(Pocket-lint) - The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 (known as the ZS5 in the US) is a step-down from the company's TZ10 model, which most notably features a GPS and a few tweaks to differentiate it from the smaller brother. It falls into Panasonic's line of "super zoom" compacts, offering a 12x optical zoom and a 12-megapixel sensor, moving up from the TZ7's 10 megapixels.
As a result of this 12x zoom, the TZ8 has slightly bloated dimensions, measuring 103.3 x 59.6 x 32.6mm, making it larger than your average compact, but still pocketable. In return for that extra bulk you do get wide functionality out of the lens, so for many it will be an acceptable compromise. It weighs 219g.
The TZ8 has rather elegant looks, something that has become common on the Lumix line in recent years. The right-hand side of the camera features a slightly bulging grip which is just about big enough to get your fingers around, whilst your thumb is offered grip by nine raised dots. With 12x zoom it is worth making sure you can grip this camera comfortably, as you'll need to keep it steady to get sharp shots at the far end of the zoom.
The top plate offers up a physical on/off switch, which many will like because it won't be turning on by mistake in your pocket. This is joined by a mode dial and the shutter button, encircled by the zoom toggle. On the right-hand side of the camera an AV connection hides under a flap, but there is no HDMI (although both the TZ7 and TZ10 do).
On the rear of the camera you'll find a 2.7-inch LCD display, offering a 100% field of view. To the right you'll find another physical switch to change between shooting and playback. The usual arrangement of a four-way controller with a central Menu/Set button is flanked by four more controls, offering access to the Quick Menu, change the displayed information, a toggle for the instant zoom and finally an "exposure" button, which lets you change values when the shooting mode allows it.
Power the camera on and the lens extends, giving you the widest 25mm angle (in 35mm terms), extending the optical zoom out to 300mm. Running to the full end of the zoom is a little slow as the optics move around, but the E.Zoom button will fire the lens out using "Intelligent Zoom" to 16x, then further using "Extra Zoom", which crops the sensor to give you a closer image.
Keeping a steady hand is a problem at such long zooms and generally speaking the optical zoom gives the finest results. There is a touch of distortion on the widest angle, but it's surprisingly well controlled. At the far end of the zoom images don't look unnaturally distorted and even out to the 16x mark, you still get good results, especially if you support the camera, or use a tripod.
The model dial brings together Panasonic's iAuto mode, with the usual suspects of video and scene selections, including an MS or "My Scene" position that lets you fix in a scene mode that you often use - self portrait perhaps. You get the full run of Program, Aperture and Shutter priority shooting, Manual and Custom modes, and the clipboard mode.
From switching the camera on to grabbing your first shot in iAuto takes about 4 seconds, which is the downside of having that longer lens to roll out. Focusing is generally fairly smart, but can get confused at the far end of the zoom if you get too close to the subject, especially in low light, even with Macro mode engaged.
One feature we like is the ability to lock the autofocus on to a point of your choosing with the press of a button. This means that you can easily identify the focal point in iAuto to help you compose your picture as you want it. It is easy and effective and steps round the hunting that sometimes leaves you without the picture you want.
Changing settings comes in two forms. The first is the Quick Menu, which offers simple features pertinent to that shooting mode. These range from engaging Panasonic's excellent Power OIS (image stabilisation) through to electing for continuous shooting, setting (or limiting) the ISO, white balance, changing the focusing mode and megapixel settings.
However, there are a good number of settings hiding in the full Menu, some of which duplicate those in the Q Menu. Some settings, like quality, you'll probably set and leave and some you might dive in to change more often. Overall it's easy enough to find what you want, even if you don't get the gloss you'll find elsewhere, or any sign of a hand-holding guide for beginners in the more advanced modes.
The TZ8 is a pleasure to use overall. The size and the range of features on offer in this package are backed up by good overall performance. Manual controls are on the fiddly side compared with something like the Canon PowerShot S90, but we'd rather have them than not. The chances are, however, that most will be drawn to the TZ8 by its impressive zoom and use it in auto mode.
There is plenty of detail in shots and the camera copes well with tricky conditions, dealing with both gloomy skies, and bright winter sun. Fringing in high-contrast scenes is well controlled. We were impressed with the colour renditions, giving pictures plenty of balance and looking realistic. We were most impressed by the performance across the optical focal range given how compact the lens really is.
The ISO range runs from 80 to 1600, with a high ISO mode offering a range from 1600 to 6400. Noise is relatively well controlled, with shots at ISO 400 starting to show the smallest amounts of noise; at ISO 800 it is obvious, but for many the shots will still be usable - the top setting sees too much noise for most uses. The Auto ISO range is easily constrained too, giving you a fair amount of control here.
Video offers up 720p capture at a solid 30fps. You get to use the 12x zoom whilst shooting video, as well as being able to opt for continuous autofocus. The audio recording on the TZ8 is only mono, whereas the TZ7 and TZ10 both offer stereo. The TZ8 also only offers Motion JPEG capture, whereas its siblings offer AVCHD, so potentially give the better option for those interested in video. You can view a sample video we shot on YouTube here.
Battery performance comes in at 340 pictures, but with video capture and previewing, we struggled to get this number. However, the battery performance is pretty normal for a camera of this type.
There have been some compromises made on this model to differentiate it from other cameras in this range which offer pretty much identical operation and performance. The TZ10, of course, is more fully featured and more expensive at £349, the TZ7 gives you less control and a lower price, giving potential buyers a range of options to choose from.
Panasonic pitch the Lumix DMC-TZ8 as an ideal travel companion and for many it will be. The combination of creative control through the manual settings, the wide zoom range and HD video capture make it a good all-rounder. The performance and image quality impress too.
At £229 the TZ8 is well worth consideration, but be sure to look at neighbouring cameras and consider your needs.