When it comes to top-tier all-in-one compact cameras, the Panasonic Lumix TZ-series is the first name to pop into our heads. The existing TZ40 was an all-round success. But with the announcement of the Lumix TZ60, however, Panasonic has pushed the compact camera envelope in a different direction.
A little larger than its predecessor, this new 30x optical zoom Lumix adds a physical lens ring for control and a small electronic viewfinder to the package. But, in doing so and for the sake of cost, the touchscreen has been cut from the features list. Is the TZ60 the right direction for the all-encompassing Lumix compact line?
As the bottom end of the compact market begins to fall out, manufacturers are starting to look for different ways to invigorate the market. We like many of the TZ60's concepts, but taking that touchscreen away - the one tactile control method that sings to almost all smartphone users, irrelevant of their photographic knowledge - feels like a mistake.
We've already seen the Panasonic Lumix LF1 deliver a built-in electronic viewfinder in a compact. A concept that we loved but that, fundamentally, didn't quite work given the small scale of that finder. In the TZ60 that's no different: the 0.2-inch 200k-dot panel is the very same as found in the LF1, bar for an additional glass element for apparently better results.
But when we raised the Lumix TZ60 to our eye - for the second time, after realising that there's no auto eye-level finder, instead a manual "LVF" button - it was tricky to get a decent alignment. It will have its uses, we're sure, and yet this isn't the large-scale viewfinder of pricier compacts. And that makes us wonder whether it's a feature that will be all but ignored by casual photographers; the smartphone generation that wants hands-on use coupled with large-screen visual feedback. For us the LF1 should be the viewfinder model, the TZ60 should be the casual all-in-one that's about ease of use.
Not that it's a difficult camera to use. The inclusion of auto and manual control features on the mode dial ensure the TZ60 is suitable for all, while features such as the physical lens ring are great to have for those more-demanding users. It's possible to control the lens ring to control zoom, step zoom, exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity, white balance, the default setting based on selected mode, or switch it off.
We were rather fond of it controlling the zoom instead of using the zoom toggle to command that 24-720mm equivalent optical zoom. That's a really significant focal length range capable of capturing wide-angle shots or zooming right in to make far-away subjects appear close in the frame.
We've so far only been able to experiment with the camera in the dim conditions of a basement hotel conference room. But that was insightful to test out how good the autofocus system handled dim scenes. The TZ60 utilises Panasonic's "Light Speed AF" system for what the company says is its fastest autofocus speeds yet. That's thanks to doubling up the sensor refresh rate to 240fps compared to its 120fps predecessor.
At the widest-angle setting that's 0.12sec and it was really quick even without much decent light available. But that quickly dips as the zoom extends. There's a lot more hunting as the zoom extends - although we need to see this function in outdoor conditions before we have a full idea of how it operates. Based on how good the TZ40 was, we have faith that the TZ60 will be just as good.
Image quality is also built around the same 18.1-megapixel sensor as found in the TZ40. But Panasonic's big claim with the TZ60 is that quality will be just as good, and that despite the 50 per cent increase in zoom from the lens. We'll have to wait and see when we get hold of a production sample to test out.
That lens also introduces a new optical image stabilisation system, dubbed Hybrid OIS+. Earlier systems use tiny stick-shaped sensors to detect movement, but in the latest system ball-shaped sensors are more efficient with power consumption while producing improved results. It's not something we can see by eye, but the preview image is visibly "supported" when framing up. From what we've seen this is just as good as it's always been, if not better. Another clever quirk is that the OIS unit even moves up and out of the way when the camera is switched off and the lens retracts in order to keep the camera of the unit as small as possible. Clever.
Elsewhere there's USB charging, built-in Wi-Fi for sharing on the go, raw and JPEG file capture, burst shooting up to 10fps, built in GPS (global positioning satellite), manual focus with focus peaking, and video capture at 1080p60.
Overall the Lumix TZ60 includes many of the core elements that made the TZ40 so popular and then builds upon them yet further. It is a bit on the plasticky side, however, and we feel that a touchscreen would have been better placed than the electronic viewfinder in this particular model. An interesting accumulation of technologies, we look forward to playing with the TZ60 some more to see whether it truly elevates the series or is a confused step backwards.
The Panasonic Lumix TZ60 will be available in March, finished in black or black & silver, with an anticipated £399 launch price.