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Conclusion - Pros

  • Unique compact with 10x image stabilized zoom
  • Good resolution, surprisingly sharp folded optics lens
  • Bright, breezy punchy results out of camera
  • High quality construction
  • Highly versatile 35-350mm zoom range
  • Good shot-to-shot speed
  • Reliable white balance with fine tuning
  • Generally feels fast and responsive (though see below)
  • High speed (and accurate) focus; near class-leading performance
  • Big, bright, high resolution screen
  • Decent movie mode with 848 x 480 pixel 30fps widescreen option
  • Zooming during movie clips
  • Image stabilization works well
  • Histogram in record and playback mode, full on-screen exposure information
  • Excellent on-screen menus and control system
  • Easy - and fun - to use

Conclusion - Cons

  • Noise - and heavy noise reduction - make ISO 200+ usable only for small prints
  • Noise visible in shadow areas even at ISO 80
  • No manual control of shutter speed or aperture
  • Some metering issues, particularly in backlit scenes
  • Default contrast and saturation quite high
  • Occasional exposure problems and blown highlights when shooting in very bright light
  • Longer than average shutter lag - up to 0.3 seconds.

Overall conclusion

Putting aside all talk of noise reduction and other image quality metrics I should firstly say that I really liked the DMC-TZ1; it offers a unique twist on the popular 'super zoom' concept, and having such a huge focal range in an (almost) pocketable package is an appealing proposition. The photographic versatility that comes from being able to shoot everything from wide landscapes to tightly cropped telephoto shots - fairly free of the risk of camera shake, thanks to Panasonic's excellent OIS system - in a camera you can carry everywhere, cannot be underestimated.

The TZ1 is one of those cameras that positively encourages you to take pictures, to experiment, to try different framing and viewpoints, and the lightning-quick focus and simple operation make it a surprisingly nimble operator too. It is all the more disappointing then, that the overall package is let down by it's sensor. By only using the middle bit of the 6.3MP CCD in the TZ1, the lens is kept small, and the camera more compact, but you end up with a very small 5MP sensor indeed, and that has some serious ramifications. Heavy noise and even heavier noise reduction mean I personally wouldn't risk using it at anything over ISO 100, and even then you're losing some low contrast detail to NR. You can see noise it you look closely at even ISO 80, though this is usually masked by the fairly high contrast and is unlikely to mar standard sized prints.

Once again we've got an otherwise superb Panasonic camera with an excellent lens let down by a noisy sensor, which can only be disguised, not solved, by heavy-handed noise reduction. To be fair the output at lower ISO settings, combined with the 3 stop or so advantage you get from the OIS system makes the TZ1 a perfectly usable tool (not that this will help with moving subjects of course), but ultimately this camera is crying out for a better sensor, something no amount of Venus III smearing can disguise.

The shutter lag (which strangely is something Panasonic claims to be 'class leading' in its marketing materials) wasn't a massive issue for me personally, because I don't shoot many things that move that quickly, and over the years I've learnt to work around shutter lag, but if you're thinking of capturing 'bird in flight' type shots it may well be an issue for you. Either way its a disappointing blot on an otherwise excellent copybook, performance-wise. The metering issues were found only in fairly specific situations, mostly backlit scenes, but these types of scenes shouldn't be a problem for a camera with pattern metering.

The TZ1 is, as the marketing suggests, the perfect travel companion, or at least it would be if the image quality matched the fantastic engineering. To see a camera in 2006 that has visible noise at its lowest ISO setting is surprising, to see such obvious noise reduction at ISO 80 and 100 is something it's hard to forgive. If size really matters to you, and you shoot mostly outdoors in good light, and you don't print any larger than 5x7 inches, the TZ1 is a camera that can really put the fun back in photography, and I certainly wouldn't suggest it isn't worth buying.

That I found the TZ1 so enjoyable to use just compounds the disappointment I feel about the noise and noise reduction issues. If you care about image quality and nothing else you'll want to look very closely at the output before handing over your hard-earned cash. If, on the other hand, you're looking for a fun walkaround camera that offers a unique combination of features in a compact body (and can produce some pretty sharp output at lower ISOs), the TZ1 is certainly worth consideration.

Detail Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 8.5
Ergonomics & handling 8.0
Features 7.0
Image quality 7.0
Optics 7.5
Performance (speed) 7.5
Value 8.0

Recommended (with reservations)

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Panasonic TZ1 Review Samples

30 images • Posted 31st July 2006 • View album
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