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In terms of raw performance, the Panasonic ZS15 is in tune with the Panasonic ZS20 (TZ30 in the UK). Start up to first shot takes around 2.2 seconds, while zooming from one end of the lens to the other takes 2.5-2.8 seconds. Starting up the Panasonic ZS15 in playback mode is less impressive, taking over three seconds to display the first shot.
On a full battery charge, we managed to shoot just 191 full-res JPEGs and around five minutes of Full HD video. While we accept that we're not running a CIPA standard test here, we did push the camera in a way that's close to how it would be used: ducking into menus, sporadically using the flash, using the zoom extensively and playing back images.
Recharging the Panasonic ZS15's battery has to be carried out while it's still in the camera, via USB. Your mileage may vary where this is concerned. On the one hand it's convenient, meaning you need to carry just a single cable with you when you travel. However, it's not exactly a fast process, and it does mean you can't use the camera while the battery's charging - unless you pack a spare.
Like the Panasonic ZS20, focusing is swift and sharp. As with most compact cameras, low contrast subjects such as evening clouds and trees in mist cause the lens to hunt for focus and eventually give up. But its performance is generally excellent in this area.
Continuous shooting is equally as nippy. While the Panasonic ZS15's smaller buffer means that it falls short of the ZS20's ability to capture up to 10 full-res images at 10 frames per second, it can still capture up to four pictures at the same speed before it pauses.
More importantly, photos and video captured by the Panasonic ZS15 are excellent, showing good levels of saturation and contrast, and plenty of detail.
Because it lacks the reach and resolution of the Panasonic ZS20, pictures of distant subjects lack the detail and bite of those from the more expensive Lumix. However, the Panasonic ZS15's lower pixel density means that texture and detail holds up better in low light and at higher ISOs.
In fact, images are relatively clean up to ISO 800, although there is some patchy color in shadows at this setting, and detail is soft. The pictures are far from unusable though.
There's a noticeable drop off in quality at ISO 1600, and at ISO 3200 saturation is considerably weaker, edges are mottled and fine detail is masked by yellow blotches and the characteristic smear of noise reduction.