(Pocket-lint) - The prospect of the Panasonic Lumix TZ60 (or ZS40 for our American readers) excited us when we first saw it because it's the latest in the line of what we would consider the very best of the all-round "travel zoom" compact cameras. And if you want something pocketable without sacrificing on the zoom front then this camera will likely make your shortlist.
But this follow-up to the Lumix TZ40 model sees Panasonic turning a corner, and perhaps too sharply. It adds a 30x optical zoom and a small electronic viewfinder so that, in addition to using the rear LCD screen, it's possible to compose shots more easily in bright sunlight. Or, at least, that's the idea.
In walking the fine line of the price-to-features balance the company has also chosen to ditch the touchscreen feature from the TZ60. That leaves us scratching our brains because in the touch-enabled smartphone era what is more important: touchscreen or viewfinder? The answer to that will tend to be audience specific, but has Panasonic done the right thing?
We've been living with the Panasonic Lumix TZ60 for a week to see if throwing everything bar the kitchen sink (and, of course, touchscreen) at the specification strikes the right balance or whether it’s a case of one step forward two steps back.
Key to the TZ60 feature set is a 30x optical zoom lens, providing a 24-720mm equivalent focal range. If you’re not au fait with photography language then this essentially means the TZ60 has a lens capable of fitting lots into the frame at its wide-angle 24mm setting or making those further-away subjects appear close-up as the zoom extends. And with the top-end zoom being 30 times more than the widest setting, the TZ60’s 720mm equivalent adds an extra 50 per cent zoom compared to its TZ40 predecessor.
It does so without adding too much to the physical size too. It was only so many years ago that a 30x zoom lens would be housed in a giant body, but the TZ60 is genuinely pocketable.
In addition there's a physical lens ring to the front that can be freely rotated to control settings or manual focus. It's got a sturdy feel to it and we like the way it can be infinitely rotated without limitation.
Impressively Panasonic has maintained the same f/3.3-6.4 maximum aperture range exhibited by the shorter lens of the TZ40 too. This represents the amount of light that can enter the camera which is important for making an exposure. In this instance that becomes more limited as the zoom extends, which stops the TZ60 short of some more advanced compact cameras, but then in the interests of maintaining the small body size this was an inevitability.
It’s fairly mind-boggling, then, that within this small-scale frame there’s also an electronic viewfinder included in the build.
In a echo of the Panasonic Lumix LF1, the TZ60 opts for a 0.2-inch 200k-dot panel aligned to the top left of the camera’s rear. As those numbers signify it’s small and fairly low resolution and because it's so diminutive the lack of an eyecup doesn’t feel particularly comfortable. If you wear glasses then it’s nothing but a faff to use a finder of this scale.
We do love a viewfinder in principle, but in the TZ60 it feels mis-matched. In the LF1 model we thought the finder was a great concept that was poorly executed, whereas in the TZ60 it feels like more of a sting because it comes at the expense of a touchscreen. We know which we would prefer to see in an all-round consumer compact camera.
A key reason to want a viewfinder is for shooting outside when bright light would otherwise cause the main rear LCD screen to reflect light from its surface to excess and, therefore, make it tricky to see what you’re doing. In addition that added face-based support when shooting at the longer focal lengths also acts to stabilise the frame. So we can definitely see why the TZ60’s viewfinder finds its place.
But it left us pining for something altogether better. We found it to suffer from internal reflection that wouldn’t be witnessed on the rear LCD screen, ghosting and lag were present when moving the finder around in most lighting conditions so it doesn’t reproduce a smooth preview, and the low resolution is particularly apparent when maxing out the zoom. There's an option tucked away in the menus that is an absolute must to switch on: the 60fps preview mode, which doubles the 30fps default for a far, far smoother live preview.
Panasonic could easily improve this viewfinder yet more but it would come at greater cost and, possibly, at the expense of other features in order to maintain that balance of price. Our view is this: the LF model should have been further developed into a viewfinder alternative to the TZ, rather than a half-way-hybrid that results in the TZ60.
Some users will pay a pretty penny for an electronic viewfinder, and we are totally on board with that - so long as it's a worthy finder. Plenty of other users contemplating a camera like the TZ60 will simply never use a finder, not least because it requires a press of the "LVF" button to fire it up. And if that’s the case then the smaller-bodied Sony Cyber-shot HX50 may appeal yet more.
When shooting using the 3-inch 920k-dot LCD panel for preview we found the real star of the TZ60 show: the "Hybrid OIS+" optical image stabilisation system. It’s really good at keeping the preview nice and steady throughout the zoom range, which is impressive considering the extended focal range.
A telltale sign of a top Lumix compact is super-fast autofocus and the TZ60 performs well in this department, building from earlier models’ capabilities. But it isn’t an out-and-out top performer throughout where those longer focal lengths are concerned.
This is typical of a longer-zoom compact - the more you zoom the slower the autofocus system can become. In the TZ60 the 720mm setting isn't delivered with the immediacy that’s often apparent at the widest-angle setting, and yet this is on par with any 30x optical zoom competitor cameras that we’ve used. At the wider angle settings autofocus is almost instant, however, so for portraits, landscapes and the like you’ll be able to snap a shot in the blink of an eye.
Another top focus feature is the close-up macro option. You’ll need to turn it on and off manually via a left press on the d-pad, but if you want those super-close-up shots then the TZ60 certainly delivers - it can shoot a mere 3cms from the lens tip to the subject. That’s more or less touching, but as the zoom extends this distance dramatically increases as it would with any camera.
In terms of control there are options for 23-area, 1-area, face detection and tracking autofocus options. The single area is our personal favourite method of working because the automated 23-area mode can sometimes latch on to an area of greater contrast than a specific subject area that you may prefer to target. It’s possible to adjust the physical size of the AF area shown on screen using the rear rotational d-pad which is great, but without a touchscreen you’ll need to manually place the focus area using the direction keys. This lack of touchscreen makes AF tracking all the more limited too when applying the AF point to subject.
That d-pad also comes in handy for making quick settings adjustments when the quick menu (Q.Menu) is open on screen. Here you can scroll through a selection of available options on an arch-based design but, again, the lack of a touchscreen means no click-and-drag menu options for personalising the menu structure.
Despite no touchscreen, the TZ60 comes loaded with stacks of other features that, in general, work very well indeed.
We've already mentioned the control ring around the lens and this also works a treat for manual focus. It's the first time the TZ-line has introduced manual focus and focus peaking to the range, again dipping its aspirations into the higher-end compact camera pot. We were at a loss as to where manual focus was hidden, however, as it lives among the macro controls rather than the autofocus area controls. Once that little hurdle was cleared it was all plain sailing: the smooth action of the lens ring coupled with the blue highlights from the focus peaking feature help confirm what's in focus.
Built-in Wi-Fi also opens up the possibility to share pictures from the camera with various devices. Panasonic has taken a leaf out of Olympus's book with the updated Image App now capable of reading QR codes to transmit images from camera to smartphone. NFC compatibility is also of use.
But, and just like the TZ40 before it, there's a cap on where images can be shared. "Web service" in the menu instead means Panasonic Lumix Club only, not direct Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other accounts. Having that extra step in the way is a nuisance.
Password entry - required for accessing wireless networks - is also slow because it's required for each different connection type. What the software really needs to do is learn to trust a single network and then select and re-use the password from this. For whatever reason this doesn't seem to happen.
Even so, with the QR method of connection we had a lot of fun remote controlling the camera via our HTC One smartphone. It's possible to see a live feed on the phone of what the camera sees, including full focus and zoom controls to snap images. Very cool - although it further highlights the camera's lack of a touchscreen, as touch-to-focus is possible from the smartphone screen.
Other features include a 10 frames per second burst mode, GPS (global positioning satellite) for geotagging images with location data, and 1080p video capture. How much you use such things, including Wi-Fi, will have an impact on the overall battery life, but in general day-to-day use we found the TZ60 to hold up well. We'd prefer a percentage battery indicator rather than the crude "three bar" method, but that's a small moan.
When it boils down to it you want to buy a camera to shoot images. Preferably quality images - that's what it's all about. And in this department the TZ60 is similar to the earlier TZ40 model because both cameras use the same 18.1-megapixel sensor.
That is rather a lot of resolution - think of it as more than eight Full HD TV panels lined up side by side - to cram on to such a small surface area and, in some respects, that can be a downer to the TZ60's imaging performance. Big numbers aren't always best.
Having so much resolution does mean things like visible image noise and processing artefacts present around subject edges, but these only really become a bother if you zoom right in, crop or intend to use the full potential of that resolution in output. Generally speaking most users aren't going to these days, and in that regard such a high resolution does a good job of "hiding" many imperfections.
Not that there are too giant issues to cover up. For a consumer camera the TZ60 takes good images, partly because of the sensor and processing tech, but helped along considerably by what a 30x optical zoom lens and excellent image stabilisation mean for shooting. It opens up a whole range of possibilities.
Although the lens doesn't let in loads of light at the top-end of the zoom, the compensation the camera may have to do by pushing the ISO sensitivity - and, therefore, increasing the visible image noise in the shot - doesn't stop images being usable. All images have some "texture" to them which isn't ideal, but is typical of a camera of this class.
One issue we did find was a reluctance for faster shutter speeds or higher ISO sensitivities to be used by default in any of the auto settings. And the limited aperture at the maximum zoom makes it tricky to use the camera in dim lighting conditions. There is a flash, but the lens gets in the way of it which can deliver uneven results.
If you want to dig in even deeper then the TZ60 does add a raw file option in addition to JPEG capture, and while it does slow down the shot-to-shot times it's ought to be worth it for those shots that can be tweaked in post-production. You might want to dip highlights, or boost some shadows, for example - and while this can't be done to as significant an extent as a larger-sensor camera it's still a useful feature to have on board for more advanced shooters.
Overall the Lumix TZ60 might not match up to a higher-spec compact or interchangeable lens system in the image quality department, but in the balance of expectation to price it ticks the boxes in what it can do in both performance and output terms. Best in class? We'll have to wait and see what the Canon SX700 HS is up to by comparison to see if it can smooth out that mottled, textured look present in the TZ60's results.
As far as 30x optical zoom compact cameras go the Panasonic Lumix TZ60 has plenty of successes. There's decent autofocus, good image quality, excellent image stabilisation and a whole roster of other top features that show the TZ60's aspirations to be a one-stop shop for all things.
But the inclusion of a so-so viewfinder and lack of a touchscreen leaves us somewhat perplexed at the change in direction. High-end aspirations are fine, but lack in these key areas. The closest competition may also lack the touchscreen feature, but its omission in the TZ60 feels like a step behind the earlier TZ40 model to some extent. We're pro viewfinder as a rule, but still believe a better equipped Lumix LF1 follow-up would have been the route to go down. If you don't want a viewfinder then there are other options out there that put the TZ60 at risk, and if you do want one then the quality of this one is unlikely to please.
If you're after a big zoom with big features then the Lumix TZ60 still scores the big points. And yet it's a camera that's trying one thing too many in our view which makes it feel like a different kind of all-rounder than its predecessors.