Panasonic LUMIX DMC-XS1: Another Budget Compact?

 
Panasonic LUMIX DMC-XS1

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-XS1

Is there some substance to the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-XS1’s style? Ambarin Afsar puts the camera through its paces.

This is something most compact camera reviewers have been harping about for a long time. Smartphones have flooded the market, and have severely crippled compact cameras. In this environment, these snapshooters need to evolve and reinvent themselves.

And that is why, perhaps, Panasonic thought of making a compact that is about as large as a debit card and calling it the world’s slimmest camera. These are strange wars that manufacturers are fighting, what with the slimmest compact, the smallest compact, the compact that can do your homework for you… you get the picture.

Features
The LUMIX DMC-XS1 is a 16.1MP monster with a 1/2.33-inch sensor in a ridiculously tiny body. It features 5x optical zoom, and makes me wonder whether the manufacturers could pack in a bit more or whether I am just being greedy. When I received the camera, I thought I would end up losing it or breaking it because it is just so tiny, but it proved to be quite resilient, and I did not drop it. However, all this tininess has also brought along a major compromise— LCD size. The LCD measures 2.7 inches and offers a resolution of 2,30,000 dots. Most compacts have a 3-inch LCD. Not that much of a difference, eh?

But, consider this. Most cellphones are offering 4–5 inch LCDs. Compared to them, a 2.7-inch LCD is just miniscule. Keeping aside size issues, it becomes quite problematic to ascertain focus or even understand what your image really looks like. I felt like I was viewing thumbnail sized images all along.

The XS1 has an Intelligent Auto mode with ISO, Scene and Exposure Controls. There are 11 filters that can be applied to Panoramas, and otherwise, the camera offers 13 filters. The camera is capable of 720p Full HD video with a mono microphone.

Handling
The camera feels solid and the back of the device contains the four-way controller, zoom rocker and dedicated video recording button. The top only has the power button and the shutter-release button. The zoom rocker is also situated on the back, and made me wish that there was a zoom rocker bundled along the shutter-release instead. The buttons feel a little too plasticky, and sometimes, feel too recessed to be accessed, but after a while, you get used to them.

Since it is a light camera, you need to make that extra effort to hold it steady, especially in evening light. And another thing that was a little bothersome was that to switch to the Manual mode, which is called the Rec mode for some reason, you need to navigate a couple of menus. And to change the ISO, you need to navigate a few more menus. A customisable button would have done away with this menu hunting.

In order to make the camera smaller, the makers have also decided to reduce the size of the storage media. So, the camera uses microSD or microSDHC cards. In a way, this is good for cell phone users, but for people shifting from one compact to another, it can be a little bothersome.

You would also necessarily need to use a fast micro SD card because otherwise, the camera takes some time to write images that have been shot using filters. This could just as well be due to postprocessing as well. Either way, it means that you should be prepared to lose a few shots if you want to apply the Miniature, Toy Camera or Soft Focus effects.

Performance
My issues with the camera have been purely ergonomical and I have to say that its image quality quite surprised me. I was not expecting such clean and crisp images from this compact. While it does look stylish and a little frivolous, its performance is worth every penny.

The overall sharpness is good, and some fringing is apparent only in contrasty areas. By default, the camera limits the ISO to 1600, but you can shoot up to 6400 by choosing the i.ISO function. The low light performance is not all that great, but you get decent images up to ISO 800. At 1600 and beyond, you get mushy, soft images, which are quite unusable. However, all the filters are really crisp and a joy to shoot with.

The Dynamic Monochrome effect offers deep blacks and bright whites. It is one of the few filters that I have enjoyed shooting with. Exposure: 1/320sec at f/9 (ISO 100). Photograph/Ambarin Afsar

The Dynamic Monochrome effect offers deep blacks and bright whites. It is one of the few filters that I have enjoyed shooting with. Exposure: 1/320sec at f/9 (ISO 100). Photograph/Ambarin Afsar

Conclusion
Priced at a comfortable Rs. 7990, this 16.1MP camera delivers on the performance, but falls a little short on ergonomics. If you want a bigger screen or better controls, then there are other options in the market, but at this price range, you would be a little hard pressed to find this kind of quality.

Final Ratings
Features
Manual control, great filters, but 720p video
25/30

Performance
Poor low ISO performance, heavy compression artefacts
26/35

Build Quality
Metal body, very lightweight
13/15

Ergonomics
Complicated menu system, too small an LCD, plasticky buttons
10/15

Warranty & Support
Two-year warranty, limited service network
2/5

OVERALL: 76%
Value For Money: 3.5/5

Who should buy it?
People willing to compromise on ergonomics for style and compactness.

Why?
The handling of any camera is just as important as its image performance. Half the job is easier if the controls help you along the way. If an ultra tiny LCD doesn’t bother you, then you should definitely consider this camera.

Tags: Panasonic, Ambarin Afsar, November 2013, Panasonic LUMIX DMC-XS1, Panasonic LUMIX DMC-XS1 review, Panasonic LUMIX DMC-XS1 price india, Panasonic XS1