Panasonic TZ50 Intro
The Panasonic TZ50 might be the first of the company's LUMIX models to offer WiFi connectivity, but it's actually not the company's first foray into offering the ability to transmit images wirelessly. The history-minded amongst us may remember the Panasonic PalmCam PV-DC2590, offered in 1999 with dual CompactFlash slots and the ability to transfer images over a cellphone using an included CompactFlash modem. Oh, how things have moved on since then.
The DMC-TZ50 is the first fruit of a partnership with T-Mobile and Google's Picasa which was promised back at the PMA show earlier this year. Panasonic actually introduced a WiFi concept camera based on the TZ3 earlier at CES in January. Thanks to the cooperation the Panasonic LUMIX TZ50 offers a rather simpler experience than the PalmCam of days gone by. The user can select images singly or in groups, and have them automatically transferred to Picasa Web Albums either over their own 802.11b/g compliant home wireless LAN (and presumably, public WLANs as well), or by connecting to any T-Mobile Hotspot. With the latter company currently listing a whopping 8,932 current T-Mobile Hotspot locations in the USA including big names such as Hyatt Hotels, FedEx Kinko's, and (through a deal with AT&T) Starbucks coffeehouses, there's bound to be a Hotspot somewhere nearby when you're within US shores.
Once images are uploaded, the Panasonic TZ50 can automatically have an email sent to the account holder, allowing them to forward it to friends and family from their cell phone / nearby internet connection. It's also possible to browse uploaded images to confirm they were uploaded correctly, and to delete them again - all from the camera itself. All in all, it sounds to be a fairly well thought-out system that could, for example, allow vacationing families to share their holiday snaps even before they've left for home. Each Panasonic DMC-TZ50 includes twelve months of free access to T-Mobile's Hotspots, after which time continued access requires a subscription.
Panasonic TZ50 Features
The WiFi connectivity is obviously the standout feature which differentiates the Panasonic TZ50 from most of its competition, but there are plenty of other features besides that could prove attractive. Sensor resolution is 9.1 effective megapixels from a 1/2.33" RGB CCD image sensor. As well as its physical 4:3 aspect ratio, this sensor can also yield images cropped to the 3:2 and 16:9 aspect ratios. It sits behind a Leica DC Vario-Elmar branded 10x optical zoom lens with a very useful 35mm-equivalent focal range of 28 - 280mm. Maximum aperture ranges from F3.3 to F4.9 across the zoom range, and the LUMIX DMC-TZ50 should provide plenty of tele reach for most uses while not skimping on the wide angle. As you'd expect, Panasonic has also included true optical image stabilization, a gyroscopic lens-based system which it calls "Mega O.I.S.". Given the strength of the zoom, true stabilization is a must-have!
Probably the most impressive feature on the spec sheet other than the WiFi connectivity and lens is the LCD display. Panasonic has opted for an unusually high resolution 3.0" polycrystalline TFT LCD display with some 460,000 dots - about double the 230,000 dot resolution that is the standard on most competing models these days. It also has an eleven step brightness adjustment which can be controlled either automatically or manually, with the Panasonic TZ50 including a light sensor with which to detect and account for ambient lighting conditions.
Panasonic's Venus Engine IV image processor is included in the Panasonic DMC-TZ50's design, and is said to offer improvements in the accuracy / effectiveness of the camera's image stabilization, noise reduction, shutter lag and intelligent ISO functions. ISO sensitivity ordinarily ranges from 100 to 1600 equivalents, but can be pushed as far as ISO 6400 equivalent in High Sensitivity mode. Burst shooting is possible at 2.5 frames per second for up to three JPEG / FINE images, or 6.5 frames per second with an unspecified burst depth when shooting 3:2 images at 2.5 megapixels and below, or 4:3 / 16:9 aspect images at two megapixels or below.
The Panasonic Lumix TZ50 also offers an unusually high resolution 720p (1280 x 720 pixel, 16:9 aspect ratio) movie mode with either 15 or 30 frames-per-second capture rates, but sadly this uses the older and rather less effective QuickTime Motion JPEG compression algorithms, rather than the superior H.264 / MPEG-4 AVC compression which is starting to appear on more cameras these days. QuickTime Motion JPEG generally offers reduced quality for the same given file size, or alternatively a greater file size for the same video quality; either way it's not the ideal format to be using for more than very brief video clips. If you don't need 720p, you can save some memory by using the 16:9 aspect 848x480 pixel or 4:3 aspect 640x480 pixel modes instead.
Panasonic has included a raft of ease-of-use features in the Lumix DMC-TZ50, as seen in past models. These include no less than twenty three scene modes, as well as intelligent exposure (corrects for contrast and brightness issues in images), digital red-eye correction, intelligent ISO (which boosts ISO sensitivity and hence shutter speed as required to freeze subject motion), intelligent scene selector (which chooses from one of five automatically selected scene modes), face detection (capable of recognizing up to 15 faces in a scene, and including face tracking capability), and finally the aforementioned Mega O.I.S stabilization. An Intelligent Auto shooting mode combines all of these plus a fairly common continuous AF mode feature into a single package that aims to help complete beginners get the best possible shot without needing to understand the hows and whys.
The Panasonic TZ50's images are stored in a fairly generous 50MB of built-in memory, or on SD / SDHC / MMC flash cards. The Panasonic Lumix TZ50 also includes both NTSC / PAL standard definition and component high definition video outputs, plus a USB 2.0 high-speed computer connection. Power comes from a proprietary 3.7V 1000mAh battery pack which is rated for 300 shots to CIPA testing standards. Body dimensions are 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.4 inches, and the Panasonic TZ50 weighs 8.5 ounces fully loaded.
Panasonic TZ50 Pricing and Availability
Availability in the US market is set for May 2008, with pricing expected to be in the region of US$450. Only a silver body color will be available.