Panasonic entered the digital camera market in 2001, and in 2006 produced the first of its popular TZ range, a series of cameras with a small body and a large zoom range designed to appeal to travellers.
It’s safe to say that in the 10 intervening years, lots of advancements have been made, many of which Panasonic itself has been first to introduce. TZ cameras have proved a big hit over the years, and with the shift towards more high-end features in compact cameras, Panasonic has now raised its game with a new model, the Lumix DMC-TZ100.
The most noteworthy change that the TZ100 brings is the move from a 1/2.3-inch sensor like the unit found in the TZ80, to a much larger 1-inch type device with 20.1 million effective pixels. One inch sensors have become very popular in the past few years, first with Sony’s RX100 range, and more lately, with Canon’s latest G series compact cameras.
A one-inch sensor immediately raises the TZ100 above the level of many other rival travel cameras. It’s the same same sensor as is found in Panasonic’s top-end bridge camera, the very successful FZ1000. In the TZ100, it is combined with a new Venus Engine processor and a Leica DC Vario-Elmarit 9.1-91mm f/2.8-5.9 lens which has a 35mm equivalent focal length range of 25-250mm. There’s also Panasonic’s Power OIS stabilisation system for stills photography and 5-axis hybrid OIS stabilisation for video.
Despite the increase in pixel count over that of last year’s TZ70, the fact that the sensor is 4x larger in the TZ100 means that the pixels are 2.4x bigger, which should be very good news for image quality and noise control in particular. This has given Panasonic the courage to give the TZ100 a native sensitivity range of ISO 125-12,800, and there are also expansion settings of ISO 80, 100 and 25,600.
The 10x optical zoom means that Panasonic is describing the TZ100 as belonging to an entirely new sector of the travel compact market – premium superzoom. All of the other small form (pocketable) one-inch sensor cameras are limited in their zoom range, so it’s quite exciting to see the company coming up with a camera which should appeal even more to travelling photographers.
Given Panasonic’s enthusiasm for all things 4K, it’s no surprise that the TZ100 has 4K recording capability (at 30 or 25 frames per second) and 4K Photo modes are present to make it easy to shoot 8Mp still images at 30 frames per second (fps). There’s also Panasonic’s latest addition to the 4K fold, Post Focus mode. In this mode the camera takes a sequence of images with different focus distances and you can choose the shot in which your subject is sharp post capture.
In addition, the TZ100 has 4K cropping which enables the composition of 4K footage to be improved and down-sampled to full HD in-camera.
Viewfinders are making a welcome comeback to compact cameras and the TZ100 has a 0.2-inch, 1,160,000-dot electronic viewfinder built in to make it easier to compose images in bright ambient light. Naturally this is accompanied by a larger screen on the back of the camera, and in this instance it’s a 3-inch 1,040,000-dot unit that is touch-sensitive. Helpfully there’s an eye sensor to detect when the camera is held to the eye to switch off the main screen and activate the EVF.
Another cherry on the specification cake is the fact that the TZ100 can record raw files as well as JPEGs. This sits well with the aperture priority, shutter priority and manual exposure modes that accompany the automated shooting options. Also, the shutter speed may be set to 60-1/2000 second when the mechanical shutter is in use or 1-1/16000 second with the electronic shutter. It should therefore be possible to freeze very fast movement and use the widest aperture in bright light.
Interestingly, although Wi-Fi connectivity is present, NFC technology is not – Panasonic says that this hasn’t proved as widely used as expected. In terms of competition, the TZ100 goes up against the latest one-inch compact cameras from rivals Sony and Canon, including the RX100 IV and the G7X Mark II – but neither feature such extensive zooms. Arguably, therefore, the TZ100 doesn’t currently have any close competitors.
Build quality and handling
One of the most exciting aspects of the TZ100 is that it’s not a great deal bigger than the TZ80 announced at the same time. It’s about 6mm (0.236 inches) thicker than the TZ80, plus 2.2mm (0.0866 inches) longer and 0.5mm (0.0197 inches) wider. That makes it just about small enough to slip in a jeans pocket and it has a metal body shell that feels solid enough to suggest it would survive being carried in that way over a long period of time.
The TZ100 looks fairly similar to the LX100, Panasonic’s other current premium compact. It has fairly clean lines, along with a step in the top-plate. The camera will be available in black, or black and silver finishes, with the black and silver version having a red band around the small silver portion of the top-plate. This is a new styling for Panasonic, so it will be interesting to see if this appears elsewhere in the future.
On the front of the camera there’s no texture or grip, but there’s an indent which helps the camera to sit nicely in your hand. Nevertheless, it makes sense to attach the wrist strap to give an extra degree of security.
Almost all of the TZ100’s buttons are grouped towards the right hand side of the camera, making it easy to use one-handed. On top of the camera are two large dials. One is an exposure mode dial which means you can quickly switch between shooting modes (there’s a collection of automated and scene modes, along with more advanced program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual options).
The second dial controls different functions depending on the shooting mode you’re in. If you’re working in aperture priority, you can use it to alter aperture, or shutter speed if in shutter priority. It’s in a convenient position for your thumb and has a satisfying amount of stiffness when you turn it.
There’s also a ring around the camera’s lens which, again, has a different default function depending on the shooting mode. Both this and the dial on top of the camera can be customised to change something else if you prefer. There are also a further four function buttons (marked Fn), which each have default functions, but can be changed to suit a different purpose if you wish. There are five more “virtual” function buttons, which are accessed via the touchscreen and are also customisable.
The (physical) Fn3 button accesses the TZ100’s quick menu by default. You can use this menu to move quickly between common settings, such as ISO, metering and white balance. By default, two of the function buttons are used to access the camera’s 4K photo modes.
Unlike the electronic viewfinder in Sony’s popular RX100 III and RX100 IV compact cameras with 1-inch type sensors, the TZ100’s electronic viewfinder is ready for action at any time that the camera is powered up and it doesn’t need to be popped out for use. Furthermore, there’s a sensor which automatically detects when the camera has been lifted to your eye to switch on the viewfinder, and switch the screen off. Although undoubtedly useful and a bonus on a pocketable compact camera, the TZ100’s viewfinder is small, and while the image is clear and sharp, because of its small size it’s unlikely you’ll want to use the viewfinder for every shot.
The TZ100’s screen is touch-sensitive, which means you can use it to set the focus point, simply tapping an area on the screen you want to use (if you have 1-Area focusing selected). You can also use it to navigate through and around the main menu and the function menu. If you don’t like using touch screens, the good news is that everything can also be controlled by a physical button, or a combination of buttons, if you prefer.
In order to use the super fast shutter speeds that the electronic shutter facilitates, you’ll need to change from mechanical shutter in the camera’s main menu. Once you’ve done this, you can move past the 1/2000 fastest shutter speed offered by the mechanical shutter and reach speeds up to 1/16000.
As the TZ100 uses the same sensor as the FZ1000, we had high hopes that image quality would be good. Happily, those hopes have been borne out both by results from our labs and real-world images.
JPEG images display a great amount of vibrance and punch, without straying too far into unrealistic territory, while the overall impression of detail is fantastic.
At normal printing (A4 or smaller) or on-screen viewing sizes, the TZ100’s images, have detail comparable with shots taken on cameras with much larger sensors, such as the GF7 (which has a Four Thirds sensor). And at 100% on screen, despite a little smoothing, it’s hard to tell the TZ100’s low sensitivity JPEG images apart from the GF7’s.
- Images are nicely saturated, and display a good impression of detail. Click here for a larger version.
- The TZ100 is ideal for holidaying photographers who want to capture high quality images without carrying heavy equipment. Click here for a larger version.
- You can change the Picture Style to Monochrome, while still keeping the colour raw format version. Click here for a larger version.
- There’s a good level of sharpness across the frame, with very little softness in the corners. Click here for a larger version.
- A 10x optical zoom gives you a good degree of flexibility when you’re travelling, and detail is resolved well. Click here for a larger version.
Our lab tests indicate that the TZ100 competes very strongly with the Sony RX100 IV, Canon G5X and the DxO One, all of which have one-inch type sensors. For signal to noise ratio, the TZ100 beats the other cameras on test throughout the ISO 100-800 range, and most significantly at ISO 200. From ISO 1600, the TZ100 is extremely closely matched to the other cameras, while at ISO 3200, the TZ100 beats both the Sony and the Canon, but is just overtaken by the DXO One.
It’s a slightly more complicated picture for the raw format files, where at the lower end of the scale (ISO 100 – 200) the TZ100 is beaten by the Sony and Canon cameras, but from ISO 800 right up to ISO 12800, it beats all of the other cameras on test.
For dynamic range, the story is also a little more patchy. For JPEG images taken at the lower end of the scale (ISO 200-800), the TZ100 is beaten by the Canon and Sony, but closely matches the results from the DxO One. At 1600, the TZ100 is pretty much tied with the Sony and Canon, and beats the DxO, while at ISO 3200, the Canon beats the TZ100 very slightly, but the TZ100 beats the DxO and Sony. At 6400, all of the cameras are closely matched, but at 12800, the TZ100 wins out more significantly.
Looking at the raw format files, performance is particularly impressive. Although at ISO 200 it is beaten ever so slightly by the Canon, from ISO 400 the TZ100 beats the other cameras on test, at times by quite a significant margin.
In terms of resolution, we can use a combination of the labs test and the real world images to make a judgement on how well detail is resolved. At the low-medium end of the ISO run (ISO 200-1600), the TZ100 is capable of matching Canon’s G5 X sensor, and is slightly worse than Sony’s RX100 IV. However, at the higher end of the spectrum (ISO 3200-6400), it’s better than Canon and matches the Sony’s capability, while at 12800, the TZ100 is the best performer.
At the time of writing, it’s not possible to open the TZ100’s raw format files in Adobe Camera Raw, but you can use the supplied Silkypix software to open, edit and convert the files.
Looking at a corresponding raw file, it’s clear that the camera is applying a fair amount of noise reduction to JPEG images. While that noise reduction generally results in natural-looking, low-noise images, if you’re photographing something particularly detailed, you may appreciate the ability to bring that back by editing the raw format files.
When all noise reduction is turned off, images taken at ISO 3200 and 6400 have visible chroma noise at 100%, but it’s fairly evenly spread throughout the image and therefore easily tackled by noise reduction software. Even without noise reduction being applied the images still look decent at normal printing and viewing sizes.
- Digital filters (Creative Control) can be switched on to give your images a different look – this is “Old Days”. You will also have a raw format image to work with if you want a “clean” version later down the line. Click here for a larger version.
- The overall impression of detail in this ISO 1600 shot is great, even when looking at 100% on screen. Click here for a larger version.
- ISO 3200 is also more than usable, with a natural amount of noise reduction – you can work with the raw format file if you want to bring back more detail. Click here for a larger version.
- Using the electronic shutter allows you to shoot at wide apertures in bright sunlight – this image has been taken with a 1/16000 sec shutter speed. Click here for a larger version.
The TZ100’s all-purpose metering system provides generally accurate exposures, only failing slightly when photographing something with areas of high contrast – but it’s no more than we would expect from any camera. Similarly, the automatic white balance system copes well when faced with different lighting conditions. Slightly warmer tones are produced when photographing under artificial light, so if you’re concerned with ultimate accuracy, either switch to a preset value or set a custom white balance.
Detail is kept well throughout the TZ100’s optical zoom range, with roughly the same amount of detail at the far reach of the telephoto zoom as seen at the wide angle end.
Lab tests: Resolution
We test cameras using an industry-standard resolution test chart in laboratory conditions. Resolution is quoted in line widths/picture height, which has been adopted as a standardised measurement for digital imaging devices since it’s independent of sensor size.
We test cameras across a wide ISO range and check both JPEGs and raw files. We also pick three key rivals for comparison. The three we’ve chosen for the LX100 comparison are:
- Canon PowerShot G5 X: Like the Panasonic TZ100, this has a 20-megapixel 1-inch sensor. It’s slightly larger, though still pocketable, but doesn’t have the TZ100’s zoom range.
- Sony RX100 IV: Sony’s RX100-series cameras also use this 20-megapixel 1-inch sensor. They’ve established a reputation for combining compactness with performance.
- DxO One: This is a bit of a left-field contender since it has a fixed focal length lens and is designed to connect to an iPhone or iPad as an external camera. This too uses a 1-inch sensor.
JPEG resolution analysis: The Panasonic TZ100 is not the sharpest camera in this group – that honour goes to the Sony RX100 IV – but it comes a close second and ties with the Canon PowerShot G5 X.
Raw (converted to TIFF) resolution analysis: The TZ100’s raw files don’t fare quite so well. Here, the Canon G5 X and Sony RX100 IV are noticeably sharper at medium to high ISO settings.
Lab tests: Dynamic range
Dynamic range is a measure of the camera’s ability to capture extremes of brightness without losing detail in the brightest or darkest parts. It’s measured in EV (exposure values), the the higher the value the better. We test dynamic range using DxO Analyzer in laboratory conditions.
JPEG dynamic range analysis: The TZ100 puts in a slightly second-rate dynamic range performance at low to medium ISO settings but does catch up with the Canon and Sony at ISO 1600 and then improves on their results at very high ISOs.
Raw (converted to TIFF) dynamic range analysis: The TZ100 puts in a much better dynamic range performance when shooting raw files. It matches the Canon and DxO cameras up to ISO 400 and then streaks ahead at higher ISO settings.
Lab tests: Signal to noise ratio
The signal to noise ratio is a measure of how much noise digital images contain. The higher the figure the better because it means that noise makes up a lower proportion of the overall image. We test the signal to noise ratio using DxO Analyzer.
JPEG signal to noise ratio analysis: The noise figures are quite close. The Panasonic TZ100 holds a slight advantage across the ISO range when shooting JPEGs, but you are unlikely to notice much difference in the images.
Raw (converted to TIFF) signal to noise ratio analysis: The noise values are equally close for raw files, though the TZ100 does start to open up and advantage at ISO 3200 and beyond.
Panasonic takes aim squarely at the pocket-friendly one-inch sensor compact camera market with the TZ100, upping the stakes with a 10x optical zoom, something which other manufacturers haven’t yet produced.
Although one-inch sensors aren’t particularly new or exciting any more, when you couple one with a 10x optical zoom, the resulting camera becomes a much more flexible option which is bound to appeal to travelling photographers looking for something high quality, but convenient.
It will be interesting to see how this translates into sales, and how it also affects the also newly launched TZ80, which has a 30x optical zoom, but a much smaller sensor. It will also be interesting to see if sales of the TZ100 eat into sales of the excellent LX100 – it seems extremely likely.
The TZ100 produces lovely JPEG images, while the raw format images give you good scope to bring out extra detail should you need it. The sensor happily competes with Sony and Canon, who have so far been the big players in the one-inch sensor market. The large sensor facilitates decent low-light shooting, making it a good all-rounder camera.
It’s also an enjoyable camera to use, with a good number of buttons and dials, a very responsive touch sensitive screen and an (albeit small) electronic viewfinder. There’s also inbuilt Wi-Fi and a range of creative filters. It would perhaps have been nice to see a tilting or articulating screen, but that may have added extra bulk, and certainly extra cost to the camera.
Panasonic claims that it has created a new segment of the market with this camera, and it’s hard to disagree with that claim.
It’s great to have a pocket-friendly camera that can deliver excellent results, and the TZ100 should appeal to a wide range of photographers looking for a little bit of everything – high image quality, a long zoom range, Wi-Fi and creative options. The large sensor facilitates excellent image quality in a wide range of shooting scenarios.
Happily, there’s not a whole lot to dislike about the TZ100, but if we have to pick something it would be the small size of the electronic viewfinder. While it has the benefit of always being ready (unlike the viewfinder found on the Sony RX100 IV), it’s a little less attractive as an option to use for every shot. A movable screen would also have been nice, too.
This camera represents a considerable upping of Panasonic’s game, and brings an interesting new proposition into the one-inch sensor market. Until now, that had been served by Sony and Canon, with varying degrees of success and flexibility, but the TZ100 is arguably the ultimate all-rounder.
However, as it stands, the TZ100 is slightly more expensive than the LX100, with its larger sensor. For now, if you can live without that extra flexibility from the zoom range, it makes sense to go for the cheaper camera, but prices will surely soon drop making your decision that little bit harder.
March 18, 2016 at 05:25AM
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