Panasonic Lumix TZ40 Review

DSC06908Panasonic’s latest travel zoom camera, the Lumix DMC-TZ40 (DMC-ZS30 in the U.S.) just became available through retail channels in Singapore recently. Sporting a 18.1MP 1/2.3″ sensor, 20x optical zoom with 5-axis image stabilisation, 1080p full-HD video, GPS, Wi-Fi and NFC, this camera is feature-packed to the brim, and a worthy compact travel companion for most casual point-and-shoot users.

The compact travel zoom category of cameras is a fiercely fought market. It’s been very popular amongst people who are looking for a compact all-in-one camera that does more and takes somewhat better photos than smartphone cameras. To this end, Panasonic has established their TZ range of cameras amongst the top of the compact travel zoom market.

The TZ40 betters last year’s TZ30 with a smaller body, more zoom, more pixels, and NFC support. It’s still an awfully fast camera for its class: quick startup (time to first shot), focus time, and shot-to-shot time. Speed is of the essence to capture the shot exactly when you want it, particularly if you are taking shots of moving subjects (e.g. kids).

The new TZ40 retails at S$549, which is about the same as last year’s TZ30 at launch.

Now, for the obligatory technical specifications:

  • Sensor: 1/2.3″ High Sensitivity MOS Sensor with 18.1 effective megapixels (18.9MP total)
  • Lens: Leica DC Vario-Elmar
  • Lens Aperture: F3.3 – 6.4
  • Focal Length: 4.3 – 86.0mm (24 – 480mm in 35mm equivalent)
  • Image Stabilization: 5-axis optical
  • Shutter: 4 – 1/2000 sec, 15 sec, 30 sec
  • Auto-Focus: 23 areas, 1 area, spot, face, tracking, touch area
  • ISO: up to 6400
  • Modes: Intelligent Auto, P, A, S, M, C1, C2, Panorama, Scene, Creative Control
  • Continuous Shooting: 10 fps (speed priority) up to 6 images (5 images only in my tests), 5 fps with continuous focus (slows down after about 8 images)
  • Movie Capture: up to 1920 x 1080 @ 50fps
  • Display: 3″ TFT multi-touch screen with 920K dots
  • GPS: GLANOSS
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11b/g/n (2.4GHz band), WPA, WPA2, WPS, Wi-Fi Direct
  • NFC: Yes, for configuring Wi-Fi
  • Physical Dimensions (WxHxD): 108.3 x 58.9 x 27.7mm
  • Weight: 198g (inc battery and SD card)

There are plenty more technical specifications, and if you want to know more about them, you should check out Panasonic’s product webpages.

Here’s what you get out of the box.

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The TZ40 camera itself comes in red (pictured above), white, silver and black. Other items in the box includes: battery, AC adapter, hand strap, USB cable, a CDROM and some manuals. There is no memory card included.

Body and Design

Let’s start with a tour of the TZ40 body. It has a well-built metal body, yet reasonably light at 198g, including battery and SD card. The front is dominated by the 24-480mm lens (of course), flash, AF assist light, and a nice rubberised hand grip.

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On the top of the camera, you’ll find the on/off button, a dedicated movie record button, a mode dial, and a combo shutter release with zoom lever on its outer ring. There is also a speaker and stereo microphones, and a GPS status indicator.

On the back, there’s a large 3″ multi-touch LCD TFT screen which is awfully bright and crisp. The buttons on the back include the traditional D-pad, playback button, exposure/map button, display button, Q.Menu/trash/back button, and a dedicated Wi-Fi button. Some of the buttons, as you’d expect, have different functions depending on what mode the camera is in. Don’t forget that the LCD screen is multi-touch, so apart from the buttons, there’s a lot of interaction you can do with the LCD screen itself.

The TZ40′s bottom side has a tripod mount and a battery door. The SD card slot is also inside the battery door. On the right side, there is a HDMI out and a AV/Digital (used to connect to USB port and for charging) socket. The left side has the NFC antenna.

The TZ40 is comfortable to hold in one hand. The rubberised grip adds some extra thickness, so you can grab on to it easily. The camera is big enough to not easily slip out of your hands, yet small enough you can take it anywhere with you, and will fit into your pockets too. The controls have a reassuring firmness without being too difficult to operate.

Operation and Performance

All the basic functions of the camera should be quite self-explanatory. There’s sufficient on-screen prompts and help so that you probably can also do without the manual, even for the newer and more advanced features. A selection of more useful settings are called up when you press the Q.Menu button, and the whole suite of settings are accessible from the Menu/Set button (centre of D-pad).

The TZ40 is fast. Awfully fast. Time from startup to first shot is just over 1.8s. Shutter lag is almost imperceptible. Shot to shot time is under 0.7s. Auto-focus can lock in as quick as 0.1s in ideal conditions. I cannot say this is DSLR type of standard, but it is certainly far better than most other compact travel zooms out there, and would even put to shame some more expensive and higher end cameras. If you need to take photos of kids or other fast action, the TZ40 will not disappoint you.

Panasonic has upped the ante in the image stabilisation department with its new 5-axis optical stabilisation. Not only does this help tremendously to reduce hand shake when taking stills at slow shutter speeds (or telephoto end of the zoom range), it also reduces camera movements and lends a more professional touch to your video recordings.

All the snazzy camera features would not count for anything if the images the TZ40 captures are not great. To this end, I’m glad to report that the TZ40 captures photos of impressive quality, at least in the compact travel zoom category. Images at ISO 100 – 400 are really good and noise-free. Some noise starts to creep in at ISO 800, but the images are certainly still quite usable. ISO 1600 onward start to be a problem if you care lots about image quality.

I want to insert a reminder here that cameras need to be compared within their class. The TZ40 isn’t going to outdo a micro four third. It can’t compete against 1″ sensors either, like Sony’s RX100. That the TZ40′s images are great is mostly relative to compact travel zooms.

Intelligent Auto on the TZ40 is really pretty intelligent, automatically figuring out various shooting modes, scene selection, and other settings for you. Perfect for a beginner who just wants to point-and-shoot, or even more experienced users who don’t want to press too many buttons to compose every shot.

Here are some general outdoor shots with the TZ40.

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Indoor shots below are all taken without flash.

TZ40-indoor

The TZ40 takes pretty awesome macro shots. It can focus as close as just 3cm away, allowing you to get really up close to whatever it is you want to photograph. If you love macro photography, you’ll love macro on the TZ40.

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The lens aperture starts at F3.3 (wide) and narrows down to F6.4 (zoom). It’s not fast, but certainly comparable with other cameras in its category.

The TZ40 zooms all the way to 20x (480mm in 35mm equivalent), which is quite awesome for a camera of its size. High zoom is particularly useful when you cannot, shouldn’t, or are unable to get nearer to your subject. Photographing birds, for example.

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Here’s an example of the powerful zoom at work, starting with 1x in the top left, and 20x in the bottom right.

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High zoom, however, does come with its down sides, such as the smaller maximum aperture (as mentioned above), slower focusing speed, etc.

I’m not a fan of in-camera creative image processing modes, but here’s a sample of some of those included in the TZ40.

tz40-creative

The full list of the creative modes are: Expressive, Retro, High Key, Low Key, Sepia, Dynamic Monochrome, Impressive Art, High Dynamic, Cross Process, Toy Effect, Miniature Effect, Soft Focus, Star Filter, One Point Color.

The TZ40′s scene modes are: Portrait, Soft Skin, Scenery, Sports, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Hand Held Night Shot, HDR, Food, Baby1, Baby2, Pet, Sunset, High Sensitivity, Starry Sky, Glass Through, Underwater, High Speed Video, 3D Photo. The last one, 3D Photo, is interesting. The camera takes a series of high-speed shots (20) while you pan the camera 10cm from left to right, then it selects two photos to create a 3D image in MPO format which you can then view on a 3D TV.

Other Features

In 2012, everyone put Wi-Fi in their cameras. The hot new feature in 2013 is NFC (Near Field Communication). I honestly don’t see the big deal with NFC. The TZ40 uses NFC to setup Wi-Fi communications with another NFC compatible device (Android smartphone or tablet, since there are no iOS devices with NFC at this time). NFC isn’t used for the actual communication. I don’t expect to keep needing to reconfigure the Wi-Fi- setup, so the NFC benefit is somewhat limited.

The TZ40 can do plenty of things with its Wi-Fi capability. You can pair it with an Android or iOS app, then use the latter to remote control the camera. Yes, that means remote shooting from your Android or iOS device, with live view, and playback. You can playback photos on a DLNA compatible TV, or upload images as you capture them to a smartphone, PC, or cloud sync service (Panasonic’s Lumix Club). Finally, yes, you can also share your photos to other social network sites (that includes Facebook and YouTube).

The biggest disappointment, to me, is Panasonic’s decision to stick to their proprietary charge and sync connector. The connector on the camera end is their own proprietary type, although the other end of the cable connects to a standard USB port (of course). This means you’d better not lose the cable, and you cannot just use any micro USB cable you happen to have lying around.

The TZ40′s battery is charged in-camera, just like the TZ30. Some people consider this a disadvantage. I think it cuts both ways, and I personally prefer in-camera charging since it means there’s one less thing to lose, and one less thing to carry around when you’re travelling.

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Conclusion

Panasonic has succeeded in making the TZ40 an all-round improved version of last year’s TZ30. While NFC may not be terribly useful, except perhaps to score a checkmark against competitors, it is certainly easy to appreciate the quick responsiveness, slightly longer zoom and new sensor in the TZ40. This is overall a good performer for casual photographers looking for a compact travel zoom. Furthermore, the speed, controls and image quality will certainly satisfy the needs of aspiring novice photographers who want to take better photos.

Pros:

  • Awesome speed: time to first shot, shot to shot, focus
  • Impressive image quality for its class
  • Plenty of controls

Cons:

  • Proprietary charge/sync cable connector