Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 Review
Look and Feel
The DMC-TZ5 doesn't look a whole lot different than its predecessor, the TZ3. The most visible differences are the area around the right hand grip, and the buttons on the top and back of the camera. Even with these minor changes, those of you with older TZ-series cameras shouldn't have any trouble with the TZ5.
The TZ5 is a midsize camera, made mostly of metal. It's well put together in most respects, save for the plastic tripod mount and the door over the battery/memory card slot. It's very easy to hold and operate with one hand, and Panasonic did a good job in leaving space for your thumb, so it doesn't rest on the screen. The right hand grip may look rubberized, but it's actually a piece of plastic that's not very "grippy". The TZ5 doesn't go overboard with buttons -- so you don't have to "hunt" to find the option you're looking for -- though I wish the buttons on the back were a bit larger.
Images courtesy of Panasonic USA
If the idea of a silver camera bores you, then you'll be pleased to hear that the TZ5 is also available in black and blue.
Now, here's a look at how the TZ5 compares to similar cameras in terms of size and weight:
Though you might not notice by looking at them side-by-side, the DMC-TZ5 is both smaller and lighter than its predecessor, the TZ3. It's not the smallest camera in the group, but those cameras only have 7X zoom lenses. The TZ5 is not what I'd call a "jeans pocket" kind of camera. It'll fit comfortably in a jacket pocket or small camera bag, though.
But enough about that -- let's tour the TZ5 now, shall we?
While the important specs are the same, I do believe that the TZ5's lens is slightly different from that of its predecessor. This F3.3-4.9, 10X optical zoom lens has a great focal range of 28 - 280 mm, covering virtually any shooting situation that may come up. The lens is a bit slow at the wide end, but I guess that's one of the compromises that comes with putting a big lens in such a small camera. The TZ5's lens is not threaded, and conversion lenses are not supported.
Inside the lens is Panasonic's "Mega" optical image stabilization (OIS) system. The OIS system aims to counter the tiny movements of your hands that cause "camera shake". This shake can blur your photos, especially in low light, or at the telephoto end of the lens. Sensors inside the camera detects these movements, and one of the lens elements is shifted to compensate for it. The OIS system won't work miracles (so you won't be taking 1 second handheld photos) and it can't freeze a moving subject, but it will allow you to use slower shutter speeds than you could otherwise. Want proof? Look at this:
Image stabilization off
Image stabilization on (mode 2)
I took both of the above photos at a shutter speed of 1/5th of a second. As you can see, the "Mega" OIS system did its job, producing a sharper photo. You can use image stabilization in movie mode as well, and you can see how well it works in this short video clip.
To the upper-right of the lens is the camera's AF-assist lamp, which is used as a focusing aid in low light situations. It also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer. Do take care not to block this lamp with your fingers -- it's easier than it looks.
Moving to the left, we find the TZ5's built-in flash. The working range of said flash is 0.6 - 5.3 m at wide-angle, and 1.0 - 3.6 m at telephoto. That's pretty good, though keep at mind that it's at Auto ISO, and you may not want to use that setting, in order to keep noise levels down. There's no way to attach an external flash to the TZ5.
While the 3-inch LCD on the back of the DMC-TZ5 may look the same as the one on the TZ3, there were some major changes under the hood that make it one of the best screens I've ever seen. The screen has a whopping 460,000 pixels (twice as many as your typical LCD), so everything is tack sharp (that's kind of an understatement, actually). Outdoor visibility is amazing, especially with the Auto Power LCD feature turned on. Even in bright sunlight, you can easily make out your subject. Low light visibility wasn't quite as spectacular, but it was still better than average.
Optical viewfinders have never been offered on the TZ-series cameras, and that hasn't changed here. Whether this is a problem sort of depends on your needs: some people love'em, while others could care less.
At the upper-right corner of the LCD is the switch for moving the camera between record and playback mode. On previous models, you'd use the mode dial to switch between the two.
Underneath that switch you'll find the four-way controller. You'll use this for menu navigation, as well as:
- Up - Backlight compensation, exposure compensation, auto bracketing, white balance fine-tuning -- see below
- Down - Macro (on/off)
- Left - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 secs)
- Right - Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, flash on w/redeye reduction, slow sync w/redeye reduction, flash off)
- Center - Menu/Set
I want to talk about those options that appear when you press the "up" button on the four-way controller. Backlight compensation is something you can toggle on and off while in the Intelligent Auto mode. You may want to use it when your subject has a bright light source behind them. Exposure compensation has the usual -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments range. Auto bracketing takes three shots in a row with each shot having a different exposure. The increment between each shot can be ±1/3EV, ±2/3EV or ±1EV.
White balance fine-tuning
The white balance fine-tuning feature lets you adjust the WB in the blue or red directions. This is in addition to the custom white balance feature that I'll discuss later in the review.
Quick Setting menu
Below the four-way controller are the Display and Quick Menu/Delete Photo buttons. The Display button toggles the information shown on the LCD, which includes a histogram and composition grid. The Quick Menu button opens up a shortcut menu that lets you adjust the following:
- Image stabilizer
- Burst mode
- AF mode
- White balance
- ISO sensitivity
- Intelligent exposure
- Aspect ratio
- Picture size
- LCD mode
I'll discuss all of those in more detail when we get to the menu discussion later in the review. And that's it for the back of the camera!
The first item of note on the top of the TZ5 is the microphone. If you're recording audio, make sure to keep your fingers away from it! Next to that is the TZ5's speaker.
Right in the center of the photo is the camera's mode dial, which has these options:
While there are no manual controls available on the DMC-TZ5, there are a ton of scene modes, plus an Intelligent Auto mode that can pick a scene for you. The Intelligent Auto mode analyses the scene and then selects from portrait, scenery, macro, night scenery & portrait, or night scenery mode for you. Face detection, Intelligent ISO, and Intelligent Exposure are also activated (I'll tell you about each of those later).
|Scene Menu||Help screen|
If you want to choose a scene mode yourself, then you'll have plenty to choose from on the TZ5. In fact, there are two scene mode spots on the mode dial, though both contain the same items. This allows you to have a preset, favorite scene at each one of those spots. Oh, and if you're confused about any of the scene modes, a help menu is just a button-press away. Here are some details on some of the camera's notable scene modes:
The baby and pet modes let you set the birthday and name of your two children or one animal. When you take a picture in either of these modes, the current age of the child/pet is saved, along with their name. This information is available both in playback mode and in the PhotoFunStudio software, so you can print it on your photos.
The high sensitivity mode will boost the ISO to somewhere between 1600 and 6400. At the same time, the resolution is cut to 3 Megapixel or less. If you've read enough camera reviews on this site, then you probably know that I don't care for features like this, and if you need some proof, have a look at this photo.
The hi-speed burst mode takes up to 100 photos in a row at a blazing 6 frames/second. The catch is that the resolution is lowered to just 2 Megapixels (at 4:3), and the ISO sensitivity is set to somewhere between 500 and 800. Thus, the quality of these images aren't as good as they could be. Don't worry though -- you can do full resolution continuous shooting too -- I'll tell you about that a little later.
Starry sky mode lets you select super long exposures: 15, 30, or 60 seconds -- it's similar to "bulb mode" on more advanced cameras.
Multi-aspect mode composition guidelines
The multi-aspect scene mode is new to the TZ5, and you won't find it on any other camera. This mode takes one exposure, but saves the photo at all three aspect ratios (3:2, 4:3, and 16:9). The design of the sensor allows you to shoot at 28 mm, regardless of the aspect ratio.
Getting back to the tour now. To the right of the mode dial is the power switch, followed by the shutter release button / zoom controller. The zoom controller can move the lens at two different speeds, depending on how hard you press it. At full speed, it takes around 2.5 seconds for the lens to make the trip through the focal range. I counted over thirty steps in the TZ5's 10X zoom range.
The last thing to see here is the Easy Zoom button. Press the button once, and the zoom moves to the full telephoto (10X) position. Press it again, and it activates the extended optical zoom feature. This gives you a total zoom power of 16.9X, though the resolution drops to 3 Megapixel (still more than enough for a 4 x 6 inch print). Pressing the button a third time returns the zoom to the wide-angle position, and sets the resolution back to its previous value.
There's nothing to see on this side of the DMC-TZ5.
On the other side of the camera you'll find its I/O ports, which are behind a plastic door of average quality. The ports here include component video (HD cable not included), USB + A/V out, and DC-in (for optional AC adapter). The DMC-TZ5 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, so data transfers to your Mac or PC will be speedy.
The lens is at the full telephoto position here.
On the bottom of the TZ5, you'll find a plastic tripod mount (boo!) and the battery/memory card compartment. The door that covers this compartment is on the flimsy side, though I appreciate the fact that it has a locking mechanism. Accessing the memory card slot while using a tripod shouldn't be a problem.
The included CGA-S007 lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.