If you’re off on your holidays soon, you probably want to bring along a camera that (a) captures all those wonderful sunsets, cityscapes, and delicious-looking cocktails better than your phone can, and (b) isn’t too heavy to lug around every day for a fortnight.
The Panasonic Lumix TZ100 might just be that camera. With a big 1-inch sensor, 10x optical zoom, RAW shooting and 4K video capabilities and an electronic viewfinder all squeezed into a point-and-shoot body, this superzoom snapper is designed with portability and performance in mind. I’ve spent a couple of weeks using it (sadly not on holiday), so read on for the lowdown.
The TZ100 is a thoughtfully constructed, well-designed camera. Its body is made of smooth metal, but the lens barrel and small grip on the right side give you plenty of purchase. The lens has a twisty adjustment ring that can be set to control a setting of your choosing; in fact there’s a nice degree of customisability with the controls, with nine Function buttons (some of which are on the touchscreen), the ring and a top plate dial all being user-assignable. The other controls are all situated within easy reach of your fingers, and while the physical buttons are small, all are well-labelled.
Size-wise, you’ll almost certainly find the TZ100 too big and bulky for your jean pockets, but it’ll happily slip into a coat or small handbag, and you’d barely notice it hanging around your neck. Given the 1in sensor inside, there’s a limit to how thin and light Panasonic could make this camera, and I think they’ve done a decent job in balancing portability with sturdiness and performance.
Zoom with a view(finder)
I’m generally indifferent to touchscreens on cameras, and 3in model you'll find dominating the TZ100's backside doesn’t do a lot to change my mind one way or the other. While it’s handy to quickly set the focus point by tapping on the screen, I found that I kept inadvertently doing this when merely holding the camera, so when I brought it up to take a photo the focus point would often be set to the very edge of the frame. Can be a bit of a pain, that.
There’s also an electronic viewfinder, although Panasonic insists on calling it a “Live Viewfinder”. Activated automatically when you hold the camera up to your eye, it offers a great alternative to the screen, not only for composing shots but for reviewing them later. It’s fairly small by EVF standards, and not the crystal clear solution you’ll find on some pricier models, but it’s still a godsend on blazing sunny days, or other times when you’d rather not use the screen.
As a performer, the TZ100 is one of the finest new compacts I’ve seen in the past few months. It doesn’t boast all the eye-catching slo-mo tricks of the (admittedly much pricier) Sony RX100 IV, but with a similar 1in sensor and a good 10x optical zoom, does deliver a similar level of image quality for both stills and video.
For stills, the sensor’s physical size aids with low-light performance, so you can pull off reasonably sharp and clean photos and videos indoors and at night. These aren’t up to the standards of a decent DSLR or CSC, but they’ll be far above and beyond anything you could capture with your phone’s camera. For a compact traveller’s camera, that’s what you’re really looking for.
The sensor also helps the TZ100 pull off eye-catching short depth of field shots, meaning it’s possible to get part of the frame in sharp focus while the background is softer, out-of-focus bokeh. It’s a technique that, when used correctly, can lead to some beautiful photos and videos, and it’s something that not too many other compact cameras can do.
In good lighting, the camera delivers the crisp detail and rich, realistic colours one would expect from a 20.1MP £550 model. Both with stills and video, the results are sharp, clean and punchy. 4K videos (which are recorded at 25fps) are eye-poppingly sharp – although the frame rate means there’s a bit of flicker with motion. Full HD videos can be recorded at twice that frame rate in regular mode, or up to 100fps in high speed mode (for smooth super slo-mo playback), and also look very presentable indeed.
4K's the way
The TZ100 also features a handy 4K Photo mode, which records 4K video clips then allow you to extract individual frames as still photos. These are only 8MP as opposed to the regular 20.1MP, but still look fantastic – and the ability to pick the perfect split second from a video and save it as a very usable photograph is really valuable.
Another trick up the camera’s sleeve is post-focus, which also works in 8MP 4K resolution. This allows to snap a still, then set the focus point afterwards. So you can get a subject looking nice and sharp while the background is blurry, or instead focus on a background object you missed, or just put everything in sharp focus. If you’ve ever looked back at what you were expecting to be knockout photos only to see you’ve got your intended subject just out-of-focus, you’ll know how annoying it can be. Of course, you need to shoot in this particular mode all the time if you want that safety net.
Panasonic Lumix TZ100 verdict
The TZ100 isn’t especially cheap, with its £550 price tag pushing it into the same territory of entry-level DSLRs and compact system cameras.
That said, it’s definitely one of the best premium superzoom cameras around at the moment, succeeding in delivering superb image quality, user-friendliness and versatility in a compact, sturdily-built body.
It’s certainly not going to better any decent interchangeable lens camera in terms of sharpness or detail, but it’ll come pretty close – and crucially, it’ll fit in your pocket.