- 20.1-million-pixel, 1-inch sensor
- 24-360mm equiv. f/3.3-6.4 lens
- 2.33m-dot LCD viewfinder
- 1.24m-dot 3-inch touchscreen
- 4K video recording
- Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity
*** Note : £1 = $1.39 (correct at time of post)
First look at the Panasonic Lumix TZ200
The Panasonic TZ200 is a pocket-sized travel zoom camera, with a 15x zoom and a 1-inch, 20MP sensor for what promises to be class-leading image quality.
Panasonic originally invented the ‘travel zoom’ camera class, by combining a long zoom lens with a pocketable body. Two years ago it revolutionised the category with its Lumix TZ100, which used a relatively large 20.1MP 1-inch sensor for vastly improved image quality, teamed up with a 10x zoom lens and a small electronic viewfinder. It’s been my favourite pocket camera ever since.
Now the Japanese company has taken the concept up another notch, by squeezing in two major upgrades without noticeably increasing the size.
Price and release date
Available in black or gunmetal grey, the TZ200 will cost £729 when it goes on sale on March 12, 2018.
The TZ200’s headline update is a new lens, which is now a 15x zoom with a 24-360mm equivalent range, in place of the TZ100’s 10x/25-250mm. This extended reach has been made possible by the adoption of a completely new 13-element, 11-group optical design, and brings the TZ200 somewhat closer to the zoom ranges offered by conventional long-zoom compacts with smaller sensors (and therefore poorer image quality). In practical terms, it should be able to handle most kinds of subjects.
In return, the lens’s maximum aperture has inevitably dropped, but only by about half a stop, to f/3.3-6.4 (from f/2.8-5.9). But naturally for a zoom this long, optical image stabilisation is built in, which should help make this long, small-aperture zoom usable without having to raise the ISO too far to avoid blur from camera shake.
To further cement the camera’s credentials as an all-rounder, the lens is capable of focusing on subjects just 3cm from the front element, although only when it’s set to the wideangle position.
The TZ200’s second key improvement is its higher-resolution 2.33m-dot electronic viewfinder, which is also rather larger, with 0.53x equivalent magnification. This still isn’t huge compared to the eye-level viewfinders on most other cameras, but from even my short hands-on time with the TZ200, it’s obvious that it’s much more usable than the TZ100’s ‘postage stamp at the end of a tunnel’ version.
Aside from these two big additions, the TZ200 also gains a few other welcome updates. Photographers who like to shoot in-camera black & white will be pleased by the addition of Panasonic’s very attractive L.Monochrome mode, which is specifically designed for rich gradation and strong blacks, to give a look that’s designed to resemble classic monochrome film.
For those who prefer to manipulate their images after shooting them, in-camera RAW conversion is available, so you can tweak your images without having to get to a computer.
For sharing your shots, Panasonic has added Bluetooth to provide a full-time connection to your smartphone, complementing the existing Wi-Fi system that was in the TZ100. While some other manufacturers don’t do very much with Bluetooth, Panasonic implements it pretty well. You can use your smartphone as a basic remote shutter release, which is great for when you’re shooting on a tripod.
You can also use the Bluetooth connection to fire up the Wi-Fi for browsing through your images, even if the camera is switched off. So you don’t even have to take the TZ200 out of your bag or pocket to copy and share the images you’ve taken.
When it comes to power, the DMW-BLG10 battery is rated for 370 images when shooting with the LCD, or 250 images with the electronic viewfinder. Engaging the newly-added Eco mode extends the latter to 350 images. This mode uses the viewfinder eye sensor to power the camera down whenever you’re not holding it up to your eye.
This should probably be just enough to get most users through a day’s shooting, especially as USB charging is now built in, meaning the camera can be kept topped up using a portable charger. This is hugely convenient when you’re travelling and exploring a new city.
Like other Panasonic models the TZ200 can record 4K video (3840 x 2160 pixels) at 30p, but it now adds 120fps slow-motion Full HD recording into the mix. Creative movie-makers will also find time-lapse and stop-motion animation modes on board.
Panasonic’s handy 4K Photo mode uses video technology to record 8MP images at 30fps without instantly filling up your memory card. The TZ200 can even suggest the best images in a burst, and generate composites in-camera from several selected frames.
Design and handling
In terms of design the TZ200 is near-identical to its predecessor, with a solid-feeling metal body shell bringing a real impression of quality. The control layout is essentially the same too, including a large, smoothly rotating dial around the lens for zoom or manual focus, and a second dial on the top plate for changing the main exposure settings. The zoom can also be controlled by a conventional lever around the shutter button.
I’ve found that this layout works OK on the TZ100. However, compared to most enthusiast compact cameras with shorter zooms (including Panasonic’s own LX15), it’s a bit clunkier to use if you like to take manual control of your shooting settings.
But to be honest, with this kind of camera your main creative settings are zoom and exposure compensation, both of which are easy to enough to change. Inexperienced users can leave most of the decisions in the hands of Panasonic’s generally reliable Intelligent Auto mode.
One very welcome update, though, is the addition of a textured, rubberised strip onto the front of the handgrip, along with a small rubber thumbpad on the back. So unlike the slippery-as-soap TZ100, the new model feels secure in your grasp, even if you shoot one-handed. I’d still recommend using a wriststrap, though, as you don’t want to risk dropping a £729 camera.
On the back you’ll find a 1.24-million-dot 3-inch touchscreen, which can be used for changing settings and browsing through your images. It can also be used to select the autofocus point, including when you’re shooting with the viewfinder. This should work perfectly well for most users, unless like me you happen to be left-eye dominant, in which case you’ll probably end up with the focus point jumping around whenever your nose contacts the screen. Luckily you can turn this feature off if you prefer.
As with the TZ100, the screen is fixed in place to keep the size down. I’d have loved Panasonic to have made it tilt up and down, even at the expense of another couple of millimetres’ thickness, as this lets you both hold the camera more steadily, and shoot more discreetly too. But I can understand the company’s thinking that it wants to keep the TZ range as slimline and pocketable as possible.
Two colour options will be available: black and gunmetal grey. Both are pretty good-looking to my eye. Panasonic will also be offering a matched leather case, with buyers who pre-order the camera getting a case free.
At first sight, with the TZ200 Panasonic has taken the excellent TZ100 and made a few useful improvements, while retaining much the same tried-and-tested design philosophy. The big sticking point, however, is likely to be the price: £729 feels like a lot for this kind of camera. Fortunately, for those who find this a bit too rich, the TZ100 which will continue to be available in Panasonic’s range at around £550.
To be fair, the TZ200 will be far from the most expensive zoom compact on the market, with both Sony and Canon offering even pricier models in the shape of the £950 Cyber-shot RX100 V and £1150 PowerShot G1 X Mark III. These cameras are distinctly different, though; the Sony is all about speed, whereas the Canon emphasises image quality and handling. Neither, though comes anywhere close to the TZ200 for zoom range, if that’s what you’re after.
Now it’s true that many enthusiast photographers prefer cameras with shorter, but larger-aperture zooms, for their better low light performance and more creative control over background blur. But I’d argue the TZ200’s huge zoom range is more useful to the vast majority of more casual users (and quite a few enthusiast photographers, too).
Overall, the TZ200 looks like it should be a nice improvement over the TZ100 when it goes on sale in March, making it the arguably the best travel camera around.