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Photographic tests

White balance

In addition to the Auto White Balance mode the TZ5 offers only four presets (daylight, cloudy, shade 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.

Outdoors the TZ5 consistently yields good results in Auto White Balance mode. Indoors, under artificial light the story is a slightly different one. Using Auto WB will typically result in fairly strong color casts and the presets aren't much better. Under artificial light and in difficult mixed light situations your best bet is to use the custom setting. For perfectionists there is also a 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. The function is a bit hidden though, you have press the exposure compensation button three times in order to access it.

Auto White Balance Auto White Balance Incandescent preset (Halogen)
Fluorescent light -
Auto white balance poor
Incandescent light - Auto white balance average,
Preset white balance poor (there is no 'tungsten' setting)

Flash

On the TZ5 Panasonic has slightly increased the flash range which brings it to a very useful 5.3m (Wide/ISO Auto) at the wide end and to 3.6m at the tele end of the lens. Color and exposure are very reliable. There are several flash modes to chose from including red eye reduction and slow synch. Just be careful not to shade the flash with your fingers when you are firing it. One side of the camera front is completely occupied by the rather voluminous lens which is why the flash has been located quite inconveniently right next to the hand grip.

Skin tone - Color and exposure are both excellent. Flash chart - Slightly underexposed, neutral colors

Movie

The TZ5 offers movie capture in various qualities up to HD resolution (1280 x 720 pixels, 16:9 format) at 30 frames per second. You can use the optical zoom whilst recording although zoom action is pretty slow and the focus is struggling to keep up with the zoom which can result in out of focus footage, for a few moments at least, until the focus manages to catch up.

The movies are recorded in QuickTime MJPEG (.mov) format and at the highest quality settings work out at a whopping 5.1 MB/sec. The maximum length of a movie recording is 15min if you don't run out of space on your memory card before that. You'll fit around 10 minutes of footage onto a 4GB card.

After the Canon TX1 the TZ5 is only the second camera with HD video recording capabilities that we have reviewed. The increased resolution makes for a much more pleasant viewing experience, especially when watching a video at full screen size. Apart from the sheer size of the video image the overall quality is pretty good. Movies are clean with only a few visible compression artifacts. On the downside when filming in HD quality you have to deal with significantly larger file sizes. So get a couple of large SD cards if you plan on shooting many HD videos.

The image stabilization proves to be very useful in movie mode too, smoothing your camera turns at the long end of the zoom.

As so often the sound quality cannot match the video image. If it's windy while you capture a video this will have quite a negative impact on your sound. You can also hear noise from the optical zoom. If you shoot video for 'serious' use you should probably think about recording sound separately.

Sample movie: 1280 x 720 pixels @ 30 fps
File size: 15.8MB, 5.00 secs

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

Macro

The minimum focus distance in the TZ5's macro mode is 5cm at wide angle and 100cm at the tele end of the zoom lens. This is far less impressive than some of the competition's models in the super zoom bracket which allow you to focus as close as 1cm in some cases. Using macro at the wide end of the lens you can capture an area of 63x47mm, at the tele end this area increases to an even less impressive 127x95mm.

In both cases (wide and tele macro) distortion and corner softness - though present - are fairly low for a camera in this class.

Optical image stabilization

The MEGA O.I.S image Stabilization system used on the TZ5 is identical to the predecessor's. There are two modes: Mode 1 (IS on all the time) and Mode 2 (IS is activated at the moment the exposure is made). Mode 1 makes framing easier - the IS system steadies the preview image. Mode 2, which minimizes the amount of movement needed by waiting until the actual moment you press the shutter, is in practice marginally more effective.

Obviously the effectiveness of the system will to a certain degree depend on the individual photographer's 'shakiness' but we can confidently say that Panasonic's Mega O.I.S. does a good job. Typically Mega O.I.S. will give you a 2 to 3 stop advantage. Even at shutter speeds as slow as 5 stops under the recommended shutter speeds you should get at least one usable frame if you take a few safety shots.

Unfortunately the TZ5 does not offer manual control over shutter speeds which means we cannot run our standardized IS systems test. We have however taken a large number of shots both with and without the system. The two sample shots shown below are pretty representative. Without IS and at the tele end of the zoom your chances of getting a usable shot at a shutter speed as slow as 1/30th sec would normally be pretty slim. However, activated Image Stabilization and a few safety shots will almost certainly get you a usable result.

1/30th sec, 280mm equiv., IS off, 100% crop 1/30th sec, 280mm equiv., IS mode 1, 100% crop

Resolution

The Leica designed lens forms a successful symbiosis with the Panasonic electronic components. The TZ5 has two millions effective pixels more than its predecessor and as expected there is a measurable increase in resolution over the TZ3. More importantly the results are very clean. There is some evidence of purple fringing to be found on our test shots but there is little sign of moiré or sharpening artifacts.

Crops

Click here for the full resolution test chart

Horizontal LPH

Absolute resolution 1800 LPH
Extinction resolution 2200 LPH

Vertical LPH

Absolute resolution 1800 LPH
Extinction resolution 2175 LPH

Distortion and other image quality issues

Like its predecessors the TZ5 exhibits admirably low distortion at the wide end of the zoom given the zoom range on offer - 0.4% barrel distortion (click here for test chart) is a result that many compact cameras with less wide lenses are not able to match. You don't need to worry about distortion at the tele end of the lens either, it is just about measurable at 0.1% (click here for test chart).

The TZ5's output looks quite 'unprocessed', a little soft with neutral colors which is not a bad thing at all because it leaves you all the options. If you want more punchy colors you can set the color mode to 'vivid' or apply some extra saturation in post processing. If you want your images to be a little sharper apply some sharpening. It' all up to you.

Compared to the TZ3 Panasonic has made some subtle changes to the processing. The noise reduction is less aggressive now, retaining a little more detail at all ISO settings (although in absolute terms NR is still quite heavy-handed). On the downside there is now visibly more noise in the images. And that's our main point of criticism for the TZ5. You find noise AND NR artifacts in the images even at the lowest sensitivity levels and obviously it only gets worse at higher ISOs. The TZ5 features a brilliant lens (especially when considering its versatile zoom range) but the electronics behind it frankly cannot keep up with the optics.

Luckily there aren't any further substantial issues to report. The TZ5 has a tendency to clip highlights (see below) but it's no worse than on any other compact camera. On our test charts the camera produced some visible purple and color fringing but in the real world this is hardly of any relevance. In our 400+ real life samples we could hardly find any evidence of fringing.

In conclusion the TZ5 has an excellent lens that's being slightly let down by the sensor and image processing. If you're not planning to make large prints from your TZ5 images though you'll still be happy with the results (as long as you stick to low ISOs).

Noise and NR at low ISO settings

Shooting in anything less than perfect light brings out some of the nastier characteristics of the tiny sensors used in compact cameras and the TZ5 is no exception. There is visible shadow noise even at base ISO. The noise reduction tries to battle this by blurring the noise. Unfortunately this also blurs a large amount of fine detail (such as foliage or hair). This is common to most small sensor cameras but the TZ5 is certainly a comparatively bad offender in this respect.

100% crop 141mm (equivalent), F3.3, ISO 100

Highlight clipping

Like most small sensor digital cameras the TZ5 is prone to highlight clipping. This is due to the sensor's lack of dynamic range, combined with a rather steep tone curve. The TZ5 is not any worse than most other models though. All you can do to counteract this is apply some negative exposure compensation. I found myself quite often underexposing by 1/3rd or 2/3rd of a stop and the external exposure compensation button on the TZ5 certainly comes in quite handy (you can also bracket your shots to be on the safe side).

100% crop 38mm (equivalent), F3.5
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