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Panasonic Lumix TZ40 / ZS30 Gordon Laing, Apr 2013
 
 

Panasonic Lumix TZ40 / ZS30 verdict


The Lumix TZ40 / ZS30 is the successor to last year's best-selling Lumix TZ30 / ZS20 pocket superzoom. It's an annual cycle we've become quite familiar with: every January Panasonic announces the latest version of its hugely popular travel zoom, packed with everything you could imagine, then about a month or so later, Canon and Sony follow with their rival models. Then just when you thought they literally couldn't squeeze anymore features in, they all go and do it again the following year.

To look at last year's TZ30 / ZS20 you'd again be forgiven for thinking it already had everything apart from the kitchen sink: a very usable 20x optical zoom packed into a surprisingly pocketable camera with full manual control, 1080p HD video, touchscreen, 360 degree panorama stitching, and GPS backed-up by a built-in database of over a million landmarks and on-screen mapping. But while the latest TZ40 / ZS30 shares the same 20x optical zoom range packed into much the same shell as before, Panasonic has found room for a number of useful and in at least one case, highly compelling upgrades.

Support for the Russian GLONASS equivalent to GPS genuinely improves positioning in urban environments where there's often limited views of the sky, while I for one welcome the display view which shows the GPS co-ordinates in playback. The zoom range may be unchanged, but the stabilization is improved especially for video where the full optical range becomes much more usable, and the new Level Shot ensures your video horizons are square. The slow motion video is also much improved dumping the effectively useless QVGA mode of its predecessor for VGA at 200fps or 720p at 100fps. The higher resolution screen is also nice to have.

   
   
Panasonic Lumix ZS20 TZ30 review

Then there's the boost in resolution from 14 to 18 Megapixels, arguably to match Sony in the numbers marketing game. This was an unnecessary move in my view, and to be frank I'd sooner Panasonic played Canon's game instead and reduced the resolution in an attempt to deliver slightly lower noise levels. The good news is the boost in resolution hasn't come at the cost of increased noise over its predecessor, but equally the image quality isn't noticeably better. Having more pixels in the same frame may mean any artefacts will appear fractionally smaller on the same sized prints, but if you're looking for significantly cleaner results you'll need to go for a camera with a bigger sensor or a much brighter lens allowing you to stick to lower sensitivities.

But of all the upgrades on the TZ40 / ZS30, by far the most significant and in my view compelling is the addition of Wifi, crucially with NFC. A free app allows you to wirelessly remote control the camera along with browsing and copying images with a compatible smartphone. You can alternatively upload images to computers or direct from the camera to sharing and social services. The remote control is great fun and genuinely useful, providing live view and basic controls on your phone's screen - I used it to photograph birds in the garden while I was inside the house, and even simply to operate the zoom while filming video without touching and potentially wobbling the camera.

Browsing through images on the bigger screen of your phone or tablet is also really useful, and you're able to do this without having to connect cables, remove cards or copy anything over first. Then when you see an image you like, just press and hold it for a second and the original file will copy over onto your device, ready for sharing or storage.

Those who are into social sharing may be excited to learn you can do it direct from the camera via a Wifi access point, but personally I wasn't fond of having to (unnecessarily) give Panasonic's Lumix Club additional permissions first. Strangely it also took a while to upload images direct from the camera to the networks, and even then you'd probably want to enter any captions via a phone or laptop. So for me, I did most of my social sharing from the TZ40 / ZS30 by simply transferring images to my phone or laptop first.

To be fair, we've seen most of these capabilities on earlier cameras with Wifi, including Panasonic's own Lumix GH3, but what makes the TZ40 / ZS30 different and much more compelling is the presence of Near Field Communications, or NFC for short. If your phone or tablet has NFC, such as the Samsung Galaxy S3, S4 or Google NEXUS 4, 7 or 10, then you merely need to hold it against the camera for about a second and they'll work out the Wifi network name and passwords all by themselves. After this you'll still need to wait about 15 seconds for the connection to be fully operational, but at least you no longer need to go through the faff of manually selecting Wifi access points and entering passwords - NFC does it all for you with little more than a tap.

Admittedly it sometimes it took two or three taps in practice, but it's still so much easier than traditional Wifi cameras. A really nice implementation is when playing back images on the TZ40 / ZS30's screen. If you see one you'd like to share, just hold the camera against your NFC smartphone or tablet and about 30 seconds later the original image will have been copied over without pressing any buttons - and from there it's easy to send it onto Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, G+, Instagram or DropBox for backup.

Indeed I became so smitten with NFC-negotiated Wifi that it made me rethink my ideal future camera. I'd always thought a camera with an open OS like Android would be great to allow integration of sharing and backup apps, but I can't imagine ever going out with my camera and leaving my phone at home. So if the connection between them became truly seamless and simple, then I'd sooner leave the online and sharing stuff to the phone with its multiple radios, bigger screen and easier text entry, and ensure the camera's OS remained quick, secure and reliable. NFC and Wifi on the TZ40 / ZS30 may not be perfect yet, but it's so much better than previous implementations that I'm convinced this is the future - so much so I'd see it as a major downside if a new device boasted wireless connectivity, but didn't have NFC. Sadly for iOS owners this is a moot point as at the time of writing no iPhone or iPad featured NFC. Obviously this is a stumbling block preventing major consumer adoption, but my fingers are crossed for next generation models.

Finally, it's easy to become blasé about the TZ40 / ZS30's optical range especially as it's unchanged from its predecessor, but it really is remarkable to carry something with 24-480mm equivalent coverage in your pocket. The optical quality is pretty good throughout the range and only loses contrast at the longer-end, while the improved stabilization genuinely lets you use the entire range under a variety of conditions. It's really liberating to be able to get so close to distant subjects and pick out detail without lugging around a huge lens. Indeed I can see many owners of more serious cameras buying themselves a pocket super-zoom simply to have the ability to grab a close shot when they don't have a big lens with them. The panoramas, slow motion video, GPS logging and quick sharing are further icings on an already tasty cake.

Which now only leaves me to compare the Lumix TZ40 / ZS30 against the competition.

 

Compared to Panasonic Lumix TZ35 / ZS25

 
Panasonic ZS15
 
     
 

Every year Panasonic packs everything bar the kitchen sink into its flagship pocket super-zoom, but cleverly understands not everyone needs all the new features. So as with previous generations, there's an alternative simpler version available at a lower price, in this case the Lumix TZ35 / ZS25.

The Lumix TZ35 / ZS25 shares the same 20x optical zoom range as its pricier sibling, but lacks many of its features. The screen is the same size, but isn't touch-sensitive and sports half the resolution (460k vs 920k dots); there's 1080 video, but it's interlaced not progressive and there's no slow motion option; there's no GPS, no Wifi and no NFC; there's fewer burst options with a maximum speed of 10fps at 3 Megapixels compared to the TZ40 / ZS30 which can shoot at 10fps at 18 Megapixels for six frames or at 40 and 60fps at reduced resolutions.

Like previous generations the sensor is also lower resolution, with the TZ35 / ZS25 employing a 16 Megapixel design versus 18 on the TZ40 / ZS30. Ironically this has previously resulted in the cheaper model actually delivering slightly better quality than the flagship, and that's something I'll put to the test soon with the latest siblings.

But the message remains much the same as before: if you want the big zoom in a small package and don't need the frills, then the TZ35 / ZS25 will deliver it in a cheaper package than the flagship model. This sounds like a compelling sell for some, but they should also consider the flagship from the previous year as it may bring a broader feature-set at a similar price. See my TZ30 / ZS20 comparison below, and my Lumix TZ35 / ZS25 review.

 

Compared to Panasonic Lumix TZ30 / ZS20

 
Panasonic ZS15
 
     
 

With a range that's refreshed annually, it's important to also consider last year's models as they could still deliver the feature-set you're after at a discounted price. In this case I'd like to compare the 2012 flagship pocket super-zoom, the Lumix TZ30 / ZS20.

As you already know, the new TZ40 / ZS30 shares the same 20x optical zoom range as its predecessor, but adds Wifi with NFC, superior GPS performance, a more detailed screen, improved stabilization, better slow motion video and four more Megapixels. I reckon it's worth spending the extra on the new model if you'll use Wifi, but if that doesn’t interest you, then the TZ30 / ZS20 is definitely worth considering.

But the really interesting comparison is between the TZ30 / ZS20 and the TZ35 / ZS25. Panasonic has taken so much out of the TZ35 / ZS25 that the TZ30 / ZS20 easily out-features it and thanks to its age may become comparable in price - particularly as the year goes on.

Remember both the TZ30 / ZS20 and TZ35 / ZS25 share the same 20x optical zoom range. On top of this, the TZ30 / ZS20 gives you a touchscreen, GPS with mapping, 1080p video and better burst shooting options. It also has a sensor that's two Megapixels lower in resolution which again may actually deliver slightly better quality - although I've yet to compare them in this regard.

My advice would therefore be to watch the prices of all three models carefully. If you don't need Wifi / NFC, then the TZ30 / ZS20 could be a better bet than the TZ40 / ZS30 if the price is significantly lower. Likewise despite being a year older, the TZ30 / ZS20 easily out-features the TZ35 / ZS25, so again if the price is right it could be the preferable choice over this year's option.

See my Panasonic Lumix TZ30 / ZS20 review for more details.

 

Compared to Canon PowerShot SX280HS

 
Panasonic ZS15
 
     
 

Canon's PowerShot SX280HS is a major rival for the Lumix TZ40 / ZS30. Both share 20x optical zooms with virtually the same coverage, along with full manual control, 1080p video, 3in screens and built-in Wifi and GPS.

So far so similar, but look more closely at the specs and you'll spot a number of differences, mostly in favour of the TZ40 / ZS30. Both cameras have built-in GPS receivers, but only the Panasonic has a built-in landmark database and mapping. Both have Wifi, but only the Panasonic has NFC to make the initial negotiation simpler with compatible devices. Both cameras have 3in screens, but Panasonic's is higher resolution and touch-sensitive. And while both cameras have full manual control, the Panasonic lets you change modes with a physical dial.

It's not completely one-sided though. The Canon SX280HS offers more options in the miniature movie mode, sports Canon's fun Movie Digest, and most crucially has 12 Megapixels to the Panasonic's 18 Megapixels. While some may view the latter as a disadvantage in terms of resolution, it does allow the Canon to claim lower noise levels at high ISOs, and this is something I'll be comparing closely in my Canon PowerShot SX280 HS review.

 

Compared to Sony Cyber-shot WX300

 
Panasonic ZS15
 
     
 

Sony is also a major player in the pocket super-zoom market and for 2013 has a dual-pronged approach with the WX300 representing a smaller, lower priced option, leaving the HX50V to go for the glory with its longer 30x zoom range.

The WX300 may be pitched as a lower-end camera than the HX series which usually goes up against the TZ / ZS models, but it still shares a lot in common including essentially the same 20x optical zoom range, 18 Megapixel resolution, 1080p video, 360 degree panoramas, a 3in screen and built-in Wifi. Interestingly there's no built-in GPS on the Sony WX300 though, so I presume the camera will be able to exploit the GPS log of a compatible smartphone, and that's something I'll confirm in my upcoming review.

For now though the Lumix TZ40 / ZS30 understandably enjoys a number of benefits over the WX300 including NFC negotiation for the Wifi, a touch-screen display that's also higher resolution, mapping and landmarks to go with its GPS, and what looks like more extensive and easily accessible manual control.

The headline feature of the Sony is squeezing its 20x optical zoom range into a camera that's comfortably smaller than both its Panasonic and Canon rivals, while also probably coming in cheaper once the prices settle down.

Once again this is an early comparison though which I'll expand and confirm once I have a chance to test the Sony Cyber-shot WX300.

 

Panasonic Lumix TZ40 / ZS30 final verdict

Panasonic invented the concept of a pocket super-zoom camera, but now shares this lucrative market with most of the big names. As such when it comes to the annual update of its best-seller, Panasonic has to dig deeper into the mine of features to come up with a specification which remains in-front of the competition.

Last year it boosted the optical range and slimmed down the body, both of which are compelling specifications to upgrade. This year's model inherits the lens and body of its predecessor and instead goes for upgrades in connectivity, the most important being the addition of Wifi and Near Field Communications, or NFC for short. I went into detail earlier on this page, but briefly, Wifi allows you to wirelessly remote control the camera along with browsing and copying images with a compatible smartphone using a free app. You can alternatively upload images to computers or direct from the camera to sharing and social services. Meanwhile NFC sorts out the pesky business of selecting Wifi networks and passwords with a single tap to a compatible device like a Samsung Galaxy S3 or S4, or Google NEXUS 4, 7 or 10.

You may not think you really want or need Wifi, but believe me it offers compelling benefits to almost any photographer. Obviously social media fanatics will love the ease of sharing, but equally which photographer wouldn't find it useful to immediately browse their photos on a bigger screen or transfer images without wires, or automatically upload them to storage and backup services? Using your phone or tablet as a remote control is also fun and genuinely useful. Meanwhile if your phone or tablet has NFC, you can enjoy quicker and easier configuration.

Beyond this the other upgrades are smaller, but still useful, such as the new high speed video modes, the additional of GLONASS to improve satellite positioning in urban areas, enhanced image stabilization especially for movies, a more detailed screen and the minor but merciful swap from a switch to a button for playback.

As for image quality, Panasonic has boosted the resolution from 14 to 18 Megapixels and just about got away with it. Noise levels are similar to before when viewed at 100%, but the quality isn't noticeably better. So if you were looking for significantly better quality, a longer zoom range or a smaller body than last year's TZ30 / ZS20, then you won't get it with the TZ40 / ZS30. But then to be fair Canon and Sony have also stuck with the same optics and much the same image quality as their 2012 models, and only Sony so far has tried to make the body smaller.

This is the major problem facing the flagship pocket super-zooms. It's hard and expensive to regularly extend the optical zoom range, and there's not a great deal you can do with the tiny sensor behind them to greatly improve image quality. Even Canon's approach of using a lower resolution only makes a small difference. If you want significantly better image quality you'll need to go for a camera with a bigger sensor and or a brighter lens, both of which sadly will result in a shorter zoom range and often a bigger body.

So then upgrades to these pocket super-zooms boil down to adding more features and they already offered so much on previous generations it's hard to know where to go next. The 2013 generations are all about equipping them with Wifi, and Panasonic's implementation is already one of the best, enhanced further by support for NFC which is absent on the competition. If you have - or were planning on getting a - smartphone or tablet with NFC this should certainly influence your decision towards the TZ40 / ZS30.

Ultimately it's easy to become blasé about the often minor updates to the latest pocket super-zooms, but when you consider their total feature-sets, it is truly remarkable what they're packing into such tiny bodies. The Lumix TZ40 / ZS30 gives you an extremely flexible and very well-stabilised 20x optical zoom range and image quality that's fine for everyday use so long as you don't pixel-peep at 100%. It features full manual control, fast continuous shooting and 1080p video, along with built-in GPS and Wifi.

Impressive, but so far so similar to much of the competition. Where the TZ40 / ZS30 really differs from its rivals though is the implementations of various technologies. Amazingly it remains the only pocket super-zoom of its peer group to employ a touchscreen which genuinely enhances control and selective focusing. Of the models with GPS, the TZ40 / ZS30 is the only one with a built-in landmark database and mapping facilities. And moving onto Wifi, the TZ40 / ZS30 is the only one so far which additionally offers NFC for considerably easier setup with compatible devices. Admittedly these also make it the most expensive of its peer group, but we're only talking about 10% difference which at this price point is really only going to get you a memory card.

It's these enhanced features which give the TZ40 / ZS30 a comfortable edge in performance and usability and why it once again earns our Highly Recommended award. But if you remain unconvinced by the benefits of Wifi, I'd recommend looking out for potential discounts on last year's TZ30 / ZS20.

 



Good points
Broad 20x optical zoom covers every situation in slim body.
1080p video with zooming, stereo sound and continuous AF.
Built-in GPS with landmarks and basic street mapping.
Built-in Wifi with NFC and smartphone remote control.
Touch-screen interface - just tap where you want it to focus.
Fast continuous shooting up to 10fps at the full resolution.
Slow motion video at 200fps in VGA or 100fps in 720p.

Bad points
Can't disable IS for video - not ideal for tripod filming.
Touch-screen not used for text-entry.
Need to be running Image App before attempting Wifi or NFC link.
NFC connection sometimes requires several taps.
Direct uploads from camera are slow & require signup with Lumix Club.




Scores

(relative to 2013 super-zooms)

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

Overall:

18 / 20
16 / 20
17 / 20
19 / 20
18 / 20

88%



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