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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 Review
by David Rasnake -  5/5/2008

With the release of the TZ1 in 2006, Panasonic arguably invented the compact ultrazoom class of cameras. Though a few have followed them down this road by tightening up the dimensions of existing ultrazoom models or launching entirely new cross-segment devices, the TZ cameras remain among the most popular of Panasonic's offerings: as we reported last week, a TZ camera has been at or near the top of our "Most Popular Digital Cameras" list for more than a year now.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
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All of this makes the release of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 that much more highly anticipated. Few expected sweeping changes to the latest model – that's not generally the way manufacturers approach the redesign of a highly successful camera – and most of the TZ5's hardware, including its excellent 10x Leica zoom, is familiar. A resolution bump and a larger screen keep key specs on the cutting edge for the new Lumix, but will these generally light overhauls on a fairly staid basic platform be enough to impress consumers this time around?


FEATURES OVERVIEW

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 is a 9.1 megapixel compact digicam with a 10x wide-angle Leica lens. Designed as a feature-rich, all-in-one shooting solution for slightly advanced photographers, the TZ5 is nonetheless a fully auto exposure camera. Panasonic's Intelligent Auto (iA) mode is a combination of settings and features designed to handle a range of shooting situations with a slightly more evaluative approach to exposure settings than a conventional auto setting.

As with several other Panasonic point-and-shoots, the TZ5 has five basic shooting modes:

One key separator between Panasonic's step-down TZ4 model and the TZ5 is the latter camera's ability to record 1280x720 HD video at 30 fps. While the TZ5's microphone has a bit of a boxy sound, overall video quality is really quite impressive. Unlike the majority of compact cameras, use of optical zoom is also allowed while shooting videos with the TZ5 – though as with the similarly functional TZ4, the zoom moves extremely slowly.

As noted, the TZ5 also sports Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode, discussed previously on this site in other recent Panasonic reviews. Here as elsewhere, the system (which automatically selects a set of scene parameters from a list of several options, including macro, landscape, and portrait, based on situation characteristics) is consistently good in its ability to correctly identify the most appropriate preset – and to do so quickly, no less. While advanced users will still prefer the more program-style Normal Picture mode, Intelligent Auto still stands out as perhaps the very best automatic scene detection system currently available.

For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.

Note: Given the functional similarities between the TZ4 and TZ5 models, applicable portions of the TZ4 review were used for this write-up as well. Image quality and performance testing cited in this review is specific to the TZ5, however.


FORM, FIT, AND FEEL

Visually, the TZ cameras haven't really changed much since the introduction of the series back in 2006. The TZ5 sports the largest screen we've seen on a TZ model, but otherwise makes few changes from the previous-gen TZ3.

Styling and Build Quality

Other than the addition of a larger, higher-res screen, there's very little to say about the TZ5's physical makeup that hasn't already been said about the TZ4 – or for that matter, the TZ3.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
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The camera pushes toward the large end of what could be called compact, making it border on too large to fit comfortably in a normal-sized pocket. If you're not looking for the ultimate in portability, however, the slightly heavy TZ5 is easy enough to live with: the body is well-constructed, rigid, and exhibits little flex when torqued.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
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Doors are satisfyingly solid, with a firm locking feel on the battery door. The mode dial snaps into position with minimal slop, and without the irritating "clicky-ness" exhibited by some more plastic-feeling cameras. Overall, as with the TZ4, the TZ5 gives off a "premium product" vibe.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
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As before, everything is sleek and clean-lined with the TZ5. Our TZ5 test unit was the first Panasonic I've ever looked at with the black finish (instead of Panasonic's ubiquitous silver), and the matte-finished black plastic has a great look and feel that, if anything, is even classier than the silver version.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
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As with other TZ cameras, the TZ5's imposing three-segment retractable lens dominates almost half of the body, giving the camera more of the classic ultrazoom shape with the lens extended.

Ergonomics and Interface

I've said it before, and I'll reiterate it here: with plenty of free space (even with the larger screen, the TZ5 uses the same bevel as the TZ4, eliminating the black screen surround to make way for more pixels) on the rear deck, the buttons on Panasonic's latest cameras are simply too small for those of use with larger fingers.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
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In spite of their somewhat irritatingly small size, positioning of all controls remains logical and easy to maneuver with one hand. Buttons can be hard to press at times, but they're well-constructed and feel like they'll hold up well over time.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
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The TZ5 does use a hard switch to move between shooting and playback modes – something some shooters dislike strongly. The combination of an actual switch and slightly slow pick-up on the TZ5's part makes switching between shooting and playback modes a little sluggish compared to many cameras in this class.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
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Panasonic uses a variant of the same interface seen in other recent Lumix cams for the TZ5, with an overlaid Quick Menu providing fast access to commonly adjusted parameters while shooting. The parameters from this simpler menu, plus several others, are also accessible via a master page menu. The page menus aren't always perfectly sorted, but the layout is plain, accessible, and easy to understand and doesn't leave a lot to be desired beyond some slightly more logical grouping of parameters at times.

Display/Viewfinder

The TZ5's 3-inch, 460,000-dot LCD is almost too good: if anything, images coming from the TZ5 often don't quite have the punch and saturation at print sizes that the camera's impressively contrasty screen accords them in in-camera playback. If the output is a little optimistic in this regard, however, the bright, fluid, and almost life-like screen remains perhaps the best display I've seen on a compact camera.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
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Gain-up in low light is automatic using the auto-adjust display setting. Several user-set LCD power options, accessible via the Quick Menu, allow shooters to maximize screen brightness or cut power and save battery life as desired. As with the TZ4, one of the most impressive settings on the TZ5 is a wide-view mode that boosts display power and provides effective viewing angles of around 75 degrees without color inversion in this case; though the view angle before colors beginning shifting is somewhat more limited than some other Lumix cams in this regard, with its extra contrast, the TZ5 may even have a slight edge on Panasonic's other very good offerings in this area.

With enough power to be seen in all but dead-on direct sunlight, I found myself missing the TZ5's absent optical viewfinder less than is usually the case.

Speaking of sunlight, the one mark against the TZ5's generally impeccable LCD was a problem with screen "white out" in bright light, regardless of the display mode setting. More on this screen/exposure quirk in the next section.


PERFORMANCE

In shooting the TZ4 review, I ran up against some performance quirks that left a glaring asterisk next to my generally positive impressions of the camera's abilities. While broad fundamental similarities between the TZ4 and TZ5 had me expecting the same disappointments with the step-up model, but while performance was similar in most respects, the odd auto focus quirks seen in our TZ4 test unit are gone in the TZ5. With this concern cleared up, the top-of-the-line TZ camera is an unqualified success where speed and AF performance are concerned.

Unfortunately, our TZ5 test unit, at least, seems to have traded this improvement for another odd performance quirk – this one related to the screen. As noted in the last section, I repeatedly experienced a phenomenon with the TZ5 wherein the screen would completely white out when attempting to compose extremely bright (i.e. into the sun) scenes or scenes with strong hotspots. The screen white out causes the camera to freeze and give an error beep, usually requiring a complete restart to unlock.

It's difficult to tell whether the issue in this case is related display overload (more likely) or sensor overload. In either case, it wasn't a problem I ran up against with the TZ4. While it's not a serious blow to the TZ5's overall performance credentials, both of the current-generation TZ cameras we've tested have come up a little short in terms of functional refinement, with mild but annoying performance bugs occasionally making these otherwise polished cameras seem a little clunky.

Timings and Shutter Lag

The TZ5 turned in some slightly different numbers than the TZ4, performing more in line with expectations in many areas. As with the previous camera, shutter lag is a nearly imperceptible .05 seconds – fast enough to grab action in real time with the camera pre-focused.

Pre-focused in the default multi-area mode, the TZ5 grabbed focus and fired in around .8 seconds in our standard test. The big surprise with the TZ5, however, is how much better the high-speed single and multi-area AF modes seemed to work. I was able to consistently grab shots in around .4 seconds in the single-area high-speed AF mode – better than any performance turned in by the presumably identical TZ4. Focus in Intelligent Auto shooting mode was about the same as we've seen previously: a respectable .7 seconds from press to capture.

With more resolution, the TZ5's high-speed burst mode loses a step on both the TZ3 and TZ4: while it's able to grab three shots at around 1.3 seconds, the buffer is limited to three full-resolution shots (the TZ4, for instance, was able to grab four shots in 1.45, giving both a decidedly faster frame rate and one more shot per buffer load). Likewise, the TZ5 is able to hold a continuous speed in infinite burst mode of just under 2 fps – again, noticeably slower than either the TZ3 or the TZ4.

Lens and Zoom

Unquestionably, the TZ5's headline piece of technology is its familiar 28-280mm f/3.3-4.9 Leica zoom lens carried over from the TZ3. It really doesn't get much better than this for a camera this size, with the TZ5 not only sporting the range to match any other camera in this bracket, but showing a true wide-angle focal length (equivalent to 28mm) on the wide end – something no competitor can match at the moment. While the benefits of wide lenses may not always live up to Panasonic's marketing hype, the TZ5's huge zoom range makes it as versatile as a conventional two- or three-lens DSLR setup in the focal length department.

Compared to most moderately priced DSLR lenses covering a telephoto range out to almost 300mm, the TZ5's lens also sports a relatively fast f/4.9 maximum aperture at full tele.

It doesn't hurt my positive feelings toward the TZ5's lens that the barrel itself feels well built and exhibits minimal free play. Travel is smooth if a little bit slow (it's got a long way to go, which doesn't help), and quiet enough to even permit zooming during video shooting (something most compacts don't do). I'm still a fan of Panasonic's new Easy Zoom concept, which uses a single press of a button position right next to the shutter release to move the zoom from full wide-angle to full telephoto and back.

From a use standpoint, then, if you're approaching the TZ5 exclusively for the flexibility that its lens affords you, you're not likely to be disappointed. More on the lens's excellent optical performance in the "Image Quality" section.

Auto Focus

The TZ5 appears to use an identical AF system to the recently tested TZ4. Performance differences between the two were so great, however, that I'm beginning to wonder if we didn't get a bad test unit with the TZ4. The TZ4 wanted to freeze up for several seconds when trying to lock focus at the long end of the zoom, but I was unable to induce even remotely similar performance with the TZ5 regardless of AF or shooting mode. It seems, then, that for whatever reason and by whatever means, the biggest performance concern with the TZ4 is put to rest in the TZ5.

The TZ5 comes packed with the same AF modes seen in other advanced cameras from Panasonic: Face Detection AF, Nine-Area AF, Three-Area High-Speed AF, One-Area High-Speed AF, One-Area AF, and Spot AF. As before, performance was rock solid in spot mode, acceptable when asked to detect faces, and consistent in the multi-area modes. The camera's whole auto focus experience was much smoother and less jumpy than what I experienced with the TZ4 – further suggesting the possibility of a sub-par test unit with our last TZ review.

The camera does want to hunt at the long end of the zoom, especially, in low light – hardly surprising for a camera with a 10x lens, but the occasional tendency to give up on attempting to focus and throw up an AF error in low light can be irritating when you're trying to grab an unfolding indoor shot. Outdoors, speed and lock consistently were rarely an issue.

Macro performance with the TZ5 wasn't great, with a fairly long minimum focusing distance and some dodginess in making the camera lock.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
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As in this case, though, the TZ5's Intelligent Auto mode does a nice job of identifying the need for macro focus, and when the camera locks and gets you in close enough to frame your subject, macro shots benefit from the lens's overall sharpness across the frame.

Flash

The TZ5's flash performance was satisfactory in every respect. Color is good, and exposure was always dead-on in Intelligent Auto mode. In iA, the camera is also seems to make reasonably intelligent decisions about using flash versus boosting ISO, even using flash to balance exposure in a few cases. In terms of modes, the TZ5 covers all the bases, with red-eye reduction and a slow sync mode for night shots joining the standard auto and fill options.

Not surprisingly, the TZ5's flash recycled from a full-power burst in exactly the same amount of time (6.5 seconds) as the similarly equipped TZ4. Again with this camera, average recycle times with auto ISO selected were well under two seconds.

Image Stabilization

The TZ5 uses Panasonic's Mega O.I.S. (optical image stabilization) technology. Tested performance is on par with other Mega O.I.S. cameras we've looked at before, offering up a couple of stops of speed pretty consistently.

The system's mode – continuous, single-shot, or disabled – is user-selectable in most shooting modes via either the quick menu or the main menu. Whereas some other Lumix cameras we've tested have a preset shutter speed "floor" with image stabilization enabled, the TZ5 – like the TZ4 – has a user-adjustable minimum shutter speed (especially convenient given that there are no manual controls on this cameras). As before, the system defaults to 1/8, which seems to be a pretty good match for the image stabilization system's capabilities.

Battery Life

The TZ5's larger screen does detract from total battery life, and in a week of testing I was able to pull around 260 shots out of a single charge – not the 300 that Panasonic claims, but respectable nonetheless.

In another one of those oddities that seemed in need of ironing out, I had some trouble getting the camera to "wake up" again after its initial charge. Removing and replacing the battery repeatedly finally did the trick, but the source of the issue isn't at all clear.


IMAGE QUALITY

No surprises here: processing is almost identical to what we saw in the TZ4, making a nice improvement over the slightly less vibrant image look from previous TZ cameras.

Exposure, Processing, and Color

Compared to previous TZ models, it looks like Panasonic's current-gen Venus Engine IV processing has pushed saturation and overall vibrancy just a bit on the newest models. Colors from the TZ5's default setting still look reasonably natural with a hint of warmth, but do add a bit more punch than we've seen in previous models in this line.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
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In terms of sharpening, the TZ5 does continue with the slightly hard-edged look that we've come to associate with these cameras, though everyone except serious shooters who prefer the more neutral look of previous TZ images for the ease with which they can be post-processed will likely find overall look for normal sized prints to be slightly improved all around.

Even with the slight resolution bump, I could find little difference in the overall look (or, honestly, in the level of detail capture) between detail crops of shots from the TZ4 and the TZ5.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ4
TZ4, ISO 100

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
TZ5, ISO 100

Beyond the standard shooting mode, color mode options are the same for the TZ5 as those offered on other Panasonic Lumix cams, with similar performance.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
Vivid
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
Natural
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
Warm
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
Cool
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
Black and White
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
Sepia
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Exposure was pretty tightly controlled, handling wide-contrast scenes without much difficulty most of the time. There seems to be some push toward slight underexposure on the TZ5 – definitely not a bad thing, as the camera retains maximum detail and avoids the slightly washed out look of shots from its predecessor.

In the TZ4 review, I took an in-depth look at Panasonic's performance claims pertaining to the multi-ISO Intelligent Exposure technology. Performance on the TZ5 was much the same, showing some mild improvements in clipping prevention in backlit and high-contrast scenes, but showing little evidence of ISO boost in specific areas of a single image as Panasonic claims.

White Balance

Interestingly, the TZ5 seemed to perform somewhat worse than the TZ4 in tungsten-lit auto white balance testing, though other variables may have possibly been at work. In any event, performance is average in "cooler" indoor lighting and unquestionably poor in artificially lit scenes with a naturally warmer tint.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
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While the tungsten preset tends to respond a little bit cool of neutral to most household incandescent lighting, retaining some of the natural warmth of tungsten shots without the shifted colors left by auto white balance is more easily accomplished using the tungsten preset and the warm color mode.

As before, images under cooler light toward the high end of the spectrum can look a little blue-green at times, however. Oddly, while the TZ5 sports a custom white set mode, there are no fluorescent presets.

Lens Faults

Given our familiarity with this particular lens, it's hardly surprising that performance on the TZ5 is basically identical to what other cameras with this glass have turned in. Given the lens's range, barrel distortion was surprisingly well controlled, avoiding the "bloated" look seen with many wide-angle lenses from compact cameras. Pincushioning at the long end was a bit more pronounced, starting to show up just beyond the middle of the range and getting a little puckered by full telephoto.

The lens does tend to vignette slightly at full wide-angle, though edge-to-edge sharpness is good across the range.

Sensitivity and Noise

The TZ5 does a slightly better job than its predecessor of managing noise reduction and preserving detail at higher ISOs, though it's still a ways from perfect.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
ISO 100
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
ISO 100, 100% crop

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
ISO 200
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
ISO 200, 100% crop

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
ISO 400
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
ISO 400, 100% crop

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
ISO 800
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
ISO 800, 100% crop

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
ISO 1600
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
ISO 1600, 100% crop

Inevitable comparisons with the TZ4 at ISO 1600 show that while there's less visible noise, the TZ5 seems to use slightly more noise reduction (probably to mask slightly more inherent noise on the higher-res sensor), resulting in details that are a little softer.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ4
TZ4, ISO 1600

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
TZ5, ISO 1600

In truth, NR on the TZ5 is more of a problem across the board than we saw with the TZ4, with its effects clearly visible from ISO 400 on up.

The latest TZ cameras definitely haven't quite lived up to Panasonic's bold claims about improved high ISO performance courtesy of its Venus Engine IV processing, though in fairness they show some decided improvements over the previous generation of Lumix devices and should compete fairly well with anything in this class. That said, advanced users will still likely wish for some user-selectable NR to further dial back detail smearing.

Additional Sample Images

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5
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CONCLUSIONS

Journalists covering the digital camera industry seemed to be almost universally disappointed that Panasonic didn't, for the second update in a row, listen to their pleas to include more user exposure control on the next TZ camera. The TZ3 sold well, and many of those same kinds of users will continue to find the TZ5 appealing. Even so, I can't help but feel that Panasonic missed an easy opportunity to become even more dominant in its fairly small peer group by simply tacking on P/A/S/M modes: though it's the more competent camera all around by a fair bit, the TZ5 will likely continue to give up ground among a certain segment of its market to the likes of Canon's manual-exposure equipped SX100.

I've come to think of Panasonic's Lumix camera as some of the most consistently refined devices on the market, and in light of this high standard, discovering the TZ5's rough edges after spending a little time with it comes, perhaps unfairly, as that much more of a disappointment. Countering this, the TZ5 adds a (usually) great new screen, takes a step toward addressing the TZ3's high-ISO concerns, can shoot HD video that rivals many camcorders, and, perhaps most importantly, does all of this while retaining basically everything that made the TZ3 so good – good speed, good optics, and a compact, stylish package. The saving grace for Panasonic's choice to stay conservative with the TZ5 may be that (in the U.S. market, at least) there are so few rivals to the TZ cameras that the latest Lumix is almost guaranteed a strong following whether or not it provides much in the way of heavy innovation.

At the end of the day, I came away with mixed feelings about the TZ5. It's a competent package that continues to do something relatively unique, and it will still get the job done with style and speed in most cases. Choosing to break little from the heritage of the TZ line, though, I can't help but feel that it's not as outstanding as it easily could have been.

Pros:

Cons:

 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 Specifications:

Sensor 9.1 megapixel, 1/2.33" CCD
Lens/Zoom 10x (28-280mm) Leica DC Vario-Elmar, f/3.3-4.9
LCD/Viewfinder 3.0", 460K-dot TFT LCD
Sensitivity ISO 100-1600 (High Sensitivity mode to ISO 6400)
Shutter Speed 60-1/2000 seconds
Shooting Modes Intelligent Auto, Normal Picture, Scene 1, Scene 2, Motion Picture, Clipboard
Scene Presets Portrait, Soft Skin, Scenery, Sports, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Food, Party, Candle Light, Baby 1, Baby 2, Pet, Sunset, High Sensitivity, Hi-Speed Burst, Starry Sky, Fireworks, Beach, Snow, Aerial Photo, Multi-Aspect
White Balance Settings Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, User Set
Metering Modes Intelligent Multiple, Center, Spot
Focus Modes Face Detection, Nine-Area, Three-Area High Speed, One-Area, One-Area High Speed, Spot
Drive Modes Normal, Burst, High Speed Burst
Flash Modes Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Slow Sync, Forced Off
Self Timer Settings
10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
Memory Formats SD, SDHC
Internal Memory
50 MB
File Formats JPEG, Motion JPEG
Max. Image Size 3456x2592
Max. Video Size
1020x720, 30 fps
Zoom During Video Yes
Battery Rechargeable lithium-ion
Connections USB 2.0, AV output, HD output, DC input
Additional Features Mega O.I.S., iA Intelligent Auto mode, Intelligent ISO, Venus Engine IV processing