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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5

Lori Grunin

Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Advice

I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.

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5 min read

Many might find the attractions of the 9-megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 irresistible: it's compact enough to fit in a jacket pocket, yet packs a 10x zoom lens, complete with 28mm-equivalent wide-angle view and optical image stabilizer. It also has a 3-inch LCD and some very interesting shooting features.


Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5

The Good

Attractive, functional design; generally above-average photo quality for its class; nice, useful feature set; lens can zoom during movie capture.

The Bad

Aggressive smoothing reduces detail in indoor shots, even at low ISO sensitivities; modest performance; poorly placed microphone.

The Bottom Line

Though it's not perfect, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5's compact midrange megazoom feature set puts it in a class with just its sibling, the TZ4, and should deliver a satisfying shooting experience.

Extremely similar to its less-expensive sibling, the DMC-TZ4, the TZ5 offers higher 9-megapixel resolution (compared with 8 megapixels for the TZ4), a 1280x720-pixel resolution movie-capture mode and a larger LCD (2.5 inches for the TZ4). Because of the higher resolution, the TZ5's performance is also rated a bit slower, with fewer photos fitting in its memory buffer, than the TZ4. Finally, it's about 0.01 inch fatter and at 8.4 ounces, 2 ounces heavier.

Because it lacks manual and semimanual exposure capabilities, the mode dial is fairly sparse. The Easy Zoom button makes a nice shortcut for getting from one end of the zoom range to the other.

A dial lets you switch among camera and movie modes, as well as two slots for program exposure (scene) modes--these have the same choices, but allow the camera to remember two of your last selections--Intelligent Auto and an odd Clipboard mode that captures low-resolution photos to internal memory for fast display.

The four-navigation buttons toggle among the exposure compensation, flash, macro, and self-timer options. Depending upon your current zoom, it automatically chooses standard or telemacro.

One of my few complaints about the design of the TZ5 is the placement of the microphone on the top left of the camera. Given that Panasonic states "do not block the microphone with fingers" five times in the manual, the company must be aware that there's a problem with its location. And despite the many warnings, my fingers still tend to wander over there while recording movies.

The Q(uick) menu button brings up a subset of options that are also available in the full menus: LCD brightness, picture size, aspect ratio, intelligent exposure, ISO sensitivity, white balance, AF mode--spot, face detect, 9-area, 3-area high speed, 1-area high speed, and 1-area--burst shooting and optical stabilization. The full menu adds more shooting settings--picture quality, Intelligent ISO, metering, continuous AF, intelligent exposure, color effects, digital zoom, minimum shutter speed, audio recording, AF assist, and clock set--as well as setup screens.

Several of the TZ5's options are quite useful. I especially like the minimum shutter speed setting; you can set it as slow as 1 second or as fast as 1/200, and though it doesn't prevent the camera from shooting when exposure drops below the threshold, it does blink a warning message. Intelligent ISO lets you set a maximum for the auto of ISO 400, ISO 800, or ISO 1600.

The various AF area-mode selections are pretty practical as well, though more for limiting the range of subjects the AF system chooses to focus on than for speed. For instance, the 9-area AF will frequently choose incorrect subjects, where the 3-area AF, which limits the focus areas to the middle row of the frame, will probably choose correctly more often (since most people simply point at their subject, which puts it in the middle of the frame). On one hand, the TZ5's face detection seems more robust and faster than other implementations I've seen; on the other, it still doesn't seem to be more efficient or easier than using center-spot focusing and recomposing.

Performance turns out to be this camera's Achilles' heel. By the numbers, it's just a tad slow--nothing egregious, but overall more sluggish than its competitors, and about the same as the TZ3. In CNET Labs' performance tests, it took about 2.4 seconds for the TZ5 to wake up and shoot. Time to focus and snap under optimal conditions ran about 0.7 second, while that ran 1 second in lower-contrast circumstances. It required 2.1 seconds to shoot 2 sequential shots, which bumped to 2.5 seconds with the flash enabled. The TZ5 has two burst-shooting modes, a standard and Free; the latter adjusts white balance and exposure between shots. The standard, faster mode is fixed to a 3-shot maximum at highest quality, and tested out at 2 frames per second. We didn't test Free, which can shoot until the card fills, because it's slow enough that the buffer never becomes the bottleneck. The battery is CIPA rated at about 300 photos, a quite reasonable figure for its class.

The TZ5's large LCD remains viewable in bright sunlight, and Panasonic has a specific setting that improves viewing when holding the camera off-angle, above your head. However, in addition to modest test performance, I frequently found the TZ5's autofocus behavior slowing me down. With point-and-shoot models I try to prefocus as frequently as possible, since that speeds up shooting. For whatever reason, either a twitchy forefinger or odd shutter behavior, the TZ5 often insisted on refocusing just before shooting even after I'd prefocused. And not just a minor tweak--occasionally it would hunt the entire focus range again. And every now and then it shot without locking focus at all.

Photo samples from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5.

Overall, despite excessive image noise on certain types of photos, the TZ5 produces very pleasing photos with which most shooters will be happy. Even in bright, contrasting light exposures look good, colors appear saturated and relatively accurate, and when it focuses correctly, the TZ5 produces sharp photos that you can print as least as big as 11inches by 14 inches. (For more on photo quality, click through to the slide show.)

In addition, the TZ5 delivers very nice movies--provided you don't put your fingers over the microphone--in both the wide-aspect 1,280x720 and VGA modes. (Connecting directly to an HDTV to view the 16:9 recordings requires an optional, proprietary component video cable.) Plus, unlike many competitors, it can zoom while recording over its entire range. It records QuickTime Motion JPEG movies, with a 2GB maximum on clip size; clips run about 11 minutes per gigabyte for the HD clips and 28 minutes per gigabyte for VGA. Panasonic also recommends a 10MB/sec or faster SD card for movie capture.

Although we've yet to test the TZ4, based on its specifications and my experiences with the TZ5, you may be better off saving the $50 to $100 and sticking with the cheaper model. Still, as far as truly compact megazooms go, these two are pretty much your only options, and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 acquits itself well.

Shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Flash shot-to-shot time
Typical shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim)
Shutter lag (typical)
Canon PowerShot SX100 IS
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)


Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 6Image quality 8
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