Panasonic TZ40 £329.99
4th Apr 2013 | 11:50
Travel compact camera gets an upgrade - but how does it fare?
Panasonic has replaced its flagship travel compact camera, the Panasonic TZ30 (known as the Panasonic ZS20 in the US) with the Panasonic TZ40 - called the Panasonic ZS30 in the US.
The new Lumix TZ40 shares a few of the same specifications as its predecessor, most notably the same 20x Leica optical zoom lens. This covers a 35mm equivalent focal length of 24-480mm.
It has a new 18.1 million pixel high sensitivity MOS sensor and a new Venus processing engine that has been designed specifically with improving low-light images in mind. Power Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) is also said to have been improved, working to correct accidental movement around five axes to enable sharper images in low light and at telephoto focal lengths.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ40 also has built-in Wi-Fi, and interestingly also comes with a Near Field Communications (NFC) chip. This enables connections between other NFC devices - such as smartphones or tablets - merely by touching them together, rather than having to follow a series of steps, searching for the correct network and so on.
Although NFC is a growing technology, it's yet to be taken up by Apple, and as such you won't find it in iPhones and iPads. The Samsung Galaxy S4 and other big selling smartphones, however, do have this feature. It's widely rumoured that the iPhone 5S will include it as well.
Whether you have an NFC device or not, the camera can be paired with a smartphone to act as a remote device and to share images remotely. Like the Panasonic TZ30, the Panasonic TZ40 also has GPS technology built in, with Panasonic also adding GLONASS, the Russian equivalent, for improved coverage.
As with the Panasonic TZ30, the Panasonic TZ40 has a resistive touchscreen, but its resolution has been boosted to 920,000 dots, from the previous 460,000 dots. The new screen is also "multi-touch" sensitive, meaning you can use gestures, such as pinch to zoom to magnify images and swiping to browse through shots in playback mode.
The Panasonic TZ40 is designed to be an advanced camera, and as such it has a full range of fully manual and semi-automatic modes. It doesn't have the capability to record in raw format, though.
Keen to appeal to as wide a range of photographers as possible, Panasonic has also included a number of creative functions, including digital art filters, which are now available - for the first time - in conjunction with panoramic images.
As you'd expect, fully automatic and scene modes are also available.
The Panasonic TZ40/Panasonic ZS30 is priced at £329/US$399/AU$499. With its long focal length and range of advanced functions, it goes head to head with the likes of the Sony Cybershot HX30V, Samsung WB850F and Canon PowerShot SX260 HS.
At the same time as the Panasonic TZ40 launched, the company also announced the Panasonic TZ35. This is basically a pared down version of the Panasonic TZ40, featuring the optical zoom but no touchscreen or GPS, and with a lower resolution (16.1 million pixel) sensor.
Build quality and handling
There's actually very little to distinguish the body of the Panasonic TZ40 from its predecessor, the Panasonic TZ30, nor indeed between it and the Panasonic TZ35 - the camera which sits just below it in the Lumix lineup.
It's somewhat astonishing that Panasonic has managed to cram a 20x optical zoom optic into the slim body of the Panasonic TZ40, which is pocket sized, making it the ideal companion for travelling photographers.
A small grip on the right of the camera makes it pretty comfortable to hold, even when using the camera one-handed. With all the controls on the right side of the camera, you can change the majority of the settings with your thumb when you want to use physical buttons. The Panasonic TZ40, unlike the Panasonic TZ35, has a touchscreen, which can be used to make changes to other settings.
On the top of the camera is a mode dial, giving immediate access to all the different key functions the camera offers, such as semi-automatic modes and manual modes (P/A/S/M). There are also fully automatic, digital filters, panoramic and scene modes that can be accessed from here.
Handily, there's also room for two custom settings slots, which is useful if you find you're often using the same combination of settings - for example high sensitivity for low light situations.
Also on top of the camera is the shutter release, around which a zoom switch is found. Using this is fairly quick and fluid, which is great news, considering we're talking about a 20 zoom length.
As the lens hits the top reach of the optical zoom, it stops zooming, requiring you to push the switch again to activate the digital zoom. This is a good way to prevent you accidentally slipping into the digital zoom if you don't want to use it.
Like on the Panasonic TZ35, a Quick Menu button can be found at the bottom-right of the back of the camera. This saves you from having to delve into the extensive full menu and gives you options to change the key everyday settings, such as ISO and white balance.
The number of options available in this menu changes depending on the shooting mode being used. For instance, there's a more extensive amount when shooting in the semi-automatic and fully manual modes.
Sitting just above the keypad is an exposure button, which can be used when shooting in semi-automatic and fully manual modes. While in aperture priority mode, this button needs to be pressed before using the right and left keys to alter the aperture value.
When in fully manual mode, the exposure button can be used to access both shutter speed and aperture settings, requiring either an upwards, downwards or left or right push on the directional keypad to make changes.
Unlike the Panasonic TZ35, you're able to change the autofocus point on the Panasonic TZ40, when shooting in more advanced modes. This can be done by simply tapping the screen at the point you want to focus. You can also have the camera release the shutter via the touchscreen as well, which is handy for capturing quick shots, or when the camera is mounted on a tripod.
As with the TZ35, Panasonic has refreshed the way that the TZ40 plays back images. Previously, you had to flick a physical switch to put the camera either in playback or capture mode, which was a little annoying if you forgot to push the switch back.
Now, however, there's a single playback button that can be accessed no matter what the mode. And simply half-pressing the shutter overrides the playback, if you want to quickly get back to shooting.
Anybody familiar with Panasonic's G series of compact system cameras will feel at home with the menu layout of the Panasonic TZ series. It's fairly sensible, with the majority of settings and changes being easy to find.
You'll find separation between recording options (such as image size), motion picture options and general setup options (such as setting the time zone). Because this camera is equipped with GPS, there's also a section for making changes to this option. Anybody with a G series CSC might want to consider a Panasonic TZ40 as a backup (or more pocket-friendly) camera.
The Panasonic TZ40 is equipped with NFC, Wi-Fi and GPS. This means that files can be shared by tapping it against a device with NFC, it can be remotely controlled via a free smartphone app and you can log where you've been.
If you have an NFC-enabled device, a mere tap together of the two will get you the access you need, but if you don't, you can connect to the camera via Wi-Fi by entering a password.
A free downloadable app is available for iOS and Android devices, and is very easy and quick to use. From the app you can control the optical zoom, change the autofocus point, release the shutter, change the aperture and shutter speed and play back images and save them to your phone.
There's also built-in functionality that means you can send images from the camera if you're connected to a Wi-Fi network. Unfortunately you will need a Lumix Lifestyle account to do this, since there's no way to send them using your own email account. Still, it's a nice addition.
The camera's GPS logging facility means that you can keep a log of where you've been with the camera. Handily, a light next to the GPS signal at the top of the camera remains on when GPS is activated, to alert you. This acts as a reminder so that you can turn it off when you don't want to use it, to conserve battery power.
In terms of performance, there's not too much to separate the Panasonic TZ40 from its predecessor, or indeed, the Panasonic TZ35. Start-up time is quick, and the benefit of omitting the playback mode is that the camera is always ready to go.
Focusing speeds are fairly impressive, with the camera having the ability to latch onto the subject pretty quickly and generally accurately. Because you can change the autofocus point on the Panasonic TZ40, you've also got better control over your compositions than with the Panasonic TZ35, which is a nice bonus.
When macro shooting is activated, you can get very close to the subject for frame-filling shots. Autofocus is a little slower when using the macro setting, but is still generally accurate. Macro images contain plenty of detail and a good drop off in focus for pleasing shallow depth of field effects.
Although the Panasonic TZ40 performs well in good light, as levels start to drop, the focusing system struggles a little more. Unlike some premium compact cameras, the maximum aperture of the Panasonic TZ40 is f/3.5, meaning it can't quite compete with those equipped with faster lenses.
We've been impressed by the picture quality of the cameras in the Panasonic TZ range, including the new TZ35 and the TZ40's predecessor, the TZ30. Pleasingly, Panasonic has maintained this in the latest model. Images display a good level of detail, great colour and lots of punch.
However, we have found that on occasion, there are examples of image smoothing when viewing images at 100%. Luminance noise is visible in images taken throughout the ISO range, even at lower values, which again is noticeable when zooming to 100%. At normal printing and web sizes, this shouldn't present too much of a problem though.
At high sensitivity settings, such as ISO 1600, there is also noticeable smoothing, which is again less of a problem when viewing the images at normal printing or web sizes.
One of the biggest selling points of the Panasonic TZ series is its extensive focal length range, with both the Panasonic TZ35 and the Panasonic TZ40 offering a 20x optical zoom. Images taken at the furthest reach of the telephoto optic are good, with plenty of detail resolved. You also have the option to use a digital zoom, which is handy for those rare occasions when you need even more reach.
As with the Panasonic TZ35, the Panasonic TZ40's Power OIS (Optical Image Stabilisation) does an excellent job of preventing blur from camera shake when shooting handheld, even when shooting at the furthest reach of the telephoto optic. It has the same 20x optical zoom range of the Panasonic TZ35, giving lots of flexibility for travel photographers.
Anyone familiar with Panasonic's G range of cameras will be at home with the range of digital filters that are available on the Panasonic TZ series. There's a good solid range of filters here, with some being more likeable than others (depending on personal preference). We particularly enjoy Dynamic Monochrome and Cross Process.
Some of the filters are customisable, so you can really experiment with different settings. Of course, one of the downsides of not having the ability to shoot in raw format means that should you decide you don't like the filter further down the line, you're pretty much stuck with it.
Generally speaking, the screen is a good performer. It's bright and clear and provides a good angle of view. If the sun is particularly strong, however, it can be prone to reflections.
It's a resistive touchscreen, which is very responsive and handy for making quick changes, especially to the autofocus point. Unlike the Panasonic TZ35, you can change the autofocus point, simply by tapping the screen.
With its 28mm wide-angle optic (35mm equivalent), the Panasonic TZ40 offers good scope for different subject matters and is ideal for general and landscape shots.
Although the Panasonic TZ40 is capable of resolving a good amount of detail, if you zoom into this image to 100%, there is some noticeable smoothing to be seen. It's not too much of a problem when viewing images at normal print and web sizes.
Panoramic images can be captured by the Panasonic TZ40 by sweeping the camera across a scene. For the first time, digital filters can also be used with panoramas for added creativity.
Automatic metering does a good job of providing well exposed scenes, even when there are areas of mixed lighting or contrast.
The Panasonic TZ40 is equipped with several digital filters. This is the Dynamic Monochrome setting, which gives the effect of a high contrast black and white scene.
This Dramatic Tone filter gives the effect of a high dynamic range image, boosting contrast and colours. It works well with landscapes, but is probably best avoided for certain subjects, such as portraits.
Toy Camera is another example of the digital filter effects that are available on the Panasonic TZ40.
Macro focusing enables you to get close to the subject, to fill the frame. Focusing is a little slower, but generally accurate.
Despite the small sensor size of the Panasonic TZ40, you can still get pleasing shallow depth of field effects.
The 20x optical zoom length gives great flexibility - this shot is taken at the widest end of the focal range.
This shot is taken right at the end of the 20x optical zoom range, enabling you to get very close. The optical stabilisation system has done a good job of keeping blur to a minimum here.
The Panasonic TZ40 is the jazzier version of the Panasonic TZ35, with very similar image quality but the addition of some valuable extras, most notably the touchscreen.
If you're not bothered by having a touch-sensitive LCD display, or prefer to use physical buttons, then the Panasonic TZ35 is worthy of consideration - especially if you're equally unbothered about GPS and Wi-Fi functionality.
As with the Panasonic TZ35, it's fairly remarkable that a 20x optical zoom can fit into a body of this pocket-friendly size. It's an extremely flexible option for holidaying photographers, with the GPS functionality proving a valuable addition for plotting the exact locations of your shots.
There's not too much to dislike about the Panasonic TZ40. Although Wi-Fi is a useful addition, it could be better implemented, perhaps by giving you the ability to email a picture, rather than sharing only via the Lumix network.
Like with the Panasonic TZ35, Panasonic has made some small, but useful, changes to the Panasonic TZ40 that elevate it above its predecessor. Although it's a little more expensive than the Panasonic TZ35, those extras will no doubt appeal to a good number of people.
If you're a novice photographer looking for an all-round good performer with a flexible zoom length for your trips away, this is an excellent choice. Equally, it's also good for those a little more experienced, as the fully manual and semi-automatic modes attest to.
It's a little bit of a shame that it can't be even more advanced, perhaps with the addition of raw format shooting or a more premium optic, to elevate it even further from the likes of the Panasonic TZ35 - although of course the price would also be elevated further.
Overall, this is an excellent camera, which should be one of the highest considerations for those looking for the ideal travel compact that offers more than some of the standard options on the market.