At the beginning of January, I was among the first journalists to bring you quick preview of the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ100. The camera looked very promising and finally I got a production sample for a week to play with. I was very anxious to check if the camera lived to its expectations and to find out if this might be the best travel camera of 2016.
If you prefer video reviews, everything discussed here is in my Youtube review:
It is impressive how Panasonic managed to combine 10x optical zoom with 1 inch sensor in such a small camera. It weighs only 313 grams and really fits almost anywhere making it ideal travel and carry anywhere cam. It is not exactly small, but it will easily fit any coat pocket.
Overall build quality is OK but materials are way too slippery. There is no rubber on the grip nor the thumb rest – really weird choice, especially since more affordable TZ-80 has them. My experience tells me this camera must always be secured with wrist strap – it is way too easy to drop it otherwise.
Controls are easily accessible but most buttons are to small – that is constant problem on cameras small as this one. Good deal of buttons and dials can be customized – here’s how i set up this camera. I assigned direct exposure control on upper dial. Fn1 button controls AF point position and size. Fn2 controls image stabilization. Fn3 was left to its default function and that is quick menu, a is the case with Fn4 which controls electronic viewfinder and LCD. Zoom lever around the shutter button controls step zoom, and the dial around the lens controls zoom in normal continuous way.
Tripod mount is too close to batter card compartment – when on tripod it impossible to change battery or memory card.
Built-in flash is good enough for family usage. It can be slightly tilted upward for bounce – here’s a an example how much better images look with bounce flash compared to direct lighting.
LCD AND EVF
3 inches LCD has 1 million dots. Viewing angles are perfect and images look extremely sharp and detailed on this LCD. It is touch sensitive but I quickly turned it off; on camera as small as this one it was too often I touched something accidentally. Touch controls work for any aspect of the camera – playback, menu system, focus or activating shutter unlike some Olympus cameras which have limited touch functionality. Touch shutter is a bit hidden – I found it in side menu on LCD only after one of my viewers on Youtube pointed it out.
Electronic viewfinder is placed at the left camera corner like on rangefinder cameras. This is perfect layout for framing with right eye on finder and with left eye free to scan environment.
Sadly, EVF quality is bad. It is extremely small and has low resolution – 1.1 million dots. Since it uses field sequential technology (meaning it quickly cycles between red green and blue pixels) it suffers from RGB tearing effect – small rainbows are visible in viewfinder when you move eyeball what can be quite irritating.
Diopter adjustment does not have enough range – that will be a problem for anyone using contact lenses or prescription glasses. All together, I avoided using EVF as much as I could.
There is an option to engage monochrome live view which gives you black and white preview but images and video are recorded in color.
IMAGE QUALITY AND LENS
TZ100 has a big, so called 1-inch sensor – the same size is used in Sony RX100, RX10 models, as well as Panasonics own FZ1000 and several Canon cameras. The bigger the sensor, the better the image quality, and TZ100 is really good. It is a significant step above any other compact with smaller sensor.
Images have great color and retain fine details. Of course, shooting in RAW format is recommended as always. Light metering is very consistent. I almost never had to use exposure compensation.
What’s even better, bigger sensor performs better in low light, and i would say TZ100 is usable up to ISO 3200 on regular basis. Maybe even above if you have a good control of light. That’s some serious DSLR territory. Please scroll down to end of review for full resolution samples.
In spite that, I wouldn’t call TZ100 a low light camera – lens has a rather unimpressive aperture that goes from F/2.8 to 5.9 and is not appropriate for low light use. It has 10x optical zoom what is the most anyone managed to pair with 1 inch sensor and still keep compact camera dimensions. It covers 25-250mm in 35 mm equivalent and has optical image stabilization. You can control zoom continuously in which case it is speed sensitive: the faster you rotate front dial around the lens, the faster it will zoom. There is also option to use step zoom – in this case lens will stop at popular 35mm equivalent focal lengths. As I said, aperture is small and even worse it quickly falls when you zoom the lens; by 50mm it is already at F/4 and at 135mm at F5.7. This is bad both for low light and for subject separation.
Macro is quite good on this camera. It’s not made for small bugs but you can get quite nice shots of flowers or similar. Just keep in mind macro focusing range changes as you zoom, but camera always indicates how close you can focus.
As for lens quality it is generally OK but far from perfect. Sharpness becomes progressively worse above 135mm. This is the price we pay for high zoom range in compact body. This is not a deal braker for most users but keep in mind this is not the camera made to perform perfect at high telephoto.
Panasonic TZ100 has both mechanical and electronic shutter. You can control them manually or let the camera to decide which one to use. Together they allow shutter speeds from 60 seconds to 1/16,000 of a second (great to have for freezing fast movement). When used in electronic mode, camera is completely silent, but even mechanical shutter is barely audible. There is also silent shooting mode which when enabled turns off all camera sounds and both flash and AF assist lamp – rather nice when you want to take images and keep low profile.
Continuous shooting is available at 10fps in full resolution and 6 fps with constant auto focus. There is also super high burst but at only 5 megapixels and in JPEG format. Buffer is big enough for 14 RAW or 42 JPEG frames at 10fps.
Bracketing allows maximum of 7 frames at 1 exposure value step – more than enough for all HDR lovers.
ISO ranges from 125-12800. In AUTO ISO mode you can select upper ISO value but not the shutter speed at which it will change. It is also not linked to focal length – that’s something that could be easily upgraded in some future firmware update.
Auto focus is extremely fast – in daylight practically instant. The camera offers a range of focus point configurations and sizes for you to play with. I prefer using single point which can be easily changed in size to accommodate any needs.
Manual focus is easy to control – once you engage it, dial around the lens controls focus. Focus magnification helps to pinpoint focus and you can select magnification to cover entire frame or just the central part of it.
4K PHOTO MODE AND POST FOCUS
4K photo mode is something I explained in details in my FZ300 review – this time i will repeat only basic principle – TZ100 records 4K video and then allows you to extract any frame and save it as a JPEG file. This way you effectively get 30frames per second burst at 8 megapixels – quite usable.
Good thing is that you can take a still image from any video; you don’t need to be in 4K photo mode to benefit from it.
Post focus is the new function introduced with this camera. The camera records 4K video cycling through all the focus points focusing on everything in the frame. Later, you can pick an image with best focus and save it as separate image.
BATTERY, MEMORY AND CONNECTORS
Battery is a li-ion unit capable of around 300shots on a single charge. It is recharged using supplied external adaptor – just like the one used for smart phones. As convenient as it is, I would rather see classic external charger bundled with this camera. That way it wuold be easy to charge one battery while still beeing able to the camera with another.
Standard SD memory cards are supported. Be sure to use Ultra high speed 3 (U3) cards in order to record 4K video.
Right side has two connectors – micro HDMI output and micro USB used for connecting to PC and charging the battery. Finally Panasonic decided to use standard micro USB instead that weird proprietary connector on many previous models.
Quick menu is the same as on other Panasonic cameras – easy to navigate and filled with most important settings.
Main menu has quite a few options, but not too much like Sony RX100. It is much easier to use Panasonic. It would be pointless for me to go through all the options as they are numerous; if you really want to know more about it, it would be better to download manul online and read it. All 300 pages of it
Playback is fast and easy to use. Even with RAW files camera cycles extremely fast through images.
Video quality is practically perfect. 4K video looks extremely detailed with no artifacts and really balanced colors. Even in low light when some noise artifacts appear still looks very nice.
Single 4K video file can be exactly 15 minutes long – I tried. After that camera stops recording, but you can start new video clip right away and record another 15 minutes. 15 minute 4k video will consume 10GB on memory card so keep in mind you will need a lot of memory. 1080p@50p can be 20 minutes long, and 1080@25p around 27 minutes for a single file. If you switch to AVCHD format, TZ100 will allow 1080@50p to be 29:59 long.
NO matter what settings you use, single video file is limited to 29:59 in length what is typical for still image cameras (otherwise they are regarded as video cameras and have different import tax).
Panasonic TZ100 does get a bit hot during prolonged 4K recording but not to the level I would ever be concerned about it.
One thing I do need to point out about video on this camera and you will not be pleased. TZ100 does not record video with full sensor surface readout but crops it depending what resolution you use. In 4K, camera will effectively zoom from 37-370mm. In 1080 resolutions you will get 31-310mm. That’s a shame since 25 mm wide angle (available for still photo) would be splendid to use for video.
So to sum things up: TZ 100 is definitely an excellent camera. Image quality is very high both in daylight and low light conditions. 4k video is superb. 25-250mm lens is very versatile and has good macro capabilities. Beside standard automatic shooting mode which requires nothing more of you but to mindlessly press shutter button, there is a complete set of all manual controls both for still image and video recording. LCD is great, auto focus is fast and there is a very effective image stabilization system. All this is packed in a truly pocket camera.
Still, TZ100 is not perfect. Electronic viewfinder is really disappointing and the lens does not deliver perfectly sharp results when zoomed in. But finally, if you want 1 inch sensor, 4k video, 10x zoom lens and all that in compact size there is no other camera except this one. From this perspective this really is the best travel cam of 2016 and deserves my recommendations.
Just when I was writing this review, another Panasonic travel zoom arrived in my hands, and that is TZ-80. It looks very similar to TZ100, but has significantly longer optical zoom – 30x. Sadly it uses smaller image sensor but still has 4K video mode. It is more affordable and if you think this might be the camera for you, stay tuned as I will publish TZ80 review in 10-15 days. But one thing I can tell you right now and it regards image quality – TZ80 is nowhere near TZ100. When image quality in important, TZ100 is the only way to go.
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(All converted from RAW in Adobe CC with settings to my personal taste)