PANASONIC TZ100 USER EXPERIENCE

When I went to The Photography show earlier this year I played around with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ100 and was very impressed by it. Following on from that I've had the opportunity to try one out for a few days and the following are my impressions of it.

THE SPECS

For a small carry anywhere compact zoom, these are very impressive. Following the very successful Sony RX100 series and the critical acclaim that received, Panasonic have taken the concept further and stretched the limit of what cameras like this can offer. My feeling is that this limit has been pushed somewhat further than it should, but that's for later. First here is some of what the TZ100 offers.

  • Max. resolution 5472 x 3648
  • Image ratio - 1:1, 4:3, 3:2, 16:9
  • Effective pixels 20 megapixels
  • Sensor size 1″ (13.2 x 8.8 mm)
  • Sensor type CMOS
  • ISOAuto, 125-12800 (expands to 80-25600)
  • Image stabilisation inc. Hybrid 5-axis available in movie mode
  • Raw (Panasonic RW2 format)
  • Focal length (equiv.) 25–250 mm
  • Maximum aperture f2.8–5.9
  • Macro focus range5 cm (1.97″)
  • Number of focus points - 49
  • Touch screen 
  • Built-in flash
  • 4K Video
  • 4K Photo
  • 4K post capture focusing
  • Pinpoint focus
  • Electronic shutter
  • Weight (inc. batteries) 312 g (0.69 lb / 11.01 oz)
  • Dimensions111 x 65 x 44 mm (4.37 x 2.56 x 1.73″)

 

All of this is undeniably impressive and it seems that you get a whole lot of features in a a small light package. And that is exactly what is available. Some of what the camera offers is good, though some is, unsurprisingly, somewhat of a compromise. So what works for me and what doesn't?

LAYOUT AND HANDLING

Like everyone else (except Leica of course) it seems, Panasonic feel the need to cram as much into their cameras as possible. The menus are typically Panasonic and if you have ever used one of their m4/3 cameras you will know where you are with this camera. Whether you find these confusing or well laid out will probably depend on how often you have used the brand. Since I've been using Lumix cameras since the G1, I'm very familiar with them, so it would be somewhat unfair of me to offer an opinion. I find them easy to navigate, but then I would. Likewise the controls. Again typical of how Panasonic do things. 

The TZ100 also has a typical small camera feel. And as I've written many times before, this is not something I enjoy. There is a bit of a grip, but it offers little in the way of genuinely useful support. Using the viewfinder means lots of overlapping and bunched up fingers, as is typical with cameras like this and unintentionally pressing some of the controls on the body is often an unwanted consequence. It is the usual trade off between size and comfort and depending on which you prioritise will influence how you regard this.

THE VIEWFINDER

There has been a fair amount of negativity about this. But, I'm not going to contribute to that. Sure it's a small 'tunnel like' view but it works for me. It's just such a pleasure to have an EVF on a camera this size and it makes working in bright sunlight much easier than using the screen which is predictably hopeless in very bright light. Using the EVF also makes the camera more stable. I was pleasantly surprised by how well it worked for me. It's not a DSLR type view or anything like the best mirrorless cameras out there, but it's built-in, it's conveniently on the left side of the camera (when you use your right eye) and it works. It's also a 100% view.

THE LENS AND IMAGE QUALITY

This is a Leica branded zoom, which has an approx. 35mm equivalent of 25-250mm. It's a very handy f/2.8 at the wide end but a not so useful f/5.9 at the telephoto end. And you'd better get used to f/5.9 because unless you like noisy images you'll be using it a lot, even in good light. 

 

There is some distortion at the wide end, which Panasonic surprisingly don't seem to have 'profiled out'. It is quite noticeable for certain images. Full telephoto, wide open is usually a good test of a zooms quality and the TZ100 lens is OK in that regard. The jpgs. the camera produces are a bit 'smeared' however and under all circumstances I preferred raw images which yielded better quality.

Sharpness from the lens is again OK, but no more than that. And while a 1" sensor is preferable to something smaller, it is still a fairly small image capturing area. After shooting with the TZ100, I had a look at some of my FZ1000 files and I have to say, I think they are better. The TZ100 generates a bit too much luminance noise (digital 'grain') for my taste, which is exaggerated if the image is underexposed. Lifting shadows can make the image quite noisy. High ISO is again predictably not great. This is very clearly a daylight, outdoors camera. Indoors in poor light the flash (or a tripod) is essential. 

I have to say that all things considered, I was a little disappointed by both the lens performance and the overall image quality. With the camera I was hoping for something like a scaled down FZ1000 or an LX100 with a wider zoom range. Unfortunately, I don't think the TZ100 is either. I'm not saying that the images the camera produces are bad, they are far from that, but with the rapidly increasing quality of small sensor cameras, I expected more. For example, if you are considering either the FZ1000 or this camera and aren't that bothered about size and weight, then I would recommend you check out the differences in image quality before coming to a final decision.

VIDEO AND IMAGE STABILISATION

Above are two videos I shot with the TZ100. The good news is I think the 4K footage is sharp and freer from the 'shimmering' effect that cameras like the LX100 exhibited. It's very nice crisp video and for such a small camera, very impressive. However, the one thing the LX100 has is superb image stabilisation. I was always very surprised at how good it was, particularly for such a small camera. For some reason, I couldn't get the same steadiness from the TZ100. I can't explain why this is the case, but there is noticeably more 'wobble' on my hand held footage. A shame really, since this would be ideal as a carry anywhere video camera. 

4K PHOTO

Panasonic make a big deal about their 4K Photo function (capturing stills from video) and their new 4K function of shooting a short video clip while moving the focus is also included. However, I'm not convinced by this. The idea that you can shoot video and then 'grab' an 8MP still from it seems like a good idea, but in reality the softness and lack of detail in the resulting image tends to make this less useful than it might be. Handy when you don't have another option and fine for web use, but it's not something I've used a lot.

THE CASE FOR

  • Amazing specs.
  • Reasonably priced
  • Small and light
  • Large zoom range
  • Sharp 4K video
  • Built in EVF with 100% coverage
  • Decent Image quality for stills
  • 4K photo and post focusing
  • Electronic shutter for silent shooting
  • Macro facility is excellent

THE CASE AGAINST

  • Poor battery life
  • High ISO very noisy
  • IS not as good as other Panasonic cameras
  • Slow lens at telephoto end
  • Still images slightly soft
  • Distortion on wide angle images
  • Some smearing and loss of detail in jpgs.
  • Daylight camera only
  • Poor grip
  • Small camera feel with cluttered body

CONCLUSION

There is much to like in the TZ100, but it is after all a compromise. By choosing to make it so small and put such a large range zoom on the camera, Panasonic have given themselves a mountain to climb. To their credit they have mostly succeeded and if you aren't hyper critical about image quality then it could prove a very useful camera. Certainly this camera will yield better stills and video than any smartphone. 

Personally I was hoping for a scaled down version of the FZ-1000, a camera I really liked, but it's not that. I also think the LX100, while having a much smaller zoom range but a larger sensor, is still the better camera. But there is no denying that the TZ100 has a LOT of features. However I can't help thinking that if maybe Panasonic had scaled down their ambitions somewhat, this could have been a spectacular camera. A lesser zoom range would have yielded a faster telephoto aperture, probably less distortion and sharper results. I would have also liked to see a larger grip, since I really didn't enjoy the experience of using it. 

Ultimately, all of this is personal taste and I have called this post a user experience rather than a review. We all like what we like and I'm no different. And I am perfectly willing to accept that a lot of people will like this camera and find it suits them very well. I am a Panasonic fan and I've always applauded their philosophy of stretching what a small camera can do. As I've indicated I think that the TZ100 is stretched a little too far, but that doesn't mean that it isn't a good camera, it is. However, I think that Panasonic have missed the opportunity to make a great camera by going for headline grabbing specs. rather than what makes for the best quality and handling experience. But there is no denying that it is a very worthy attempt and one that will hopefully delay the demise of the stand alone compact camera for a while yet.