Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ30

The Panasonic Lumix TZ30 – or Lumix ZS20 as it’s known Stateside – is the latest high-spec, high-zoom compact to join the Lumix range.

It updates last year’s TZ20 with a host of brand new features – including a 20x zoom lens, new 14.1MP sensor and Light Speed autofocus - that ensure this latest release has plenty to keep up with the curve.

Superzoom: 20x optical zoom

Despite the TZ30’s small size it manages to squeeze in a 20x optical zoom lens. It equates to a 24mm wide-angle through to 480mm telephoto equivalent that’s good for all manner of shots, including extreme close-ups - thanks to the 3cm-from-subject wide-angle macro mode. The lens also retracts into the camera body when not in use, making the TZ30 very pocket-friendly. It is a bit larger than some lesser-lensed compacts, but not by a huge amount.

What makes the lens most outstanding is the inclusion of optical image stabilisation. Plenty of compact cameras use stabilisation systems these days, but the TZ30’s Power OIS system is exceptional, right into those longer focal lengths. It’s also optimised for movie mode to counteract the distinct jolty motion that occurs when walking or moving at pace.

Light Speed AF

Another headline feature: the TZ30 rips the "Light Speed AF" autofocus system from its bigger brother G-series models. If anyone’s used the latest Lumix GX1 or GF3 models then you’ll already know just how fast the autofocus is, and this translates well for the TZ30.

The camera can take care of assessing where to focus and does a good job of picking out subjects. But there’s plenty of user control too: the 3in, 460K-dot LCD screen is touch-sensitive and rather than always using the d-pad to position where it's possible to focus to, just plant a finger on the screen to activate Tracking AF. This identifies the subject and will fix the focus – even if the subject moves around the scene or goes away from the camera’s lens. It’s super simple to use and very effective.

It’s not only the autofocus that’s quick – the inclusion of a 10 frames per second burst mode makes it easy to fire off multiple images. However, autofocus and exposure won’t change after pressing down the shutter in this mode, unless you select the 5fps option that, although not as nippy, can continuously autofocus and adjust exposure between frames. There aren’t too many other compacts on the market with fast burst speeds, which makes the TZ30’s a very welcome addition.

New 14.1-megapixel sensor

When the we reviewed the TZ20 we noted that its 14.1MP sensor didn’t produce particularly astounding images. By that we mean they’re decent point-and-shoot snaps, but won’t compete with higher-spec, larger-sensor cameras such as Panasonic’s own LX5.

The TZ30 doesn’t add any resolution, but it does have a brand new sensor that Panasonic claims has improved performance. It’s a good thing to see no more pixels squeezed in, as 14-million of them is more than enough.

With an ISO sensitivity that ranges from ISO 100-3200 the TZ30 does produce decent images at the lower settings. For point-and-shoot work that means handheld shots in well-lit scenes won’t introduce any distinct issues, though fine details can suffer because of processing and there’s some visible correction for colour fringes - those (often) purple-coloured "shadows" that appear by high contrast areas, such as tree branches against a white sky.

It’s when shooting upwards of ISO 800 that less detail is resolved, though shots to ISO 1600 are still quite usable, despite a softer appearance.

Overall the TZ30 is a step up in the imaging department when compared to the TZ20 model, and although it’s not quite a giant leap forward, it’s yet another positive for a camera that already has an abundance of top features.

TZ30: crammed with tech

Also included is Global Positioning Satellite technology that can track where shots are taken. New to the TZ30 is the inclusion of mapping data (included on a disc in the box) that can be loaded on to the camera via SD card to provide maps and points of interest. GPS is a fun feature, but it doesn’t half suck the juice out of the battery. As it stands the TZ30 is capable of around 260 shots per charge, but it won’t reach this number if GPS is switched on in the menu. Use with caution!

Like its predecessor, the TZ30 also has a 3D mode that can record MPO files for playback on 3D-capable TVs or other devices. This works by moving the camera in real time for it to take multiple images - two then being assembled into the one file for a true 3D image. If you’re a 3D fan then it works well enough, though framing can be a little tricky because of the necessary camera movement.

In addition to Auto control there are also full Manual controls for those that know their apertures from their shutter speeds. Aperture control is fairly limited, ranging from f/3.3 at the 24mm wide-angle, extending to f/6.4 at the 480mm setting. This can be set to f/8.0 at its smallest, often meaning only two to three aperture options are available at any given focal length.

Creative Control mode also features on the top mode dial for in-camera effects such as Black & White and Sepia.

Improved movie mode

The AVCHD format has been updated in recent months. Now in its second generation the format can deal with what’s known as progressive capture - that being that every line is recorded and displayed simultaneously - at 50 frames per second. Fluid playback, the availability of zoom during recording and continuous autofocus make the movie mode a user-friendly option.

The only downside to the AVCHD container is that captured files need to be converted using a computer (via Windows Media Player or iMovie for example) before they’re of much use.

It’s fortunate that Panasonic has also introduced MP4 capture as a second option – this can be used straight from camera, though uses a 25fps frame rate and a little more compression.

Verdict

What’s not to like? The TZ30 has taken everything that made the TZ20 good and made it one step better. As follow-ups go they don’t come much better. However, battery life could be longer and image quality could be improved further – though that’s common for most, if not all, compact cameras.

Listing the TZ30’s positives is easy: the massive zoom is an obvious attraction, but it also works extremely well and is backed up by impressive image stabilisation; the autofocus is among the fastest you’ll find in a compact camera; and the host of other technologies and a great 1080p movie mode make the TZ30 an immediate crowd pleaser.

It’s rare to find a compact camera that’s got so much going for it. The £329 price tag isn’t small, but the TZ30 offers big things for the money.