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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 07/06/2006
Rating: Recommended

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Introduction:
Announced on the 14th of Febuary 2006, the Panasonic Lumix TZ1 is a 5 megapixel digital camera with a 10x optical zoom lens and a 2.5" screen. Panasonic's website states that it's "The World's Smallest 10x Optical Zoom Digital Camera" - whilst this may now be out of date due to the smaller Kodak Easyshare V610 - the Kodak does not feature the Panasonic's optical image stabilisation, a feature that is important for ultra zoom digital cameras.
The 10x optical zoom Leica DC lens is equivalent to 35 - 350mm on a 35mm camera. The Panasonic Lumix TZ1 is available from around £245, this makes it fairly good value for money for a compact digital camera with a 10x optical zoom lens with image stabilisation. The camera is enclosed in a sturdy metal body and is available in silver or back. The TZ1 can record video in 16:9 wide-angle aspect ratio or VGA 640 x 480 at 30fps with sound. The body measures:Approx. 112 x 58.1 x 40.2 mm (without protruding parts), and weighs approx. 262g. including battery and memory card.

Panasonic have this to say about the camera:

"A traveller's treasure - the small DMC-TZ1 boasts huge features to make travel photography a real pleasure: The lens part of the super-compact TZ1 features the integration of a retractable lens system with folded optics technology, realized by the inclusion of a prism. Incorporating three aspherical lenses, the crystallization of Panasonic optics technology, results in an amazingly powerful 10x optical zoom LEICA DC VARIO-ELMARIT lens contained within a slim and stylish body."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Panasonic Lumix FZ3)


Front - Camera off. (lens at wide-angle position)


Front view - camera on, lens at telephoto position, flash, focus assist lamp.


Back / Left: On the left is the USB / Video out, and DC in. On the back is the 2" screen, 4-way controller, middle menu/set button, display button, and shooting mode / delete button.


Top: Microphone, Speaker, Mode dial, zoom control, shutter release, Mega optical image stabilisation mode button, On/off button.


Bottom / right - Plastic tripod mount, Lockable battery / memory card compartment.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.


Size comparison.


Size comparison. (shown with lens cap on)


Size comparison, compared to the 7.1x optical zoom, 6 megapixel Ricoh Caplio R4.


Size comparison, compared to the 12x optical zoom Panasonic Lumix FZ3. (picture taken with the L55W)

Specifications / Features:

  • 5 megapixel images
  • 1/2.5inch, 6.37 Mega Total Pixels CCD
  • 10x optical zoom lens - Leica DC Vario-Elmarit
  • f=5.2-52mm (35mm Equiv.: 35-350mm)
  • MEGA Optical Image Stabilizer keeps low-light and telephoto images sharp
  • Store images on Secure Digital (SD) memory cards
  • 2.5" LCD - 207,000 pixels
  • Movie mode: Records 640 x 480 at 30fps without sound, and 16:9 Aspect Ratio 848 x 480 pixels 30 fps, 10 fps
  • ISO: Auto/80/100/200/400/800 (High Sensitvity Mode : 800 / 1600)
  • 14mb built in memory
  • ~5cm macro mode

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Battery Charger,
  • Battery Pack 3.7v, 1000mAh
  • Lens Cap,
  • AV Cable,
  • USB Connection Cable,
  • AC Cable,
  • Strap,
  • CD-ROM
  • 1 year manufacturer's guarantee.

Average box contents - There is limited memory provided with the camera. Some kind of case would be useful.

Battery usage: Battery life seemed good, I was able to take 250 - 300 photos between charge before the camera displayed "please replace the batteries". Panasonic rate battery life as 250 shots when tested to CIPA standards. If this isn't long enough for you, then you will need to purchase a second battery.

Camera Operation and OptionsThe top left dial selects the camera mode. This allows the choice of the following modes: Photo, Macro, Video, Playback, Simple (Heart), Scene mode 1, Scene mode 2.

Photo mode/menus: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right below: (menu screens from the FZ7 - which are almost identical apart from a few options are different, detailed below)

Photo mode Photo Record Menu

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown on the left) The screen has a high resolution of 207,000 pixels, and updates smoothly - the colours appear accurate. There is a live histogram available and the screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read. Optical Viewfinder: There is no optical viewfinder.

Menu options: White balance (including custom), Sensitivity, Aspect ratio (16:9, 3:2, and 4:3), Picture size, Quality, Audio recording, Metering mode, AF mode, Cont. AF, AF Assist lamp, Slow shutter, Digital zoom (on/off), Colour effect (Cool, Warm, Black and White, Sepia), Picture adjust (Natural, Standard, Vivid), Flip anim.

Scene modes Setup Menu

Scene modes: (shown on the left, above) Portrait, Soft skin, Scenery, Sports, Night portrait, Night scenery, Self-portrait, Food, Party, Candle Light, Fireworks, Starry Sky (15, 30, or 60 second exposure), Beach, Aeriel Photo (for shots through airplane windows), Snow, High sensitivity, Baby 1, Baby 2, Under water.

Setup menu: (shown on the right, above) Clock set, World time, Monitor, Travel date, Auto review, Power save, Economy, Beep, Shutter, Volume, no. reset, reset, USB mode, highlight, video out, TV aspect, Scene menu, Language.

Playback (Review) mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right, below:

Playback mode Playback Menu

Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is fairly quick. The zoom is quick up to 16x.

Playback menu: Slide show, Favourite, Rotate disp, Rotate, DPOF Print, Protect, Audio dub, resize, trimming, Aspect conversion, copy (allows you to copy from internal memory to memory card and vice versa), format.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number of pictures will fit in the provided memory:

Image Size: Number of Photos Stored / Quality
 
Ratio
Fine
Standard
3.5mp
16:9
6
14
2mp
12
24
4.5mp
3:2
5
11
2.5mp
9
18
5mp
4:3
5
10
3mp
8
16
2mp
13
27
1mp
20
39
VGA
67
110

As shown in the table above, higher quality images take a large amount of memory, and you can't fit very many photos in the provided memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended. 

A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 256mb memory card, and preferably a 512mb memory card, especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take.  If you are likely to be away from a computer for a long time (such as when going on holiday) then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in.  This camera takes only secure digital memory.  Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 256mb: £6.59, 512mb: £10.55, 1gb (1000mb): £23.40, 2gb (2000mb): £49.95
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera is quick to switch on and take photos, being ready in just over 1 second, it takes roughly 1.6 seconds to switch on, focus and take the photo. Focusing is quick at around 0.4 seconds set to wide angle. Shutter response is quick at around 0.1 seconds. Shot to shot time is quick at around 1.2 - 1.3 seconds (with review switched on), with flash switched on this shot to shot time is around 2.3 seconds. High speed continuous shooting allows you to take 3 shots at roughly 3 frames per second for 3 shots (with flash off). Infinite continuous shooting is still quick and takes a shot every 0.4 - 0.5 seconds, roughly 2fps. Playback mode is fairly quick, and its easy to zoom upto 16x on your last shot and check for blur with the zoom control. Moving from picture to picture is fairly quick, but not as instantaneous as others such as the Casio series, for example the Casio Exilim EX-Z120. Moving around the different menu options is rapid.

Ease of use: The camera is easy to use, although the camera does have quite a lot of options and features. The controls on the back of the camera are fairly easy to use - the menus are responsive and easy to read. The camera is very compact for a digital camera that has a 10x optical zoom lens. The menus are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly. The modes are easy to access, quick and simple - there's even a basic mode for simple point and shoot operation (shown with a red heart). There don't seem to be any manual controls, other than custom white balance. The camera gives you numerous scene modes to enable you to take photos in different situations.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The buttons are fairly easy to use, and they are in a good position and in easy reach for using the camera with one hand. There seems to be the right amount of buttons. The buttons feel okay, the shutter release is quite decent. The buttons are labelled fairly well. I thought the camera felt very good ergonomically, and was the correct weight. The hand grip seemed good, with a decent sized front grip and a decent sized thumb grip on the back, I was quite impressed considering the small-ish size of the camera. All of the compartments and covers seem well positioned and are easy to open. The only design problem, which is a fairly minor one, is the location of the plastic tripod mount, which is quite close the the edge of the camera - this could cause problems if your tripod is quite small and light.

Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Outside, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower (ISO80) Group photo (ISO100)

Inside: The camera has good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - there is no red-eye in the photo (although there is some slight purple fringing around the flash reflection), and there is none in other group photos. It has a decent flash, and copes well with group photos, and on AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was kept at the quite low in these photos, although noise was fairly high and detail seemed to be lacking, perhaps due to noise reduction. The camera did a good job at focusing most of the time even in low-light. Colour is richly saturated.

ISO Noise Test: Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels, and manual ISO settings (ISO: 80, 100, 200, 400, 800). ISO1600 is available in the High Sensitivity scene mode.

Below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 7 megapixel, Olympus Mju 720SW. The difference in colour is due to automatic white balance being used on both cameras.

ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Panasonic Lumix TZ1 on the left, Olympus Mju 720SW on the right. The 7 megapixel Olympus was picked as a comparison due to the similar ISO range of ISO64 - ISO1600. The colour difference is due to automatic white balance / different lighting conditions.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 (5mp) Olympus Mju 720SW (7mp)
ISO80 - Actual Pixels ISO64 - Actual Pixels
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels
ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels
ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels

Noise is visible at even the lowest ISO setting on the Panasonic Lumix TZ1. At ISO200 and ISO400 noise is very noticable and detail is being lost with jagged edges. At ISO400 and ISO800 the image becomes quite pixellated, especially around the red. The high sensitivity mode on the Panasonic TZ1 removes a dramatic amount of detail - so much so that at ISO1600 the 'W' is practically non-existant. The Olympus Mju 720SW has much lower noise and has a much better high ISO800 and ISO1600 mode - noise is high, but the camera keeps much more detail compared to the TZ1. You would expect a lower resolution digital camera such as the 5 megapixel TZ1 to have lower noise than a 7 megapixel camera, but unfortunately this isn't the case. With the Panasonic Lumix TZ1 I would say that ISO 200 and above is to be avoided.

Anti-shake / Optical Image Stabilisation effectiveness: Here are some test photos taken with "Mega Optical Image Stabilisation" on and off - these photos were taken without flash in low light. The Panasonic Lumix TZ1's anti-shake system moves a section of the lens to counter any camera shake. These photos were taken at wide-angle, set to macro.

Mega O.I.S On (Mode 2) Mega O.I.S Off
1/25 second, f2.8, ISO100, 35mm 1/25 second, f2.8, ISO100, 35mm

As you can see - image stabilisation is effective for low-light / high zoom, slow shutter speed photography helping acheive blur free photos.

Outside:

Liverpool shops (ISO80) Coverack, The Lizard, Cornwall (ISO80)

Outside: The camera has excellent, rich colour, with good saturation and contrast. There was fairly good detail, although images were slightly soft and noise was noticable in ISO80 photos. The quality was set to maximum to minimise any jpeg artefacts.

Zoom: This camera has a 10x optical zoom lens and a built in 4x digital zoom - in the case of this camera the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software blurring the image so that it is not pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using digital zoom as it degrades the quality of the image and, often, better results can be obtained by using a photo package such as Adobe Photoshop. I've included examples below to show what the 10x optical zoom is capable of. (An example using the digital zoom can be seen in the gallery)

Wide-angle 3x Optical Telephoto 10x Optical Zoom

Exposure: The photos of the clock tower are exposed well with detail in the dark areas as well as the lighter areas - exposure in other photos was generally excellent. Purple fringing is low in the wide angle and 3x optical zoom photo, but high in the 10x optical zoom photo. If you intend to use the full telephoto zoom a lot this could be a concern.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens is very quiet in operation. The lens gives excellent control over how you frame your subject with at least 28 steps between wide and telephoto zoom.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing was difficult to detect in the majority of normal photos, however in some extreme test cases, by looking closely at the images some fringing might be noticed (particularly at full optical zoom in the clock tower photos), or in flash reflections.

Macro:

Timex Watch Macro Actual Pixels (ISO100)

The custom white balance helps get better colours in the macro mode - however the closest the camera can get to the subject is about average at around 5cm. Noise is visible, even when the ISO is as low as ISO100. If flash is left on and the subject is too close then the camera can wash out the image.

Video mode: The camera features a high resolution wide-aspect ratio 16:9 video mode (848 x 480) at 30 fps with sound plus a VGA 640 x 480 video mode at 30 fps with sound. These modes are not available when recording to internal memory. Unfortunately the compression isn't very high so even with large memory cards the video length is limited. Videos are recorded as .MOV files.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality is very good, the images have good colour (rich colours, highly saturated), with good contrast and generally good detail, although noise is high and detail is lost when ISO settings are increased. Images were slightly softer than I would have liked, however isn't a major problem. Best results were achieved outside on sunny days, but inside noise was noticably high. Purple fringing was quite low unless the full zoom was used, and red-eye was not a problem. Exposure seemed very good inside and outside. The camera was generally very competent at focusing thanks to the focus assist lamp. I did not notice vignetting, or barrel or pincushion distortion. There is a good range of image sizes, aspect ratios, and compression options. Auto white balance seemed to be good. The camera doesn't give you very many options to customise images - there are no sharpness or contrast controls for example. The camera's built in optical image stabilisation is effective and helps get blur free photos in low light or when using the zoom. (8/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is compact and is designed well - the camera feels very comfortable in my hands. The camera is very compact considering it's large 10x optical zoom range. The camera is easy to use, the menu system is easy to use and there is a good layout of buttons and controls. There is a good choice of features and options although the majority are aimed at beginners, rather than experts, however there is manual white balance, a live histogram, and high speed shooting. The camera speed is good, with a good switch on time, good focusing time, good shutter response, and a fast continous shooting mode. The tripod mount position could be better, but all compartments are easy to open. The screen size and resolution is good at 2.5" with 207,000 pixels, and the quality appears good. Battery life is quite good. The high resolution, and high framerate 16:9 aspect ratio video mode with sound is very good. Optical image stabilisation is a very useful feature and enables blur free photos for low-light or long zoom photos. (8/10)

Value for Money: The Panasonic Lumix TZ1 at around £244, is good value for money, as a compact and fully featured ultra zoom digital camera, it is one of the cheapest ultra-zooms with optical image sabilisation (excluding the Konica Minolta Dimage Z5, and Ricoh Caplio R4). Alternative compact ultra zoom digital cameras worth considering include the Kodak Easyshare V610 (10x), Ricoh Caplio R3 (7.1x) and R4, Panasonic Lumix FZ7 (12x), Canon Powershot S3 IS (12x), and Sony Cybershot DSC-H2 (12x) depending whether you want something smaller, or something with more optical zoom. (8/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 is a very good all round digital camera, compact and pocketable (in large pockets) yet features a Leica 10x optical zoom lens with image stabilisation. The camera produces very good images with excellent colour, saturation and exposure, assuming you use the lowest ISO settings. Purple fringing was slightly higher than average and was noticable in flash reflections on when using the full 10x optical zoom but isn't a huge problem. If you want to record videos then this camera has a very good high resolution wide-aspect ratio video mode. The camera is very easy to use (in auto mode), and would definitely suit a beginner. The camera offers good battery life, with good controls, good build quality and quick performance.  To finish things off, the Panasonic Lumix TZ1 is good value for money and therefore Recommended!

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 Rating: Recommended (8/10)
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What I like:

  • Very good image quality
  • Rich, saturated colours
  • Easy to use
  • Good macro mode
  • Good battery life
  • Optical image stabilisation - works well for low-light or zoom photography
  • Very compact for a 10x optical zoom digital camera (world's smallest with optical image stabilisation)
  • Very good video mode
  • High resolution 2.5" screen
  • Almost pocketable (with large trouser pockets)
  • Good value for money

What I don't like:

  • High sensitivity / High ISO 1600 mode only available as a scene mode - makes images overly blurry.
  • Plastic Tripod mount close to the edge of the camera
  • Some purple fringing (mainly at full optical zoom)
  • Higher than average noise at all ISO settings - rough edges and detail loss at ISO200 and above.

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 Sample Photo Gallery.

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