Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1K
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.
Panasonic's DMC-TZ1 performed well in our speed trials. Time from power up to capture its first image was a speedy 1.6 seconds, and time between subsequent shots measured 1.8 seconds without flash and a slightly more sluggish 2.6 seconds with flash enabled. Shutter lag was also fast: 0.5 second in high-contrast lighting and 1.2 seconds in low-contrast situations. The burst mode has three speed options; in its fastest, we were able to capture 5 low-quality (low compression) images at 3.1fps and 3 high-quality shots at 2.5fps.
There is no optical viewfinder, so you'll have to use the 2.5-inch LCD to frame your shots. Thankfully, the screen was easily visible even in bright sunlight. It also did a remarkable job of gaining up in low light while still maintaining a decent representation of colors, so you won't be left in the dark when shooting images in your favorite dimly lit dance club.
Automatic white balance produced extremely yellowish casts in images shot with our lab's tungsten lights. The Tungsten preset did a much better job, though, leaving a slightly warm cast that wasn't perfectly neutral but kept that tungsten feel alive. The manual white-balance setting did a good job of neutralizing colors.
Images from the Lumix DMC-TZ1 showed accurate, natural colors, with plenty of saturation. Plus, exposures were generally accurate, though it had a tendency to clip detail from the brightest portions of our field test images. Unfortunately, we also saw moiré in the finer details of our test images, which were noticeably soft and suffered from JPEG artifacts and fringing. More troubling, though, was that like a lot of Panasonic cameras, the DMC-TZ1 had a tough time keeping noise in check. Even at ISO 80, there were noticeable multicolor speckles throughout our test images, and ISO 100 looked very similar. At ISO 200, the noise grew worse with significant mottling in darker colors, and by ISO 400, noise obscured significant amounts of detail, though images may still be useful as 4x6-inch prints. By ISO 800, noise was so rampant that images were not fit to print.
Panasonic's Lumix DMC-TZ1 might have a big lens, an ergonomically pleasing design, and some cool features, but its image-quality issues should make you pause if you plan to make letter-size or larger prints. Snapshooters who want only 4x6 prints will probably do OK with this camera, but they should take a look at the competition, such as Kodak's EasyShare V610, or even a superzoom, such as Canon's PowerShot S3 IS.