Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ30 £349.99
17th Apr 2012 | 15:40
A luxury 14MP travel compact with a 20x Leica lens and GPS
Panasonic's flagship TZ camera series has always been about squeezing a big zoom into a small body. And the Panasonic TZ30 pushes the boat out.
The Panasonic Lumix TZ30 follows suit, delivering a 20x optical zoom. This gives a 35mm equivalent focal range of 24-480mm, a 25 per cent increase at the telephoto end.
Not that you can tell from the camera's comparatively slim proportions, of 104.9 x 58.9 x 28.2mm.
The substantial lens only barrels in and out of the body once the camera's switched on and off, thanks to some fancy folded optics. The rest of the time, you're left with a sleek-looking metal shell, the design of which has remained fairly consistent since the launch of the TZ-1 in 2006.
Over the years, each update to the TZ superzoom has delivered incremental improvements to the big zoom formula. However, the Panasonic TZ20 was a significant upgrade over the TZ10, introducing an exhaustive feature set that included touchscreen controls, 1080i recording and integrated GPS.
In terms of specifications, the Panasonic Lumix TZ30 is less of an upgrade over its predecessor. It shares many of the same features as the TZ20, including the aforementioned touchscreen LCD display, Full HD video capture and GPS.
Naturally, Panasonic has fine-tuned many of these functions for the new Lumix. HD video can be shot in 1080p at 50 frames per second rather than the TZ20's 1080 interlaced. The GPS has been updated to include an on-board map, too, and the camera now features a 3D shooting mode.
The sensor size remains unchanged at 1/2.33-inch, as does the resolution of 14 megapixels.
However, the new MOS sensor has been engineered to deliver an improved signal-to-noise ratio, promising cleaner images at all ISOs.
The Panasonic Lumix TZ30's standard sensitivity range is increased by one full stop, peaking at ISO 3200 compared to the TZ20's ISO 1600.
Last of the Panasonic Lumix TZ30's big additions is the overhauled autofocus system, borrowed from the Lumix G series of compact system cameras (CSCs) such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX1.
Impressions during the test were good: it made light, precise work throughout the focal length range. To compensate for camera shake with the monster zoom, the image stabilisation system has been upgraded, too.
But these upgrades don't come for free. Priced at £350 in the UK or $350 in the US - where it's called the Panasonic Lumix ZS20 - the Panasonic Lumix TZ30 is more expensive than it's older brother. It sits in the same price bracket as the Samsung EX1 (TL500), Nikon Coolpix S1200pj and even the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT4.
Build quality and handling
As well as sharing similar specs, the Panasonic Lumix TZ30 is a dead ringer for its predecessor. It's an attractive, solid camera that's fractionally smaller than the TZ20.
Build quality is exemplary. With its far-ranging zoom and GPS, the Panasonic TZ30 is a camera designed with the needs of travel photographers in mind - and it feels like a compact that will shrug off the hustle and bumps of travelling, too.
Like the Panasonic TZ20, a 3-inch touchscreen gives you access to the camera's controls during shooting and playback.
Panasonic clearly understands that touchscreens aren't for everyone, and the camera comes with the familiar spread of conventional switches and buttons as well.
The controls on the rear of the camera are identical to the TZ20's, save for a slightly redesigned four-way control pad and an Exposure button that now gives direct access to the GPS map during playback, in addition to enabling exposure adjustments while shooting.
In terms of responsiveness, the touchscreen doesn't quite cut it. Although you can shift the focus point, fire the shutter and adjust the zoom, it frequently requires firm pressure or more than one tap to do so.
During image review, the Panasonic Lumix TZ30's touchscreen feels more efficient, allowing you to swipe through your photo collection swiftly.
In fact, the camera's pretty swift all round. We clocked the start-up times at around two seconds - not bad when you consider the size of the zoom that needs to extend from the casing.
Zooming from the widest focal length to the longest took around three seconds, an improvement over the TZ20's performance.
The speed of autofocus acquisition is of particular note. It really impresses at the widest 24mm setting, although lock-on speed does slow as you hit the telephoto extremes of the zoom. It's still brisk when compared to other superzooms, though.
In terms of continuous shooting, the 5fps burst mode is more useful than the 10fps mode, since it enables continuous focusing between frames. Go to 10fps or higher, and the focus is fixed on the first frame.
However, even with continuous focus, the camera struggled to keep up with moderate action during our test. Using the 5fps mode, we averaged between 15 and 18 JPEGs before shooting speed stuttered, too, although the memory card's speed will play a factor here.
Pictures produced by the Panasonic Lumix TZ30 have a bright, dynamic look. Contrast levels are decent and saturation is strong, without detail being sacrificed for vividness.
Where detail is lost, however, it's invariably down to noise and the smudging effects of noise reduction. Luminance noise is visible throughout the ISO range. Viewing images at actual size (or 100%), some mottling is noticeable in blue skies shot at ISO 100.
Edges also start to look choppy from ISO 400, and at ISO 800, artefacts and colour noise become obvious.
In other words, the Panasonic Lumix TZ30 puts in a typical performance for a 1/2.33-inch sensor that boasts a resolution of 14 million pixels.
Despite there being some slight purple fringing around high-contrast subjects such as telegraph poles and trees against bright skies, the zoom delivered acceptable sharpness through the range.
There's some drop-off towards the edges, and there's always the nagging feeling that the image processing is masking some of the potential of the Leica lens.
The metering system produces generally well balanced exposures. It tended to bias readings towards mid-tone and shadow detail during the course of our test, meaning that delicate details in bright skies, pale flower petals and other highlights were sometimes lost to overexposure.
The Panasonic Lumix TZ30's HD video recording is more than capable. A one-touch movie button enables you to start shooting instantly, and full-time zoom and autofocus are available while you record.
The continuous autofocus can take a while to catch up, particularly at full zoom, but this function can be switched off.
Video shot in low light is a little noisy, and the stereo mics mounted just above the lens pick up the grind of the zoom motors in quiet situations (our test camera was particularly creaky as it approached the tele end).
The optical image stabilisation system is active when filming, though, which certainly helps when using the zoom at its maximum extension. Ultimately, the Panasonic Lumix TZ30 is an excellent compact camera for HD capture.
As part of our image quality testing for the Panasonic DMC TZ-30, we've shot our resolution chart.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Panasonic TZ-30 is capable of resolving up to around 20 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them please click here to read the full article.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 100, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 400, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 800, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 1600, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 3200, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
Noise and dynamic range
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
JPEG signal to noise ratio
JPEG images from the Panasonic TZ-30 have a lower signal to noise ratio than the Fujifilm F600 EXR and Olympus SP-620 UZ at the lower end of the sensitivity scale. At the top end of the sensitivity scale the TZ-30 shows good noise performance for low light conditions producing similar results to the Samsung WB750.
This chart indicates that the Panasonic TZ-30 is capable of capturing a good tonal gradation in the shadows and highlights across the sensitivity range, out-performing all but the Samsung WB750.
The Panasonic Lumix TZ30 is a fun camera to use. The GPS map feature is entertaining and works reasonably quickly. Pressing the DISP button while on the map screen enables you to view a stream of thumbnails that have been tagged with a certain location's data.
The Panasonic Lumix TZ30's Creative Control exposure mode features 10 preset effects, including High Key, Retro and Miniature, as shown here. Creative Retouch can be used to apply six similar treatments to previously captured images.
The success of any superzoom rests in the strength of the lens. The versatility of the 24-480mm equivalent on offer here is impressive. In macro mode, it can even get you within 3cm of a subject at the wide setting.
The Quick Menu button enables you to change key camera settings quickly on the LCD using the four-way pad, without having to dive into the main menu. This can help you react faster to picture opportunities.
The autofocus worked exceptionally well outdoors in good light during our test. When the camera was held at arm's length above the crowds at this spot, the AF system reacted quickly and enabled us to capture action that we couldn't see. There are four main AF modes on offer: Spot, 1-Area, 23-Area and Face Detection.
The Panasonic Lumix TZ30 features a dedicated 3D mode. This is more suited to static subjects such as this scene, where the camera takes a series of frames once you press the shutter release, and combines the images that will produce the most pronounced effect.
The Panasonic Lumix TZ30 at 4.3mm (24mm equivalent)
The Panasonic Lumix TZ30 at 86mm (480mm equivalent)
Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
Overall, the Panasonic Lumix TZ30 leaves a good impression. The extensive zoom, excellent optical image stabilisation and spritely autofocus mean it's a responsive and easy to use camera.
The touchscreen won't be to everyone's taste, though, and the fact that you have to flick a small switch to shift from playback to record mode, rather than simply dabbing the shutter release, means that there can be a frustrating lag between reviewing shots and taking them.
The Panasonic Lumix TZ30 offers a flexible zoom range and extensive range of creative options in a compact body.
When it comes to dealing with noise, the Panasonic Lumix TZ30 is still left a little wanting. Weak battery life and lack of raw capture are disappointing, too.
The Panasonic Lumix TZ30 is quite an expensive camera, although when you take into account the raft of functions it starts to appear good value.
Features are one thing, though - image quality is quite another. Although the Panasonic Lumix TZ30 is capable of capturing good pictures, we don't feel the camera's images match the high levels of performance it delivers elsewhere.
That said, it's a great all-rounder that gives you a versatile optical zoom, 1080p HD video capture and GPS in a robust body. Few compacts include such an efficient autofocus system, too. While it's a step up from the TZ20 in terms of performance and picture quality, it's possibly not a significant enough one to rush into upgrading.