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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 Review

How Does it Compare?

In the introduction to this review, I remarked that the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 was one of my favorite cameras of 2007. I'm pleased to report that this years model, the DMC-TZ5, is even better. It offers a big zoom lens, good photo quality, a stunning 3-inch LCD display, a 720p movie mode, and generally snappy performance, all in a relatively compact body. It has a few downsides, including above average noise, a slow lens, and sluggish low light focusing. Despite a few flaws, the TZ5 is a great camera, and one which I can highly recommend.

From most angles, the DMC-TZ5 looks a whole lot like its predecessor. It's a midsize camera, made mostly of metal, and Panasonic offers it in silver, black, and blue colors. Build quality is good in most areas, save for the door over the memory card/battery compartment and the nearby plastic tripod mount. The camera is easy to operate with one hand, though you need to watch your fingers, as its pretty easy to accidentally block the AF-assist lamp and flash. I also found the "grip" on the front of the camera to be kind of slippery. The TZ5 has a logical control layout, though the buttons on the back of the camera are on the small side.

The camera sports a 10X optical zoom lens, with a very nice focal range of 28 - 280 mm. The lens is a bit slow at the wide-angle end of things, with a maximum aperture of F3.3 at that position. While you cannot attach conversion lenses to the TZ5, you can get more zoom out of it by using the extended optical zoom feature. This gives you more zoom power in exchange for lowering the resolution (3MP = 16.9X zoom). Like all of Panasonic's cameras, the DMC-TZ5 has an optical image stabilization system. This does a good job of reducing the effects of camera shake, for both still and movie recording. On the back of the camera is one heck of an LCD. Packing 460,000 pixels, the screen is as sharp as you'll find. Outdoor visibility is excellent, though low light viewing isn't quite as impressive. There's never been an optical viewfinder on the TZ-series models, and that continues to be the case here.

The DMC-TZ5 is a point-and-shoot camera at heart, with just one manual control (for white balance). Panasonic has crammed a ton of scene modes into the camera, from common things like portraits and landscapes, to unusual things like aerial photos. There's a high speed continuous shooting mode that lets you shoot at 6 frames/second, though the resolution drops to 2 Megapixel, while the ISO stays above 500. A scene mode you probably want to skip is the high sensitivity mode, which produces low resolution, mushy-looking photos with an ISO somewhere between 1600 and 6400. If you don't want to bother with scene modes, you can use the Intelligent Auto mode. This figures everything out for you: it picks the appropriate scene mode, detects faces, boosts the ISO based on subject movement, and brightens dark areas of your photos (though I wasn't overly impressed with this last feature).

Like movies? Then you'll love the TZ5. It can record videos at 1280 x 720 (720p) at 30 frames/second, with the optical zoom and image stabilization both available. Naturally, these movies take up a lot of space on your memory card, and you'll hit the 2GB file size limit in about eight minutes at this setting. Other resolutions are available as well, ranging from 320 x 240 to 848 x 480, allowing for longer recording times.

The TZ5 turned in solid numbers in terms of camera performance -- in most areas, at least. The camera takes about 1.9 seconds to start up, which is about average. Things get faster in the focusing department, especially if you use one of the two high speed AF modes. Low light focusing wasn't as impressive -- it was on the sluggish side. Shutter lag was not a problem, and shot-to-shot delays were minimal. There's a full resolution burst mode on the TZ5, in addition to the high speed one I described above. In "regular" burst mode, the camera takes 3 - 5 photos at 2.3 frames/second. If you want to keep on shooting, the infinite mode will do so at a frame rate of 1.2 - 1.8 frames/second, depending on the image quality setting. While battery life has gone up since the TZ3, the DMC-TZ5's numbers are just slightly below average in its class.

Photo quality was very good. In most cases, the TZ5 took well-exposed photos with pleasing, saturated color. Photos are slightly soft, though not enough to cause concern for this reviewer. On previous TZ-series models, noise reduction was a big problem. Panasonic has addressed that here, though your photos have noise in them instead, especially in shadow details. The noise does clean up well, though, since details are left intact (even at ISO 800), and if you're making small to midsize prints, you don't even need to bother with that. Noise reduction is still present, though it's not nearly as harsh as it was on the TZ3. Redeye and purple fringing were not problems, as the camera removes both of these annoyances automatically.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 is quite an impressive package. It's not perfect, but it's arguably the best camera in the "compact" ultra zoom class. From its 28 - 280 mm lens to its 720p movie mode, the TZ5 can do just about everything. If you're after a point-and-shoot camera with some serious zoom power, then the TZ5 should be high on your list.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality, less noise reduction than previous models (though see issues below)
  • 10X, 28 - 280 mm lens in a relatively small package
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Incredible 3-inch, super high resolution LCD display; great outdoor visibility
  • Tons of scene modes; Intelligent Auto Mode can pick one for you
  • Well-implemented face detection feature
  • Auto redeye reduction
  • High resolution 720p movie mode; optical zoom and image stabilization available
  • Elaborate playback mode: calendar, category, and dual display views, enhanced date stamp, multi-photo delete, fancy slideshows
  • Optional underwater case, HD video cable
  • USB 2.0 High Speed support

What I didn't care for:

  • Images on the noisy side, especially in shadows; still some noise reduction artifacting
  • Lens is "slow" at the wide end
  • Sluggish low light focusing
  • More manual controls would be nice
  • No optical viewfinder
  • Small buttons on back of camera; easy to accidentally block the flash or AF-assist lamp with fingers
  • Flimsy door over memory card/battery compartment; plastic tripod mount

Some other "compact" ultra zooms worth considering include the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS, Fuji FinePix S1000fd, Kodak EasyShare Z812 IS, Olympus Stylus 1020, Pentax Optio Z10, Ricoh R8, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10. Don't forget about the TZ5's little brother, either: the Lumix DMC-TZ4.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the Lumix DMC-TZ5 and its competitors before you buy!

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.