The attractions of the 9-megapixel Panasonic Lumix
DMC-TZ5 are almost irresistible: it's compact,
yet packs a 10x zoom lens and boasts some very interesting
shooting features. It's available for around £190.
Extremely similar to its less-expensive sibling, the DMC-TZ4, the TZ5 offers higher 9-megapixel resolution -- compared with 8 megapixels for the TZ4 -- plus a 1,270x720-pixel resolution movie-capture mode and a larger, 76mm (3-inch) LCD. It's only slightly wider and heavier.
A dial lets you switch among camera and movie modes, as well as two slots for scene modes -- these have the same choices, but allow the camera to remember two of your last selections -- and Intelligent Auto and an odd Clipboard mode which captures low-resolution photos to internal memory for fast display.
One of our few complaints about the design of the TZ5 is the placement of the microphone on the top left of the camera. Given that Panasonic states "do not block the microphone with fingers" a whopping five times in the manual, the company must be aware that there's a problem with its location. Despite the many warnings, our fingers still tend to wander over there while recording movies.
The Q(uick) menu button brings up a subset of options, which are also available in the full menus. The full menu adds more shooting settings, including colour effects and AF assist as well as setup screens.
Several of the TZ5's options are quite useful. We especially like the minimum shutter speed setting; you can set it as slow as 1 second or as fast as 1/200, and though it doesn't prevent the camera from shooting when exposure drops below the threshold, it does blink a warning message. Intelligent ISO lets you set a maximum for the auto of ISO 400, ISO 800 or ISO 1,600.
The various AF area-mode selections are pretty practical as well, though more for limiting the range of subjects the AF system chooses to focus on than for speed. For instance, the 9-area AF will frequently choose incorrect subjects, where the 3-area AF, which limits the focus areas to the middle row of the frame, will probably choose correctly more often -- most people simply point at their subject, which puts it in the middle of the frame.
On one hand, the TZ5's face detection seems more robust and faster than other implementations we've seen. On the other, it still doesn't seem to be more efficient or easier than using centre-spot focusing and recomposing.
Performance turns out to be this camera's Achilles' heel. By the numbers, it's slow -- nothing egregious, but overall more sluggish than its competitors and about the same as the TZ3. It took about 2.4 seconds for the TZ5 to wake up and shoot. Time to focus and snap under optimal conditions ran about 0.7 seconds, while that ran 1 second in lower-contrast circumstances. It required 2.1 seconds to shoot 2 sequential shots, which bumped to 2.5 seconds with the flash enabled.
The TZ5 has two burst shooting modes, a standard and Free, which adjusts white balance and exposure between shots. The standard, faster mode is fixed to a 3-shot maximum at highest quality and tested out at 2fps. We didn't test Free, which can shoot until the card fills, because it's slow enough that the buffer never becomes the bottleneck. The battery is rated at about 300 photos, a reasonable figure for its class.
The TZ5's large LCD remains viewable in bright sunlight and Panasonic has a specific setting that improves viewability when holding the camera off-angle, above your head. However, in addition to modest test performance, we frequently found the TZ5's autofocus behaviour slowing us down.
With point-and-shoot models, we try to prefocus as frequently as possible since that speeds up shooting. For whatever reason, either a twitchy forefinger or odd shutter behavior, the TZ5 often insisted on refocusing just before shooting even after we'd prefocused. It wasn't just a minor tweak -- occasionally, it would hunt the entire focus range again. Every now and then it shot without locking focus at all.
In addition, the TZ5 delivers very nice movies -- provided you don't put your fingers over the microphone -- in both the wide-aspect 1,280x720 pixels and VGA modes. Connecting directly to an HDTV to view the 16:9 recordings requires an optional, proprietary component video cable. Plus, unlike many competitors, it can zoom while recording over its entire range.
records QuickTime movies with a 2GB maximum on clip size;
clips run about 11 minutes per gigabyte for the HD clips and 28 minutes
per gigabyte for VGA. Panasonic recommends a 10MB/sec or faster SD
card for movie capture.
Overall, despite excessive image noise on certain types of shots, the TZ5 produces very pleasing photos with which most shooters will be happy. Even in bright, contrasty light exposures look good, colours appear saturated and relatively accurate and when it focuses correctly, the TZ5 produces sharp photos.
You may be better off saving £50 and sticking with the cheaper TZ4. Still, as far as truly compact superzooms go, these two are pretty much your only options and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 acquits itself well.
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday