(Pocket-lint) - There are a growing number of pocketable do-it-all compact cameras on the market vying for attention, with the Panasonic Lumix TZ70 aiming to be cream of the crop. This pocketable travel compact squeezes an electronic viewfinder and 30x optical zoom lens into its relatively slender frame, promising maximum features at a fair price point.
However, it's a marginal rethink compared to the last year's TZ60 model. The design principals are familiar, but by upping the viewfinder resolution and scaling-down the megapixel count in aid of image quality, the TZ70 is a camera with a shift in its focus.
But is the TZ70 trying too hard to win over the crowd by cramming in excess features, or is it the perfect balance of a well-rounded, feature-filled compact camera?
Finding its place
Despite the TZ60 similarities, the TZ70 carves out its own place in the camera market because of its newly appointed 1,166k-dot built-in electronic viewfinder. That's almost six times more resolution than the TZ60's attempt. Even the Canon PowerShot SX710 lacks such a feature altogether, which Panasonic is banking on tipping the favour towards the TZ70. But if a viewfinder is just going to be deadweight for your use, then the lesser featured Lumix TZ57 will be much more suitable.
The viewfinder comes complete with an eye-level sensor, meaning it pops into action when brought towards the face (or any close-proximity object, for that matter), which makes a huge difference in use. As the TZ70 lacks a touchscreen - an apparent ongoing trend for the higher-end TZ models - you typically won't get flailing fingers interfering with this sensor. Out and about in the day we found the quick response made a significant difference, seeing us use the viewfinder thanks to no button presses being required.
The absence of a touchscreen shows Panasonic's vision is for a viewfinder-led experience, and the improvements in that department certainly make for a better experience than the TZ60. Saying that don't expect a miracle finder: the TZ70's 0.2-inch panel feels small because of limited magnification (the 0.46x equivalent is roughly half that of a DSLR camera), while there's some notable ghosting lag and internal reflection issues. If you wear glasses then the extra distance from the rigid eyecup will also be less than ideal.
Even so, we utilised the finder far more than in its TZ60 form, benefitting from its assistance stabilising long-zoom shots, or when bright sunlight was interfering with the rear LCD screen. It's a welcome addition that's slowly won us over throughout use.
Key to the TZ70 feature set is that 30x optical zoom lens, providing a 24-720mm equivalent focal range, the very same as found in the earlier TZ60. That means the you can fit lots into the frame at the widest-angle 24mm setting or capture far-away subjects as if they were nearer to the camera when zoomed all the way in.
Squeezing such a lens into that 110.7 x 64.6 x 34.4mm frame is admirable, particularly with a viewfinder on board too. The lens also features a physical control ring that can be freely rotated to adjust zoom, focus and settings. It's got a default action for each available shooting mode, so with the mode dial set to intelligent Auto (iA) mode a twist of the lens ring will control the zoom, whereas in aperture priority it can be used to select the aperture value. We like how this control ring feels sturdy and can be infinitely rotated. However, the mode dial on top of the camera did sometimes slip out of position and rest between two shooting modes, causing the camera to not function (but alert you to this issue).
However, with the zoom extended to the maximum it suffers the same limitations as found in the earlier Lumix TZ60 model. At the 720mm equivalent the autofocus slows down, is less accurate, sometimes won't focus correctly at all, and the maximum f/5.6 aperture available limits the amount of light entering the camera, which can cause blurry shots. Perhaps most frustrating is that the TZ70 opts for unwarranted slow shutter speeds in its Auto ISO and "intelligent" ISO modes (there to take care of exposure settings without you needing to worry), which is hardly what we'd call "intelligent".
That's the only real moan, as the TZ70 otherwise performs very well. It might not offer the complex autofocus options of its interchangeable lens Lumix cousins, but whether you want point-and-shoot simplicity, face recognition, or to place a single focus point wherever you want on the screen, it's all possible here. And at the wide-mid point of the zoom it's all really fast too.
There are two function (Fn) buttons to the rear of the camera that can be programmed as you please to aid with usability. We set them to adjust autofocus area - the choice between 1-area (manual), 23-area (auto), focus tracking and face detection - and focus point position, the latter for use with the 1-area setup only. If the camera is in an auto mode then these options aren't available, of course.
Some new tweaks mean the TZ70's autofocus system is slightly better in low-light conditions than the TZ60. It handles things well in this department, with dim-lit late night hotel lobby scene captured without issue. The only problem is, again, the auto settings tend to opt for slow shutter speeds and avoid upping the ISO sensitivity, so you'll need an extra steady hand, even with the excellent 5-axis stabilisation system in full swing.
Not that you'll always be shooting at night. We snapped daytime landscapes out in Spain and the TZ70 showed off its speed: it's near instant to attain focus, which is Panasonic's calling card. Just as we like it.
Having spent much of our shooting time using the rear 3-inch, 1,040k-dot LCD screen, we were pleased by its refresh rate, brightness and colour balance, each of which can be further adjusted within the menus should you wish. Shame there's no tilt-angle bracket mount to flip that screen around, but with the viewfinder we can't imagine both together would work particularly well. We still think there's a strong argument for a touchscreen though.
One thing Panasonic has taken some time to get right is Wi-Fi connectivity and image sharing, but with the arrival of the TZ70 that's now well and truly in the bag. Yay.
After downloading the Panasonic Imaging App it's quick and easy to sync with a smartphone (there's NFC too, for compatible devices), where it's then possible to preview a live image, remote control the camera, playback images, and now share directly to a variety of social media and other sources.
It's that last part which makes a huge difference. The last generation of Wi-Fi from Panasonic forced a Lumix Club sign-in, but that's no longer the case. You want to share direct to Twitter, you got it. It's a vastly improved setup.
However, the TZ70 lacks GPS (global position satellite), which has featured in previous TZ models. Not a major problem, but your images won't be marked with geographical data. That will help battery life last out that bit longer, though, and stops the price creeping any higher.
Under the hood there's a fairly significant change between TZ60 and TZ70 models, with the latest model calling time on the megapixel race. Retreating from an 18.1-megapixel count, the TZ70 instead opts for a 12.1-megapixel resolution, meaning larger "pixels" on the sensor to capture more light, with the idea being better quality images should result.
Expectation is always something to keep in mind with cameras. There are all sorts of sensor sizes and resolutions that, when paired with different lens combinations (not that you get a choice with the TZ70), will impact the clarity and sharpness possible within an image. Compact cameras, while absolutely fine, are rarely towards the higher end of what's achievable, so think about using such a camera for those social shots and albums, where the size isn't going to be blown up to a giant scale.
To produce a correct exposure digital cameras boost the signal received by the sensor, referred to as increasing ISO sensitivity, which is helpful in low-light conditions where the amount of light means a weaker signal. However, the higher the ISO sensitivity the more that image noise - shown as grain, mottling and sometimes splashes of red, green and blue colours - becomes prominent. Digital processing attempts to counteract this, but typically at the cost of sharpness, colour and available detail, which is why ISO 80 will look much cleaner than ISO 6400, for example.
Overall the TZ70 produces decent quality images throughout the first two thirds of its available ISO 80-6400 range, but the divide between TZ60 and TZ70 is less significant than we were perhaps expecting. The newer model is better, but if you're extra critical then you'll see the grain visible at 100 per cent scale even at ISO 80, along with subtle purple fringes poking around the edges of the brightest of subjects in all situations, and processing artefacts (mini black blobs) too. All well within the normal bounds of a compact camera though.
The camera seemed somewhat reluctant to shoot higher than ISO 400 by default, but a few tweaks in the menu system and it would (still reluctantly) utilise to ISO 3200 more freely, with higher sensitivities typically requiring manual selection. It's easy to see why though: the introduction of ISO 6400 seems like a fairly pointless addition if you ask us, as it's wrought with image noise and lacking in critical detail.
However, shots at ISO 1600, while still affected by grain, show off the in-camera processing well. Large areas are smoothed out to hide the most prominent nasties, while finer areas are still able to show enough detail.
We also had some hiccups with exposure and colour, with underexposure not uncommon and blue/cool tones present in some scenes.
There's also the ability to capture raw files, which are a bit like digital negatives. These unprocessed versions of the image are useful for making lossless exposure, colour and other adjustments after shooting, but without the typical in-camera processing applied they are also far grainier. Certainly not for all, but having the option there is great, and shows the TZ70's commitment to photographers looking to advance. We, however, aren't able to open these files as we're ahead of the Adobe Camera Raw update curve - the software that's preferable to use to view and edit such files.
Overall the TZ70 produces the kind of images that people will want to capture. There's 1080p HD video capture at 50/60 frames per second too, which is double the frame-rate of the earlier TZ60. It's a definite improvement all round.
The Panasonic Lumix TZ70 is an echo of the earlier TZ60 model, reinforcing its position as the compact camera with built-in viewfinder to beat, thanks to a significant bump in the finder panel's resolution. It's still not quite perfect, though, as we would like to see a touchscreen featured, but with the main competition from the Canon PowerShot SX710 lacking a viewfinder altogether, Panasonic certainly has a standout feature to lure people in.
As far as 30x optical zoom compact cameras go there are plenty of successes too: good image quality (slightly better than the last generation, but not a massive leap), super-fast autofocus, improved Wi-Fi that's now quick and easy to use, and excellent image stabilisation each add to the strong feature list.
That lens can push its luck a little, however, as we didn't find the full zoom extension always practical, plus the default slow shutter speeds auto-selection can be an issue in dim conditions. Why ISO 6400 has been included as an option we can't fathom either, and some tweaks to the auto modes to optimise exposure and colour in some scenarios would boost results too.
If a viewfinder and significant zoom in a pocketable format are top of your list then there's nothing else on the market that can take on the Lumix TZ70 and win. It might be a subtle advance over the TZ60 of last year, but with viewfinder advances and a bulging feature set, it's hard to ignore the Lumix TZ70 for all the things it does so well.