The travel compact segment of the digital camera market is one of the most lucrative and keenly contested, with all of the major manufacturers keen to claim a share of the spoils. The main reason why travel compacts have become so popular is because of the flexibility they offer. Small and light enough to carry all day, most of the current crop also pack a 16-20x optical zoom, allowing you to capture wide-angle landscapes and also bring faraway subjects much closer without the need for a bag of lenses or a bulky superzoom.
Other notable improvements of the TZ30 over the TZ20 include a one-stop increase in sensitivity to ISO 3200, and the addition of a set of Creative Control digital filters – which includes such fan favourites as Miniaturisation and Toy Camera. The TZ30 also benefits from Panasonic’s ‘Light Speed’ autofocus module, which offers a claimed AF speed of 0.1sec in good light.
GPS functionality, which was already present on the TZ20, has also been given a boost in functionality with a series of pre-loaded maps – of 90 countries and over a million landmarks – supplied in disc form. Once you’ve uploaded the data for your chosen country on to the SD card inside the camera, the TZ30 is able to pinpoint your location on an in-camera map.
At it’s heart the TZ30 uses a 1/2.3in MOS sensor with an effective resolution of 14.1MP. While this is exactly the same as the TZ20, Panasonic claims that the TZ30's sensor has been newly developed to work alongside the latest HD Venus image processor. Maximum output at the full 14MP in the default 4:3 aspect is 4320 x 3240 pixels, although there is scope to reduce file size by lowering effective resolution to 10, 7, 5, 3 or even 0.3MB. It’s also possible to change the aspect in-camera to produce images with a 3:2, 16:9 or 1:1, although as all of these effectively crop from the default 4:3 aspect resolution is slightly lower at all settings. Sadly, the TZ30 still lacks the ability to capture lossless Raw images for enhanced digital editing, although JPEG compression can be set to either Standard (more images) or Fine (better quality).
Exposure modes remain much the same as with previous TZ series, save for the addition of a selection of Creative Control digital filters – Expressive, Retro, High Key, Low Key, Sepia, Monochrome, High Dynamic, Toy Camera, Miniaturisation and Soft Focus. These can be used to add fun effects to images (and movies) without the need for any image editing software.
Regular exposure modes include Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual (PASM). While it’s good to have the options, it’s worth bearing in mind that the Leica lens only offers an aperture range of f/3.3–f/8, which does limit your possibilities somewhat. Together with the small sensor anyone looking for something capable of producing a shallow depth of field effect is likely to be left disappointed.
The TZ30’s PASM modes are supplemented by Panasonic’s fully automated and consistently good iAuto mode, a 3D mode (3D image viewer required), and two user-defined Custom settings. Rounding things off is a range of 18 individual Scene modes that includes a one-touch Panorama mode (a new feature for Lumix compacts this year) and a High-Speed movie-recording mode.
Lumix compacts have built a good reputation for shooting HD video and the TZ30 continues this trend, improving slightly on the TZ20’s headline specs with a maximum recordable quality of 1080/60p (as opposed to 1080/60i on the TZ20). Sound is recorded in stereo via two microphones mounted on the top of the camera and there’s also a wind-cut option. Furthermore, it’s also possible to tag movies with GPS data. New for the TZ30 is the ability to record movies in the more computer-friendly MP4 format as well as the high-quality (but more HDTV orientated) AVCHD format that Panasonic has favoured in recent years.
While the range of AVCHD quality options is certainly impressive we can’t help but think that the sheer number of options available – GPH 1080, PSH 1080, GFS 1080, FSH 1080, GS 720 and SH 720 – will just end up confusing some users. In this respect the TZ30 would really benefit from some clear in-camera guidance as to which setting would best suit a range of situations. As things stand the camera merely indicates the headline resolution for each option, which isn’t really all that helpful if you're an AVCHD novice.
Unlike previous Lumix TZ models the battery of the TZ30 is charged in-camera via a USB to mini USB lead. There’s no standalone battery charger in the box either, although it is possible to charge the camera via your computer by removing the USB lead from the AC mains adaptor and plugging it straight in – it’s quite a lot slower than using the mains though.
Battery performance isn’t great, especially with the GPS turned on. We barely managed 150 photos before the red battery bar of death began to flash and the camera switched itself off, and this was with the GPS only switched on intermittently. Those who want to make good use of the GPS features are therefore advised to invest in a spare battery.