A pocket-sized camera with a big zoom makes a lot of sense. The zoom gives it a clear advantage over smartphone cameras, but it still has all the convenience of a point-and-shoot camera. Panasonic’s latest flagship model, the TZ60, really pushes the boat out with its enormous 30x zoom range, stretching from a wide-angle 24mm to a paparazzi-like 720mm (equivalent) focal length. Sony was the first to put a 30x zoom in a compact camera with its Sony Cyber-Shot HX50 and Canon and Nikon both have 30x zoom models on the way too. So while it may be impressive, it’s far from unique.
The TZ60 will have more luck standing out with its electronic viewfinder (EVF). We don’t recall ever seeing one before on a pocket ultra-zoom camera. It’s useful when direct sunlight makes the 3in screen hard to see, and also for long-sighted people who struggle with LCD screens. The quality of this (EVF) isn’t up to much, though, with a small image and a grainy 200,000-dot resolution. It’s good enough to frame the subject, though, and the small protrusion on the corner of the camera doesn’t add much to its bulk.
Comparing the TZ60 with its predecessor, the Panasonic TZ40, the new model also gains two rotary controllers. There’s a lens ring on the front and a wheel that encircles the navigation pad on the back. These can be assigned to various functions, or left for the camera to decide depending on the selected shooting mode. Manual focus is particularly well implemented, thanks to the combination of lens ring, digital magnification and a peaking mode that highlights sharply focussed subjects. Even so, autofocus is more useful in most cases. Moving the autofocus point is slower than it was on the TZ40, as this newer model lacks a touchscreen. Things improved once we’d reassigned the Fn button to focus area. There’s also a Q.Menu button that gives quick access various other key functions.
The shift from a metal to a plastic body is another step backwards compared to the TZ40, although the slightly rubber-like texture has a certain charm of its own. The TZ40 didn’t have much of a handgrip but the TZ60’s is even smaller, reduced to a small ridge. Still, it’s just enough to wrap a finger around, and the rear of the camera is better contoured to provide a thumb grip. The resulting hand position pretty much guarantees that the flash will be partially obscured by a finger.
Wi-Fi is built in, along with NFC for hassle-free connection to compatible Android devices. The Android and iOS apps include comprehensive remote control over the camera, with the ability to capture both photos and videos and full access to exposure, autofocus and image quality settings. It’s even possible to set the autofocus point using the phone or tablet’s touchscreen – just the thing when composing group portraits remotely. GPS is included for geo-tagging photos, and smart power management ensures that it remembers its position between uses but doesn’t drain the battery excessively quickly.
Video capture is up to Panasonic’s usual high standards. There’s 1,920×1,080 capture at 25p, 50i and 50p, plus a slow motion mode that records 720p at 100fps, playing back at 25fps for quarter-speed motion. Details in videos weren’t as razor-sharp as from the best cameras but they looked smooth and natural, and the autofocus and optical stabilisation behaved well. Video quality in low light was excellent, with significantly lower noise than from the Canon SX600 HS that we tested alongside the TZ60.
Photo performance used to be a particularly strong area for Panasonic but its advantage seems to be slipping. We measured 1.8 seconds to switch on and shoot, and 0.9 seconds between subsequent shots – both a little slower than the TZ40. Continuous shooting remains at 10fps, and lasted for six shots. It was ready to go again five seconds later. There’s also an option to shoot at 5fps with continuous autofocus, although this became slower and erratic after seven shots. These are all respectable results, but not as impressive as on previous TZ models.