Lab Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5

How did Panasonic's newest 10x pocket rocket fare under the hot lab lights?

Lab Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5DMC-TZ5SPanasonicDMC-TZ5Ever since we got our first glimpses and sneak preview of Panasonic's newest Travel Zoom pocket camera, the 9.1 megapixel, Lumix DMC-TZ5 (street: $349) with the 10x optically stabilized 28-280mm f/3.3-4.9 DC Leica Vario-Elmarit retracting zoom, we've been waiting impatiently for a testable unit to arrive in the Pop Photo lab. Well, that day has finally arrived. We've already discussed the feature set, build, and shooting experience in our First Look, so this is a bare-bones camera test report, with just a handful of new observations on performance and in-the-field experience thrown in.

Ever since we got our first glimpses and sneak preview of Panasonic's newest Travel Zoom pocket camera, the 9.1 megapixel, Lumix DMC-TZ5 (street: $349) with the 10x optically stabilized 28-280mm f/3.3-4.9 DC Leica Vario-Elmarit retracting zoom, we've been waiting impatiently for a testable unit to arrive in the Pop Photo lab. Well, that day has finally arrived. We've already discussed the feature set, build, and shooting experience in our First Look, so this is a bare-bones camera test report, with just a handful of new observations on performance and in-the-field experience thrown in.

But for those who hate to link-jump, here's the lowdown on Panasonic's newest 10x pocket rocket bullet-point style:

9.1 Megapixels on a larger sensor than the 7.1 megapixel Lumix DMC-TZ3 it replaces as the flagship of the TZ lineup.New Venus IV processing engine. 720p HD video capture in 16:9 aspect ratio, with optical zoom plus audio during capture. Mega Optical Image Stabilization in both still and video modes. No RAW, no Manual controls -- not even an either/or Aperture or Shutter Option. Dedicated playback/capture switch on rear of camera, instead of having playback on mode dial. Intelligent ISO setting analyzes 3000 quadrants in the image and can tweak ISOs in different cells to optimize exposure and image quality, so explains Panasonic. 460,000-dot high-resolution 3 inch LCD. Macro to normal focus is automatic and doesn't require changing any settings. HDMI output via optional component cable. 2 frames per second unlimited burst at full resolution or 6 frames per second 100-frame burst at up to 2.5 megapixels. Dedicated one-touch wide-tele zoom button behind the shutter button.

Quite a feature set, isn't it? But how'd it do in the lab you ask?

ON THE TEST BENCH

Resolution is Excellent at from ISOs 100 (1930) through 800 (1780), but drops to Extremely High (1575) at ISO 1600, the top ISO on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5. Color Accuracy is Excellent at ISO 100 (Average Delta E: 7.9 Auto White Balanced), dropping to Extremely High at ISO 1600 (Average Delta E: 8.9 Auto White Balance.) Like its predecessor the TZ3, the TZ5 shows Slight Barrel Distortion (.15%) at its widest 28mm (equivalent) setting, and shows Slight Punchion Distortion at both 140mm half-zoomed (.14%), and at 280mm full zoom (.16%). Panasonic is doing a lot of things right in both Optical Design and image processing to present such impressive distortion control at the widest setting. That it performs virtually identical to the TZ3 despite holding a slightly bigger sensor is commendable.

NOISE NUMBERS AND CURIOUS CURVES

Panasonic has been touting the performance of the new Venus IV processing engine since announcing the TZ5 in late January. And we'll tell you this: They've thrown some interesting curveballs into the mix of in-camera image processing with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5. DxO 3.0 analysis shows that noise is Low at ISO 100 (1.7) Very Low at ISO 200 (1.45), Low at ISO 400 (1.75) Moderately Low at ISO 800 (2.0), and just Moderate at ISO 1600 (2.6).

Channel analysis in DxO 3.0 at all ISOs shows that shadow and highlight values are nearly perfectly linearly aligned, while the middle tone values open up and spread out a bit. We believe this manifests itself in the images as less chromatic problems at both ends of the spectrum: less rainbowed noise in deep shadows, and minimized chromatic aberration in the highlights, based on our observations.

Combine the Noise curves with the smooth grain symmetry and you've got an interesting departure from the scorched-earth resolution-sapping noise-eradicating algorithms some other compacts employ. Simply put, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 handles noise well at all ISOs, without sacrificing much resolution. It's less than a 5% decline in rez between ISO 100 and 800, and less than a 20% drop between ISO 100 and 1600. We' d recommend setting ISOMax at 800 under most conditions (and use EV compensation to gain an extra stop or two), and only jump up to ISO 1600 when absolutely necessary.

SHAKE IT, BABY!

Due to the lack of manual controls on the TZ5, we were unable to fully test the Optical Image Stabilization in the lab. But it looks pretty effective -- gaining a stop or two in still capture, and handling jitters reasonably well throughout the focal range during video capture. For observational evidence, please check out the video shown here, captured handheld from a moving helicopter while zooming from 28-280mm. This was with an early production model during PMA 2008, and we observe the same characteristics and level of effectiveness with the fully testable unit. It's just that aerials of the Grand Canyon are much more visually intriguing than a similar motion test out the window of a NJ Transit commuter train! We compressed the clip to web-streaming quality, so pay more attention to the stabilization, and less to the compression quality.

In bright light with high-contrast subjects, autofocus on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 is very quick. But lower-contrast and dim lighting conditions will slow it down a touch. It's not interminable, but it is noticeable -- particularly with telephoto subjects due to the slow f/4.9 aperture, and especially with subjects more distant than the AF beam's throw.

Zooming from wide to tele is quick, quiet, and smooth. We love the dedicated one-touch zoom button -- in theory. Unfortunately, there appears to be no way to lock out EZ optical zoom from the circuit, which drops resolution to 3 megapixels! So, it's not two touches from 28mm to 280mm and back. It's three touches with an unwanted detour into 3MP Extended zoom. I don't know about you, but I'd be pretty bummed if I accidentally tapped this and dropped my two-thirds of my megapixels for a once-in-a-lifetime moment!

Playback mode has a couple of bells and whistles, including a "dual display" review, which splits the LCD into two image preview windows, which could be handy for comparing two shots side-by-side; although it does cut the size of each photo down. We like the ability to swap images from SD to internal and vice versa, along with swapping to the "clipboard." This is a special section of the internal memory -- which can be employed to hold useful files such as a digitized version of the Paris Metro map, hotel telephone numbers, etc. And of course, as a member of the Travel Zoom tribe, there's dual time zone support -- which is a nice little touch in a camera aimed squarely at the globe-trotting photographer.

A QUIRKY LITTLE VIDEO SUB-SETTING

Yes, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 can capture 720p HD video in 16:9 format, with monoaural sound and full optical zoom during capture. But it can be confusing to find the HD video settings! Switching into movie mode offers several VGA and sub-VGA sizes and frame rates. So where is the HD video capture? You'll only find this if you drop down in the LCD menu and select the 16:9 aspect ratio as the capture format! And then, once in 16:9 capture ratio, return to the previous menu item and select the 16:9H option at either 15 or 30 frames per second, since it will also record widescreen VGA video at 848x640 pixels at these same frame rates. Confusing, isn't it? And top-quality HD capture on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 will gobble card space at a frantic pace -- filling a 2GB class 6 SDHC card in just over seven minutes! Our advice: stock up on big fast SDHC cards before taking the TZ5 on an extended vacation. Otherwise you'll pay steep prices for whatever brand and speed SD cards the hotel gift shop happens to stock!

THE BOTTOM LINE

We've been big fans of the TZ series since the original Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 was introduced in 2006. And Panasonic keeps upping the ante in the 10x optically stabilized pocket zoom category. Despite a few quirks and faults such as the inability to disengage the EZ mode from the one-touch zoom, and confusing video settings for VGA and HD capture, and a non-included HDMI cable for HD output to your TV, overall this one's a winner.

Panasonic has been a leader in this category from the very beginning and they continue that trend with the Lumix DMC-TZ5. The build quality is first rate, particularly compared to the 10x pocket offerings from Sony (cameras/4898) and Canon (/cameras/4664/). Some purists may bemoan the lack of RAW and full manual controls, but we're OK with the direction Panasonic is going with the TZ5. It is a point and shoot in the truest sense of the word -- but a point and shoot that usually delivers images that will satisfy even discerning photographers who want to travel light. Throw in 720p HD video capture with full optical zoom during capture, one of the highest resolution LCDs in a pocketable camera and it gets even better.

CERTIFIED TEST RESULTS

Image Quality: Excellent: ISO 100-800

Resolution: Excellent at ISO 100 (1930) through 800 (1780), Extremely High at ISO 1600 (1575)

Color Accuracy: Excellent at ISO 100 (average Delta E: 7.9 Auto White Balance.) Extremely High at ISO 1600 (Average Delta E 8.9 Auto White Balance)

Noise: Low at ISO 100 (1.7) Very Low at ISO 200 (1.45), Low at ISO 400 (1.75) Moderately Low at ISO 800 (2.0), Moderate at ISO 1600 (2.6)

Distortion: Slight Barrel Distortion at 28mm equivalent (.15%), Slight Pincushion Distortion at 140mm equivalent (.14%) and 280mm (.16%)

Contrast: Low

Shadow/Highlight Detail: Very High

COMPETITIVE SET

Sony CyberShot DSC-H3 (street: $299): Sony's 10x pocket camera also has optical stabilization, and an optional HDMI cable. But its lens isn't nearly as wide at wide angle -- and even with a longer minimum focal length, it can't match the TZ5's wide angle distortion control.

Canon PowerShot SX100 ($219): Canon's 8.0 megapixel 10x pocket zoomer skimps on the LCD resolution. Yes, it is optically stabilized, but again it cannot match the wide angle distortion control of the TZ5. But for those needing a lot of reach on a tight budget, it may be a good bet.

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-1-640-f-3

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-1-640-f-3

Camera Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ51/640 @ f/3.3. ISO 100. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 does a nice job of holding detail in this challenging cityscape. The next slide shows several 100% pixel slices from the image.
Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-v

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-v

Camera Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5100% pixel views of the previous slide -- straight from camera and saved at JPEG precision 12.
Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-1-125-f-3

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-1-125-f-3

Camera Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ51/125 @ f/3.3 ISO 500. We set the camera to ISOMax 800 and iA program chose ISO 500 for this scary bus cruising through midtown.
Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-1-160-f-4

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-1-160-f-4

Camera Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ51/160 @ f/4.3 ISO 400. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 appears to prefer detail over contrast. We like this, although it does mean adding some post-production pop like we did here. The next slide pulls out 100% pixel slices.
Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-v

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-v

Camera Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5100% pixel views straight from camera of the previous frame.
Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-1-125-f-3

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-1-125-f-3

Camera Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ51/125 @ f/3.3 ISO 200: Just a typical day in midtown Manhattan. Nice color accuracy here in cloudy bright conditions. Next slide shows 100% pixel slices.
Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5100% pixel slices of the previous slide.
Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-This-shady-a

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-This-shady-a

Camera Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5This shady afternoon scene isn't the most exciting photo in the world, but it has a nice range of colors in the shadows. The next slides will compare slices at ISO 100-1600.
Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5100% pixel slices at ISO 100.
Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5100% pixel slices at ISO 200.
Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5100% pixel slices at ISO 400.
Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5100% pixel slices at ISO 800.
Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5100% pixel slices at ISO 1600.
Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-Here-s-anoth

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-Here-s-anoth

Camera Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5Here's another scene we'll pull some slices out of from ISO 100-1600.
Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5100% pixel slices at ISO 100.
Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5100% pixel slices at ISO 200.
Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5100% pixel slices at ISO 400.
Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5100% pixel slices at ISO 800.
Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ5-100-pixel-s

Camera Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5100% pixel slices at ISO 1600.
ADVERTISEMENT