It's hard to find small cameras with good zoom ranges these days when most compact digital cameras are, first and foremost, designed with style in mind. However, the new Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TZ15 tries its hand at bucking the trend, and succeeds at making this latest addition to the Panasonic LUMIX series as good-looking as it is functional.
True, the TZ15 is neither an improvement upon the megapixel count of its imaging sensor, nor has the updated iA (Intelligent Auto) mode anything but incremental progress. The biggest difference comes in the form of a large LCD screen which supports a much higher resolution. The question is how much higher?
To put things in perspective, most compacts with 2.5-inch displays come with resolutions of about 230,000 pixels. The TZ15 effectively doubles that amount to 460,000 pixels. This makes the finer details in your shots sharper and it is easier to gauge the focus of your shots. Remembering how its previous LUMIX models had that undesirable contrast shift when at a horizontal viewing angle, Panasonic has made the necessary rectifications, but unfortunately, these changes were not applied to the vertical viewing angles.
With a user interface that's at least on par with the other additions in Panasonic's lineup, and further enhanced with a bigger and brighter screen with sharper fonts and brighter colors, the TZ15 gets high points just for the above two points. A startup time of under 2 seconds and an approximate shutter lag of about 0.07 seconds (without flash) makes the TZ15 a responsive little gadget.
Furthermore, in a bid to make quicken the zooming speed towards its maximum focal length, there's a new E.Zoom button next to the shutter release that allows the camera to jump to the end of its optical range and digital zoom range. We found the control dial up top to be easily toggled by accident due to its very light touch and central positioning, thus one has to take extra care while handling the TZ-15.
Impressive as it may be in terms of imaging quality, there are still a few minor flaws such as a higher noise ratio for images taken above IS0 400. However, colors were brilliant while the camera's auto white balancing managed to detect the perfect settings under fluorescent light and also got a decent thumbs up from us when it comes to tungsten lighting conditions. The saturation was just right without going overboard, giving the pictures a general punchy feel.
The new Venus Engine IV brings a small but noticeable improvement in color vibrancy as compared to its predecessor models. In terms of imagery detail, the TZ15's performance dips slightly with a horizontal and vertical reading of about 14 on our ISO Resolution Chart. While this may seem a little lower than average, in most real world situations this is not easily evident, so there's no cause for worry. However, we wished it had a few manual modes to make exposure a little more customizable (and befit its rather boxy and serious appearance).
Retailing at S$649, the TZ15's pricing is more than reasonable for a reliable camera with the ability to produce above average images for various situations. Though the TZ15 isn't perfect, in our humble opinion, the little flaws that appear are minor at best. At the end of the day, the TZ15 is still an excellent camera for anyone who appreciates zooming and good imaging capabilities.