Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 (black)
Compact cameras with long-reaching optical zoom lenses are all the rage right now. Panasonic's 5-megapixel DMC-TZ1 is its latest entry, with a 35mm-to-350mm (35mm equivalent), f/2.8-to-f/4.2 10X Leica optical zoom lens in a body that measures 4.4 by 2.3 by 1.6 inches and 9.3 ounces with lens retracted and battery and SD card included. Though not quite as thin, it's about the same height and width as the dual-lens, 6-megapixel Kodak EasyShare V610, which has a higher suggested price than the Panasonic and doesn't include optical image stabilization. The DMC-TZ1's extra thickness can be attributed to its large lens and the chunky grip that houses the memory card and the 1,000mAh rechargeable lithium-ion battery. The grip gives the camera a unique look compared to the legions of boxy designs on the market, while also providing a solid outcrop to grasp, making one-handed shooting a possibility.
Speaking of one-handed shooting, the controls are neatly organized on the right of the camera, so you can keep your left hand free and still access the menus. The mode dial, the shutter button (surrounded by the zoom rocker), the image-stabilization selector, and the power switch sit atop the camera, with all but the dial clustered above the grip. LCD mode, trash, and a four-way-plus-enter cluster of buttons round out the controls and are located on the bottom right of the camera back, next to the 2.5-inch LCD.
Exposure controls are limited to full auto and plus or minus 2EV (in 1/3EV steps) of exposure compensation. It includes automatic bracketing, so you can set the camera to automatically vary the exposure by up to plus or minus 1EV when you capture a series of three shots. Thus, one shot will be full auto, another will be up to -1EV, and the third up to 1EV. This is useful if you're in tricky lighting, and you want to make sure you get a good shot. Unfortunately, the lack of manual controls, such as aperture and shutter priority, means the DMC-TZ1 won't be enough for the artsy crowd who want to control their apertures for effect.
The camera's 18 scene modes offer some level of control when shooting in specific situations, including such favorites as Food and Aerial modes. There's also a high-sensitivity mode that boosts the ISO past the normal ISO 800 limit and automatically sets it somewhere between ISO 800 and ISO 1,600. The manual warns that in this mode, the resulting image may be a lower resolution, though in our field tests, it was still more than 4 megapixels. But given our noise test results (see below), you'll probably want to steer clear of this mode.
Metering options include spot, center weighted, and multiple, which is similar to some cameras' matrix mode and combines measurements from the entire image area to calculate the proper exposure. There are five autofocus modes, including nine-area, one-area, spot, three-area high-speed, and one-area high-speed. All of the AF modes zero in on the middle of the screen, while the three-area mode narrows that to a horizontal band centered top to bottom, and the others narrow it further to a small area in the center. In macro mode, the DMC-TZ1 can focus as close as 2 inches from its subject at its widest zoom setting.
Like some other Panasonic cameras, the DMC-TZ1 lets you choose the aspect ratio of your pictures: 4:3, 3:2, or 16:9. The 4:3 option makes the most of the image sensor, while the other two modes crop pixels from the top and bottom. You can also choose from 4:3 or 16:9 in the camera's movie mode, which can capture up to 848x480 resolution at up to 30fps with mono sound.
One of the coolest features in the DMC-TZ1 is its Flip Animation mode. It lets you combine up to 100 still images into a short movie at either 5fps or 10fps. Get yourself some green clay and you too can create your own Gumby-style clips--just be careful not to move the camera too much between frames.