Another year brings another superzoom compact from Panasonic. The Lumix DMC-TZ60 (DMC-ZS40 in North America) was announced right at the beginning of 2014 at the CES trade show in Las Vegas, and this year the firm has pulled out all the stops, loading its flagship point-and-shooter with a 30x zoom, an electronic viewfinder, a programmable settings ring around the lens, a RAW mode, Wi-Fi, NFC, GPS and an 18-Megapixel CMOS sensor—all packed into a body that's decidedly higher-end than last year's TZ40. On paper, Panasonic's star compact looks to have all it takes to shine bright in this year's superzoom showdown, but how does that impressive-looking spec sheet hold up in practice? Time to take a closer look.
Heavily inspired by the TZ40 but also the LF1—the first genuinely pocket-sized compact to fit in an electronic viewfinder—the Lumix TZ60 strives to blend the best of both models into one sleek new superzoom compact. Like the TZ40, the TZ60 packs a monster zoom lens into a compact camera, but it ditches the previous model's 20x 24-480 mm f/3.3-6.4 lens for a new 30x 24-720 mm f/3.3-6.4 model specially developed for the occasion. The camera body has gained a little bulk along the way, but at 34.4 mm thick, it's still the slimmest 30x zoom on the market. Visually, the TZ60 is a pretty minimalist affair, set off with sharper, straighter and cleaner-looking lines than its predecessor. We think it looks sleeker and more stylish as a result. The TZ60 is a classy little compact that feels sturdy and well-made (we can no doubt thank the GX7 and GM1 to some extent for upping Panasonic's game). It has a matte black paint job that reduces the slightly plasticky feel some criticised in the TZ40. The TZ60 has also gained a small rubber grip strip on the front, which is nicely discreet and helps you keep hold of the camera.
From the LF1, the TZ60 inherits the EVF positioned in the top left-hand corner of the rear face. The screen is as mediocre as ever, as its a 202,000-dot LCD with a sequential display, so watch out for rainbow effects. Ultimately, while the EVF's presence may be symbolic for Panasonic's camera line, in practice, it may not prove all that useful. In fact, in strong sunlight, reflections inside the EVF get so strong that it becomes practically unusable. The fact that there's no eye sensor probably isn't such a big deal in the end, then. Some of you may have spotted a little dial on the viewfinder for dioptric correction. This has moved from the left of the LF1 EVF to the right of the EVF in the TZ60, which should help stop it being moved accidentally when pulling the camera out of a bag or pocket.
Another key feature to migrate from the LF1 to the TZ60 is the settings wheel around the lens. This scrolls smoothly with no notches and feels nice and fluid to turn. Depending what mode you're working in, this can be used to change shutter speed, aperture, to zoom from one focal length to another in fixed steps, or to zoom continuously. This new settings wheel goes hand in hand the the thumb wheel around the four-way arrows on the back of the camera, as both are totally customisable.
In terms of handling, we don't have many complaints about the TZ60. There's a large 3" screen with 920,000 pixels that has nice, wide viewing angles. The display is very sleekly integrated into the camera body, set flush up to the rear casing with no visible gaps or ridges. It's just a shame that there are no touchscreen controls. The TZ60 handles like a Lumix. In other words, it's easy to get the hang of everything. Plus points include the arrival of a RAW mode, a focus peaking function for help with manual focusing, a whole load of new creative modes and a GPS (with GLONASS compatibility). Wi-Fi is obviously onboard too for connecting the TZ60 to a smartphone or tablet via the Panasonic Image App for image transfer and remote control. This is still the most feature-rich and glitch-free app of its kind on the market right now. Considering that all of that lot fits right into your pocket, there's no doubt that the Lumix TZ60 is a comprehensive compact camera.
Given that Panasonic is already leading the way on responsiveness in pretty much every section of the market in which it has cameras, it'd be a bit unfair to criticise the TZ60 for not being any faster than the TZ40. It's all too easy to expect massive improvements year on year, but the TZ60's results need to be put into context to be fully appreciated. The TZ60 takes as much time to deploy its 30x zoom lens as the TZ40 did to warm up its 20x zoom. That in itself is impressive enough, especially since the 30x Sony HX50 takes a second longer to get its 24-720 mm lens into position.
The TZ60 focuses and shoots almost instantly. Taking photos is a clean, hassle-free experience that's as good for Panasonic's ego as it is for users. Photo-to-photo turnaround has got about 25% quicker for 2014 and the 2 fps burst mode holds up faultlessly for 30 shots, which is more than most of the point-and-shoot users the TZ60 is aimed at could ever hope to need. In RAW+JPG (because this year you get RAW too), the burst mode speeds up to 2.6 fps but gives up after three photos. It's therefore not ideal for use in all situations. If you suddenly find that your TZ60 is acting slower than usual, it's probably because you've switched to RAW mode—remember to bear that in mind.
So far so good for the TZ60 but, once again, it's on picture quality that this superzoom Lumix isn't likely to convince everyone. Generally, the TZ60 struggles to impress with results that are just a bit disappointing. In fact, you may struggle to get decent prints any bigger than 8" x 12" (20 x 30 cm) in size. And even then, not every snap will be up to prints that big. Panasonic's compacts have a track record for applying some pretty brutal smoothing—that's something we already saw with last year's TZ40 and its 18-Megagpixel CMOS sensor—and the TZ60 takes things to a new level.
Between the sensor and the new 24-720 mm f/3.3-6.4 lens, it's hard to tell which is the most disappointing, as they seem determined to work together hand in hand to spoil the party. The zoom lens fails to keeps image quality consistent over the frame, at all aperture settings and focal lengths, from wide-angle to telephoto. So while the middle of the frame looks fine—or at least acceptable—the edges soon deteriorate into a sea of blur, mixing up detail in a big soupy mess of pixels, especially right up in the corners of the image. Chromatic aberration is highly visible too, with magenta fringes spoiling many a photo (see the ISO test results above, for example).
The sensor, on the other hand, seems to struggle with its 18 Megapixels. While the pixel-count hasn't been upped since the TZ40, it's increasingly obvious that on a sensor this small (1/2.3"), the crazy pixel density of 63.25 Mpx/cm2 is just way too ambitious. It causes more problems that it solves. What's more, with photosites just 1.25 micron wide, the sensor is very prone to diffraction, which merely serves to accentuate the intrinsic defects of the lens. To try and get around that, Panasonic has opted for some pretty heavy smoothing, which further wipes out any remaining traces of detail present in the shots. Any potential benefit from the high pixel-count is therefore totally lost here. Maybe dropping back to 14 Megapixels wouldn't be such a bad idea for next year's model.
That said, don't let the two photos above alarm you too much. The defects that we've just outlined are only visible when looking at shots from the TZ60 on a computer screen and by zooming in 100% on the image. These effects are considerably less noticeable when viewing back photos on a UHD TV or monitor (... hmmm, maybe not) or when you limit print-outs to no more than 8" x 12" (20 x 30 cm). Plus, if you mainly take photos to upload onto social networking sites, then quality will be just fine. But still ... it's a bit of a shame to be saying that about a supposedly star superzoom.
Seeing as the TZ60 isn't a camcorder or a pro-level video shooter, we can't really bemoan its lack of advanced video settings. Otherwise, everything else is pretty good here, with Full HD modes available in 50i, 50p, 25i and 25p, with or without GPS tagging. Stereo sound is good quality. The image is slightly desaturated and shimmers (due to the sensor) but the zoom lens works perfectly quietly while you're filming. Plus, the continuous autofocus is perfectly smooth and the five-axis stabilisation is a nice extra. The TZ60 even has a focus peaking function for help with manual focusing when shooting movies, and that's something many a high-end camera could seriously benefit from. All that's really missing is a touchscreen for a quick and easy way to select focus areas, and a separate video mode rather than just a basic video function.