Review: Panasonic Lumix TZ-20 Tops Traveller Compact Cams

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The TZ-20 from Panasonic’s Lumix upcoming 2011 Lumix range offers a refreshed take on previous TZs, with upgraded features including incredible zoom quality and simplified controls.

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After extensive testing of Panasonic’s upcoming range of Lumix camcorders and compacts in the mountains of Queenstown, New Zealand under all conditions – wet, rugged, shaking and high up – SmartHouse has found the TZ-20 to be one of the best compacts to hit the market when it comes out this April. While any photo of that scenery would look good, it’s the high quality despite the elements that makes this camera shine.

The touch-screen is not an essential feature, but it particularly shines with the Touch Auto Focus that allows a subject in view to be tracked to maintain focus in the frame if you or it is moving.

Simply switch the camera into that mode, click the object as you see it on the touch screen and the camera will lock onto it, displayed by a small tracking reticule on the screen. Add enhanced image stabilising and instant shutter speeds to this and motion shots are a breeze to shoot at high quality with little to no motion blur.

Features like Touch Auto Focus make rocky shots come out in focus most of the time. Testing out the cam on bumpy 4WD rock and dirt tracks will give you a slight motion blur, but if there’s something in the distance you’re trying to follow like a trailing car behind you then the Auto Focus tracking makes sure the focus doesn’t keep changing.

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We tested these features of the camera on and of moving helicopters. Propellers in flight can be shot without any motion blur on the spinning propellers, while still maintaining high quality regardless of zoom. With 16x optical zoom, the same can be achieved in close-ups from afar, even at high quality under 21x ‘Intelligent Zoom.’ Barely noticeable features from a no-zoom frame can be zoomed in on at 21x for clear, but not entirely crisp, imaging.

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Photos of distant bungee jumpers were taken at 21x zoom to recognise facial details with little blur.

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Handheld Night Shot makes short work of taking high quality shots of night time sceneries that flashes can’t illuminate. Normally you’d need to leave a camera on a tripod with a long exposure for a high quality shot of a city skyline or mountain range at night, but the 14.1 megapixel MOS sensor that is a new addition to the TZ shoots 10 frames a seconds from your hand and compiles the photos together to create one blur-free image with noticeable brightness. The quality won’t be as high as a long exposure because of a higher ISO count, but for a compact suited to the travelling user it’s a highly practical addition.

 
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The Lumix standard intelligent auto (iA) function is pretty savvy at picking up what type of photo you’re taking pretty quickly by adjusting focus, whether it’s a landscape shot or if you’re going in close for a macro shot, though it isn’t perfect. There’s a slight overexposure in sunny areas if you’re finicky about your image detail, so customising exposure outside of iA is the way to go here.

The camera holds most of the typical customising features of a high-end camera in its compact form like exposure settings, while adding a few extras like GPS to geo-tag photos to a database of around a million landmarks (in case you forget that you’re standing in front of NZ’s Lake Wakatipu in that photo).  ‘Smart’ Touch Screen controls mean that the screen is a little more sensitive than older editions and allow for more intuitive use of the camera, like being able to adjust settings from the screen with minimal use of physical buttons and being able to snap quick shots by tapping the screen.

The TZ also features 3D without the need for a 3D lens, though unlike the Sony Bloggie, you won’t be able to look at your 3D captures unless you upload the images to a 3D TV or monitor. Users hold down the shutter button while shifting their hand to the right 10cm until the image is completed. The camera takes multiple photos and selects two to create the 3D image that can be viewed on 3D screens, while still allowing the image to be viewed in 2D everywhere else.

The frame is compact, light weight, features a handy separate button for video recording (in full HD). Output is simple with SD card compatibility and HDMI output for direct play onto TVs.

The Lumix DMC-TZ20 will be one of the best compacts on the market when it hits stores this April, with simplified controls on improved hardware, lenses and software that deliver quick shots and high zoom without loss of quality. The TZ20 ships in black for $599, while its little brother unit, the TZ18 comes in silver for $499.

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