Panasonic chose the picturesque setting of Queenstown in New Zealand to launch its latest line of compact cameras and camcorders for 2011, including the TZ20 and tough FT3.

Other cameras in the line-up for this year include the basic S-series, plus a stack of other slim compacts and flash memory camcorders. Click through for our initial impressions, prices, images straight from the cameras, and some New Zealand sights and sounds.

Alexandra Savvides travelled to New Zealand as a guest of Panasonic.

The key feature of the travel zoom series from Panasonic has always been its extensive zoom, and last year the company introduced a GPS functionality on the TZ10. This time around, the GPS feature has been improved so it refreshes faster and has more landmarks to reference. GPS locations are added to the image's EXIF data, which can then be plotted in the included Panasonic software or Google Maps.

Photo by: CBSi

Like the previous iteration, the TZ20 and FT3 come equipped with a range of colour modes. This photo was taken on "Happy" (though there are options such as black-and-white and standard to choose from) which pumps up colour saturation. The TZ20 will be available from April for AU$599 in black, while the TZ18 with fewer features but the same optical zoom lens will be available for AU$499 in silver.

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The tough FT3 is more rugged than its predecessor, being waterproof to 12m, freeze proof to -10 degrees Celsius, shockproof to 2m and dustproof. Fortunately, the camera also looks a bit more stylish than before, with rounded corners, contrasting black plastic trim and a rounded handgrip for easy holding. It will be available for AU$599 in March.

Photo by: CBSi

So you think that 12m waterproof isn't enough? The FT3 has a dedicated housing that can take the camera to 40m underwater (available for AU$499). Australian photographers also are getting the option of a flotation strap to attach the camera, ideal for water activities and a padded case that can strap to an arm or leg for extra versatility.

Photo by: CBSi

A really useful new addition to the TZ20 comes in the form of a new 14.1-megapixel MOS sensor and image processor, which lets the camera take up to 10 frames per second in continuous shooting mode, and a range of other burst options. In the photo above, the TZ20 was set to continuous shooting mode but tracks the subject and adjusts focus automatically. It reduces the frame rate slightly but as you can see from the photos inset, they are sharp and in focus while maintaining a really good burst speed to illustrate the moving subject.

Photo by: CBSi

While we can't assess image quality fully at this stage (these were pre-production cameras), it's safe to say that the TZ20 looks like it saturates colours a bit more than its predecessor with its JPEG processing. The TZ20 still has full manual controls and an extra 3D mode which takes a succession of 10 images along a vertical axis and chooses the best two so it can compose a 3D image in-camera.

Photo by: CBSi

To demonstrate the reach of the zoom, here's an image taken at the wide end (24mm) of the 16x optical zoom lens of the TZ20...

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...and here's the image taken at the full 16x telephoto reach. You can go even further with the zoom, all the way to 21x, with a combination of the intelligent resolution and zoom which we also saw on the TZ10.

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It wasn't all cameras, as the camcorder line also got a significant refresh. Here, Panasonic is showing off the SD-40, a camcorder that's touted as the world's lightest full HD AVCHD camcorder. It's lighter than a banana and will be available from mid-March for AU$499.

Photo by: CBSi

A nice way to test out the waterproof chops of the FT3 is on a jet-boat ride. The response time (shutter lag, start-up time) seems to be a bit speedier than previous tough cameras from the company and it's also got a built-in GPS like the TZ20 to keep track of location data.

Photo by: CBSi

A traditional Haka from the local Maoris at sunset provided an excellent way to test out the new Nano coating on the Leica lens, which is supposed to reduce ghosting and flaring from light sources.

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The TZ20 also has a range of scene modes to suit different shooting situations, including this one called pin hole which simulates the look produced by a pin-hole camera.

Photo by: CBSi

Anyone for a spot of fishing? A local tries his luck on the Arrow river while we submerge the FT3 in freezing cold water. Along with the GPS, the camera also has a compass, altimeter and barometer.

Photo by: CBSi

New Zealand is one of the most stunning landscapes to showcase the go-anywhere capabilities of the FT3.

Photo by: CBSi

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