Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ4 Review
New for 2008 is the Panasonic Lumix TZ4. Sporting a Leica 10x optical zoom lens with a 35mm equivalent of
28-280mm, 8-megapixel imaging sensor and Intelligent Auto mode, this is an excellent camera for the person
that likes to travel. Its compact and easy to carry but has the versatility of an SLR with multiple lenses.
There is also a program mode, giving you a little more control as well as two scene settings on the mode dial,
so you can save the ones you use most, and a 16:9 (848x480) movie modes.
One of the main features on the new Panasonic models, including the LZ8 and FS3, is the Intelligent Auto (iA) mode. When you shoot in this mode, the camera will automatically select the correct scene mode for the situation. It does a good job at recognizing faces, lighting and distance allowing it to pick even one of the advanced scene modes. Next the camera will pick the correct ISO setting. You do have the ability to set the max ISO. Combining the auto ISO with the Mega O.I.S. the camera does an excellent job of reducing camera shake and blurring in your images. Intelligent Exposure corrects the lighting in the photo, making the image appear the same as you see it originally. The final automatic option is the face detection software, allowing the camera to correctly focus and adjust for the faces in the image and not the surroundings.
Considering the size of the LCD screen and 10x optical zoom, the camera is very compact. It has a nice comfortable design with a large hand grip on the right side, making it easy to operate with just one hand. The mode dial on allows you to easily select the desired shooting mode. The menu system is logically organized, with most of the common settings (ISO, WB, etc.) available via the shortcut buttons on the 4-way controller and Quick "shortcut" menu. The camera also features a 2.5" intelligent LCD screen. The screen will automatically adjust itself based on the amount of ambient light around it. This will help insure that you can always see it clearly. We found the "high angle" setting works quite will when holding the camera up high (like to shoot a subject over a crowd).
Performance from the TZ4 was average. It takes 2.4 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 7/10 of a second when allowing the camera to focus. The shot to shot delay was just over a second in between shots for the first 4, then there was a pause for the camera to catch up. When using the flash I was able to capture 5 shots in 11.1 seconds, just over 2 seconds per shot. The TZ4 also features two burst mode settings. The first mode (burst) will take 4 images at a time, and it did so in just 1.1 seconds! The second mode is continuous burst mode. This mode allows the camera to capture shots with no number limits. It captures images at almost 2.2 images per second. All of our tests were completed using a SanDisk Ultra II 1GB memory card, normal shooting mode, ISO auto, flash off and all other settings on the factory defaults unless otherwise noted. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The image quality from our outdoor images are excellent for a camera in this category. Our photos show good overall exposure and natural color saturation. The Leica 10x zoom lens offers a 35mm equivalent focal range of 28-280mm, and is an outstanding feature on this camera. The wide end gives you an extra wide field of view that is great for landscape and large group photography, giving you the ability take pictures that most other digicams can't. This does give you a more than average amount of barrel distortion however. On the zoom end, you have the ability get very close to objects that are way off in the distance. It is also great for shooting individual portrait shots from across the room.
Indoors the TZ4 also performed well. We used either portrait mode, or iA (which automatically switches the camera to portrait mode anyway), and the majority of our shots show natural looking skin tones and good flash exposures. The camera does a nice job at controlling the white balance either with or without the flash. The flash has a range of 1.97 - 20.7 feet (using ISO auto), depending on the amount of zoom that you are using. I was a little disappointed with the flash, as things seemed dark after about 8 feet; however this is to be expected when you look at the size of the tiny flash on this camera. Anything inside 8 feet, however, turned out very nice. When shooting in macro mode, the flash seemed to be a little strong.
The DMC-TZ4 has several movie or video recording choices, starting with the aspect ration. 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 848x480 in 16:9 mode. In either aspect, movies can be recorded with frame rates of 30fps or 10fps. The quality of our samples were good. The sky on a bright sunny days did tend to get a little blown out, but the rest of the video looks good and runs smooth. Like the FS# and LZ8, the built-in mic picks up a little bit of wind noise, but is was not enough to drown out the birds in the background. However, if you are looking for more than this from a video mode, you need to look into a camera specifically designed for video.
Powering the TZ4 is a 3.7v 1000mAh Li-ion rechargeable battery. Panasonic claims that the battery will allow for 300 pictures on a single charge. I was able to complete all of our tests, take an additional 120 photographs and several movies without ever having to worry about the battery running low. Since the camera comes with an external charger, we recommend having a second battery charged as a backup to avoid missing picture opportunities because of a dead battery.
Bottom Line - Panasonic has put together a winning combination of portability and versatility with the Lumix DMC-TZ4 "Super-zoom". With an 8-megapixel imaging sensor, 10x Leica optical zoom lens (with MEGA O.I.S.), compact and durable body as well as one of the smartest, easiest to use auto shooting modes available (iA mode), the Panasonic TZ4 is a great camera. Whether it be for someone that likes to travel or one who needs the versatility of a much more expensive camera in a compact package. All this combined with class average performance, great image quality and ease-of-use make the DMC-TZ4 a steal with a price of US$300 or less.
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