Panasonic has settled into a habit of releasing two versions of its superzoom compact, one with high-end movie functions and one which concentrates more on everyday shooting. We love the movie-orientated TZ10, but the TZ8 is a whopping £50 cheaper at around £200, and is it really that far behind? Let's take a look.
First, the key differences between the two. The TZ10 comes with built-in GPS, whereas the TZ8 doesn't. GPS is cool when it works -- you can 'geotag' your pics so they'll always be encoded with the location they were shot -- but you can only really rely on it outdoors. How much you want it is up to you, but only real Flickr enthusiasts will probably find it anything more than a fun gimmick to show off with.
The TZ10 comes with a choice of recording movies in AVCHD Lite or regular Motion JPEG formats, whereas the TZ8 only shoots Motion JPEG. The key point here is that both cameras can shoot standard 1,280x720-pixel HD movies, and many users will opt for the Motion JPEG format anyway. AVCHD Lite is more efficient, but it comes with a complex file structure and demands compatible software and hardware. The Motion JPEG format is universal, and produces single files you can copy and launch with a double-click on your computer as easily as you open a photo.
Panasonic's over a barrel with this one. It simply had to give the TZ8 an HD movie mode, given that all its rivals now have this too, so the only video difference left between this camera and the TZ10 is a choice of movie formats. Well, almost: the TZ10 records stereo sound, while the TZ8 is mono.
Anything else? The TZ10 has a 76mm (3-inch), 460,800-pixel LCD screen, while the TZ8's is slightly smaller at 69mm (2.7-inches) and has just 230,400 pixels. The TZ10 ships with a slightly better 'HD' version of the bundled PhotofunStudio software, but it's hard to get too worked up about these differences, given the two cameras are otherwise identical.
Externally, the only differences are that the TZ8 is missing the GPS 'bump' on the top plate, the stereo mics alongside it and the movie button on the back (it replaces it with an 'E.Zoom' button).
This makes the TZ10 sound like a faintly disappointing camera, by comparison, but it really isn't. The point is that the TZ8 is significantly cheaper and very nearly as good. The build and finish are excellent, and the controls are simple but brilliantly designed. The new aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual modes extend its appeal into whole new semi-pro markets, too.
There are some issues. We won't repeat the comments we made about Panasonic's obscure digital zoom modes in the TZ10 review, but suffice to say when you've made a camera this good, adding this kind of techno-babble merely devalues it.
The test chart shots did also show a drop in definition on the right-hand side, just like the TZ10, though in everyday photography at normal shooting distances, this was harder to spot.
The other minor issue we have is the sheer number of 'intelligent' functions and options built into this camera. If you want to shoot in low light without a flash, do you increase the automatic ISO limit to 1,600 or switch on the 'Intelligent ISO' function? (Neither, incidentally, could persuade our TZ8 to go beyond ISO 400 in very dim indoor lighting, despite the fact that it clearly needed to.)
And will the average user really understand the difference between auto exposure, Intelligent Exposure and Intelligent Auto? It's as though there are ten different departments at Panasonic endlessly bickering about who's got the most intelligent idea, but no one at the top picks a winner.
In the end, though, the TZ8 is just too good for any of this to matter very much. It's a superbly designed camera which offers immense versatility, high-end photographic controls and overall image quality that's not just exceptional for a superzoom, but for any kind of compact digital camera at all. It's up to you to decide whether gadget lust for the TZ10's extra features wins out over the TZ8's lower price tag.
Edited by Nick Hide