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This is my current pocket camera of choice, which I use in combination with, and in addition to, my Nikon D3100 DSLR and my iPhone 4S. The Panasonic TZ8 offers a good mix of features in a convenient, compact body. The lens is very versatile, allowing for 3cm Macro shots (with a macro zoom feature for getting extra close!) and all the way from 25mm wideangle, to 300mm telephoto using the 12x zoom. This is a very useful and usable focal range, allowing you to shoot anything from insect close-ups, to Lion's faces while on safari, or birds in the trees.
The JPEG images produced by the camera are of good quality. Obviously they are not on a par with a DSLR, but as compacts go, the results are very good. Shots are sharp, well saturated and free from noise when taken outdoors. Indoors, noise becomes a problem in photos when using any ISO above 400.
The TZ8 offers a great deal of manual control, with full PASM modes (Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority and Manual). It is very useful to have this amount of control in a compact, as it allows you to do more with the camera, get more creative and learn about what different modes mean, which can be useful in the future if/when you decide to upgrade to a System camera or DSLR.
The HD video recording mode is easy to operate and works well, delivering sharp, smooth HD video with good quality audio. In fact, the audio quality is very good on this camera, as it seems to record acceptable and clear audio even when in a very loud environment (e.g. at a concert).
This camera features Panasonic's 'Power O.I.S' (Optical Image Stabilisation) which helps you to achieve sharp, focussed images even when the camera is shaking slightly. It also helps keep your video recordings smooth. It works well in my experience and images are sharper as a result.
The battery life is great with this camera, and is the rechargeable type. I like rechargeable batteries in cameras, but it's always useful when they allow conventional batteries to be used instead. Unfortunately the TZ8 does not work with regular batteries, so you may want to consider buying a spare battery so you can always have a charged camera ready for use, instead of waiting for the battery to charge again before you can continue shooting.
The TZ8's rear display is 2.7" and is clear and bright. I prefer the 3" display of the TZ10, but the TZ8 model is that bit cheaper, so it's up to you whether you think the GPS and larger screen make it worth the extra cash for the TZ10 over this model.
To sum up: The TZ8 is a great compact zoom camera. It offers a brilliantly versatile lens in a compact and solid body. The camera is great for anything from insect macro's, to wide landscapes and telephoto shots of birds and wildlife. Images are sharp, good quality and well saturated, with noise only becoming a problem with dark shots and an ISO of over 400. Having the ability to manually control everything is a bonus, and something that many compact cameras in this price bracket do not allow.
I have owned this camera for around 2 years now and all in all it has been a brilliant compact! I research for a long time before I buy anything that I consider to be a 'High Value' purchase, so my decision to go for this camera was a well thought out one. I have used it both at home, out and about, at night and on 6 months travel across Asia and have been very happy with the results in all areas!...at the time of purchase (2009) I paid around £200
I'm sure by this point you have already read all of the geeky technical specifications of the TZ8 so I wont write those out, what I will do is tell you how I feel the camera is on a day to day basis.
As I said in the intro I have used this camera in a variety of situations both with it's iA (intelligent auto) mode and in all of it's manual modes.
The iA mode is very good for those without a lot of knowledge as far as exposure goes...and good for those who have a vague knowledge like myself. The majority of the shots I take in most situation are using this mode and the majority of them are keepers which is more than can be said for most of the other compacts I have had. It doesn't give too over exposed (bright) shots in blaring sun and it also handles well in low light situations (clubs etc.)...as long as you're subjects stay still...ish.
As far as the Manual modes go I have founf them very useful with all of the controls I have needed, this includes a lot of time experimenting whilst travelling Asia. The super zoom was also brilliantly useful.
All in all this is the best compact I have encountered especially in the price range.
I was looking for a new digital camera for holiday after previously owning both a lumix and a cannon. After looking around for cameras near my budget it was between the lumix tz8 and the canon sx260. After reading reviews and having a demo of each in the shop I went with the lumix, even though on paper the canon was more powerful.
I am certainly not disappointed. The TZ8 is a great little camera, although larger than most compacts on the market, on holiday you just want to turn it on and snap, and the camera allows you to do that with great ease, its intelligent auto mode is fantastic for recognising the situation you are in and adjusting settings for the best picture. Cannot fault the lens and image stabiliser either. Lumix's lecia lens reputation is superb which edged me towards this camera in the first place. I was in the back seat of a car doing 50mph and I snapped a phone box as a test, and it came out perfectly! I wasn't tempted by the extra £30 for the TZ10, which from what I can see, has the same build with the added extra of GPS tracking for your pictures.
In these 'throwaway' days, anything electronic still working after four years would appear to be on borrowed time, and if someone were to offer to buy the said item off you, then, who am I to stand in the way of just such a transaction?
This is precisely the dilemma faced by my wife. Yes, she'd have 'liked' a new digital camera for Christmas, but in fact the old one, a Canon Ixus 700 still worked, damn its little eyes. Then a friend offered her the old 'give me first refusal if you get rid of it' line and the Ixus' fate was sealed.
As per bloody usual, a lot of water and megapixels have flown under the virtual bridge since the Ixus was made. Today, its 7 megapixel maximum resolution looks old hat even if it is a really neat little devil looking very little different to Canon's current offerings. The only major consideration seems to be that like The Last of The Mohicans, this model was the last to have an optical viewfinder, everything ever since in the realm of pocket cameras having given into myopic peering at cameras held at arm's length.
ANOTHER CAMERA 'LUMES'
I'm not sure why Panasonic thought 'Lumix' was a good name for a range of cameras. To those of us old enough, it sounds like a figment of Rambling Sid Rumpo's imagination.
There's no doubting the camera's pedigree though, even if it does come from a manufacturer better known for TVs. A lens made by Leitz (aka Leica) with a 12x zoom range equivalent to a very wide (and very long) 25-300mm when compared to a 35mm film camera takes pride of place on the right hand end of the front plate.
This camera's big brother (not really any bigger) the TZ10 features in that TV commercial where statues of dog-headed gods come to life in an Egyptian temple, and the TZ8 only differs by the fact that, unlike the TZ10, it doesn't have GPS to put town names and map co-ordinates into the jpeg files. Oh yes, and its rear screen is a fraction of an inch smaller. As far as I can see, in all other respects, it's the same. I'd done a big of reading around the subject beforehand (who, me?) and the scuttlebutt seemed to point to the GPS being a profligate waster of battery life, three hours being quoted, and it was all too easy to leave it switched on, even with the camera in stand-by. Incidentally, if you really want to get taken for a ride, the TZ10 also appears at over twice the price in all-black matt with a Leica badge on it. John Lewis' were careful to make sure that the two weren't displayed anywhere near each other! According to Leica, the software's different - yeah right.
Getting back to the TZ8, its light sensor has a maximum quality of 12.1 megapixels, but it should be born in mind that just because a pocket-sized camera can even make such a claim, it doesn't make it as good as a full-sized SLR, which would have a much bigger sensor (say 66% of the size of a 35mm negative) making it better at resolving colour especially in poor light, even if it does only boast the same number of megapixels. I guess put simply, the pixels that an SLR does have are larger!
CHIPS WITH EVERYTHING?
Not in this case - you have to get your own, which is important if buying this as a present.
Cameras capable of making jpeg files that typically come out at around 6.5 megabytes had better have a big memory chip. Going from experience from my Nikon D90, (also 12.1 megapixels) something like an SD chip of around 8 gigabytes should give you plenty of elbow room. Even so, if you intend using the camera's movie facility for more than the odd burst, get a fast chip as well as a big one. These needn't be expensive and normal ones, suitable for taking still shots and the odd bit of video can cost as little as a tenner.
In what I think is a sensible step backwards, Panasonic have chosen to give this camera an exposure dial. This means that it is supremely easy to switch modes, from say, Intelligent Auto to Aperture- or Shutter-Priority. This then leaves the user free to alter the 'other' exposure setting, shutter speed or aperture respectively using the navigation cursors. It's quite likely that many other pocket cameras, the Ixus included, have had facilities like this, but since they would have been entirely menu-driven, I dare say most users acquiesce and let the camera do the lot for them. This is much closer to the type of control fitted to a larger SLR type of camera.
The other main control, the powered zoom, is a rocker fitted around the shutter button so framing and firing can be done in rapid succession.
I'm quite impressed by the build quality of this camera - I chose the black version rather than the all-silver, partly so as not to be so disappointed when the silver transpires to be plastic, but in fact, the case seems to be largely metal, with satin finished panels on top, and around the lens. To add a bit of "class" to the appearance the front sports the 'L' in Leica's own font.
GETTING TO GRIPS
Being quite dinky, and there's me with hands like York Hams, you have to work out what's best for you. Having no optical viewfinder, one thing's for certain - you won't be having your face pressed up against it! Thumb and forefinger of both hands at either end seems to be the best way to handle it. That way it can be held at a distance suited to your eyesight, and the zoom and shutter release can be dealt with by the right hand. The mode wheel can be 'thumbed' as can the various button and cursors for menu navigation. The viewfinder panel can't however be swivelled to face you, so those overhead shots from the back of the crowd at the Royal Wedding will still be an act of faith. Actually, for the kind of distance I shall be standing back (10 miles with the TV turned off), not even the 12x zoom would help!
I particularly like the camera's ability to shoot in several picture formats, rather than just several megapixel qualities of 4:3 photo. You can make 16:9 photos, which is useful for those that prefer to view their shots as PC slideshows or on a widescreen TV. You can take 3:2 photos, which tailors your shots a lot better to 'A-range' papers like A4 for printing.
Of course, you could just leave it set to the highest quality of 4:3, using all 12.1 megapixels and just trim or crop your shots once loaded onto your PC.
I also like the camera's ability to identify the human face and to focus upon it, assuming that whenever this occurs, the face is the subject; a fair assumption in most cases. It can be switched off, and to calibrate it better, you are asked to show it the kind of face you mean. Of course, this could lead it to ignore people who aren't ugly enough! Fortunately there's an automatic setting!
Having such a powerful zoom, it's a source of relief that the camera comes with O.I.S - Optical Image Stabilisation as those long telephoto shots are rather prone to be shaken, even by your own pulse if you've got one.
Movies are shot in 'full HD' in a 16:9 format.
NOT SO NIFTY
The lens range will extend beyond 12x zoom to 16x, but no-one is fooled by this 'electronic' extension - it just blows up the middle of the photo, diluting its picture quality, although with 12.1 megapixels, it can spare a few I guess.
Like a lot of other makers, you only get a 'quick start' guide on paper. The main manual is a downloadable .pdf file, which also features on the CD-ROM supplied. Unfortunately, at 180 pages (all in English) many people will baulk at printing it out, which is a shame because this dooms the camera to be a 'point-and-shoot' job for life, when in fact it's got nearly as many features as my Nikon D90. You can at least get Adobe Player to print 4 pages to one side of A4 and still have the finished article legible - just.
The proof of the digital pudding is in the viewing or printing. Panasonic have done a good job with colour rendition and picture contrast. I find it, from the limited number of shots so far, more able to cope with poor conditions than the Ixus, although I still mourn the passing of an optical viewfinder option. Other Lumixes, (or is it Lumii?) farther up the food chain, i.e. those called 'bridge' cameras do have both, even if they are both electronic. I'm particularly fond of against-the-light shots, so this is where I miss it most, as the screen is hard to see then. By the way, get a stick-on screen protector at early days. This will give you a 'rip-off' like an F1 driver's visor should it start to get marked and scratched. Any cases need to be felt-lined to prevent building up scuff marks on the screen too.
Image-stabilisation really comes into its own when using shutter-priority at a slow speed or when over-stretching yourself with the zoom. Don't forget, with 12x binoculars you can sometimes detect your own pulse in the frame!
It's difficult to button-hole this camera.
It's not a 'bridge camera', sitting as they do half way between pocket and SLR devices with their interchangeable lenses. However, with its wide-to-telephoto 12x zoom, you'd be hard pushed to think of any other lenses you'd need.
Likewise, its sophisticated range of exposure and artistic settings lifts it out of the merely 'pocket' range.
At £167 from Amazon, it's a very real next step for someone who's discovered that they like this 'photography lark' and feel let's say a little hemmed in by their current camera.
No doubt Leica could find a reason for charging 400 quid for it.