Panasonic launched its 2012 Australian line of cameras over the weekend on Norfolk Island. That's not technically in Australia, but close enough, and certainly a fine spot for some very pretty photo work. Panasonic's got a lot of cameras in its 2012 lineup, from the cheap and cheerful $129 DMC-S2, via the waterproof DMC-FT4 and DMC-FT20 models and up to the flagship model in the compact range, the TZ30. The entry level models, from my limited hands-on time, are pretty much exactly what you'd expect of inexpensive cameras; they're not spectacular, and I'd find it hard to get excited by them, but they're priced accordingly.
I did spend a fair bit more time testing out the TZ30, a $449 model that'll hit store shelves in April. It's a 14.1 megapixel model with LEICA DC VARIO-ELMAR lens, Full HD AVCHD video recording (1920x1080/50p) and inbuilt GPS functionality. Test shots are below; all I've done to them is crop them down.
The TZ30 certainly shoots well at a basic level. The panorama mode stitches very well and it's a solid camera to hold that's not going to tax too many keen point and shoot photographers in terms of complexity. The GPS function is disabled by default, but I quickly worked out why. Without it, the battery ticked down reliably when shooting; with it on it was munched away at a much faster pace. The creative modes are fun to play with, but they're not exactly blessed with a lot of additional creative scope. That marks the TZ30 out for those who aren't quite ready to step up to a micro 4/3rds or DSLR. As such it'd be a fair choice based on my limited hands-on time, although at the $449 asking price it's stepping perilously close to the kinds of prices that last year's 4/3rds and DSLR models sell for.
On the camcorder side, Panasonic's top end unit is the HC-X900M, a 3MOS-based 1920x1080/50p camcorder with optional 3D lens that'll retail for $1799 (with the 3D lens an additional $399) in April. I didn't get to test out the 3D lens, sadly, and more annoyingly, the test footage I shot of the X900M's excellent image stabilisation got killed by a corrupt memory card. You'll have to take my word for it that its image stabilisation is highly impressive stuff.
Footage I did manage to save came from one of Panasonic's vertical camcorders, the waterproof $349 HX-WA2. Test footage, taken from snorkelling is below.
I'm not a huge fan of pistol grip style camcorders, as I find them somewhat difficult to hold, but the WA2 certainly survived more than an hour's dunking in salt water and a few thumps against coral along the way without too many problems. It'll also manage stills, although predictably for a camcorder, not quite as well as it does video.
Alex Kidman travelled to Norfolk Island as a guest of Panasonic.