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Photographic tests

White balance

In addition to the auto white balance mode the TZ1 offers only three presets (daylight, cloudy, and halogen). There is no preset for fluorescent lights, but there is a manual white balance mode that allows you to point the camera at a white or gray card and create a custom setting.

In use - especially when light levels are good - the TZ1 delivers consistently accurate color, even under 'difficult' conditions, such as mixed lighting indoors. When light levels drop (indoors at night) you'll get rather orange results under tungsten lighting unless you switch to manual WB (the incandescent preset doesn't work very well). One nice touch (also seen on the FZ series) is a white balance 'fine tune' function (for the presets or manual WB mode), which allows you to dial in more red or blue using a sliding scale.

Auto White Balance Auto White Balance Incandescent preset
Fluorescent light -
Auto white balance poor
Incandescent light - Auto white balance good,
Preset white balance average

Flash

No real complaints here. The range is acceptable (around 1 to 12 feet (0.3 to 3.7m) with auto ISO at the wide end), and color and exposure very reliable. The only thing you need to remember is that using the flash at the long end of the zoom limits the range to about 8 feet (2.4m). It's also worth mentioning that - as our example shows - the anti-red-eye system doesn't work, so you might as well turn it off for faster shooting and longer battery life.

Click here for flash test chart

Skin tone -
Excellent color, slight underexposure.

Macro

Like most Lumix models, the TZ1 has a dedicated macro mode, accessed via the main mode dial. The macro mode works throughout the zoom range, but - as is usual on this type of camera - only gets really close when used at the widest setting, when you can get close enough (5cm) to capture an area around 6cm across. At the long end of the zoom the closest focus distance stretches to 100cm, capturing an area around 99mm across - not bad at all for such a large zoom. At the wide end distortion in macro mode is low, as is corner softness, though our test charts show fairly strong chromatic aberration. At the long end distortion and corner softness are very low, but the overall sharpness is lower.

Movie mode

The TZ1 offers movie capture at sizes up to 840 x 480 pixels (widescreen VGA) at 30 frames per second and, unusually, you can use the optical zoom whilst filming.

The movies are recorded in QuickTime MJPEG (.mov) format, with fairly heavy compression; they work out at around 1.3 MB/sec, meaning you can fit around 11 minutes of 640x480 / 30fps footage onto a 1GB card.

Overall quality is pretty good, and the movies are very clean. The only problem is the usual slight hunting at the long end of the zoom. Of course the image stabilization helps a great deal, avoiding excessive jerkiness even when shooting at the very long end of the zoom hand-held.

Sample movie: 640 x 480 pixels @ 30 fps
File size: 12.18 MB, 9.0 secs, with zooming

Click on the thumbnail to view the movie
(caution: large file!)

Resolution

Resolution is on a par with the better cameras in this class. As you move towards the very highest frequencies there is a very small amount of moiré visible, but overall there's little to complain about here.

Crops

Click here for the full resolution test chart

Horizontal LPH

Absolute resolution 1300 LPH
Extinction resolution 1700 LPH

Vertical LPH

Absolute resolution 1400 LPH
Extinction resolution 1800 LPH *

*moiré visible

Distortion and other image quality issues

The TZ1 exhibits admirably low distortion at the wide end of the zoom - 0.4% barrel distortion (click here for test chart), thanks no doubt to Leica's involvement in the design of the lens. There is no measurable distortion at all at telephoto end (click here for test chart).

Overall impressions are that the TZ1 has been carefully tuned to produce images that have the requisite 'pop' straight out of the camera needed for the presumed 'point and shoot' audience for a model like this. This does mean that the default setting produces quite contrasty, saturated, sharpened images that can be troublesome to post process. That said, using the 'natural' setting gives you softer, less saturated shots that are far better suited to Photoshop work.

In good light, at ISO 80, the TZ1 is capable of stunning results, bright, colorful, sharp and contrasty, though if you look very closely you can see how hard the Venus III processor is working at even the lowest ISO setting, meaning fine, low contrast detail is often quite muddy. The focus is accurate, white balance spot-on and exposure - aside from the slight metering issues mentioned below - very reliable.

On the downside the combined effect of an inherently noisy sensor and heavy-handed noise reduction produces results in dull conditions that lack fine detail (even on bright days the shadow areas don't bear close inspection). The lens, whilst undoubtedly an admirable engineering feat - isn't as sharp or contrasty at the long (350mm equiv.) end of the zoom range as it is at shorter focal lengths. It also exhibits fairly strong fringing, again this is particularly noticeable at the long end.

Taken as a whole, however, the TZ1 produces results that - for prints at normal sizes (say 5x7 inches) - are far better than I expected from a folded optics 10x zoom, and if you stick to lower ISO settings, are certainly good enough for most typical users.

Highlight clipping

The TZ1's high default contrast - and limited dynamic range - means that on very bright days highlight clipping is always a danger when shooting high contrast scenes (a problem by no means unique to this camera). That said, the metering tends to be quite conservative in less contrasty scenes, usually underexposing slightly. This helps preserve highlight detail, though if you use post-processing to lighten the output you do risk revealing fairly strong noise in the shadow areas.

100% crop 35mm equiv., F2.8

Purple fringing

There are fairly large, though very diffused, purple fringes visible around high contrast edges, particularly at the long end of the zoom, and particularly at areas of overexposure and around specular highlights. It's not a major issue as the fringes are so soft, and they all but disappear if you use the less saturated 'natural' color mode.

100% crop 256mm equiv., F4.1

Metering issues

As noted above there is a slight tendency for the TZ1 to underexpose, but this didn't really worry me - it's mild, and it does help preserve highlight detail. More irksome was the inability of the pattern metering system to deal with scenes - particularly on overcast days - with 'too much' sky in them (specifically 'backlit' scenes), too many of which were seriously underexposed. Of course you can use AE compensation or AE locking, but it would be nice if the camera got it right itself!

100% crop 35mm equiv., F2.8

Noise

If you judge cameras purely on graphs and figures, the TZ1 would be a real winner - luminance noise in particular is very low indeed at higher ISO settings. Of course the truth is that this is all noise reduction, which starts strong and gets stronger - the TZ1 has lower measurable chroma noise at ISO 400 than it goes at ISO 200; a sure sign that the noise reduction system is really 'kicking in'. So then, we've got very clean results at ISO 80-400, but results where the effect of noise reduction has a gradually more destructive effect on fine detail - particularly low-contrast detail (hair, foliage etc). You can also see noise even in ISO 80 shots, particularly in the shadows.

The TZ1 has a special 'high sensitivity' mode that offers higher than ISO 800 sensitivity, but since it uses pixel binning the results are very, very low resolution. To see our studio scene shot at ISO 800 using this mode (ISO 1600 looks just the same) click here.

  ISO 80 ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400 ISO 800
Crops

Noise graph

Indicated ISO sensitivity is on the horizontal axis of this graph, standard deviation of luminosity is on the vertical axis.

As the graph shows, measurable noise is low (particularly luminance noise) right the way up to ISO 800, though there is a price to pay; the Venus III engine removes detail as it blurs away the noise.

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