The line "we've had a lot of 10X zoom digital cameras through the office lately" has cropped continually in our recent reviews. Most of these models are would-be clones of each other right down to the design and colour scheme (everybody knows Kodak and Olympus are in-cahoots!). Enter the Panasonic TZ1, a 10X zoom camera with a difference. What's so special about this model is that Panasonic have managed to cram that gigantic zoom into a body not much bigger than a standard compact model. Impressive? Yes.
- Big zoom in a compact body, Low chromatic aberration, 1600 ISO
- Images below expectation, Large for a compact model
If you need a 10X zoom in the a compact form factor, then the TZ1 is probably for you. However there are other cameras out there that take better shots, so if this isn't a primary concern you may be better served by another model.
Price$ 659.00 (AUD)
As you can see in our pictures, the TZ1 isn't what you'd call a small camera. It is roughly 10.5 centimeters long, about the size of a small PDA, but it keeps to the form factor of a compact model. The lens does protrude slightly, belying exactly how powerful it is, but compared to the chunky design of something like the Kodak P850, the TZ1 is positively slim. Still, it has quite a bit of weight behind it, which is either a boon or a problem depending on if you subscribe to the "heavy cameras take steady shots" school of thought or not.
We do have one small complaint regarding the design however, and by complaint we mean overarching, all encompassing hatred. Silver. Yes, you heard us correctly; we have a problem with the colour silver. Why the president of electronics decided that all cameras had to come in an identical shade is beyond us. It's like someone was trying to crush their spirit. We are at the point of offering a reward for the next company to send us a camera that doesn't follow this totalitarian motif. (Note: Reward may not exist)
Still, it is hard to be too critical of something for simply conforming, and the TZ1 is a fairly decent, if not outstanding model, colour scheme aside. Having seen this model at the worldwide launch in Sydney earlier this year we were expecting big things, and whilst the zoom certainly fits into this category, image quality was a bit of a let down. Imatest revealed a mass of oversharpening in the images, and whilst the score of 1220 meant the shots should be reasonably crisp, the aforementioned problem means they wound up a little too sharp. Our test photographs looked pretty good but the oversharpening was quite apparent in some parts, giving them an almost cell shaded look, which really detracts from the realism of the shot. Thankfully chromatic aberration was virtually non-existent, with a tiny .017% score in Imatest.
Unfortunately, colour representation was another area that posed a problem for the TZ1. The score of 11.6, whilst not terrible, is not at the same level as some other models we have looked at recently. Our test photographs generally looked a little heated up, which lightens all the colours and gives them an orange tinge. This was less prevalent outdoors than indoors, but still had an impact.
The final element of our Imatest process is testing for image noise, an area which Panasonic has struggled with in the past. We are happy to report however that the TZ1 performs quite strongly in this regard. With a noise score of .83% it fell a little shy of being excellent, but anything below 1% is barely noticeable, and our images confirmed this, with a smooth, clean look. On the whole, we weren't as impressed with the image quality as we usually are with Panasonic cameras, but it could have been a lot worse.
Feature wise, the TZ1 goes some way to making up for its poor Imatest performance. Our favourite addition was the huge range of ISO options, which extend all the way up to 1600 (In the 'High Sensitivity' mode). For a compact model this is massive, considering most stop at a mere 400. Whilst we did experience a little noise at higher levels, this is really unavoidable, and the higher sensitivity allows faster capture in darker conditions, which is a big plus. There are 18 pre-set shooting modes and the usual range of white balance, video recording and focus modes (although Panasonic have incorporated their new linear focus mode, which helps reduce motor noise). One nifty by-product of this new focus mode is the ability to zoom whilst recording video, an option not normally available, and one we definitely appreciated. Also returning is their now standard optical image stabilization, which is a nice bonus for those with shaky hands.
Battery life is quoted at 250 shots, and we found this to be just about spot on, managing 270 shots on a single charge. We often see different websites supporting the different types of batteries; some like AAs for their ease and availability, whilst others prefer the consistency of lithium ions. For us, you can't beat the cost and extra power of a rechargeable L-ion battery. Over the course of a year or two you will wind up spending quite a bit on Alkaline batteries; one of the hidden costs of owning a digital camera.
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