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Panasonic's New Lumix Range Ups The Ante

By Tony Ibrahim | Tuesday | 21/02/2012

Panasonic has been motivated to revamp its current camera range in an effort to stay ahead of the competition. Noteworthy cameras include the TZ30 'travel zoom camera', a revised FT4 tough cam and the WA2 waterproof cam-corder

Recognising dreary jargon in a press release would fall short of articulating the colour, vibrancy and clarity of their cameras, Panasonic decided to recruit several technology journalists and fly them down to Norfolk Island, where they would have the opportunity to properly experience their photographic capabilities.

A number of Panasonic executives showcased a vast variety of cameras which ranged in price from an introductory $129 to a range topping $1,799. However the three cameras that left a long lasting impression was their top-of-the-range TZ30, their pistol-grip WA2 video camera and the FT4 tough cam.

Click to enlarge
The TZ30 is the latest addition to Panasonic's traveller cams and sports a 14.1MP MOS sensor which works hard to reduce noise and render quality images in conditions riddled with poor lighting. Autofocus is over within 0.1 seconds which proved handy when trying to snap images on the moving tour bus.

With the megapixel count idling at mediocre, the TZ30 banks on its 20 x optical zoom, its suite of photo settings and its perceptive sensor. The reality is too few will ever need to print an image at such a resolution, and ultimately their efforts poured into honing the camera's other abilities have paid dividends. 

It also proved advantageous on the size front, with its new body thinner and lighter than its predecessors, made possible by a Leica DC vario-elmar (24mm wide-angle) lens which Panasonic insist is the "slimmest in its class."

Seeing as the camera is intended to be a traveller's companion, Panasonic has included in-built GPS navigation which automatically geotags images with latitude and longitude coordinates.

The TZ30 is capable of recording videos in Full HD, with a resolution of 1920x1080/50p in AVCHD format. It can also record videos in MP4 format, however at 25p.

A variety of shooting modes cater to both the first time user and the proficient photographer, finding a healthy balance between simplicity and thorough customisation. This is prevalent throughout the coloured menu and button layout.

Click to enlarge
A resized photo taken with the TZ30

The only deterrent found in the TZ30 is its lens cover, which although automatically opens/closes upon the camera being turned on/off, causing it to obscure the lens from time to time.

But even this at best is but an inconvenience that can be prevented when used to how it works.

Click to enlarge
The beach at Norfolk was a fitting subject, exercising the cameras colour palette, its interpretation of space and its ability to render contrast. When tested, the TZ30 proved it can capture stunning images, distinguished by elegant lines and vivid colours that ease from one tone to the next.

The next camera that swayed my affections was the WA2 video camera. Its water-friendly attitude has undoubtedly influenced its pistol grip design which accommodates single-handed recording. Its featured LCD screen rotates 285 degrees, sharing its footage with you even when you're gazing directly into its lens.

Although the screen lacks clarity, distinguished by discernible pixels, it's easy to forgive because it can withstand water up to 3 metres deep.

It's easy to fall in love with the camera because of its enthusiastic attitude. Whereas some cameras discourage adventure for fear of water and the plethora of weather-deterring elements, the WA2 inspires it.

Its 'bring it on' bravado was put to the test during an hour snorkelling session. To prove successful, the camera had to be easy to handle as I swam, minimise ongoing jolts and stitch together colours faithful to the dimly lit waters, all while capturing audio muffled by the water's natural properties.



Worse yet, it was my first time snorkelling, forcing the camera to up its game to accommodate my inexperience.

As I snorkelled, staring at the wondrous crustaceans lining the ocean's floor, I found the process of breathing under water difficult. As a result, I'd shake uncontrollably, whirling the camera and my body around as I tried to pry the snorkel from my lips in desperate search of fresh air.

Reviewing the tapes, I was disappointed with my performance. But looking closely, I was impressed by the camera's ability to document my frantic movements without distorting motion. Even the tiny bubbles forged by my aggressive movements where captured in clarity; that is in 1920x1080/50i resolution.

In addition to its video capabilities, the WA2 is capable of capturing 14MP still shots and comes with a buoyant wrist band that makes sure the camera doesn't sink.

The final camera of the three was my favourite. It's no surprise as it fuses the best character traits of the two aforementioned, finding the middle ground between high quality pics and a thirst for tough conditions.

Panasonic's FT4 is waterproof to an industry leading 12 metres, can withstand 2 meter drops and temperatures up to -10°C. With such a rugged persona, you'd expect the FT4 to compromise on the mechanics and resemble a bomb shelter (albeit smaller).

Click to enlarge

Instead what you find is many of the perks featured in the TZ30 have been inherited by this cam. They share the same lens, panorama mode, intelligent autofocus and video recording capabilities. Admittedly it features lesser megapixels (12MP) and it has 4.6 times optical zoom, but these concessions aren't enough to dampen the experience. 

To test a camera like this, the crew at Panasonic figured a hike was necessary. In the rain.

It was impressive, with the imaging prowess to take on Nikon and Sony's tough cam offerings, but more tolerant of the elements. It was also easier to use, thanks to a finger friendly design and an intuitive interface. 

It has the same 'never-say-never' attitude promoted by the WA2 cam with most of the imaging abilities found in the TZ30, offering the best of both worlds. It's not a major revision of the FT3 but it doesn't need to be, with the few minor tweaks making enough difference to position it ahead of its tough-proof rivals. For now at least.

Click to enlarge
Taken with the FT4

All three cameras will be available in stores April, with the TZ30 priced at $449, the WA2 at $349 and the FT4 at $449.

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