Hands-on review: Panasonic TZ80/SZ60

Introduction and features

The TZ80 (unknown as the ZS60 in the US) is a replacement for last year’s TZ70 (SZ50). However, Panasonic has a new camera to sit at the top of its travel line-up in the shape of the TZ100.

That means that last year’s TZ57 (ZS45) won’t be getting an upgrade, and it’s the TZ80 which is the more “budget” friendly option when compared to TZ100 and its 1-inch sensor. In fact, the TZ100’s sensor is four times larger than the 1/2.3 inch device in the TZ80 and its predecessor the TZ70.

Panasonic TZ80

Features

Interestingly, a year after Panasonic reduced the number of pixels from 18 million on the TZ60’s sensor to 12Mp on the TZ70’s in the pursuit of better quality, the company has opted to boost the pixel count back up to 18 million for the TZ80.

We’re told that although the pixel pitch of the new camera’s sensor is a little smaller than that of the TZ70, the photoreceptors have the same sensitivity. In theory, this could mean that noise levels are about the same, perhaps even slightly better than the TZ70 as the processor is new. The sensitivity range remains the same as the TZ70, with a native range of ISO 80-3200, and an ISO 6400 expansion setting.

Panasonic TZ80

4K video recording, along with 4K Photo Mode, and Post Focus mode, are more new features, but in many ways the TZ80 remains the same as the TZ70. Crucially, the lens is the same 30x Leica DC Vario-Elmar 4.3-129mm f/3.3-6.4 optic, which has a focal length equivalence of 24-720mm.

Like the TZ70, the TZ80 also has a 0.2 inch, 1,160,000-dot electronic viewfinder and a 3-inch 1,040,000-dot screen – but Panasonic has reprised the touch-control that went AWOL for the TZ70 and the TZ60. Autofocusing is claimed to be improved with the arrival of Panasonic’s DFD (Depth From Defocus) technology, the same as found in its latest G-series compact system cameras.

Wi-Fi connectivity is included, but there’s no NFC chip to make quick connections to an NFC device.

Build Quality and Handling

The TZ80 is an attractive option not just for beginners, but for more advanced enthusiasts too. This second group of users should find the array of dials and buttons on the TZ80 quite appealing – these include a mode dial on top of the camera which reveals that the TZ80 is capable of shooting in manual and semi-automatic PASM modes. iA (Intelligent Auto) is a good shooting option for beginners.

Panasonic TZ80

There’s a ring around the camera’s len for adjusting certain controls (such as shutter speed in shutter priority) are altered by it, but you can customise it to adjust something else if you prefer. There’s further good news for fans of customisable cameras as there are four physical function buttons on the rear of the TZ80, along with a further five “virtual” buttons which can be accessed via the touchscreen. The use of the rear scrolling dial can also be customised.

Hitting the Fn3 button will, by default, bring up the TZ80’s quick menu. Here you’ll find easy access to a number of common settings, such as white balance, ISO and metering mode. As touch sensitivity has been re-introduced for the TZ80, you can either tap the area on screen to change a setting or you can use physical buttons to navigate to the setting you need. Alternatively, you can use a combination of both touch and buttons, if you prefer.

Touch sensitivity is also handy for setting the autofocus point – a simple tap on the screen is all that’s required to select the point you want to use.

Panasonic TZ80

The TZ80’s viewfinder is quite small compared to the EVFs found on some compact system cameras. That small size makes it something you’ll be unlikely to use for every shot, but it’s nevertheless handy when the screen is hard to see in very bright sunlight. In normal light, the TZ80’s screen provides a decent view and doesn’t suffer too badly from reflections – it would have been quite nice to have a tilting or articulating display for some awkward angles though.

Post Focus mode has been introduced for the TZ80, something we’ve seen previously on Panasonic’s compact system cameras. This essentially works by shooting a number of frames in very quick succession, each with a different focus point. After you’ve taken the shot, you can select from any of those focus points, thus altering the look of the image. It only works if both the camera and the subject is static, and with this camera’s small sensor and a maximum aperture of f/3.5, the impact is less than when shooting with the larger sensor and wider aperture combinations available on Panasonic’s mirrorless models.

Panasonic TZ80

Although use of Post Focus is arguably pretty limited, it is very easy to use, and could be useful for some subjects, such as macro shots, when for some reason you don’t want to choose the focus point straightaway.

Performance

At the time of the TZ70’s launch, Panasonic said its decision to reduce pixel count was in the interest of image quality, so it seems a little bit strange to up that resolution again quite so soon.

Sadly, perhaps as a result of that decision, images don’t seem to have quite the same high quality as those from the TZ70. In good light, the overall impression of detail is very good, but if you examine images at 100%, even those taken at relatively low ISOs (such as ISO 200), it’s possible to see image smoothing and a loss of detail.

As you go up the sensitivity scale, it’s not really noise that starts to become an issue in JPEGS, but its removal – the TZ80’s image smoothing results in a painterly effect that is severe enough for images taken at IS0 3200 to only really be useable at small printing sizes. On the plus side, as the TZ80 can shoot raw format files, you can switch off noise reduction in post-production and reveal much more detail in higher ISO shots – you will see noise by doing this, but you may find this preferable to excessive smoothing. At the time of writing, it’s not possible to open the TZ80’s files in Adobe Camera Raw, but you can use Silkypix, which is available as a free download from Panasonic’s website.

Panasonic TZ80 sample image

  • At the widest point of 24mm, the TZ80’s lens has great scope for capturing landscapes. Click here for a full size version.
Panasonic TZ80 sample image
  • The 30x optical zoom allows you to get very close to your subject – these are the windows from the building in the wide-angle shot. Detail is not quite on par with images taken at the far end of the TZ70’s focal length range. Click here for a full size version.

Panasonic TZ80 sample image

  • Digital zoom settings are also available – which are handy if you’re desperate to get even closer, but suffer from a loss of image quality. Click here for a full size version.

Panasonic TZ80 sample image

  • There’s a wide range of digital filters – this one is called Toy Pop. Click here for a full size version.

Panasonic TZ80 sample image

  • Having a 30x optical zoom gives you good flexibility to get closer to subjects that would be out of reach with other cameras. Click here for a full size version.

Panasonic TZ80 sample image

  • As you move up through the sensitivity range, image smoothing becomes even more problematic, as evidenced by this shot at ISO 1600. Click here for a full size version.

Focusing speeds are very quick – the introduction of DFD technology seems to have been a good choice, as even in darker conditions, the TZ80 has very little trouble locking on to a target. Using all-purpose metering tends to result in well balanced images most of the time, while the automatic white balance copes well with a range of different lighting conditions. It can be a little confused by mixed lighting, in which case switching to one of the presets, such as Fluorescent, can result in more accurate colours.

Images taken at the full 30x reach of the lens are a little less sharp than images taken at the full reach of the TZ70’s lens. Again, that’s okay for small printing or sharing sizes, but anything larger than a 7 x 5-inch print could be problematic. Other focal lengths are a little better, though, while the inbuilt optical image stabilisation helps to keep blur out of shots when using long focal lengths such as 20x or above.

Verdict

While there have been a couple of notable improvements made over the TZ70, including the reintroduction of a touchscreen, the addition of 4K video and photo modes, and DFD focusing technology, upping the pixel count seems to have had a slightly detrimental effect on image quality.

If you’re likely to only be photographing in good light (if you’re planning to use this as a holiday camera, for instance), then you may not find image smoothing to be particularly problematic, but if you’re hoping to use it in lower light conditions (and you will if you shoot indoors), then you would perhaps be better off with the TZ70, which is still available to buy at a cheaper price than the TZ80.

Panasonic TZ80

We liked

A 30x optical zoom range gives you the kind of scope and flexibility that a smartphone can’t deliver, and it’s for this reason that superzoom compacts like the TZ80 continue to do well in an otherwise beleaguered market. Although detail drops off a little at the full 30x reach, images taken at other lengths throughout the range are good. It’s also good to be able to take manual control of the camera, and shoot in raw format, something which several other superzoom compact cameras lack.

We disliked

The TZ80 has a disappointing low light/high ISO performance. It seems reasonably likely that this is a result of upping the pixel count to 18 million pixels, something the company reduced before in order to maintain image quality. Perhaps Panasonic has chosen to go back up to higher numbers as part of a marketing ploy to compete better with other high resolution cameras, but sadly it seems to have resulted in lower quality images.

Final Verdict

The TZ80 is a well-specced camera that delivers great images in good light, but less than outstanding ones as the light dims, so if you have no need for the 4K Video or 4K Photo Mode and can live without a touchscreen, take a look at the TZ70 instead. The TZ100 is also a great option if you can get by with a smaller 10x zoom range.

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