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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 Digital Camera Review
by  -  8/18/2006

When introduced back in February, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 was the world's smallest 10x optical zoom camera. It has since lost that title to the Kodak Easyshare V610. However, it's still very compact and the benefit of Panasonic's MEGA O.I.S. (optical image stabilization) is hard to beat.  Read on to see our full review of the TZ1, a 5 megapixel camera with 2.5 inch LCD and 10x optical zoom.

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Included in Box

Packed nicely in the box with the camera, you'll find the lithium-ion rechargeable battery with case, battery charger, lens cap, lens strap, USB cable, A/V cable, operating instructions manual and software CD.

Camera Design

The TZ1 is shaped kind of like a small brick, rather square and solid. I would maintain that the camera is still pocketable, but only barely and even then in a pants pocket. I reviewed the silver model, but you can also get it in black. It is a bit heavier than many digital cameras, but there is a larger hand grip that provides a stable handhold on the camera.

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Build quality is very good. The body is VERY solid, made of metal and metal alloys. Likewise, the controls are of high quality with a nice solid mode dial and solid feeling, positive clicking buttons.

On the front of the camera, all you'll see is the focus assist light, flash and lens. While the lens does retract into the body of the camera, there is a clip-on type lens cover that you can attach with the lens strap.

Panasonic has managed to keep the controls on the TZ1 pretty straightforward. It seems like there is a lot more space on the camera that they could have filled up with buttons. It's a bit refreshing to have a place to rest your fingers. Along the top of the camera, you'll find the mode dial, shutter release, zoom control, power switch and image stabilization mode button.

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On the back, there is a 5-way control pad, a button that manages the LCD information and modes, and the delete/drive mode button.

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The bottom of the camera has a tripod mount and access door to the battery/memory media compartment.

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When you need to connect cables to the camera, there is a small plastic door on the left side of the camera that swings open to reveal the cable jacks.

Camera Features

As mentioned before, the TZ1 captures images at 5 megapixels with a 1/2.5" CCD sensor. The Leica lens offers a 10x optical zoom range and the camera uses the MEGA O.I.S. stabilization system from Panasonic.

A 2.5 inch LCD with 207K pixels provides plenty of resolution. The camera does not have an optical viewfinder. A unique feature of the LCD on the TZ1 is that you can switch it to "high angle" mode that makes the screen more visible when you're taking shots over your head and looking up at the camera. Another mode, called "power LCD" bumps up the screen brightness to make it easier to see outdoors. The LCD has a good refresh rate, accurately represented colors, and gains up and down depending on the lighting conditions.

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The TZ1 is, when it comes down to it, a point and shoot digital camera. There are no manual exposure modes like shutter priority or aperture priority, but Panasonic does include plenty of scene modes. On the mode dial on the top of the camera, you can choose movie capture mode, macro mode, auto mode (capture), playback mode, a simple mode, SCN1, and SCN2. Most are self explanatory, but I liked the ability to have two scene mode options. Since your scene mode choice is preserved when you leave the mode and come back, you can basically set two favorite scene modes and not have to dig in a menu to change it. You can just use the mode dial.

During image capture, in the normal auto mode, you can adjust the white balance, sensitivity, and exposure compensation. A color effect (cool, warm, black and white, sepia) can also be used. There is also another adjustment that lets you take natural, standard, or vivid pictures.

With the TZ1, you can capture images at different resolutions in different aspect ratios. If you want to capture images at a 4:3 aspect ratio, your resolution choices are: 2560x1920, 2048x1536, 1600x1200,1280x960, and 640x480. If you want to use a 3:2 aspect ratio, choose from 2560x17112 or 2048x1360. Finally, if you want to use a 16:9 aspect ratio, you can choose resolutions of 2560x1440 or 1920x1080. Two compression settings, Fine and Standard, also effect JPEG file size (Fine provides less compression and larger file size).

When capturing movies at a 4:3 aspect ratio, you can capture 640x480 or 320x240 movies at 30 fps or 10 fps. At a 16:9 aspect ratio, you can capture movies at 848x480 at 30 fps or 10 fps. Movies are stored as Quicktime movies.

On the TZ1, there are two modes of image stabilization, in addition to completely disabled. To set the mode, you just press and hold the "shaking hand" button on the top of the camera. Mode 1 provides continuous image stabilization and Mode 2 turns on the image stabilization when the shutter button is pressed. I'm not sure why they couldn't have named them "continuous" and "single" like many other manufacturers, but that's up to them.

The auto focus system on the TZ1 can focus as close as 40 cm at wide angle and 200 cm in telephoto while in normal AF. When you switch over to macro, you can get as close as 5 cm at wide angle and 100 cm at telephoto. The default AF "area" is to use a 9 point multi-pattern system. The camera also features a 1 point AF, high speed 1 point AF, high speed 3 point AF, and spot AF. The high speed modes are, in fact, very quick to achieve a focus lock.

The self-timer modes are easy to access, via the "left" direction on the control pad. You can cycle between a 2 second timer, 10 second timer, and no timer. To shoot a burst of images, the button to the left of the control pad cycles through the options. A high speed mode will capture 3 images per second for up to 3 images in Fine mode and 5 images in Standard mode. The low speed burst will capture 2 images per second with the same max as the high speed mode. The unlimited mode will capture as many images as you have capacity for, but at about 1.5 frames per second.

Flash modes are accessible by using the "right" direction on the control pad. You can choose auto, auto with red eye reduction, fill (always on), slow sync with red eye reduction, and disabled. At wide angle, the flash has a range of 3.7 meters. At telephoto, the range is up to 2.4 meters.

Images from the TZ1 are stored on Secure Digital (SD) and MMC memory media cards.

The camera is powered by a lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack. It takes about 2 hours to fully charge the battery once it's depleted. Battery performance was average to below average. I was able to get anywhere from 100 to 150 shots per charge.

Camera Performance and Image Quality

Typical of a Panasonic camera, the TZ1 operates very quickly. The auto focus time is very fast and the shutter lag is pretty much non-existent. Shot to shot time was also excellent. Having a camera that operates this quickly is always a real pleasure to use.

The camera is also very comfortable to hold. It may be too heavy for some, but the larger handgrip and solid feel of the camera make it pretty comfortable. Also, all of the controls that you don't want to press are all out of the way when you're holding the camera.

The 10x optical zoom lens moved quickly and smoothly throughout its range, allowing fine control over framing of your shot. There was a noticeable amount of barrel distortion at the wide end of the zoom, but the pincushion distortion that happens at telephoto was not as noticeable. I noticed some vignetting at the wide angle end of the lens when I looked for it, but did see it in "real world" snapshots.

The image stabilization system worked well during my tests. Panasonic claims that you reduce shutter speed up to 3 stops slower than you would need without image stabilization. Also, as a side note, if you leave the camera in Mode1 image stabilization (continuous), the battery will drain more quickly.

The auto focus performance was very good. Even in the non-"high speed" focus modes, the time to achieve auto focus was very quick. If you want to shave even more time off the focus acquisition, you can turn continuous AF on.

The flash did a good job of handling dim, medium to large sized rooms. Overall, I would rate the flash as average to above average among point and shoot digital cameras. Also, since you have image stabilization, you don't even need to use the flash that often!

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Image quality from the TZ1 was very good. Colors were pleasing and the white balance handled mixed lighting well. Detail was also good across the entire image. Digital noise, the common complaint from reviewers from Panasonic cameras, is apparent when you view image at full resolution on your screen. The built-in noise reduction does a pretty good job at ISO 80 and 100, but details get lost quickly from there on up. If you're going to make 4x6 prints, this noise will not be noticeable. If you want to make larger prints, make sure you set the sensitivity to ISO 80, instead of letting the camera decide with sensitivity set to auto. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) was noticeable, especially at the telephoto end of the lens, see the 100% crop from the clock tower picture below.


Note purple fringing on bottom edge of the tower frame

Sample Images

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10x optical zoom (view medium image) (view large image)
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 panasonic lumix dmc-tz1 sample image
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 panasonic lumix dmc-tz1 sample image
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Specifications Highlights

Conclusion

Bottom line, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 is a joy to use, but with a few downsides. It's an easy to use camera and has a nice 10x optical zoom with image stabilization, especially given its size. A nice set of scene modes provides plenty of options for the casual shooter. The camera's focus speed, cycle time, and quick click to capture speed are among the best around. On the downside, Panasonic continues to fight with noise in their images with some pretty heavy in-camera noise reduction that is evident in higher ISO images.

If you're looking for a more compact ultra zoom digital camera (more compact that the Canon Powershot S3 IS or Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7), then the TZ1 is a good option. Its direct competitor, the Kodak Easyshare V610, does take the cake in the size department, but doesn't have image stabilization. You will be pleased with its speed of operation and image stabilization. Also, you will be pleased with your prints, especially if you stick to 4x6 inch print.

Pros

Cons