 28, 2017, Marcel Menard wrote:
Hi Brian, I have the ZS50 and read many of your articles. In one of them I read that you could take a picture just by pressing the Qmenu button. You stated that this information was not in the Panasonic literature. I tried your suggestion and it worked. However, I did not write down the “how to” and the end result is that try as I may I am unable to do it again and I cannot find the information that you wrote. Could you place tell me how, it would be much appreciated. I just had this camera for 6 months and I am still learning. Thank you very much for your help. Marcel
On July 29, 2017, Brian wrote:
In response to Marcel’s comments: This is the only article in which I mention the Qmenu button on the back of the camera. I’m not sure what you are referring to, because I have never written that you could take a picture just by pressing the Qmenu button and that that info was not in the Panasonic literature. Perhaps you are confusing my article with a different article?
If you go back and read my article carefully, you will see that I never mentioned what you are talking about. And in the end, I don’t see why you would want to take a picture by pressing the Qmenu button when it is much easier to just press the regular shutter release button.
If you end up finding the info you are looking for, I would love to hear back from you about it. Good luck!