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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Time to first shot||Flash shot-to-shot time||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|