Small body, big zoom: is Panasonic's TZ30 the best travel zoom on the market? The What Digital Camera TZ30 review takes a look...
Panasonic Lumix TZ30 review: Key Specs:
1. 20x optical zoom; 24-480mm equivalent
2. Power O.I.S. (optical stabilisation)
3. Brand new 14.1MP MOS sensor
4. 3in, 460k-dot touchscreen LCD
5. Global Positioning Satellite (GPS)
6. 10fps burst rate (single AF only)
7. ISO 100-3200 sensitivity
8. 1080p HD movie at 50fps
Panasonic Lumix TZ30 review: Features
Without doubt it’s the TZ30’s 20x optical zoom lens that will hold broad appeal. Ranging from a wideangle 24mm and able to extend to a significant 480mm there’s not much that’ll be out of reach: close-up macro work, wideangle group shots, landscapes, mid-zoom portraits, or picking off far and away subjects from the horizon.
Add Panasonic’s updated Power O.I.S. optical stabiliser technology and it’s made easier to hold shots steady at the long end of the zoom for sharper images. However the f/3.3-6.4 equivalent aperture isn’t as bright as some of the competition.
Next up is the brand new 14.1MP MOS sensor at the camera’s heart. Panasonic claims better processing and signal-to-noise ratio will produce superior images throughout the ISO 100-3200 sensitivity.
Elsewhere the TZ30 packs in plenty of features to shout about. Those familiar with the ‘light-speed’ autofocus system of the G-series Compact System Cameras (such as the latest Lumix GX1) will be pleased to hear that it’s made the transition into the latest TZ model. This means the camera can acquire focus in under 0.1seconds (at its wider-angle settings) – far quicker than many other compacts on the market.
A 10 frames per second burst mode, 1080p HD movie using the latest AVCHD encoding, touchscreen control, Global Positioning Satellite technology and a new 3D mode also add to the impressive features list.
There’s not much missing. Well, except that Panasonic has, once again, not included Raw capture. A shame as this was something the TZ20 lacked and we had hoped might make its way into the latest model.
Panasonic Lumix TZ30 review – Design
Considering the TZ30’s sizeable zoom the camera is very pocket-friendly. Straight out of the box and there’s little difference to be seen when compared to the TZ20: the design is simple and functional, yet carries an appealing style.
A premium finish includes all-metal buttons and a mode dial which gives the camera a well-made, high end feel.
The TZ30’s lens sits inside the body when the camera is turned off, making it ideal to carry around anywhere. The three-section lens is sizeable when extended to its longest zoom, though isn’t disproportional.
Controlling the camera can be approached in the conventional way by using dials and buttons, or the inclusion of touchscreen LCD technology makes for easy point-and-press control.
There’s also a Q.Menu button on the rear of the camera to bring up the most common options on screen for immediate adjustment – though it’s not possible to use the touchscreen to select these options, instead the d-pad and OK buttons are used to control selection. Not a huge issue, though the G-series cameras have a more hands-on approach when controlling all avenues.
Overall the TZ30 is a well-proportioned compact. It may not include DSLR-like style thumbwheels or manual lens control, but for a consumer compact it’s on the approach to perfection.
Panasonic Lumix TZ30 review – Performance
The TZ30’s LCD screen, with its 460k-dot resolution, is the same as that found in the TZ20 model. It’s reasonably resolute and bright but it’s just a shame that the resolution isn’t higher still. A number of competitor cameras are now employing 921k-dot, 1040k-dot or even higher resolution screens.
But it’s the touchscreen technology that impresses: Although not all menu options are accessible by touch, when it comes to autofocus the mode comes into its own. A simple press on the screen will focus on the subject in that location and it’s even possible to focus and fire the shot with one single press to the screen (using the ‘touch shutter’ mode). If the touchscreen sounds like a gimmick that you won’t use then there’re plenty of physical buttons to get to grips with the use the camera in a more conventional way.
When in use the TZ30’s autofocus system is impressive. The ‘light-speed’ system that’s been adopted from the G-series models is extremely fast, outdoing many other compacts on the market – including far pricier models. At the 24mm wideangle setting the autofocus is at its swiftest, though as the zoom extends this speed does dip to a slightly slower pace.
A variety of focus types include: Spot focus for a centre-point only; Face Detection to identify faces for focus; AF Tracking to follow subjects through the frame once allocated; 23-Area Multi; and 1-Area that allows a single point to be moved almost anywhere around the screen (bar the extreme edges). There’s plenty of choice and plenty of speed – the TZ30 more than impresses in use.
The new 10fps burst mode is another quality feature, though it’s not possible to autofocus during shooting at this speed. Instead a 5fps (max) mode will allow time for focus and exposure adjustment between frames being fired and is about as good as a compact camera’s continuous focus burst mode can get. However, as good as it is, it can still be a struggle to keep up with moving subjects – we’re impressed, yet there are limitations.
Despite excellent close-focus possibilities ranging from 3cm from subject at the 24mm setting and just 2m from subject at 480mm, there can be issues with what the camera opts to focus on. For example, a series of subtle branches crossing a scene may be well within the given range to focus on, yet the camera may persist in focusing further behind the target subject – a problem that even the touchscreen focus method won’t remedy. An occasional rather than chronic issue, but still one that caused the odd problem during shooting from time to time.
At mid-long zoom ranges the TZ30’s Power O.I.S. (optical stabilisation) kicks in and is a very impressive system indeed. Shots are noticeably steadied on the rear screen, even at the 480mm setting, which makes framing and capturing the right shot that much easier. Plus the system helps to keep shots sharp right down to shutter speeds than would not normally be recommended.
On the TZ30’s top there’s a one-touch movie button. With the second generation of AVCHD capture in full effect, the camera can capture 1080p movie files at 50 frames per second – a considerable improvement compared to the interlaced capture (50i) of the previous generation model. It’s possible to use the zoom during capture, continuous autofocus is effective and the final quality is great. An MP4 format capture is also available – although it’s of a slightly lower quality the files don’t need to be decoded prior to use and are immediately compatible with many common computer programmes (unlike the AVCHD format).
Then there’s the TZ30’s 3D mode: It requires real-time movement of the camera in an arc-like pattern to give the camera the opportunity to capture many images throughout this back and forth motion. As each image is slightly offset from the last the camera can combine the two most relevant shots to produce a pronounced and believable 3D file. A static shot wouldn’t produce a comparable shot, short of using a twin-lens compact. It works well enough, though you’ll either be a fan of 3D or just not.
Another fun feature is Global Positioning Satellite (or GPS for short) technology. This enables the camera to plot the coordinates of where a photo is taken and associate the metadata to the image – it’s useful when then uploading to maps, cataloguing by location and so forth.
To go one step further, Panasonic has also introduced a DVD full of mapping information in the TZ30’s box. It’s possible to select and load up maps onto the camera by storing them on your SD card.
Good though GPS is, it does have a negative impact on battery life – and as it stands the TZ30 is only able to muster about 250 shots per charge at most. That’s not low nor unusual for a compact camera, but we’d like to see some extra juice squeezed into the battery for a longer-lasting day’s shooting.
Panasonic Lumix TZ30 review – Image Quality
TZ30 review: Tone & Exposure
The TZ30’s exposures are balanced, though the presence of bright highlight areas can overexpose in some scenes. Where subjects are backlit this can work to the camera’s advantage: midtones still see sufficient exposure, despite an overexposed sky, which is important for a consumer camera – silhouetted shots wouldn’t be of much use. So from this perspective the TZ30 will deliver considered exposures each and every time.
TZ30 review: White Balance & Colour
Shooting in a variety of conditions always produced natural, colourful shots. Bold colours are reproduced with accuracy, or its possible to use the Creative Control settings to introduce ‘Expressive’, ‘Retro’, black and white or many other in-camera-adjusted shots.
TZ30 review: ISO Sensitivity & Image Noise
Panasonic claims that the latest 14.1MP sensor produces far less image noise than the previous TZ20’s sensor. This may be true at a technical level, but the 14.1MP population is still rather high for a 1/2.3in sensor size. As a result there’s some visible noise throughout the ISO range, though not to the point of being a problem, and high ISO results are an improvement compared to the TZ20 model.
ISO 100-400 produce decent shots with very faint grain-like texture (luminance noise) visible in some areas, though image processing that can cause some issues when it comes to detail. Upwards of ISO 400 and shots are usable throughout the ISO range to some degree – even ISO 1600 shots taken in a dark club without flash held enough detail thanks to well controlled image noise reduction.
TZ30 review: Sharpness & Detail
Sharpness is sufficient for a camera of this type, with enough detail revealed in both close-up and longer zoom shots. However, the sensor’s resolution and image processing can counteract the finer details in textures or fine areas. Corner sharpness also doesn’t match the more impressive centre sharpness. There’s nothing special to shout about here: the TZ30’s images are good, but on par with most other 14MP compacts.
It’s the optical stabilisation system that is of particular use. Not only is it great for steadying shots in preview, but it delivers results in the final images too. This helps to achieve shots with acceptable sharpness at far slower shutter speeds than would normally be possible – we’ve used a couple of 1/5th of a second shots that, although not perfectly sharp, are still more than usable. Impressive.
TZ30 review: No Raw?
The ongoing lack of Raw shooting is the biggest omission from the TZ30’s feature list. However, due to visible chromatic aberration correction and noise reduction processing artefacts visible in the TZ30’s JPEG images, it’s plausible that Panasonic doesn’t wish for user access to the original files due to such imaging issues.
Value & Verdict
Panasonic Lumix TZ30 review – Value
We’ve seen a spate of pricey cameras hitting the shelves in recent months. The TZ30 carries the same SRP as its predecessor, at £349, though pre-orders are available at £329 at a variety of online stores.
Considering how much kit is crammed into the camera we think that’s very reasonable value for money. It’s not a budget compact by any means, but for those seeking the latest features it’s a measured price for a great piece of kit.
Panasonic Lumix TZ30 review – Verdict
The Panasonic Lumix TZ30 is a serious advance to the TZ-series and delivers in every area. If you’re after a pocketable, powerful and easy to use compact camera then the TZ30 is up there with the very best.
Although image quality isn’t going to see off a larger-sensor competitor, and there’s still no Raw capture, this consumer-targeted compact does show improvement compared to the TZ20 model of last year and has plenty of other positives to outweigh these small downsides.
The significant zoom range, super-fast autofocus, fantastic image stabilisation and a touchscreen that adds genuine appeal all help the camera to sell itself. Price-wise it’s far from budget, but at £329 it’s better value than the previous TZ20 release.
This is one capable compact and a serious alternative to far bulkier superzoom models. An out and out winner.