The assembled journalists were handed two new flagships, the slim super-zoom Lumix TZ20 which does 16x optical zoom, from a 24mm wide-angle to 384mm (35mm equivalent). It gets a further 21x zoom with Intelligent Zoom which crops and enlarges the image. It also comes with a new 3" touch-screen, 50i full HD movie recording and GPS function.
The other flagship we got to test was the Lumix FT3, their new waterproof, shockproof, freeze-proof and dust-proof tough camera, also with 50i full HD recording, GPS function, and an additional compass, altimeter and barometer for the active or lost crowd.
With its larger screen, I opted to start the day shooting with the TZ20, as we headed up cable-cars (they called them 'gondolas' here) and to an impressive view. The 24mm wide-angle really helped to capture the long mountain-line, which looked straight out of a scene from The Lord of the Rings movie.
On top of the hill I tried the new GPS, and it managed to tag me correctly, displaying the name of the tourist attraction I was at. According to Panasonic, one million locations have been stored internally into the new cameras, up from half a million on the previous GPS-enabled ones.
The TZ20 felt as familiar as previous Panasonic Lumix cameras I had used, with its quick and accurate AF, pleasing colors, impressive dynamic range and the smart iA (intelligent Auto) mode. What I had to get used to were the new touch-screen controls. I'd always been apprehensive of touch-controls on compact cameras, but I'd loved them on the Panasonic G-series system cameras, finding them fast and intuitive.
But even though the TZ20's 3" screen is the same size as the GF2's, I found myself not as comfortable with its touch-controls. They aren't as comprehensive nor feel as intuitive as on the G-cameras, but like the G-cameras the touch-controls are complementary not compulsory. I found myself using the physical controls most of the time, but the one feature that might appeal to new users is the ability to touch-focus and touch to shoot, which makes targeting your subject that much easier. Unlike the GF2, I found myself accidentally brushing the screen from time to time and accidentally activating something, perhaps due to its smaller size, but nothing deadlier than a blurry snapshot of my foot really happened.
But even though I'd turned to the TZ20 first, it was to the FT3 I turned to when it was time to get into the jet-ski (think a really fast boat with a pilot who looks like he can't wait to get water splashed on you). Since I was going to get wet, I didn't want to risk damaging the TZ20, but the waterproof FT3 would be perfectly safe.
The jet ski leapt off and took us on a wild and wet ride, spinning round and round, doing tight swerves at high speeds. All the while the FT3 was being sprayed with water, but I had the luxury of not worrying about it and just focused on shooting.
The camera performed admirably, keeping pace with the speed and sudden movements of the jet ski, adapting its AF as needed, shooting without hesitating. Best of all, Panasonic's managed Power O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilizer) to keep a good number of the shots steady even though my hand was shaking madly. The video record button right next to the shutter helped immensely with taking a video without having to press too many buttons to switch modes, which would have been near impossible since I was being bounced around so much.
One hassle I discovered was that zooming was more cumbersome compared to the TZ20, since zooming in and out are two separate buttons found on the upper back of the FT3. Especially in the rocky boat I was in, when one hand was on the rail trying to keep myself from falling out and I had only one hand on the FT3. A senior Panasonic engineer later shared with me that a zoom lever is more prone to water leakage, and that's why they went with dedicated buttons on the FT3.