Andy Westlake tests Panasonic's pocket travel camera with a 1in sensor and 10x zoom lens
Panasonic has spent a long time perfecting its AF systems and the TZ100 benefits from the firm’s unique Depth from Defocus technology. This uses knowledge of the lens’s optical characteristics when the image is out of focus to determine the correct focus distance.
The system works remarkably well, focusing quickly and accurately in almost any situation. The focus point can be placed anywhere in the frame using the touchscreen, and face detection and subject tracking modes can be enabled.
Often cameras with relatively slow zoom lenses struggle with focusing in low light, but the TZ100 performs remarkably well. It’s only really when trying to shoot in extremely dark conditions that it shows any sign of failing. So if you want to take a lot of pictures in very dimly lit bars, it may not be the best choice; otherwise it should be just fine.
Switch to manual-focus mode and the dial around the lens becomes a manual-focus ring. Panasonic has included a peaking display and magnified view, which can be combined together. I found this made it easy to achieve manual focus when desired, except in very low-light situations where the display becomes too noisy.
Metering, white balance and colour
Left to its own devices, the TZ100’s metering handles most scenes relatively well. It doesn’t quite have the uncanny consistency of the best of its peers, though, and I found myself using exposure compensation fairly frequently to either tame clipped highlights in bright light, or brighten up dark exposures in dull conditions. Of course, the great advantage of electronic viewing is that you can see all of this before you take the shot, and there’s the option of a live histogram to help you judge correct exposure.
Panasonic’s standard JPEG colour rendition is accurate and perfectly pleasant, although not as punchy or crowd-pleasing as some other brands. In terms of white balance, under most conditions the TZ100 gives neutral results, and while under artificial light it errs to the side of warmth, it’s not unpleasant. Crucially, the odd colour casts that previously could beset Panasonic cameras seem to have been eliminated. On occasions when the camera does get things wrong, you can use the well-implemented in-camera raw development to choose a more appropriate white balance.
Low ISO images are packed full of fine detail, but even at ISO 400 noise starts to have a visible impact in detail if you look closely at your images. Even so, I was quite happy shooting up to ISO 1600, which gives results plenty good enough for online sharing and small prints.
Higher settings result in noisy images with little shadow detail, but can still be usable on occasion, especially when converted to black & white. Meanwhile, the lens delivers plenty of detail at wideangle and holds up well through to about 100mm equivalent, but gets noticeably softer beyond. The optical image stabilisation works well, but only within reason: if you try to shoot one-handed at full telephoto, for example, you’ll likely get shaky results.