Panasonic cameras have been getting a lion's share of limelight ever since they announced a new series of cameras at the recently concluded PMA 2006. One model that has been raising the eyebrows of industry players and consumers the likes is the 5.0-megapixel DMC-TZ1. In yet another effort to claim marketing and bragging rights, the TZ1 is the world's first and smallest camera to offer a powerful 10x optical zoom through retractable lens system with folded optics technology. If you were to compare the compact Panasonic TZ1 with the prosumer predisposed FZ30, the new kid on the digital compact block immediately outshines the mere 2x optical zoom on the latter by a good margin. For a digital compact, this is very impressive indeed.
Obviously, a 10x optical zoom is pointless if it could not be harnessed to churn out sharp pictures. Knowing very well blurring could deter consumers from considering the powerful zoom on the TZ1 as an asset, Panasonic has tactfully gone on to include its proven Mega O.I.S (Optical Image Stabilizer) system in the TZ1 to bring out the efficacy of its 10x optical zoom. In doing so, sharp images can still be captured even if there were subtle hand movements taking the shots and when slower shutter speeds were used.
Being part of the Lumix family means ease-of-use was a highly regarded product attribute of the TZ1 and for that, the new TZ1 comes with built-in scene modes for users to easily configure the camera for different snapping scenarios. In total, the TZ1 has 18 different scenes, which is far more comprehensive than compacts offered by competing brands.
One of the more interesting new modes is the "High Sens" mode and with this, the TZ1 can capture moving objects in conditions where there are insufficient lighting for fast shutter speeds to be used.
At the crux of this mode is a combination of Panasonic's newly developed Venus Engine III and a high ISO 1600 sensor sensitivity. The new processor not only gives the TZ1 approximately 250 shots to the good on a single charge, but also a speedy 0.5-second shutter interval and a much improved noise reduction performance over its predecessor. Pair the fast shutter timing and high ISO setting together, the TZ1 can be relied on to snap pictures at three frames per second at maximum resolution while returning pictures with minimal noise. Usage of flash can thus be kept to a minimal for taking more lifelike pictures without worries of bland skin tones, texture and unwanted 'red-eye' effects.
In our test shots, the Mega O.I.S worked as expected to ease off handshakes and unnecessary blurring with the full 10x optical zoom utilized. The tradeoff however, was an apparent increase of noise (grain) and slight softening of edges but even so, the advantages of having O.I.S activated will outweigh its inherent minor drawbacks - especially when zoom is called into action.
As per camera from the Lumix series, colors from the TZ1 were brilliant and color accuracy was spot on. Buttons are all within easy access and user interface is simple enough to make short work of making fine adjustments in a haste. For its hosts of automatic modes, powerful 10x optical zoom, high ISO sensitivity and improved Venus Engine III, the TZ1 is easily a traveler's best imaging companion. However, seasoned photographers might find its lack of manual controls too limiting, even if the combination of 10x optical and ISO 1600 does make it an enticing proposition that is too attractive to ignore.