Physically the TZ30 is almost identical to its predecessor, albeit a little bit thinner and lighter. All-day portability certainly isn’t a problem either with the TZ30 easily small enough to slip inside a trouser, jean or coat pocket. Given the 20x focal range of the Leica zoom – which folds flush with the front of the camera when it’s switched off – it’s a pretty impressive bit of engineering to squeeze so much optical power into something so small and portable.
Build quality also impresses with the TZ30 given a predominantly metal finish. There's also a wide steel band that wraps around the top and sides. The only real let down to build quality is the plastic battery/memory card cover, which feels a bit flimsy.
A sculpted finger grip sits on the front of the camera and unlike the TZ20 this has been given a rubberised finish for extra grip (the TZ20’s was metal). It provides a comfortable grip for one or two fingers and offers enough purchase to allow for secure one-handed operation of the camera. There’s a good spread of physical buttons too, all falling within easy reach of your right hand. Buttons are all steel, no doubt to give the TZ30 a bit more of a premium feel. The exposure mode dial on our review sample was slightly dented when it arrived though, which suggests to us that it’s not actually all that durable.
The spring-loaded zoom switch takes 2.7sec to fully extend the zoom when fully held down. Those looking for finer control will find approximately 45 individual stops between the wideangle and telephoto extremes when the zoom rocker is lightly feathered. Zoom operation is relatively quiet, although our test model did emit some undesirable ‘ripping’ noises towards the telephoto end of the zoom, as if something within the barrel was either catching or slightly misaligned. Bearing in mind the aforementioned damage to the exposure model dial hopefully this was just a one-off and unique to our test model.
A 3in, 460k-dot LCD monitor sits on the back of the TZ30, which offers a bright and sharp display that remains easy to view in sunny conditions. The display also offers some touch-screen control over the camera, although there are limits to what it can control. For example, you can’t change the exposure mode using the touch-screen; this can only be controlled via the exposure mode wheel on the top of the camera. Also, while you can select a sub-menu from the Main Menu display you’ll need to use the D-pad to navigate within each sub-menu. The TZ30 does offer on-screen Touch Focus and Touch Shutter functionality though, along with control over the zoom. Sensitivity is quite good with the camera consistently registering your finger-prompted commands first time.
General performance is generally quite impressive, especially the speed of the 23-point ‘Light Speed’ autofocus module. AF modes offered include Face Detect, subject Tracking, 23-area auto, 1-area (central) and Spot, which should be enough to cover most situations. In testing we found AF to be all but instant in good to moderate light, even when the camera is being used at the furthest reaches of its telephoto range. Even in poor light the AF remains relatively fast and accurate, especially when the camera is used at wideangle settings. It does, however, begin to struggle as you extend the zoom towards the telephoto end. In really dark situations a built-in AF Assist light can be called upon to help focus on subjects that are close to hand.
Overall image quality is pretty good – especially when you consider the amount of zoom power the TZ30 manages to pack inside its diminutive little body. Used on the ‘Standard’ My Colour setting in iAuto mode the TZ30 produces pleasingly lifelike images that tread a happy medium, being neither overly muted nor overly saturated. Of course, should you want to boost vibrancy you can opt for the ‘Vivid’ setting, or indeed call upon the ‘Expressive’ Creative Control digital filter (although we’d advise some caution with the latter option as it really does ramp up saturation levels to non-lifelike levels).
Metering is generally quite accurate, although as with the vast majority of small-sensor compacts dynamic range is somewhat limited. When shooting a high-contrast scene the TZ30 will tend to give preferential metering for whatever is inside the AF boxes (especially when the camera is used in single AF mode). For this reason, it often pays to use the focus-recompose technique to find a happy medium when metering high-contrast scenes, otherwise you can expect to see blown highlights or indistinguishably dark shadow areas.
With Panasonic’s Power O.I.S (optical image stabilisation) switched on, the TZ30’s 20x zoom is capable of producing pleasingly sharp results, even when shooting handheld at higher telephoto settings. Under really close scrutiny (i.e pixel peeping at 100% or more) it quickly becomes apparent that some fairly aggressive in-camera processing/sharpening has taken place. However when images are viewed at more regular sizes (think full-screen on a 15in laptop) this really isn’t a problem and images look pleasingly sharp.
In addition to the improved optical zoom, the reach of the TZ30’s i.Zoom (intelligent Zoom) has also been increased to 40x (from 21x), while the digital zoom offers a staggering 80x magnification. While the iZoom can produce pretty good results when used in moderation, using the digital zoom does cause image quality to deteriorate quite rapidly.
The TZ30’s zoom benefits from nano surface coating to reduce ghosting and flare and two ED elements to reduce chromatic aberrations. While the ED elements certainly help to cut down on purple fringing, it doesn’t quite eliminate the problem altogether. Ghosting and flare is quite well controlled though.
ISO performance, as with so many compacts using a small 1/2.3in sensor, is a bit of a mixed bag. At the lowest settings of ISO 100 and 200 the TZ30 captures noise-free images, however by as low as ISO 400 some visible noise does begin to creep into images. This becomes more pronounced at ISO 800 and clearly visible – even at smaller image sizes – at the top settings of ISO 1600 and 3200. Thankfully, automatic white balance is consistently reliable though, with only the occasional slip up.
The Panasonic Lumix TZ30 is a 14.1MP travel compact that offers the flexibility of a 20x optical zoom alongside touch-screen control and the ability to record 1080/60p Full HD movies. In terms of the improved specifications it’s certainly a worthy successor to the TZ20, however given that the older model is currently available for around £80 cheaper, the value equation is somewhat less clear-cut. Personally, we’d be more inclined to go with the newer model, on account of the longer zoom and additional features, although ultimately both models represent a pretty sound investment for anyone seeking a trustworthy travel compact.