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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ18 / ZS8 Gordon Laing, April 2011
 
   
  Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ18 / ZS8 verdict

Panasonic's Lumix DMC-TZ18 / ZS8 is a simpler and more affordable version of the flagship TZ20 / ZS10 pocket super-zoom. It gives budget-conscious buyers exactly the same 16x optical range packed into the same compact body for a price that's around one quarter less. The resolution is also the same at 14.1 Megapixels, and some enthusiasts may actually prefer the image characteristics of its CCD sensor compared to the (C)MOS sensor in the TZ20 / ZS10. So as a no-frills super-zoom, it fits the bill, at least on paper anyway: you get the same zoom, same resolution, same auto and manual modes, and same body as the top-model, but at a cheaper price. It may be lacking the extensive feature-set of the TZ20 / ZS10, but you may not want or need it.

Let's start with the lens, the headline feature of any super-zoom camera. After sticking with the same 12x zoom for a couple of generations, Panasonic has boosted the range to 16x on its 2011 TZ / ZS models. The vast majority of that extension takes place at the telephoto end, significantly increasing the reach from 300 to 384mm, although the camera is also now a tad wider at 24mm compared to the 25mm of its predecessor. Last year you had to choose either the extra wide-angle of the Panasonic or the extra-long telephoto of the Canon, but now you can have both. And in use there's little you can't capture with a 24-384mm range, taking you all the way from expansive views to super close-ups of distant subjects with a twist of the zoom ring.

While the Lumix TZ18 / ZS8's lens, like all super-zooms, unsurprisingly loses contrast at its longest focal lengths and exhibits distortion at the extreme ends, it appears to avoid any other optical issues. There's almost certainly some digital correction going on behind the scenes, but the bottom line is there's no corner softness, fringing or vignetting to complain about here. Focusing feels swift and confident too, given a subject with sufficient contrast. It's a good overall performance for the new lens.

   
   

Moving on, the TZ18 / ZS8 inevitably gains a couple of extra Megapixels over its predecessor, but sticks with older CCD technology, while the higher-end TZ20 / ZS10 has adopted (C)MOS. This means the TZ18 / ZS8 misses out on the Full HD 1080i video and fast continuous shooting of its pricier counterpart, but equally it avoids some of its issues with photo quality. In our tests with the TZ20 / ZS10, we found its (C)MOS sensor suffered from quite visible noise throughout its ISO range even at the lowest sensitivity, and could become quite patchy at mid to high sensitivities.

Now before you get too excited, the TZ18 / ZS8 is also no angel in this regard. Examine its images on-screen at 100% and pixel-peepers will notice more noise and rougher edges than they'd like, but as you'll see in our High ISO Noise results page, the output from the cheaper camera remains preferable at low to mid sensitivities. Interestingly the TZ20 / ZS10 managed to better retain colour saturation at high sensitivities, but for general-use, the output from the TZ18 / ZS8 was preferred overall. Just don't expect miracles: it's certainly better, but not massively so.

The (C)MOS sensor in the TZ20 / ZS10 does however enjoy other benefits, most notably support for 1080i Full HD video and very fast continuous shooting, along with avoidance of vertical streaking in highlight areas on movies. These are key advantages, although as always are important to put to the test. In the movie mode section of our review, you can see a resolution comparison between the 720p movie mode of the TZ18 / ZS8 compared to the 1080i mode of the TZ20 / ZS10, and it may not be as significant as you think. Sure, the TZ20 / ZS10 also supports AVCHD encoding for smaller files and longer recording times, but in terms of resolution and quality, its 1080i mode isn't significantly better than the 720p on the TZ18 / ZS8.

In terms of continuous shooting though, there's no competition. The TZ18 / ZS8 can fire-off no more than five full resolution frames at around 2fps, compared to 15 frames at 10fps on the pricier model. The TZ20 / ZS10 also offers a wealth of other continuous shooting options, trading quality for ever-faster speeds. If you're into shooting action, it's the one to go for.

Indeed faster continuous shooting is just one of many benefits of the TZ20 / ZS10 we'll detail below, but before comparing them head-to-head, we'll wrap up the rest of the TZ18 / ZS8's experience.

The lens as you know by now is the highlight. The CCD sensor may suffer from the lack of crispness we've seen from many Panasonic compacts before, but it remains preferable for still photos than the TZ20 / ZS10. The screen is bigger than before at 3in, although the basic 230k resolution is nothing to get particularly excited about. The wealth of shooting modes is very welcome though, from foolproof Intelligent Auto to full manual control. The 720p HD movie mode may be limited to clips lasting around eight minutes, but the quality is pretty good and you can zoom the lens while filming. So overall, a good no-frills super-zoom, but as always, there's some tough competition.

 

Compared to Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ20 / ZS10

 
 
 
     

The Lumix TZ18 / ZS8 was launched alongside a higher-end version, called the Lumix TZ20 / ZS10. Both models share a number of key specifications including exactly the same 16x optical zoom range, the same manual shooting modes, the same body and the same 14.1 Megapixel resolution. So far so similar, and if you're only interested in the lens, then the TZ18 / ZS8 will give you it at a cheaper price. But the TZ20 / ZS10 is packed to the brim with extra features which could tempt you into spending more.

Most obviously, the TZ20 / ZS10 features a built-in GPS receiver which can tag photos with your current location; cleverer still, it can cross-reference the location against a built-in database to display country, town and landmark information. The TZ20 / ZS10 may share the same sized screen as the TZ18 / ZS8, but it's more detailed at 460k, and touch-sensitive too. Now you may or may not get on with touch-controls, but the ability to tap wherever you'd like the camera to focus is very useful, especially as the TZ18 / ZS8's single area AF modes are locked to the middle of the frame.

In terms of movies, the TZ20 / ZS10 sports 1080i video and while this didn't resolve that much greater detail than the 720p mode on the TZ18 / ZS8, it is encoded with the more efficient AVCHD system, which means smaller files and longer recording times. There's also built-in stereo microphones and a dedicated button which lets you start recording movies in any mode. The (C)MOS sensor additionally avoids vertical streaking around highlight areas in movies.

Moving on, the TZ20 / ZS10 also offers 3D image capture, a composite Handheld Night Shot mode which stacks images taken in a burst to reduce noise, and an HDMI port for connecting to HDTVs.

It all adds up to a great deal more than the TZ18 / ZS8, but it's not a totally one-sided argument. Beyond a cheaper price tag, the TZ18 / ZS8 delivered cleaner results in our tests than the TZ20 / ZS10 and the battery lasted longer too. But if you're not examining the images at 100% on-screen, you may not notice the artefacts on the TZ20 / ZS10, and there's no denying the feature-set is impressive. Many will be happy to pay the extra for the features, even if the ultimate image quality isn't quite up there.

See our Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ20 / ZS10 review for more details.

 

Compared to Canon IXUS 1000 HS / PowerShot SD4500 IS

 
 
 
     

Canon's PowerShot SX230 HS may be the company's flagship pocket super-zoom, but competes with the TZ20 / ZS10 at a higher price point. The older IXUS 1000 HS / PowerShot SD4500 IS is a comparably-priced super-zoom to the TZ18 / ZS8 and makes an interesting rival.

At first glance the numbers don't look as good on the Canon. Most obviously, the optical range of the TZ18 / ZS8 is broader and crucially wider. The 16x Panasonic zoom offers an equivalent range of 24-384mm, which is simply much, much wider than the 36mm of the Canon when zoomed-out, while also reaching a fraction further when zoomed-in. It's a compelling range to have in your pocket, and the difference in wide coverage is dramatic.

While the IXUS 1000 HS / SD4500 IS is essentially automatic only, the Lumix TZ18 / ZS8 also offers the choice of Program, Manual, Aperture and Shutter Priority. Its battery also lasts for about twice as many shots and it also sports four extra Megapixels.

Broader zoom, more Megapixels, longer battery life and greater control? How can the Canon compete? Well most importantly it features a CMOS sensor which supports 1080p video recording along with faster continuous shooting - admittedly not as quick as the TZ20 / ZS10, but still roughly twice as fast as the TZ18 / ZS8 without the buffer limitations. Returning to the video, the clip length is slightly longer at 10 minutes and there's also stereo sound, along with neat Miniature and slow motion modes. The CMOS sensor also avoids vertical streaking in highlight areas on movies.

The lower resolution 10 Megapixel sensor on the Canon also delivers cleaner results, and there's a multi-frame noise reduction option that may be present on the TZ20 / ZS10, but not on the TZ18 / ZS8. The camera is also slimmer and a little lighter.

The big stumbling block for the Canon IXUS 1000 HS / SD4500 IS compared to the Panasonic TZ / ZS models is undoubtedly the shorter zoom range and crucially its lack of really wide angle coverage. But the slim Canon offers a lot of benefits to discerning buyers who may prefer its quality, size and feature-set to the TZ18 / ZS8.

See our Canon IXUS 1000 HS / PowerShot SD4500 IS review for more details.

 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ18 / ZS8 final verdict

Panasonic's Lumix DMC-TZ18 / ZS8 delivers a no-frills version of the higher-end TZ20 / ZS10 at a more compelling price. As discussed above, you get the same compelling 16x optical zoom, the same Intelligent Auto and manual modes, the same resolution and the same sized screen, all packed into the same sized body. Surely it's the ideal choice for super-zoom buyers who don't need (or can't afford) the extended feature-set of the pricier TZ20 / ZS10, while also enjoying slightly better photo quality at low to mid sensitivities.

Put like this it's a no-brainer, but stay with us for a moment longer: the TZ18 / ZS8 may deliver the most important parts of the TZ20 / ZS10 at a cheaper price, but the latter's sheer number of extra features could still tip the boat for you. We've detailed them above, but 1080i video, built-in GPS, much faster continuous shooting, HDMI port and a more detailed screen with touch-controls are not to be sniffed at. The 2011 TZ / ZS series have never been further apart in their feature-set, and even if you tell yourself you're only interested in the lens range and actually prefer the image quality from the TZ18 / ZS8's CCD sensor, it's still hard not to have your head turned.

Then there's other options to consider: the slimmer Canon IXUS 1000 HS / SD4500 IS may have a shorter zoom range, but delivers a compelling alternative package you may find preferable. Then there's the older Lumix TZ10 / ZS7, which may also have a shorter zoom than the latest version, but offers a more detailed screen, longer movie record times, HDMI port and GPS capabilities. If you can find one at a comparable or lower price to the TZ18 / ZS8, it may be a preferable alternative.

Ultimately the Lumix TZ18 / ZS8 does exactly what it's supposed to do: it delivers the same core features as the higher-end TZ20 / ZS10 at a cheaper price, and should therefore appeal to no-frills or budget-conscious super-zoom buyers. The CCD sensor also delivers slightly better photo quality than the TZ20 / ZS10. As such, the Lumix TZ18 / ZS8 earns our Recommended rating as a new camera, but we suspect many potential buyers will either be unable to resist the expansive feature-set of the TZ20 / ZS10 or looking for the older TZ10 / ZS7 at a discounted price.



Good points
Broad and well-corrected 16x zoom covers every situation.
720p video with zooming and continuous AF.
Image quality a little better than pricier TZ20 / ZS10.
Good auto and full manual control modes.

Bad points
Basic continuous shooting at full resolution.
Modest 230k resolution screen.
Minimal control over image quality - little if any tweaking.
Record / play switch less intuitive than a plain play button.



Scores

(relative to 2011 compacts)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

18 / 20
16 / 20
15 / 20
15 / 20
16 / 20

80%


 

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