HandlingThe design doesn't hold too many surprises, as the TZ30 is clearly based on its predecessors, with a slightly elongated body and a lens set off-centre. One new feature is a little grip handle on the front of the camera with a rubberised finish. This feels pleasant to touch and helps you keep hold of the camera. The general build quality and finish is good, although the strange creaking noise when you use the zoom can be a little surprising. That, however, was probably a slight defect in our test model—we'll check it against a second TZ30 soon. UPDATE: the second TZ30 we were sent didn't make any strange noises when it zoomed so this must have been a fault in the original model we tested.
The LCD has been lifted straight out of the TZ20. It therefore has the same 460,000-dot definition and touch-sensitive controls for selecting the focusing zone, taking a picture, navigating around images in playback mode etc. Viewing angles are good, but the surface of the screen is very (too) shiny to see what's going on properly in bright sunlight. While the camera can adapt its brightness in relation to the surrounding lighting conditions, it's still not really good enough to cope with all situations. Onscreen image quality could be better too, as bright parts of pictures are soon overexposed, the colour temperature is too high (giving a very cold image) and colour fidelity leaves a lot to be desired (Delta E94 = 10). In low light, the onscreen image judders and glitches, which can be really unpleasant when you're trying to line up a shot.
The TZ30 is a user-friendly camera that's easy to get the hang of using. You select a shooting mode using the dial on the top of the camera (P, S, A, M, Scene, 3D etc.) and there are even two custom modes—C1 and C2. There's a simple sweep panorama mode (wide-angle only) and a sweep 3D mode that can sometimes prove a bit confusing. However, you'll need a 3D TV to view your 3D pictures back properly.
It's a shame that Panasonic has kept that little switch for moving between shooting mode and playback mode—it means you can't whip the camera out and snap the action without first of all moving the switch. It's probably something users of the camera will get used to, but we found this restriction a bit frustrating. The GPS works pretty quickly and a CD is supplied for loading the camera with data to help it find locations more effectively. However, like in other cameras, using the GPS runs the battery down more quickly. In our tests, we rarely made it past 200 photos. Note that the battery is charged directly in the camera, so you can't leave a second battery charging at home while you're out and about.
ResponsivenessStart-up time is a little slow in the TZ30, taking over two seconds to get going. In its defence, though, the TZ30 does have to pop out and position a 20x zoom lens, which is no mean feat! Once it's up and running, this compact is very pleasant to use, with an autofocus that's very fast in good light and in lower light. Photo saving times aren't bad either.
In continuous shooting mode, the TZ30 shoots a respectable (and practical) 4.4 fps, which can be handy for capturing all those family sporting achievements! A 10 fps mode (for 10 frames) is also available but the autofocus is inactive.
Picture QualityWhile most competitors have switched to backside illuminated (BSI) CMOS sensors, Panasonic has always refused to use this kind of technology in its TZ compacts. For the TZ30, Panasonic is announcing a 'high-sensitivity MOS sensor' which, at first glance, may bring to mind the BSI, but our test shots soon showed that Panasonic still seems to be holding out.
UPDATE 25/04/2012: Panasonic was pretty surprised to see some of the test results we got with our original TZ30, so they sent us a second model to double-check our findings. We didn't find any major differences in the new model's lens, so the TZ30 is still out-done by models like the Sony HX20V and the Canon SX260 HS on that front (see 'Detail 1: 100%' in the Face-Off). However, digital noise was handled more effectively in the second TZ30 we received, with fine detail (such as contour lines on the map part of our test scene) better preserved and a slightly lower level of noise in dark, shadowy parts of the picture. That said, it's still not quite on par with the Sony and Canon superzooms mentioned above.
Panasonic has assured us that the TZ30s on shelves and in stores will be more like the second model we tested than our original TZ30. The ISO test results from our second TZ30 can be found below, but ISO shots from our original TZ30 can still be accessed here if you want to compare them. The TZ30's score for 'Picture Quality' has now been updated to four stars.
The new 20x (24-480 mm f/3.3-6.4) zoom lens could be a bit faster, but generally does a good job at wide-angle settings. However, the Canon SX230 HS lens is still a cut above, giving a more consistent result across the frame. At 200 mm, the TZ30 lens holds up well, even if the edges of the frame look a bit less sharp. At the maximum zoom setting, images look more healthy, with a good and consistent level of sharpness across the whole frame.
We were a little surprised to spot some optical defects usually corrected by image processing systems, such as coloured fringes. In fact, purple fringes can be spotted around objects at wide-angle and telephoto settings.
The Panasonic stabilisation system is as effective as ever, helping the TZ30 take clear, sharp pictures at 1/4 ths of a second, which is really very good! The 24-480 mm lens also has an excellent macro mode, making the TZ30 a particularly versatile camera.