Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 digital camera review

Panasonic's latest big zoom compact marries a 12x optical zoom, extendable to a 23.4x equivalent, to a 12.1 megapixel effective resolution. But does this make it the ideal travel companion? Read its Best4Reviews test to find out

At first glance the 12.1 megapixel Panasonic Lumix TZ8, upgrading the TZ6, resembles a rather conventional snapper. There’s the regulation-issue modest handgrip to one side, bottle top style mode dial on the top plate, nestling next to which is a large and springy shutter release button, itself encircled by a zoom lever.

However where this camera goes against the grain is hinted at by the ‘TZ’ model suffix, denoting this is the latest member of Panasonic’s family of big zoom compacts. Here though its manufacturer has tweaked the specification a notch, offering a Leica branded 12x optical zoom lens with a 35mm focal range of 25-300mm but the added ability to extend this by 1.3x to a 16x equivalent via what Panasonic is calling ‘Intelligent Zoom’ technology. This puts it into direct competition with current rivals such as the 14x zoom Canon PowerShot SX210 IS, 10x Samsung WB500 and Kodak Z950. Like them, the majority of the lens is hidden within the body when not in use, thanks to folded optics.
 
So, with this sort of range suggesting it as a perfect ‘all in one’ contender able to both drag faraway subjects closer and take in dynamic panoramas, is this Lumix the ideal would-be travel camera for the upcoming summer hols?

Like the latest Canon IXUS and PowerShot compacts, the TZ8 offers compatibility with the new high capacity (up to two terabytes) SDXC media cards, plus SD or SDHC. As usual, no card is provided in the box so would-be purchasers will have to budget extra. Though the manufacturer’s asking price is £269, some judicious hunting around online and the high street will inevitably shave pounds off that.

With card and lithium ion rechargeable battery loaded however the camera feels sturdy and solid when gripped in the palm; you’ll want to use two hands to keep things steady when shooting at the extreme telephoto end of the zoom, though Panasonic does include ‘Power OIS’ (optical image stabilisation it claims has improved on the existing ‘Mega OIS’) to further help prevent blur resulting from camera shake. Like other models in the Lumix compact range this one also incorporates something that Panasonic is calling an Extra Optical Zoom that can boost the zoom to an equivalent 21.4x. That’s if you don’t mind resolution falling to three megapixels, as this feature utilises only the central portion of the CCD sensor – basically performing a crop.

Ease of use comes not only via the camera’s responsiveness and consistency but also courtesy of features like the incorporation of an automatic ‘E Zoom’ or ‘Easy Zoom’ button. Press this and the camera automatically glides to maximum 12x telephoto setting in one fell swoop. Press it again and the camera will glide further to 23.4x equivalent setting. Press this button a third time and it will almost noiselessly retract to maximum 25mm equivalent wide-angle option. Very neat indeed. There’s another abbreviated button on the back plate in ‘Q.Menu’ – not a quality menu as you might expect but rather a ‘Quick Menu’ that brings up a toolbar of essential functions that runs along the top of the screen. This saves the user otherwise wading through menu screens to be able to swiftly tweak the likes of burst shooting, white balance, light sensitivity (ISO80-1600) plus of course picture size.

Curiously, although this camera incorporates a 14.5 megapixel CCD, the effective resolution is a more modest 12.1MP – so what has happened to the two million ‘missing’ pixels? Its manufacturer claims the anomaly is because the camera can be used to shoot a choice of three different aspect ratios: 4:3, 3:2 or 16:9. With 4:3 being the standard for digital photography, a multi aspect mode option allows the user to shoot in all three simultaneously and choose the one that best befits the intended image.

In operation the TZ8 is as responsive to each button press and dial twist as you’d expect. It reportedly incorporates a new Venus Engine VI, but speed, swift anyway, doesn’t seem to have improved dramatically over the IV and V incarnations. That said, everything flows as it should, the camera powering up from cold in just over a second (officially 1.1 seconds) with a flick of the top plate on/off switch, lens extending to maximum wideangle setting in the process and rear LCD fading up from black. With Panasonic promising a shutter lag time of 0.006 seconds there’s little to stop the photographer from grasping that photo opportunity when they see it – just what you want from a point and shoot camera.

We’d have preferred a dedicated button for alternating between image capture and playback however. The switch provided means that if you have the camera ‘stuck’ in review mode a press of the shutter release button won’t immediately throw you back into capture mode as it will on competing models; you have to physically flick the switch back to capture to do so, which slows things down. It’s also easy to flick the camera on forgetting that you previously had it switched to review mode, and thus miss the shot.

That little niggle aside, the TZ8 also incorporates High Definition movie recording and we’re happy to report the quality is pretty good, exceeding that of dedicated palm-sized £100+ video devices that also record straight to SD. There’s no dedicated button for commencing video recording whichever mode you otherwise happen to be in however; the user has to twist the shooting mode dial to video mode and hit the shutter release button to start a clip and the same button again to end it, as per usual.

When it comes to stills, the TZ8 does offer a degree of creative control in that Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual modes are also found arranged round the dial, as are scene modes, a further customisable My Scene mode, and additional three option custom setting. This is rather more on offer than you’d expect from a competing point and shoot camera.

Verdict: 
Yes it's slightly bigger and bulkier than competing 'fashion' compacts with 3x optical zooms but the TZ8 from Panasonic can still fit into a jacket pocket and trouser at a push. That broad focal range, decent lens, plus a sensor not especially over-burdened with pixels deliver a consistency of result that makes this a good buy for anyone looking for greater flexibility from their compact camera. As such the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 is deserving of a coveted 'Editors Choice' badge from Best4Reviews.com