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Design and Handling

Although it shares a big zoom with the FZ series of camera, from a design point of view the TZ1 is obviously more closely related to the FX series of ultra-compacts. Panasonics engineers have managed to squeeze a 10x zoom into a remarkably small body which, whilst certainly not 'pocket sized' is no larger than many 3x zoom cameras were a couple of years ago. It's not the prettiest camera on the block, but 'in the flesh' it's nicely built and has a high quality finish. Unlike most 'compact' cameras there is a decent grip on the front and back, making single-handed operation perfectly feasible. There's no optical viewfinder (it would be pointless given the huge zoom range), and the diminutive dimensions mean there's no space for an electronic viewfinder either, so if you like to shoot with the camera to your eye... this ain't the camera for you.

Handling

Unlike most 'super zoom' cameras, the TZ1's compact styling makes it perfectly possible to shoot single-handed, with the shutter and zoom controls perfectly positioned. The grip (on front and rear) help handling, and the camera is fairly weighty - and well balanced - making it feel steadier in the hand than you might expect. That all said, if you're shooting at the 10x (350mm equiv.) end of the zoom you're probably going to want to support the left hand side of the camera to avoid the risk of camera shake - the image stabilization is good, but it can't work miracles!

Key body elements

Although you don't get the manual control over shutter speeds, apertures, focus and so on found on Panasonic's FZ series of cameras, the TZ1 - like the ultra-compact FZ models - packs a surprising number of useful features into its small body. In everyday use the majority of controls you're likely to need (flash, AE compensation, self-timer and drive mode) get their own external control buttons, meaning you only need venture into the well-designed and clear menu system to change white balance, ISO and picture size/quality.

Panasonic has struck the perfect balance between making the TZ1 small enough to be truly portable and the need to be big enough to use without fumbling over the buttons. I was surprised at how well the controls are positioned and how well the camera handles.

The top plate is home to the shutter release (which sits inside a circular zoom rocker), main power switch, IOS button and mode dial. There are no manual modes, but there are two scene mode positions on the dial, where you can store your favorites.
The 207,000-pixel, 2.5-inch LCD screen is bright and clear, and has a high enough refresh rate to appear virtually lag-free. Like the FZ7 it has a special mode that allows you to see it from an acute angle when the camera is held above your head. We found the screen worked very well in low light, gaining up well, but glare is an inevitable problem when shooting in very bright, direct light.
The TZ1's big selling point is its Leica DC Vario-Elmarit 10x optical zoom, which covers a useful 35-350mm equiv. focal length range. The lens uses folded optics to keep it small, and extends from the body by around 15mm at the long end of the zoom. Inevitably keeping the lens so small has an impact on its light-gathering abilities, meaning the maximum aperture drops from a respectable F2.8 at the wide end to a less useful F5.2 at the long end of the zoom.
The cluster of controls on the rear of the camera will be familiar to any user of a Panasonic FX series compact. The small, but perfectly usable, buttons give direct access to most of the everyday shooting controls (flash, AE compensation, self-timer, review, burst mode).

Controls & Menus

The TZ1's user interface is clean, bright, easy to read and fast, and almost identical to that found on FX cameras (and in fact most Panasonic models). If you want to see more of the interface in detail, check out the Lumix FX01 review.

The live view screen in record mode will be familiar to anyone who's ever used a Panasonic compact. The DISP button lets you choose the amount of information overlaid, from nothing at all to this fairly comprehensive display, complete with histogram. Half-press the shutter release and the camera will calculate exposure (AE) and focus (AF) indicating the AF area used and the aperture/shutter speed chosen. You'll also get a warning if camera shake is a danger.
A nice touch - common to all Panasonic models - is the easily accessible AE-Compensation, AE-Bracketing and WB adjust options. These are accessed via repeated presses of the 'up' arrow on the rear of the camera. Switching to the 'Simple' mode (indicated by a heart symbol on the mode dial) gives you a friendlier, simpler on-screen display with larger icons, fewer controls and less information.
The record menu in 'Simple' mode is suitably basic, with easy icons and limited options. There are 18 scene modes in total, and an option in the setup menu allows you to choose between seeing this menu when you turn the dial to the SCN1 or SCN2 position. If you choose not to, the last selected scene mode for each position on the dial is remembered, allowing you to set the two SCN positions on the dial as your two favorite scene modes.
The three-page record menu covers options such as white balance, sensitivity, picture size/quality, focus modes and image adjustments. As when in record mode you can choose the amount of information displayed in playback mode - from nothing at all to full data and histogram (as shown here). You can view 3x3 or 5x5 thumbnails, and magnify images up to 16x.
The three-page playback menu offers the usual array of printing, erasing, protecting and slideshow options. There's also the option to add sound to saved files, as well as crop (trim) and resize them. The setup menu - accessible from either playback or record mode - has three pages of basic camera-related settings, from monitor brightness and auto review settings to power management, sounds and date and time settings.
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