Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 Overview
by Mike Pasini
Hands-on Preview: 11/29/06
Full Review: 02/07/07
The Panasonic TZ1 digital camera is based around a 5 megapixel imager coupled to a prism-folded (and Leica-branded) 10x optical zoom lens with MEGA O.I.S. image stabilization. With effective focal lengths from 35 to 350mm, the DC Vario-Elmarit lens offers from a moderate wide-angle to a very useful telephoto -- impressive given that the camera still remains fairly pocket-friendly. ISO sensitivity ranges from 80 to 800, with the option to extend this to ISO 1,600 in high sensitivity mode. Images can be previewed, or reviewed on a 2.5 inch LCD display with a higher than average resolution of 207,000 pixels. Unfortunately (but perhaps not surprisingly, given the range of the lens) there's no optical viewfinder.
The Panasonic TZ1's body has much in common with the minimalist styling normally found on Panasonic's cameras, but with a rather heftier hand-grip that should make it much easier to hold stable (vital, given the range of the lens). Focusing is achieved with a 1, 3, or 9-point autofocus system with an AF assist lamp. Exposure modes include a whopping 19 scene modes, including two unusual "Baby" modes that allow you to program a date of birth in each, and then have your images tagged with your children's current ages at the time a photo is taken. Exposure variables are determined using an intelligent multiple metering system by default, with both center-weighted, and spot metering options available. Users can tweak the exposure with +/-2.0 EV of exposure compensation, in 1/3 EV steps. Shutter speeds range from 1/2,000 to 60 seconds -- quite a bit longer than is common on many digicams -- and the Panasonic TZ1 offers automatic or manual white balance control with four presets, and a custom white balance mode -- letting you save white balance measurements for common situations for later recall. The Panasonic TZ1 also includes a built-in five mode flash, with a range of up to 3.7 meters at wide-angle, or 2.4 meters at telephoto.
The Panasonic TZ1 offers a higher-than-average movie resolution of 848 x 480 pixels, as well as lower-resolution 640 x 480, and 320 x 240 pixel options -- all of which use the QuickTime Motion JPEG format common on most digicams. The Panasonic TZ1 draws power from a proprietary 1,000mAh Lithium Ion rechargeable battery pack, and records images on Secure Digital, or MultiMedia cards, or a not-so-generous 13.4MB of built-in memory -- plan to buy a large SD card straight away.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 User Report
Intro. In the Age of iPod, looks matter. At first glance the Panasonic TZ1 (or TZ1S for its silver body), is not a looker. It's hefty. It's long. It's thick. It's silver and chrome.
But if you've survived high school, you know looks aren't everything (and they don't count much for college admissions). It's what you do with what you have that counts. And the Panasonic TZ1 does a lot for just $300.
When it was first introduced, Panasonic claimed it was the world's smallest 10x zoom. That honor clearly belongs to the Kodak V610, with a slimmer dual lens design. But both long zooms use folded optics to get a long zoom into a small box. The lens on the Panasonic TZ1 extends just over half an inch at full telephoto. There's enough megapixels on the sensor to crop the center of the image, and offer 12.5x zoom in what Panasonic calls Extended Optical Zoom.
That long zoom enjoys the company's MEGA Optical Image Stabilization technology, which is featured on every Panasonic digicam. You get a sharp image at 50x zoom (with digital zoom) even though you can't hold the Panasonic TZ1 itself steady on the subject. And low light performance is greatly enhanced as well.
Panasonic's Venus Engine III provides a high sensitivity setting of ISO 800 that does better than most with the tradeoff between noise and detail. But the Panasonic TZ1's Hi Sensitivity Scene mode does an exceptional job, delivering sharp, colorful images in very low light.
Five special features make the TZ1 particularly nice to have on the road. World Time Setting can calculate time differences as you move between zones. Travel Date Setting can, if you enter your departure time, and date, organize your images by the day of the trip. Calendar View shows images arranged by date shot. Three Scene modes -- Aerial photo, Beach, and Underwater -- beg to be tried away from home. And the optional Marine case lets you take the Panasonic TZ1 130 feet below the surface.
And you can't beat the price for a 10x zoom.
Design. The most impressive aspect of the Panasonic TZ1's design is the amount of glass its lens has. Compared to the contact lenses on most digicams, this looks like a real camera lens. And most of the action is actually folded into the camera.
The lens design explains the elongated, and thick body design (and why this camera requires the included lens cap). Compared to most other 10x digicam zooms, almost all of which model themselves on dSLRs, the Panasonic TZ1 is rather unpretentious.It does have some heft, though, and that's a good thing in my book. Holding a camera steady is easier when the camera supplies a little resistance when you press the shutter button.
For that matter, the Panasonic TZ1 was quite comfortable to hold and operate with one hand. Even carrying it was comfortable, my index finger hooked on the grip's inside surface with the camera vertical. Wearing the wrist strap, of course.
I'm no fan of buttons where a navigator control disk should be, and the Panasonic TZ1 disappoints there. I suppose there have to be some cost efficiencies to get this camera to market at $300, but I wish there were a law against buttons as navigators.
On the other hand, the Panasonic TZ1's power switch won me over. At first, I thought it was another cost efficiency. A little switch instead of a button. But using it, I felt relief not to have to wonder if I'd held a button down long enough to shut the camera down, or long enough to get it to start up (considering how startup on a digicam is not instant). The switch solves all that. On is on, off is off. Simple.
I have mixed feelings about the little battery-ejection spring on the Panasonic TZ1. It seems less sturdy than the spring you find in click ballpoint pens. It works, but I'd have preferred to see a leaf spring, I think, just to give me the impression it will last a while.
With exposure simplified to EV compensation, a low price, and some exciting features for available light photography, the Panasonic TZ1 is designed to appeal to the amateur who knows a good deal when they see one.
Display/Viewfinder. There's no optical viewfinder on the Panasonic TZ1, but the LCD seemed to function well enough in sunlight. At 2.5 inches, it's large enough to show you what you've captured (and the 16x enlargement doesn't hurt either). And with 207,000 pixels, it has enough resolution to display icons and text clearly.
But it was one of Luke's least favorite experiences in the lab, taking our standard suite of test shots. "The LCD screen is shifted vertically, and tilted behind the mask on the glass cover," he noted. "Most of the Panasonic TZ1's test shots were a laborious process of trial and error to frame."
That's one of those things I wouldn't notice shooting landscapes, and trying to hold the camera still at 50x zoom. Not exactly precision shooting.
The Panasonic TZ1's LCD is powered by a 1000 mAh battery to keep it running for about 250 shots, well in excess of my usual photo safari.
Performance. For such a good bargain, you'd expect average performance. But that's not Panasonic's way. In almost every one of our major tests, the Panasonic TZ1's performance ranked above average -- not just for an entry-level digicam, but for a long zoom as well (see our note below about flare, however).
Without the need to extend the lens, startup and shutdown were well above average. Autofocus lag was also stellar, profiting from Panasonic's Linear AF system, which the company claims leads the industry in focusing speed. There are also a few unique focusing modes that limit the camera's choices, and therefore speed up focus. Autofocus speed was the main culprit in shutter lag, and the Panasonic TZ1 is snappy there, too.
And Luke reported, "Continuous shot-to-shot cycle time is zippy." In fact, so zippy that I was taking doubles of everything until I turned it off. Luke did note, however, the one place the Panasonic TZ1 falls short: download time.
Behind the Panasonic TZ1, you don't have much to worry about. There's a Simple mode that limits the menu system to one screen of four options. I can't imagine that being handy (how often do you have to set the clock?). Still mode, where you'll spend most of your time, gives you access to a long list of menu options including the usual suspects like White Balance and Sensitivity, as well as those clever Autofocus modes. For special situations, there are two Scene modes on the Panasonic TZ1, with a healthy selection of options.
Shooting. Among the more interesting modes on the Panasonic TZ1 is Hi Sensitivity. It's the first time this John Henry was beat by a machine. Usually, I can set the camera to do whatever a Scene mode is doing. And it's easier for me to remember how to set aperture and shutter speed to do that rather than remember what the 20 Scene modes are. So, naturally, with optical image stabilization and a top ISO of 800, I figured I could get as sharp a shot of those dolls I have in the garage awaiting restoration as Hi Sensitivity could.
My first attempt at Auto ISO with stabilization set to Mode 2 (activate only when the shutter's pressed for the maximum effect) was dark, and blurred. To be honest, it represents accurately the existing light level in that corner of the garage. The Panasonic TZ1 used ISO 200 at f/4.0 for 1/8 second to get that. The f/4.0 was determined by my zoom range, since f/2.8 at wide-angle is the maximum. I might have gotten closer, and used Macro mode to get f/2.8. But that's the trouble with automatic cameras. They don't confess until after the body has been found.
My second attempt was to set the Panasonic TZ1's ISO to 800. At f/4.0, and 1/8 second again (selected by the camera, remember), the image is indeed brighter. But it's also blurred. Is it just out of focus? Did autofocus have trouble in the dim light? Maybe, but one of the two shots should have been focused.
The third attempt was to use the Panasonic TZ1's Hi Sensitivity Scene mode. Wow. I shoot the dolls with every stabilized camera I review now, and I've never seen the eyelashes that sharp (except on a fancy dSLR). And the color was accurate, and excellent (I kind of wish Panasonic restored dolls). The camera used f/4.0 again but a faster shutter speed of 1/15 second. And ISO was 1,600. There's certainly a lot of processing going on (there's a lack of detail in the hair, and the blouse) but you happily pay that price to get the shot.
Whatever the TZ1 costs, Panasonic didn't scrimp on Movie mode. You get 16:9 with 30 frames per second, and sound during (a very quiet) zoom.
I didn't like the Panasonic TZ1's arrow buttons where I would have preferred a four-way control pad. And it took me a while to make friends with the menu system. It seems like a long list of options -- and it is -- but mostly you use the four arrow buttons to configure the camera for the situation.
I liked the lens. I like 10x zooms to begin with, and love a 16:9 wide screen aspect ratio (but bravo to Panasonic for including 4:3, and 3:2 as well, as they've been doing for some time). It's an innovative idea to make a 10x zoom with a folded optic, and I enjoyed all the pictures I shot with it. Unfortunately, the 10x end of the Panasonic TZ1's zoom introduces dramatic flare across the frame, some of the worst we've ever seen. Some would call it purple fringing, but the causes of that phenomenon are too vague and varied to explore here. We're not sure if it's due to introducing a small mirror into the optic and then magnifying the results -- which must introduce quite a bit of error into the equation -- or some other factor such as longitudinal CA, but there's a significant purple glow that bleeds into most dark objects that are surrounded by white, which suggests a serious design flaw in the Panasonic TZ1's 10x lens design.
It won't likely affect most of your pictures dramatically, but as soon as you shoot something with stark contrast or bright lights, you're likely to get significant flare with the Panasonic TZ1, so be warned.
Appraisal. Panasonic's expressed its commitment to what it calls the culture of photography. The company really believes that taking pictures makes the world a better place. With the Panasonic TZ1, they very nearly had a hit on their hands, with an innovative design in an inexpensive body, delivering a compact 10x zoom for the masses. But unfortunately, the Panasonic TZ1's lens flare issue starts to raise its head at about 4-5x and only gets worse, blowing contrast across the frame with a random purple haze. That's great for adding ambience to a Hendrix revival concert, but not so great for capturing the rest of the world in its true light. The Panasonic TZ1 is a great camera to use, and will serve many folks just fine, but we wouldn't feel right if we didn't warn you that 50% of the focal range is tainted by what we can only call flare.
- 5.0-megapixel CCD delivering image resolutions as high as 2,560 x 1,920 pixels
- 10x, 5.2-52mm (equivalent to 35-250mm) Leica DC Vario-Elmarit optical zoom lens
- 4x digital zoom
- 2.5 inch LCD with 207,000 pixels
- Automatic exposure control
- Aperture range from f/2.8 to f/7.1, depending on zoom position
- Shutter speed of 1/2,000 to eight seconds with 60, 30, and 15-second options in Starry Sky mode
- Available aspect ratios of 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9
- Six white balance settings, including a manual option
- EV compensation in 1/3 step increments from -2 to +2 EV
- Adjustable ISO from 80 to 800 with an 800-1,600 High Sensitivity option
- Self-timer with 2-, and 10-second settings
- Built-in flash with five modes
- SD memory card storage
- 13.4MB built-in memory
- PictBridge compatible
- Power from custom rechargeable Li-ion battery pack or optional AC adapter
- USB 2.0 interface
- Panasonic Lumix software CD included
- Mega O.I.S. optical image stabilization
- Venus Engine III image processor
- Five AF area modes, plus available Continuous AF
- 16 Scene modes with help screens
- Burst shooting mode
- Picture Adjustment menu for saturation control, plus Color Effects settings
- Simultaneous audio/still recording
In the Box
The Panasonic DMC-TZ1 ships with the following items in the box:
- Panasonic DMC-TZ1 camera
- 3.7 volt, 1,000 mAh battery (CGA-S007A)
- Battery charger
- USB cable
- AV cable
- Software CD
- Wrist strip
- Lens cover with lens cap string
- VYQ3680 battery carrying case
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card. (These days, 512MB to 1GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.)
- Small camera case for outdoor and in-bag protection
Panasonic offers an few additional TZ1 accessories, including:
- Marine housing (DMW-MCTZ1)
- Leather case (DMW-CTA1) and semi-hard case (DMW-CTH1)
- AC adapter (DMW-AC5)
The Panasonic Lumix TZ1 is a nice little camera at a great price, with a 10x, optically stabilized zoom lens, high ISO Scene mode, and large LCD. The large 2.5-inch LCD screen, while less accurate than most, is great for sharing your photos with friends, and makes the menus easier to see. From startup to cycle times, the Panasonic TZ1's performance was above average. The Panasonic TZ1 did reasonably well overall in our testing, delivering good, bright color, and good resolution, but the significant lens flare from middle to long telephoto raised a red flag. We expect some flare in the corners on most lenses, but flare that insinuates itself across the frame is objectionable. Another failing is the weak flash, somewhat mitigated by the Panasonic TZ1's ability to shoot in low light. It would be nice to have a controller instead of arrow buttons and some manual exposure options, but otherwise the Panasonic TZ1 is a pleasure to use, and just missed a Dave's Pick due to the extreme lens flare over half of the zoom range. We think those printing only 4x6 images will be plenty happy with the TZ1, but we just can't give it our top recommendation.