The world’s favourite superzoom series strikes again!
While other companies have solely championed the superzoom compact category via the more traditional bridge route, Panasonic has strayed from the herd by also combining expansive zoom ranges inside compact bodies for its TZ range of Lumix compacts. No doubt keen to repeat the successes its TZ2 and TZ3 models have enjoyed, the company has now refreshed its Lumix line with two upgrades now ‘fit for the HD era’.
Essentially, Panasonic has repeated the trend of releasing two models with slight specification variances. Where the TZ4 sees an 8.1MP sensor paired with a 2.5in LCD screen, the TZ5 increases this to 9.1MP and a 3in LCD screen. The latter model also doubles the TZ4’s 230,000pixel LCD screen resolution to 460,000 pixels. The TZ5 also allows for 720pixel HD videos to be captured at 30fps.
In most other aspects the models are the same. Each offers a 10x optical zoom covering a focal range of 28-280mm, with lens-based image stabilisation accompanying this. Both see the incorporation of the company’s Venus IV processing engine, as well a sensitivity range from ISO 100-1600, adjustable to 6400 in High Sensitivity mode. An Easy Zoom button allows automatic zooming to the opposite extreme of the camera’s focal range, while a ‘Q menu’ allows quicker access to menu settings.
With the only main external difference being the TZ5’s larger LCD screen, there’s a touch more room for a thumb-rest on the TZ4, making handling more comfortable. Both models have small buttons whose engravings, being the same tone, are tricky to see in predominantly dark or light conditions.
The menu systems are clear on both cameras (if a little long winded), though the Q menu speeds this up. Operation and focusing are generally prompt, though focusing can sometimes miss its target. Bizarrely, the camera can even appear to refocus even when it indicates that focus has been achieved and the shutter having been depressed. At default, the screen is also brighter on the TZ5, though brightness can be adjusted on both models.
The most obvious difference between the two models is that while the TZ5 produces accurate exposures, the TZ4 consistently underexposes by around half to one stop. This does, however, have the benefit of holding in highlight detail much better (something which applies to both ambient and flash exposures), though shadow detail is better rendered by the TZ5 because of this. Colours are more saturated and show better contrast with the TZ5, though fringing does seems to be a little better controlled by the TZ4. The TZ5 generally shows better sharpness in edges, though at the the tele-end the TZ4 can occasionally outsharpen its sibling.
The TZ5’s Auto white balance system also produces marginally colder images, which together with the aforementioned exposure issue accentuates noise. Otherwise, noise levels are fairly similar. Luminance noise shows even at ISO 100 on both but the lack of chroma noise is impressive, which is hardly surprising given the zealousness with which noise reduction can attack high-ISO images. Nevertheless, the standard of images is generally high on both, though the TZ5’s extra pixels do (just) give it the edge when all is considered.
It’s a bit of a shame that even at this price, neither camera offers manual exposure or support for shooting Raw images. Nevertheless, both cameras are worthy upgrades with good images and an otherwise healthy dose of features. The better screen and more accurate exposures of the TZ5 make it the superior choice, though the TZ4 offers better value.