As the cameras on mobile phones start to sport more advanced optics and cram more megapixels in their sensors, digital compact cameras not only need to outdo the competition in terms of specifications, but also in terms of size, as well as ease of use. One of the few areas compact cameras have an advantage over cameraphones is the former's ability to pack a lens with real optical zoom. And surprisingly, despite the miniaturization trend of digital compact cameras, many manufacturers still managed to find a way to incorporate ever-increasing zoom range lenses into their cameras.
Panasonic’s super zoom compact digital cameras (fondly categorized by many simply as 'superzooms') have always been a popular choice among consumers, especially as a do-it-all travel camera. Thus, it came as no surprise when a successor to the popular DMC-TZ20 was announced earlier this year. While the TZ20 housed an impressive 16x optical zoom lens, its successor outdoes it with a 20x optical zoom lens. Is this enough to earn it a permanent spot in your travel duffel bag? Join us as we find out what other tricks this camera has up its sleeves.
Panasonic has always taken the more conservative route when it comes to their camera design, and the TZ30 definitely sports a fairly mundane appearance. We are glad to find out that the body is made from metal, and thus feels durable and solid in the hand. The TZ30 also sports a grip at the front of its body, which is meant to help with holding the camera with one hand. The top plate of the camera reveals that Panasonic has decided to go with a power switch rather than a button, which we feel does help in preventing the camera from being powered on by accident when thrown in a bag. Besides the power switch, a zoom lever, video record button, and mode dial can also be found. The mode dial is placed off-center instead of the usual top right corner that many other cameras do. However, this position, as well as its small size made the mode dial awkward to use at times.
Turning the camera to its back will reveal a d-pad for navigation; and above it, a button which allows for adjustment of exposure (this allows for adjustment of aperture value and shutter speed in manual mode), and for viewing the map (you see, the TZ30 has a built-in GPS receiver) in playback mode. Right below the D-pad you have a button for toggling the display on or off, and a button to access the Quick menu. The buttons on the TZ30's rear are small, probably in part to the space the LCD touchscreen occupies. We do wish that the d-pad is larger though, as there were times we pressed the Menu button in the middle of the d-pad by accident.
And at the top right of the back plate is a switch to toggle between recording and playback mode. We really question the need for a switch instead of a playback button for if the switch is set to playback mode, pressing the shutter button does nothing and this will cause you to miss shots. And last but not least, there’s the 3-inch touchscreen. The screen is bright, providing good visibility even when we were outdoors. One convenient feature of the touchscreen is that it actually allows you to set the AF point by just touching it.
The menu system in the TZ30 is easy to navigate, especially with the aid of the Quick Menu button. It's a button Panasonic has included in their compacts that brings up a list of frequently used shooting settings such as ISO sensitivity and white balance. In our experience, once you have done the initial setup for the camera's settings, you will most likely be using the Quick Menu button more often than the Menu button.