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The TZ2 was by no means a slow camera, but the TZ4 is even quicker. It starts up in a touch over two seconds and shuts down again in about the same. Single-shot shooting speed has been dramatically improved, with a shot-to-shot time of approximately 1.6 seconds, while in continuous mode it can manage a very impressive two frames per second and maintain it until the memory card is full.
The autofocus system is also fast, locking on in about half a second even in poor light. It focuses well in very low light and even darkness thanks to a decent AF assist lamp. In cases where it can't focus, the camera automatically sets itself to a pan-focus setting, producing acceptably sharp results at medium range. As befits a camera designed for travel, battery life is exceptionally good. It is powered by a chunky little 1000mAh Li-ion cell that Panasonic claims is good for 330 shots. I took about 150 and the charge meter was still showing two out of three bars, so this is probably accurate.
If you're choosing a camera for a once-in-a-lifetime holiday you want to be sure to get some good pictures, so image quality is a crucial issue. Fortunately the TZ4 does not disappoint. Most of the credit goes to that excellent lens, which as usual lives up to its Leica badge. It produces pin-sharp detail right across the frame, even into the far corners, with no trace of barrel or pincushion distortion at any focal length.
The sensor too performs well, despite Panasonic's insistence on using a tiny 1/2.5-inch CCD as usual. I'm of the opinion that eight megapixels is pretty much the optimum resolution for this type of sensor, producing the best compromise between colour depth and dynamic range versus image noise at higher ISO settings. The TZ4 would seem to back me up on this, producing outstanding colour reproduction, good shadow detail and few blown-out highlights.
Image quality remains good up to 400 ISO, and while there is a lot of noise at 800 and 1600 colour balance and exposure remain consistent and the results could at least make small prints. All in all a very impressive performance from what could be another classic from Panasonic.
Having enjoyed well-deserved success with the TZ2 and TZ3, Panasonic has followed up with another excellent camera. The TZ4 has bullet-proof build quality, excellent ergonomics, is extremely easy to use and performs well. It doesn't have much in the way of creative features, but it is versatile enough and capable enough to produce a good picture under almost any circumstances. It really is an ideal travel camera.