Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 £299
12th Mar 2010 | 16:40
Will the upgrade of the popular TZ6 live up to Panasonic's hype?
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8: Overview
Pitched at family snappers and travellers looking for a lot of power in a compact body, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 is the follow-up to the popular DMC-TZ6.
The svelte Lumix DMC-TZ8 offers a 12.1 megapixel sensor with a proper 12x optical zoom, along with the clever widgets we've come to expect from Panasonic.
As well as the latest iteration of Panasonic's image stabilisation technology, the Lumix DMC-TZ8 has intelligent exposure and AF modes, along with a flexible 25-300mm lens and HD movie mode.
At the same time, the Lumix DMC-TZ8 enables you to tweak exposure via a PASM dial on the top, but as we'll see later, this is not always as straightforward as it sounds.
Now priced at around £250, the Lumix DMC-TZ8 sits at the higher end of the compact range, and is going up against superzoom compacts such as the Canon SX20 IS (£300), the stylish Sony DSC-TX1 and the Nikon Coolpix S8000 – the latter also offering a quality wide-angle lens and 720p HD movie mode.
It's a fiercely fought-over end of the market, so the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 will need to offer something special to stand out from the herd.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8: Features
To judge by all the stickers festooning our review sample, Panasonic is making the biggest noise about the 25mm wide angle lens, impressive zoom reach and intelligent widgets. Let's begin with build quality and lens.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 certainly feels and looks good. While not as chic as the Sony DSC-TX1, or as SLR-a-like as the Canon SX20 IS, it's a nice looking camera that weighs a mere 214g (with battery). The lens recesses smartly into the body and the dials and buttons are generally well laid out.
But that's not to say the ergonomics are perfect. It's great to be able to adjust aperture via the top PASM (Program, Aperture, Shutter Speed, Manual) dial on a camera at this price point, so why oh why is widening and narrowing the aperture so needlessly fiddly?
EXPOSURE CONTROL:You select aperture or shutter speed via the top dial, but then adjust it via this extra Exposure button – a clunky solution
Once you've selected A mode on the top dial, you then have to press a separate Exposure button on the back to let you adjust the aperture via the arrows on the rear dial. Forget to press Exposure and you'll end up changing flash settings by mistake! This convoluted process will soon frustrate SLR owners, for example, who are using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 as a back-up compact.
The dial/button/arrow sequence is also needed to adjust shutter speed (and aperture/shutter speed in Manual mode), and it really slows you down when you need to adjust exposure modes on the fly. A dedicated dial for PASM, as found on higher-end cameras, is badly needed, and it wouldn't spoil the layout.
Fortunately, the lens soon has us back on board. While 25mm is not the widest angle you can get on a compact at this price, it's still a great effort, and the quality of the Leica-branded lens is really up there.
WIDE BOY:The 25mm wide angle lens is a godsend for holidaymakers trying to capture as much of an impressive scene as possible (Click here for high-res version)
Sure, you'd expect, and get, distortion at this price point, but it's well controlled, and generally, the lens is impressively sharp and unflappable.
If you need to squeeze even more into the scene, you can also choose 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. Lens performance is also good at the telephoto end, and this, combined with the reasonably wide maximum aperture, makes it easy to get pleasing background blur on portraits, for instance.
WIDESCREEN:The 16:9 widescreen mode is also handy for capturing a big scene, and you can enjoy it later on your widescreen TV (Click here for high-res version)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8: Image performance
Given our gripes about the fiddly process of changing exposure mode settings, how does the much-vaunted Intelligent Auto (iA) mode perform? After all, this is the mode that the less experienced photographers who'll tend to buy this camera are likely to stick with. The answer is, pretty well.
POINT AND SHOOT: 'Sonic Speed AF' is overselling it, but there's no doubt the AF features on this camera are fast and reliable (Click here for high-res version)
AF tracking is particularly effective - it just works – and the intelligent exposure modes generally do a good job, as our test shots reveal (note there is no manual focus option).
SENSE OF EXPOSURE:Select iA (Intelligent Auto) on the mode dial for a more consistent and sensitive auto exposure than you normally get on compacts at this price (Click here for high-res version)
We did notice the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 has a tendency to over expose and blow out highlights on a bright sunny day, but this can easily be rectified by adjusting exposure compensation (rather hidden away on the rear mode dial, if you're wondering where it is).
As for the intelligent ISO control, we couldn't see any real benefit – use auto ISO, or adjust it yourself for the most reliable results. Noise is acceptable to 800, but we wouldn't go this high that often, unless flash isn't an option. You do lose detail and edge sharpness.
ISO PERFORMANCE:At ISO 800, as here, you lose detail, but it's not too bad – and better a noisy shot than no shot at all when you can't use flash (Click here for high-res version)
While the camera has a 12.1 megapixel sensor, it's still a small sensor, and you will get bad speckling and colour smearing over 800. That said, it's certainly no worse than similarly priced competitors.
BENCHES ANONYMOUS:The metering generally copes well with more challenging lighting conditions though there is a tendency to blow out highlights, as with some of the benches here (Click here for high-res version)
The pop-up flash is a bit weedy, with limited options. As for the daftly named POWER O.I.S anti-shake technology, it works well, but is most effective when used with a firm grip when zooming right out – this camera is disarmingly light.
But this is not a major issue, and it's great that the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 gives you the advantages of a relatively long zoom lens without it overpowering the camera and making it feel awkward and bulky.
Despite our gripes about the PASM adjustment, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 is easy to live with. The 2.7-inch rear LCD is bright and colourful, and the menus are mercifully uncluttered and easy to read.
SHARP LCD:The 2.7-inch LCD is easy to read, with clear and logical menus
Shooting 720p HD movies is also very easy – just select movie mode on the top dial and press the shutter release – and the movie quality is good, as our test footage shows.
Exposure and colours are accurate and there's minimal distortion during movement.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8: Verdict
If you're looking for a neat compact with reliable auto exposure and AF performance, a quality lens and an easy-to-use HD movie mode, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 is a good choice, and reasonable value at £250.
The Leica 25-300mm lens is a beauty, delivering good wide angle performance.
The intelligent exposure and AF widgets make it very hard to take a bad picture with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 – it's so easy to use.
The metering system is also reliable, and noise is acceptable up to ISO 800.
The 720p HD movies are easy to record, and of a high standard.
Power compact it might be but it's still a compact – another £100 or so will get you a vastly more flexible D-SLR like the Canon EOS 1000D.
Adjusting aperture and shutter speed is needlessly fiddly.
Some intelligent features seem to make little difference in practice.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 is a very likeable and stylish compact that bends over backwards to help you get good shots. The lens is a real winner. It's also very easy to record high quality HD movies. SLR users seeking a back-up compact might find its restrictions and usability quirks frustrating, though.
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