Don’t take my word - the Technical Image Press Association (TIPA) has given this the award for best ‘'travel camera' and I can see why.
Let’s look at what I immediately liked about this camera (and let’s assume that I have enough proficiency now to know if a camera is good or not so good). Note that the ratings given are for a small, portable camera and ignore ‘professional’ use.
First, it has idiot mode (called Intelligent Auto or iA). For most users this will produce spectacular results – excellent colours, brightness, and simple one button aim and shoot. 9 out of 10.
For the more professional user it has full manual mode, two pre-set custom modes, Shutter priority mode, Aperture priority mode, and Program mode – more than enough things to fiddle with and lose all the spontaneity of the shot. I will not rate this aspect because a professional will want to lug around big lenses, flashguns, tripods, and more – this is a serious snapper without the professional baggage.
The rest of this review is for happy snappers who want the best small camera to take on holidays.
It is small – 64.3 (H) x 110.6 (W) x 34.4mm (D) although with the lens fully extended its closer to 100mm. It weights 240g with the battery and an SD card – about ½ pound of butter. It fits comfortably in a man’s trouser pocket and at a pinch a shirt pocket. It is small enough to use a belt clip pouch. 9 out of 10 for size and weight.
Next is the massive zoom. It gives 30x optical zoom that will let you read car number plates from a very long way away. It will double that to 60X (720mm in 35mm camera speak) using digital zoom – but use a tripod (it has a mounting hole) for this to take precise focus shots as this will stretch the excellent five axis optical image stabilisation. Travellers often cannot get close enough to the action – this zoom solves that issue. 9 out of 10.
The Lecia DC Vario-Elmar optic is the heart of this camera. There are 12 elements in 9 groups giving it a 24-720mm (35mm equivalent) zoom and an F rating of 3.3 to 6.4 – all packed down into a 34.4mm thin body. The F rating is best for daylight shots – low light needs flash. 9 out of 10.
Autofocus is important to travellers who want a point and shot experience. In iA mode there was no perceptible delay using the 23-point, multi-area, autofocus system. Even if you moved the camera and changed the focus point (marked by a green square on the LCD screen) catch up was in milliseconds. Burst mode allows 10 frames per second for the first 6 shots at 18MP! 9 out 10.
The live viewfinder – a .2” LCD with 200-dot equivalent was accurate and showed 100% of the final image. The larger 3” LCD monitor has 920 dots and approximated 100% of the final picture. High Angle, accessible from the Quick Menu, brightens the LCD screen when the camera is held over your head - great for shooting over the heads of a crowd. The Intelligent LCD function automatically detects the current lighting conditions and boosts the LCD backlighting by up to 40% when shooting outdoors in bright sunshine – it was quite visible. 9 out of 10.
The built in flash is typical of a small camera – the closer the better. I tested it with and without zoom and found that it produced best results from 2 to 3 metres away. In theory, it will light objects up to 6 metres but picture noise becomes an issue. 7 out of 10 – being a small camera it does not have a hot shoe for external flash.
It uses a standard SD card to store JPEG images. There is no need to pay big bucks for the high-speed variety although the camera will shot and store RAW (.RW2) images that are around 18MB each. You can select image size – typically an image size will range from .2MB to 18MB – a 1080p quality image is about 2MB. You can select 4:3, 16:9 and 1:1 and multi-aspect mode takes an image in all four aspects. 9 out of 10.
The SD card can be placed in most notebook PCs to allow for quick transfer or the proprietary USB cable (supplied) can transfer photos to a PC while charging the battery. It also comes with a USB charger that uses said cable. It also has Wi-Fi for wireless transmission of images to a PC. 9 out of 10.
I had the opportunity to cruise Sydney Harbour and found the GPS feature useful although it only stores raw EXIF GPS/GLONASS data that can be output via a KML or GPX file to Google Maps or Garmin. I did not test this but apparently, Google Maps also shows where photos are taken (using the obscure numeric file name). GPS use reduces typical still shots from about 300 to 200 images. 8 out of 10. It would be better if GPS and maps were accessible via the LCD screen (post note – in Europe there is apparently a 90 country map that can be copied to the SD card and displayed – sorry I cannot confirm this for Australia).
A new control ring surrounds the lens that can be customised to change either the aperture, shutter speed, step zoom, exposure compensation, aspect ratio, ISO speed or white balance settings. 8 out of 10 – nice but hardly used,
I did a little video recording and found it capable of 1080p video at 50 fps. Let us just say that this is good for a small camera but it chewed up 28Mbps – get a large SD card. It records stereo sound (with wind reduction) but the auto-focus could not cope with the highest levels of digital zoom. The output is via a HDMI mini-cable to any HDMI TV. 7 out of 10 – good video but don’t use too much zoom.
I did not have an opportunity to use the free SILKYPIX Panasonic software for image editing but from my limited experience, it does most things that similar editing software does. Imagine it is a scaled back version of Adobe Photoshop. You need to install it to view RAW images on your PC.
Great camera for travellers – it is precisely what I would buy despite being an experienced user who has been spoiled by systems cameras. Last year I nearly bought the 20X, TZ40 that this replaces. The 18MP RAW images give enormous scope for software ‘fixing’ poorly composed or exposed shots.
I have given it 8 or 9 out of 10 for most categories (I don’t usually give 10 as things can always improve) and there is nothing more I could wish for in this type of camera apart from perhaps an IP water and dust resistance rating.
The suggested selling price is A$549 but online shows prices ranging from around $400 –probably duty free but support our local bricks and mortar photo stores who will do a deal.
It gets my unreserved recommendation for this category of happy, hassle free, snapping.