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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
9.1MP | 28-280mm (10X) ZOOM | $240 US/ £180 UK

Panasonic launched the original 'Travel Zoom' TZ1 back in February 2006, starting a trend for compact super zooms that has turned into one of the hottest categories in the digital camera market. In 2007 came the TZ3 and almost exactly one year later, Panasonic brought us the third generation of this popular series in the shape of the TZ5 (The TZ2 and TZ4 are the smaller sister models of the TZ3 and TZ5 respectively). Like its predecessors it offers a stabilized big zoom lens in a very compact package. Another sister model, the TZ50, was launched earlier this year; this camera (which we've actually used for some parts of this review) is identical to the TZ5 with the addition of Wi-Fi connectivity.

  • 9.1 effective Megapixels
  • 28-280mm equiv lens with 10x optical zoom and up to 4x Digital Zoom
  • 3.0-inch LCD with 460,000 dots resolution
  • Optical Image Stabilizer
  • ISO sensitivity up to 6400
  • Face Detection AF
  • 6 shooting modes, 23 scene modes including Intelligent Auto mode
  • Venus Engine IV processor
  • HD output
  • In-Camera Editing
  • Available in Silver and Black
  • Optional accessories available

Click here to view the full review - April 2008 (opens in new window)

Overview

The TZ series has been a huge success for Panasonic despite the arrival of a slew of competitor products, and it's not hard to see why. Offering an incredibly versatile 28-280mm optically stabilized lens in a compact, lightweight form factor, the TZ5 is the perfect travel camera (and indeed is sold as such) and most users aren't going to be too worried about the lack of manual controls.

With the TZ5 Panasonic has stuck to the tried and tested TZ formula and, compared to its predecessor, only implemented a relatively small number of modifications. As one would expect sensor resolution has been increased (from 7.2 to 9.1MP on a marginally larger sensor) and so has the resolution of the 3.0" screen (from 230K to 460K pixels). Additionally the in-camera computing is now powered by Panasonic's latest generation imaging engine - the Venus IV. One of the most interesting new features is the HD video capability; the TZ5 can now capture video in a resolution of 1280x720 at 30fps in a 16:9 format. The camera's core though, is its 10x (28-280mm equiv.) zoom lens, and this remains unchanged making the TZ5 amazingly compact for its long zoom range. It comes with a well built full metal body that is available in silver, black or blue.

The TZ5 doesn't offer any manual control over shutter speeds, apertures or focus but still comes with a good range of features and the usual smattering of scene and subject modes. Thankfully the most useful controls, such as flash, AE compensation or self-timer get their own external control buttons. In addition the TZ5's 'Quick Menu' gives you direct access to 9 parameters including White Balance, ISO and drive mode.

Panasonic's user-interface has been slightly tweaked for this latest generation of cameras but the essentials remain the same. The menus are well designed and intuitive. New users won't take long to find their away around and owners of a previous Panasonic model will feel at home right away.

Key Features

The TZ5 is sufficiently compact to hold it comfortably in one hand. The small rubberized grip does a good job, but due to the fairly big lens the weight of the body is distributed in a slightly unbalanced way. So you might want to use the supplied wrist strap to prevent gravity from taking its toll.
The top plate is home to the shutter release (which sits inside a circular zoom rocker), main power switch, mode dial and the Easy Zoom button which lets you jump to full telephoto at one press. On the mode dial you can save your two favorite scene modes. However it's quite easy to move the dial accidentally, so check it's in the right position when you take the camera out of your bag.
The controls are located to the right of the screen and pretty straightforward. There are buttons for exposure compensation, flash, self timer and macro mode on the four way controller. The quick menu button gives you access to the most important settings including ISO, White Balance and drive mode. The engraved icons can be difficult to see in some lighting situations.
The TZ5 features the same 10x zoom lens as its predecessor, the TZ3. It covers an enormously useful zoom range of 28-280mm equiv.
In shooting mode you can display a grid and/or live histogram as an option.
The TZ5's menu system is clear and intuitive. There's also Panasonic's quick menu for convenient access to the most important shooting settings.

Image quality and performance

The TZ5 follows in the footsteps of its predecessor and is generally a snappy performer. If we wanted to criticize something it would be the comparatively long startup time of 2.5 seconds, which is largely due to the long lens 'getting ready'. As you would expect in low light and especially at the long end the focus can slow down slightly, but under normal conditions its performance doesn't leave anything to complain about. (0.2 sec at wide angle and 0.4 sec at tele).

With nine megapixels the TZ5 is one of the lowest resolution cameras in this comparison. As a result the files it produces are comparatively small, which leads to pretty snappy shot-to-shot times of approximately 1.5 seconds. This however changes slightly when you use the flash; times go up to 2.9 sec and a fairly slow 4.9 when you activate red-eye reduction. Make sure you get the first flash shot right, otherwise your subjects might lose patience. On the plus side the TZ5 has one of the shortest shutter lags in this test and image browsing and magnifications is very responsive too.

Image quality is pretty much what you'd expect; optically the lens is excellent, exposure and white balance very good (though you will see highlight clipping occasionally) and the image stabilizer works very well. At a pixel level the images suffer from the usual small sensor problems; smearing of low contrast detail (due to noise reduction) - even at base ISO, with resolution dropping and noise encroaching rapidly as you head to ISO 400 and beyond. At normal print sizes (up to around 5x7 inches) however, the output looks very good indeed, with natural, neutral color and very little distortion. The TZ5 isn't the sharpest or highest resolution camera in the world, but as long as you don't try to push it too far (poster prints, cropping too drastically) the results it produces give little cause for complaint.

Viewed at a pixel level the TZ5's images aren't that pretty, with noise and noise reduction artifacts, but at normal viewing magnifications they look great, with natural color, good edge to edge sharpness and reliable focus, metering and white balance. Add to this the sheer versatility of the wide-tele zoom and it's easy to see why the TZ series has been so popular.

Summary

The TZ5 ticks so many boxes that you can forgive its rather unimpressive pixel-level image quality - and to be honest you won't even see it in normal prints. The standout feature is the excellent and truly versatile 28-280mm zoom lens, but on its own that wouldn't be enough to win our love; it's the whole package that works so well: the stylish, pocketable casing, the reliable automatic systems, the clean, logical user interface and the keen pricing. The TZ5 is also a camera that puts the fun back into photography, being small enough to carry anywhere but packing a powerful 10x zoom range covering a useful wide to tele range - that positively encourages creative experimentation.

Like all big zoom compacts the TZ5 is a lot happier in bright daylight than indoors in the dark, but as long as you stay near the short end of the lens it's perfectly happy snapping friends and family in social situations too (just turn off the red eye reduction if you don't want a long wait between shots).

  • We like: Versatile 10x zoom with 28mm wideangle, simple point and shoot operation, reliable exposure, white balance and focus, pretty fast, great screen, great results at normal print sizes

  • We don't like: Pixel level quality not great, occasional highlight clipping, focus slows down in low light, battery life could be better
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