It's funny how these days when I think of high quality digital cameras, I tend to focus on the latest and greatest DSLR. But after spending a few days in Melbourne (courtesy of Panasonic) shooting with the upcoming Lumix DMC-TZ10 compact last week, it seems like I suddenly remembered the joys of shooting with compacts.
The TZ10 is pretty bulky for a compact snapper, but considering it also offers a 12x optical zoom, you can easily forgive the extra girth. It feels good in the hand, with a comfortable grip and a weight that reminds you you're shooting with quality, without weighing you down.
One of the TZ10's biggest selling points is its incorporated GPS chip for adding location information to your photos. It sounds great, and when it works, it's an incredibly convenient way of adding location information to your shots. When it works. The problem I found with the GPS was that it occasionally didn't update. For example: I took a few photos at the hotel in Melbourne before hopping on a bus to Luna Park. Yet even after five minutes of shooting the big scary clown face, the photos were still tagged with the hotel's location.
Panasonic said that it was because the cameras were new - essentially the camera will download satellite location information for 30 days in advance when you first switch it on, which allows it to find your location quickly when you switch it on. Yet at the same time, they also said that the GPS will work even when the camera is switched off, until the battery hits 30%, so you'll always have up-to-date location info. Exactly how those two reconcile to give me incorrect location tagging on photos for five minutes at a new location is something I can't work out.
GPS-issues aside, the TZ10 also incorporates a manual mode (although it won't shoot in RAW), and Panasonic's now standard Intelligent Auto mode, which works a treat. There's also dedicated Aperture and Shutter speed modes, plus two dedicated pre-programmed scene modes on the dial for anyone keeping score. The 3-inch LCD screen is easy to view, even in direct sunlight, and the pictures all come out looking pretty stunning.
Video, which is recorded in AVCHD Lite, is controlled by a dedicated button on the back of the camera, which is substantially more convenient than rotating the dial. Less convenient is the fact you need to switch to playback mode to view your last taken shot - if there was a shortcut that offered this function, I certainly couldn't find it.
The TZ10 will hit shelves in April for $699. That's pretty pricey for a compact camera, but considering the benefits of a 12x optical zoom, HD video and manual controls (and the GPS, when it works), it's actually pretty decent.