As the years go by, Panasonic updates the design of its TZ cameras with small touches here and there. So, like Panasonic, we'll be doing a spot of recycling this year, lifting the phrase "regular TZ users will feel right at home" straight out of our review of last year's model. So you get the idea—it's basically more of the same. However, for the 2013 edition, the Japanese manufacturer has gone for an all-black design, removing the silver detail seen in the TZ25. The grip handle has a textured black surface, the controls have a very plastic-feeling black finish, and there's a granite-effect black strip surrounding the camera's outer edges (running from the USB and HDMI connection compartment on the left-hand edge, up over the top of the camera). On the back, the switch for flipping between shooting mode and playback mode has been ditched in favour of a standard playback button. Who bets that the silver details and switch are back in fashion by 2014?
Otherwise, there haven't been any major changes in design this year. But that's no bad thing! Panasonic's Lumix TZ cameras are easy to to use, with clear menus that are well organised and easy to follow. For once, then, we're not going to complain about this copy-paste job. Note too that when you're browsing though settings menus, you get handy little explanations of each setting to help you find your way around—a nice touch.
However, the sub-standard TN screen that we moaned about with the TZ25 is back again in the TZ35. Viewing angles are tight, onscreen images look posterised and colour fidelity is off the mark. It's really quite disappointing. Add to that the excessively glossy screen finish, and it can be hard to make out what's onscreen unless you're facing it straight on. For a camera that's not even that cheap, it's quite frustrating to find that you can't see the screen properly when trying to take a shot from an unusual angle ... or even just with the camera at arm's length. What's more, in very bright conditions (e.g. sunny days) reflections and glare from the screen can be so strong that you may have trouble seeing anything onscreen at all. Like we said, that's disappointing, and could soon take the fun out of taking pictures.
The switch to 16 Megapixels and a 20x zoom lens takes the TZ35 up a step technically from last year's TZ25. And yet Panasonic has still managed to make this year's camera more responsive than 2012's model. Nice work!
With a start-up time of just under two seconds, the TZ35 is actually pretty speedy for a superzoom compact. The autofocus is still nice and fast too, and remains so in all lighting conditions and at all focal lengths. One funny thing we noticed about this camera is that when focusing on two distinct subjects one after the other—one close up then one far away—the TZ35 actually focuses twice as fast as when shooting the exact same subject twice (whether at wide-angle or at telephoto).
Anyway, on the whole, the TZ35 is reliable and accurate in all situations—two qualities that are essential in a family camera like this.
However, the photo-to-photo turnaround time has actually got a bit worse in this 2013 model. The TZ35 takes just over a second to save a shot and get ready to take the next one.
Both in our test lab and in real-life situations, the TZ35 and its 16-Megapixel sensor took photos that were—ahem—striking. Where did all the detail go?
Smoothing is heavy in this camera, even from the lowest ISO setting. In fact, as soon as you get past 200 ISO fine detail is almost entirely wiped out, leaving smoothed-out flat patches of colour that really don't look so great. That's pretty worrying—especially since the TZ35 uses the same sensor as Panasonic's Lumix FZ62 bridge, which gave very different results.
With performances like this, there's really not much point trying to use the camera out of ISO Auto mode. It's just not worth it. Some of you may find that frustrating.
As for dynamic range, we found that the TZ35 tended to overexpose photos. Plus, shadows and shade are soon flooded by noise and heavy smoothing, making it difficult to pick out details.
All in all, the Lumix TZ35 doesn't gain much from its boosted pixel-count, which ultimately seems to be about marketing more than image quality. For a camera that's not even that cheap, picture quality is quite disappointing—especially since last year's TZ25 actually does a better job! In fact, while 2012's TZ25 scored four stars out of five for picture quality, this year's TZ35 only gets three. As a superzoom compact designed for general, family-style, point-and-shoot snapping, it'll do the job—but nothing more.
Video is filmed in 1080i HD at 50 fields per second and you can take a photo while shooting video. Plus, photos are shot in a 16:9 aspect ratio and 2560 x 1440 pixels, which is good news for anyone with a 27" WQHD monitor.
Video quality is fine for a bit of everyday shooting, but you still get the same aggressive smoothing effect seen in photo mode. The stereo sound isn't much to write home about, as it brings no real sense of spatialisation. Plus, the video-record button is located on the camera's upper edge, just 5 mm from the ON/OFF button, which means you may end up hitting the wrong one by accident.