With this year’s release of the TZ5, Panasonic has cemented its position as “king of the compact ultrazoom class of cameras.” Other camera makers have developed impressive ultrazoom cameras, but none of the competition has succeeded in producing a compact camera with this much telephoto and wide angle reach. The TZ cameras have continued to remain at or near the top of our "Most Popular Digital Cameras" list for more than a year now.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ50 is a unique follow-up to the TZ5, offering the ability to wirelessly upload your images directly to a web gallery. While the TZ5 offered an impressive bump in resolution and performance and a larger screen versus the TZ4, the TZ50 is essentially just a TZ5 with the Wi-Fi feature added. Will this modest, though impressive, feature be enough to make consumers spend an extra $100?
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ50 is a 9.1 megapixel compact digicam with a 10x wide-angle Leica lens. This all-in-one shooting solution is made all the more impressive thanks to the addition of Wi-Fi, allowing the camera to wirelessly connect to the internet and upload your digital photos directly to your online Google Picasa photo gallery.
Of course, the TZ50 also offers all the basics that make for an excellent consumer 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 TZ50 has five basic shooting modes:
A separate "Wi-Fi" position on the mode dial enters the TZ50's wireless image transfer mode.
As with the TZ5, the TZ50 is able to record 1280x720 HD video at 30 fps. While the camera's built-in microphone doesn’t offer the same quality sound as a dedicated digital video camera, the overall video quality is genuinely impressive. Like the TZ5, optical zoom is also allowed while shooting videos with the TZ50 – though the zoom moves slower than when shooting still images.
As noted, the TZ50 also sports Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode, discussed previously on this site in other recent Panasonic reviews. The Intelligent Auto system is consistently good in its ability to correctly identify the most appropriate preset – and to do so quickly. While experienced photographers will miss the traditional manual, shutter priority or aperture priority modes, 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 TZ5 and TZ50 models, applicable portions of the TZ5 review were used for this write-up as well. Image quality and performance testing cited in this review is specific to the TZ50, however.
FORM, FIT, AND FEEL
Visually, the TZ50 is almost identical to the TZ5...with the exception of the word “wireless” printed in all capital letters on the camera’s grip.
The TZ series cameras haven't really changed much since the introduction of the series back in 2006, and that’s not a bad thing.
Styling and Build Quality
Other than the addition of the word “wireless” on the grip there isn’t much to say about the physical makeup of the TZ50. The camera uses the same larger, higher-resolution screen seen on the TZ5, which makes composing images on the LCD nicer than with the TZ4, TZ3 or earlier cameras.
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 TZ50 is easy enough to live with: the body is well-constructed, rigid, and exhibits no flex when torqued.
Doors are reasonably solid, though both the port door and the battery cover seem a bit weaker than the rest of the camera in terms of the plastic construction. 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 TZ5, the TZ50 gives off a "premium product" vibe.
As with other TZ cameras, the TZ50's massive 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
While the TZ50 might be a compact camera it still provides plenty of free space on the rear panel for a satisfying grip. That said, the buttons are a little too small for people with larger fingers.
In spite of their somewhat small size, positioning of all controls remains logical and easy to maneuver with one hand. Some buttons (such as the Quick Menu and right arrow buttons) can be hard to press at times, but they're well-constructed and feel like they'll hold up well over time.
The TZ50 uses a hard switch to move between shooting and playback modes which some users will consider a major inconvenience. The combination of a manual switch and slightly slow processing between record and playback modes makes switching between shooting and playback modes a little sluggish compared to many cameras in this class.
Panasonic uses a variant of the same interface seen in other recent Lumix cams for the TZ50, 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.
The TZ50's 3-inch, 460,000-dot LCD is simply stunning. In fact, images being displayed on the camera’s playback screen aren’t as saturated or contrast-rich when displayed on your computer screen. Although the image quality on the camera’s LCD might not be entirely accurate, the screen is one of the best displays we've seen on a compact camera.
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 and TZ5, one of the most impressive settings on the TZ50 is a wide-view mode that boosts display power and provides effective viewing angles of around 75 degrees so that you can hold the camera above your head or down next to your feet and still see the screen.
With enough power to be seen in all but dead-on direct sunlight, I never found myself missing an optical viewfinder on the TZ50.
As previously mentioned, the wide range of fundamental similarities between the TZ5 and TZ50 leads you to expect the same performance out of both cameras, and this is largely the case. Auto focus performance was exceptional and among the better ultrazoom cameras we’ve reviewed.
One odd improvement over our TZ5 test unit was the screen on our TZ50 test unit. The screen on our TZ5 repeatedly suffered a phenomenon 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. We were never able to replicate this problem with the TZ50, and indeed the screen performed flawlessly outdoors even in extremely bright conditions or when photographing subjects directly in the sun.
Whether the “screen overload” issue was a case of a flawed TZ5 review unit or improvements in the TZ50, we can’t say. In any case, shooting outdoors in bright sunlight is a trouble-free experience with the TZ50.
Timings and Shutter Lag
The TZ50 turned in basically identical numbers as the TZ5. As with the previous camera, shutter lag is a nearly imperceptible 0.05 seconds – fast enough to grab action in real time with the camera pre-focused.
Pre-focused in the default multi-area mode, the TZ50 grabbed focus and fired in around 0.8 seconds in our standard test. Additionally, TZ50 provides excellent high-speed single and multi-area AF mode performance. I was able to consistently grab shots in around 0.4 seconds in the single-area high-speed AF mode – basically identical to the TZ5. Focus in Intelligent Auto shooting mode was about the same as we've seen previously: a respectable 0.7 seconds from press to capture.
The TZ50's high-speed burst mode is able to grab three shots at around 1.3 seconds, the buffer is limited to three full-resolution shots. Likewise, the TZ50 is able to hold a continuous speed in infinite burst mode of just under 2 fps.
Lens and Zoom
First and foremost, the TZ50's feature benefit is its familiar 28-280mm f/3.3-4.9 Leica zoom lens carried over from the original TZ3. There really isn’t a better lens for a camera this size, with the TZ50 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 TZ50'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 TZ50's lens also sports a relatively fast f/4.9 maximum aperture at full telephoto.
Bottom line, if you're considering the purchase of the TZ50 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.
The TZ50 appears to use an identical AF system to the recently tested TZ5. Performance differences between the two were so minimal that we were again reminded that the TZ50 is essentially a TZ5 with a new wireless upload feature.
The TZ50 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 just as smooth as what we found in the TZ5 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 TZ50 wasn't great, with a fairly long minimum focusing distance and some inconsistency in making the camera lock. As in the case of the TZ5, though, the TZ50'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.
The TZ50'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 TZ50 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 TZ50's flash recycled from a full-power burst in exactly the same amount of time (6.5 seconds) as the similarly equipped TZ4 and TZ5. Again with this camera, average recycle times with auto ISO selected were well under two seconds.
The TZ50 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 TZ50 – 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.
Based on our experience with the TZ5, we expected the TZ50 to turn in similar numbers (a little more than 250 shots per charge). A few weeks with the TZ50 suggests performance to be similar, though the Wi-Fi function does appear to, no surprisingly, eat into battery life fairly heavily (a fully charged battery showed two-thirds power after only ten minutes of wireless transfer). Keep the amount of wireless transfering at reasonable levels, however, and the TZ50 is capable of some equally respectable battery life numbers as seen in other TZ cameras.
As mentioned several times in this review, the principal reason for purchasing the TZ50 instead of the TZ5 is the ability to wirelessly upload your images directly from the camera’s memory card directly to your online image gallery. While this is an incredibly useful feature, the complexity of the upload process makes this a somewhat questionable benefit for the average consumer.
First of all, you are currently limited to the using Google Mail (Gmail) accounts and the Picasa Web gallery with the TZ50. If you do not already have a Gmail account and a Picasa Web gallery you will need to create them both prior to uploading your images directly from the camera.
Second, the process of connecting the camera to a wireless access point and inputting both your Gmail login and password is much more involved than you might expect (particularly if the wireless access point is secure).
Unless you have a strong working knowledge of setting up wireless connections you will likely find the initial setup process quite frustrating.
Connection to a T-Mobile HotSpot – the TZ50’s preferred form of wireless connection away from home – is a little more straightforward, though you’ll have to pay for the pleasure of this convenience once the trial service that comes with the TZ50 expires. Likewise, HotSpot access only gives you Wi-Fi connectivity at locations where the T-Mobile service is available (Starbucks, Borders bookstores, FedEx Kinko’s locations). Using the TZ50’s clunky setup menu, you could theoretically grab a connection to an open hotspot (the kind you find at many coffee shops, for instance), but given that the TZ50 lacks even a primitive web browser, if the hotspot has a splash page or requires agreement to terms of service before proceeding, you’re out of luck.
Assuming you’ve managed to connect the TZ50 to a Wi-Fi access point and successfully connected to your Gmail account you now have to manually select the images you wish to upload to your Picasa gallery. That’s correct: there is no option to automatically upload all the images on the camera’s memory card. Your only options are “single select” and “multi select” mode. With “single select” mode you select the single image you wish to upload and the camera immediately begins uploading the image. With “multi select” mode you are presented with thumbnail images of your photos and you manually select which images you want to upload. Either way is slow and frustrating if you simply want to upload all of the images on your memory card.
The other two downsides of the wireless upload process are that it rapidly drains the camera’s battery and that it causes the camera to heat up. After wirelessly uploading six images to my web gallery I found the grip of the TZ50 almost too hot to hold. About 30 seconds later the camera cooled down again, but the temperature issue might be a problem if you plan on constantly uploading images and shooting more images.
You really shouldn’t need anyone to tell you this, but the image processing is virtually identical to what we saw in the TZ5: beautiful colors, nice contrast, but also noise reduction that’s a little too aggressive.
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 TZ50'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.
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.
Black and White
In terms of sharpening, the TZ50 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.
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 TZ50 – definitely not a bad thing, as the camera retains maximum detail and avoids the slightly washed out look of shots from its predecessor.
The TZ50 did an excellent job with auto white balance in most situations with the exception of tungsten-lit environments where auto white balance produced a warmer, orange glow.
Auto White Balance, 3200K incandescent light
While the tungsten preset tends to respond a little bit cool of neutral to most household incandescent lighting, it did a better job preserving accurate color than auto white balance.
Given our familiarity with this particular lens, it's hardly surprising that performance on the TZ50 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 TZ50 does an equally good job as the TZ5 in terms of managing noise reduction and preserving detail at higher ISOs, though it's still not perfect.
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
ISO 1600 shows less visible noise than the older TZ3 and TZ4, but the TZ50 uses slightly more noise reduction (probably to mask slightly more inherent noise on the higher-res sensor), resulting in details that are a little softer. In truth, NR on the TZ50 is more of a problem across the board and the “detail smudging” effects are clearly visible from ISO 400 and above.
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
It’s hard to find fault with the TZ50 as a basic compact ultrazoom camera. The T50 offers all the performance and flexibility of the excellent TZ5, which is certainly why many consumers will find it so appealing. Sure, Panasonic could have made the TZ50 a much more useful photographic tool by including basic features like P/A/S/M modes, but the reality is that most point-and-shoot users won’t miss these features. The new Wi-Fi upload feature is sure to be attractive to many consumers looking to quickly share their vacation photos. Nevertheless, it’s hard to overwhelmingly recommend the TZ50 over the TZ5.
When everything is said and done, although the TZ50 allows you to wirelessly upload your images to your Picasa web gallery the process isn’t nearly as easy as it might sound. Since the TZ5 can be purchased for a full $100 less than the TZ50, I suspect most average consumers will be happier uploading images the “old fashioned way” directly from their desktop or laptop computers rather than stumbling through the clunky Wi-Fi interface on the TZ50.
If the Wi-Fi mode setup doesn’t scare you, though, the TZ50 makes an excellent choice for anyone who wants an ultrazoom camera and wants to quickly share photos while traveling.
SPECIFICATIONS: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ50
|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, Underwater, 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, Macro
|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|
|File Formats||JPEG, Motion JPEG
|Max. Image Size||3456x2592|
|Max. Video Size
||1280x720, 30 fps
|Zoom During Video||Yes|
|Battery||Rechargeable 1000 mAh lithium-ion, 300 shots|
|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|