Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ50 Review
Panasonic has added yet another member to their TZ family for 2008, the Lumix DMC-TZ50. Holding the "top spot" in this series, the TZ50 offers many of the same features found on its siblings (the TZ5 and TZ4). This includes a Leica 10x optical zoom lens with a 35mm equivalent range of
28-280mm, MEGA O.I.S (optical image stabilization) system, Intelligent Auto mode, Face Detection AF, 9-point AF system, optional DMW-MCTZ5 underwater case, and 3.7v 1000mAh Lithium-ion battery pack. Improvements on this model are a 9-megapixel imaging sensor, 3.0-inch Intelligent LCD with 460K pixels, HD 720p (1280x720) movie mode and built in Wi-Fi connectivity (802.11b/802.11g). All these high-end features are packed in a surprisingly small and rugged metal body. While the list of features may make some users think this camera will be a bit confusing to operate, that's far from the truth. The TZ50 has a fully automatic Intelligent Auto mode as well as 23 pre-programed scene modes that will allow the least experienced of users to capture great shots. For the novice, there's also the Normal or "Program" exposure mode that offers adjustments to more advanced settings like metering, ISO, AF mode, etc.
The TZ50 is aimed towards those who want a camera with plenty of zooming power, but can be stuffed into their pocket. While large enough to fit comfortably in my hands, this camera could still be tucked away nicely in the side pocket of my cargo shorts. The hand grip on the right side offers a nice firm grip, and also makes one-handed shooting a snap. All of the controls are positioned in a comfortable manor, and I especially liked the zoom controls. They are mounted around the shutter release, offering effortless zooming. The menu system is logically organized, with most of the common settings (ISO, WB, Image quality, etc.) available via the shortcut buttons on the 4-way controller or the Quick "shortcut" menu. The camera also features a 3.0" intelligent LCD screen. This is a very high-quality display that offers an awesome picture with 460,000 pixels of resolution. This is twice that of your typical 2.5-3.0 inch screen that offers 230K. Because this is an "Intelligent" display, the screen will automatically adjust itself based on the amount of ambient light it detects. This will help insure that you can always see your subject clearly. We found the "high angle" setting works quite well when holding the camera up high (like to shoot a subject over a crowd). The only issue I found was that the surface is a bit reflective, which can cause some problems when shooting in very bright sunlight.
Performance from the TZ50 was great. It takes 2.5 seconds for the camera to capture its first image after being turned on. The shutter delay was almost instantaneous when the camera is already focused and just 2/10 of a second when allowing the camera to focus. The shot to shot delay averaged 1.5 seconds between frames without using the flash. With the flash set to forced on, I was able to capture an image every 2 seconds. The TZ4 also features two burst mode settings. The first mode (burst) will take 3 images in just 9/10 of a second! The second mode is Continuous burst mode, which allows you to continue capturing shots until the memory card is full. Using this mode, I averaged 2fps. All of our tests were completed using an Ultra 150x 4GB SDHC memory card, normal shooting mode, ISO auto, flash off, image preview off and all other settings on the factory defaults unless otherwise noted. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The overall image quality when using the 9M (4:3 aspect) Fine mode was great for a compact super-zoom. While most of my outdoor images showed good exposure and pleasing colors, I did have several instances where the image was a bit overexposed. This happened mostly when the subject was under some harsh direct sunlight. You can see an example by looking at our canon shot on the samples page. When indoors, the TZ50 really does a nice job at capturing people photos. I found the flash was quite powerful when you consider its size. Panasonic claims a range of up to 17.4 feet (5.3 meters) at wide angle using ISO Auto. When using the dedicated Portrait scene mode, I was able to capture very pleasing close-up portraits of our 1 year old. Shooting from 5-6 feet away, the flash had no problem producing pleasing exposures, and the Face Detection AF system worked extremely well. It found and locked onto her face almost immediately when she would look at the camera. Overall, I feel this camera has the ability to take some great indoor (and outdoor) family shots. The only issue I found with the flash was when shooting our macro candy dish shot. The flash was a bit on the strong side, blowing out (overexposing) some parts the image.
Noise levels were good from ISO 800 and below. At 800 you can see some noise as well as some slight softness from the high ISO noise reduction, however I feel our ISO 800 test shots are still usable for large prints. On the other hand, the ISO 1600 setting looks pretty bad, and I recommend setting the Auto ISO Max to 800. When these great ISO capabilities are combined with the TZ50's MEGA O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilization) system, you have the ability to capture usable images in lighting conditions that would normally produce blurry photos with other models.
One of the most appealing features of this camera is the Leica 10x zoom lens, which covers a 35mm equivalent focal range of 28-280mm. This lens offers a great deal of versatility for composing your shots. While not continuous, I did count 36 steps from wide angle to full telephoto. This will allow you to precisely frame a subject, without having to "zoom" or "move" with your feet. The extra wide 28mm end will afford beautiful landscapes as well as some large group photography. While the rest of the zoom range is great for all kinds of photos, whether shooting close-up portraits, animals off in the distance or macro photography. There are just so many more photo opportunities that you can capture with this lens than the typical 3-5x zoom found on most cameras this size. I noticed moderate barrel distortion at the wide angle extreme as well as some small instances of purple fringing on areas of extreme contrast. This lens helps the TZ50 capture sharp images throughout the zoom range, with little to no edge softness; even at 28mm.
There are several movie or video modes to choose from, starting with the aspect ratio. You can choose more standard sizes like 640x480 or 320x240 in 4:3 mode, or for those with HD or Widescreen TVs, you can select from 1280x720 (720p) or 848x480 in 16:9 mode. In either aspect, movies can be recorded with frame rates of 30 or 10fps, with the exception of 1280x720. This mode offers 30 or 15fps. Our movie samples turned out nice. We used the 640x480, 848x480 and 1280x720 modes, all at 30fps. The 30fps 16:9H (1280x720) mode captures nice smooth video that looks great. The other modes also capture pleasing movies, but I liked the HD 720p mode the best. The only issue I saw was the continuous AF had some troubles with our subject. Focus would go in and out during the movie. I suspect this was due to the background which had several things that would throw off a contrast detection system, like that used on the TZ50. One accessory I highly recommend you add to your purchase is a large capacity 2-4 GB SDHC card, especially if you plan on using the HD mode often.
As stated throughout this review, the DMC-TZ50 supports 802.11b and 802.11g Wi-Fi connectivity. When in Wi-Fi mode, you can connect to Picasa Web Albums and upload/share your images with family and friends, right from the camera. In order to use this free service, you need to have or create a Google email account (aka Gmail). After doing so, you need to go to picasaweb.google.com/ and accept their terms for using the service. Once all of this is done, you are ready to enter Wi-Fi mode. Since I'm not in a T-Mobile "Hotspot" service area, I chose to connect to my Linksys router. The camera found the router right away, and connected without a problem. I then spent a few minutes setting up everything, which consisted of entering my account name (gmail address) and my password. All of the menus were easy to understand, however I highly recommend following the instructions that are provided in the Wi-Fi manual that's in the box. After everything was done, I went back into the Wi-Fi menu, then selected Web Album. It quickly connected to my router, obtained an IP address and logged into my web album. You then have the option to Upload a single or multiple images, display an album or disconnect. Using the Upload to Web Album option, I was able to upload a single full size 9-megapixel Fine image in about 1 minute. Overall this is a great feature that works quite well - kudos to Panasonic for adding this useful and "Cool" function.
The TZ50 receives power from a 3.7v 1000mAh Li-ion rechargeable battery. Panasonic claims that the battery will allow for up to 300 pictures on a single charge. I was able to complete all of our tests, take about 100 photographs and several movies without having to recharge; camera still shows 1/3 battery power left.
Bottom Line - the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ50 is an outstanding little super-zoom. While this model is very similar to its siblings, the addition of the 9-megapixel imager, huge 3.0-inch LCD, 720p HD movie mode and Wi-Fi capabilities are greatly accepted and appreciated. If you are one who is in the market for a compact powerhouse, look no further. Offering good image quality, pleasing performance, and loads of user-friendly exposure modes, I have no problem giving the DMC-TZ50 a high recommendation. With a street price of US$399 or less, the TZ50 is a bit expensive, however I feel it's well worth it when you consider the amount of versatility you are getting in such a small package.
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