The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ25 is rather plain and boxy. If it were human you might call it 'big boned', but there's very good reason for that. Quite simply, it's far more accomplished than smaller rivals and packs in a lot, with dedicated shutter and aperture priority modes on a physical dial and an impressive 16x zoom to boot.
You can get your hands on one for around £210.
Specs and features
The lens is the camera's main attraction, equivalent to 24-384mm on a conventional 35mm camera. That's an impressive range. Equally so is the maximum aperture at full telephoto, which stands at f/5.9. At wide angle it's a more conventional f/3.3.
Although you'd mostly be interested in a wide aperture for portrait work or shooting close-up or 'macro' images, it can also play a role in landscape photography if your scene has a defined point of interest on which to focus.
The image below was shot around half of the way through the zoom range -- at an equivalent focal length of 155mm on a 35mm camera -- with a fairly wide aperture of f/5.3.
The church itself is sharp, with well-reproduced brickwork and tiles, and strong contrasts. Because the TZ25 can maintain a wide aperture at this distance and beyond, it's possible to blur the foreground, drawing the eye to the subject in a way that you would with a macro shot at closer range. The corn that sits at the front of the frame is attractively blurred.
The zoom is by far this camera's most appealing attribute, allowing you to get extremely close to otherwise distant subjects, while the 12.1-megapixel sensor, delivering 4,000x3,000-pixel images, leaves you sufficient room to crop in if you need to isolate your subject.
One benefit of building a camera inside a slightly chunkier body is the extra space it gives for manual controls. Touchscreen phobics will welcome Panasonic's decision to stick with conventional buttons and switches. A rotary dial on the top changes between shooting modes, while a four-way controller on the back works in concert with a dedicated exposure button to give you control over shutter and aperture settings. It's very logical and takes just a few seconds to get to grips with.
If you prefer to leave everything up to the camera, you can switch to Intelligent Auto mode and spend your time thinking more about composition than how to best expose your subject. There are two slots on the dial for custom settings too, which you can specify in the software.
Finally, the My Scene mode remembers the last setting you chose from the creative control menu, which includes options like mono, high key and sepia photo styles. This is a big time saver. Set it to mono, for example, and you can quickly switch back to it with a turn of the dial rather than searching through the on-screen menus.
The mono conversion is excellent with good, sharp contrasts in the finished image and plenty of detail. In my tests under an overcast sky, it was also able to reduce the sensitivity from ISO 250 to ISO 200 in this mode, thereby reducing the very slight noise in the higher sensitivity image for a cleaner result overall.
The fastest shutter speed is 1/4,000 second and the slowest a full 15 seconds. Sensitivity runs on a scale of ISO 100 to ISO 3,200, with an option to push it to ISO 6,400 in high sensitivity mode.
Performance at the standard maximum of ISO 3,200 was good, with colours accurately retained across the frame. Naturally, there was considerable noise in the result, which made finer text on the back of some food tins impossible to read. But for general scenic photography in low light, the result would be perfectly acceptable.
The TZ25's macro performance is stunning. At 3cm, the focusing distance puts it close to the front of the pack of competing cameras, and the shallow depth of field leads to a rapid fall-off in the point of focus.
The captured image below is flawless, bringing out minute detail that's hard to see with the naked eye. The stamen on this flower are extremely well rendered, with the receptors at the end of each one clearly picked out against a background of very similar colour.