General and still shooting performance is surprisingly good for a super-zoom camera. It starts up in about two seconds, and shuts down again in about the same. In single-shot mode it can take a picture roughly once every three seconds, but in continuous mode this speeds up and it can manage a shot every 1.3 seconds until the card is full, which isn’t at all bad. A 1GB SD card provides enough space for approximately 334 shots at full resolution. The AF system isn’t the fastest I’ve seen but it’s by no means slow, focusing reliably in good light in under a second. It slows down a little in low light, but still performs well thanks to a powerful AF assist lamp with a range of several metres. The range of the built-in flash is a respectable 4.2m at wide angle, but it struggles to fill the corners of the frame at this setting.
As I’ve noted before, the Panasonic Mega O.I.S. optical image stabilisation system is one of the best on the market, and reliably adds two to three stops of extra hand-held stability in low light conditions.
One unusual feature of the TZ2 is its ability to shoot in 4:3, 3:2 or 16:9 aspect ratios, with maximum image sizes of 2816 x 2112, 2976 x 1984 and 3072 x 1728 respectively. The CCD has a total size of 7.39MP, much bigger than usual for a 6.0MP camera, and some of this extra size may be used to accommodate the increased width of the wider formats while maintaining the same total pixel count. The available technical information on the camera was not clear on this.
Finally we come to picture quality, and this is where I have previously had the harshest criticism of some Panasonic cameras. In the case of the TZ2 however I found much that I liked, especially the superb lens. It’s the first time I’ve seen a compact super-zoom lens with a 28mm-equivalnet wide-angle that also has no barrel distortion whatsoever at wide angle. Not only that but it has excellent corner-to-corner sharpness with no trace of chromatic aberration. In fact I’d go as far as to say that it may be the best long-zoom lens I’ve ever seen on a compact camera, and one that lives up to its Leica badge.
High ISO noise control has also previously been a problem for some Panasonic models, but the TZ2 is limited to only 1250 ISO, and at this level noise is very well controlled. There are some flecks of colour distortion visible even at 400 ISO, but I think these may be the result of the one image quality problem that the TZ2 does have: excessive image compression. At maximum quality the image files average only around 2.4MB, quite small for a 6MP camera, and there are compression artefacts visible on many shots, especially on areas of plain tone such as the sky. This is a real shame, because it wastes the potential of that excellent lens, and is a flaw in what is otherwise a very good camera.
Panasonic’s claim that the TZ2 is the ideal travel camera has plenty to back it up. Build quality, handling and design are all first rate, and overall performance is well up to scratch, including in low light conditions. The superb quality and useful zoom range of the lens and the good high-ISO noise control should produce excellent picture quality too, but they are slightly let down by harsh file compression.