There’s a saying that goes: children, a tidy house, your sanity — choose two. It’s not unlike the choice people have to make when buying a camera. You can have a big zoom, high image quality and a pocket-sized design, but you can only have two of these in the same camera.
The TZ100 is here to disprove the theory. It uses a 1in sensor, which has five times the surface area of conventional compact cameras’ sensors. This gives a significant boost to image quality, particularly in low light. It has a 10x optical zoom, which can’t compete with the 30x and 40x zooms gracing other pocket ultra-zooms but is significantly more versatile than the 4x and 5x zooms on other premium compacts. Other cameras with 1in sensors and big zooms include the Panasonic FZ1000 and Sony RX10 II, but these weigh over 800g and aren’t remotely pocket-sized. The TZ100 weighs 310g and measures 48mm thick, which isn’t tiny but it’s just about small enough to fit into most pockets and go unnoticed in even the smallest of bags.
The compromise is the lens aperture, which is f/2.8 for wide-angle shots and f/5.9 for telephoto. Sony RX10 II’s constant f/2.8 aperture means it matches the TZ100 for wide-angle shots but is over four times brighter for telephoto shots. What this means in practice is that the TZ100 excels in low light for wide angle shots but isn’t so good at the long end of the zoom. That’s arguably a reasonable compromise considering that you’re more likely to photograph distant subjects outdoors rather than indoors. While it can’t match the RX10 II for light-gathering ability at the long end of its zoom, it’s still significantly better than the pocket ultra-zoom cameras that use 1/2.3in sensors and f/3.3-6.9 lenses.
It isn’t the most alluring camera to look at. The minimalist design seems more clunky than sleek to my eyes, and the low-profile, textureless handgrip doesn’t provide much to hold onto. It’s great to see an integrated lens cap — many premium compacts use removable caps that risk getting lost.
A pop-up flash is included but there’s no hotshoe for flashguns or wireless triggers. Panasonic has managed to squeeze an electronic viewfinder onboard, but the 0.46x (equivalent) magnification is on the small side. I preferred to use the 3in LCD touchscreen, although I like the ability to move the autofocus point using the touchscreen while composing shots with the viewfinder. This doesn’t work so well for people who prefer to use their left eye, though. The viewfinder window is only a few millimetres proud of the screen, so I found myself accidentally moving the autofocus point with the tip of my nose.
There’s a generous smattering of buttons on the back of the camera, plus a lens ring and a substantial command dial for adjusting settings. The lack of a dedicated ISO speed control seems like an oversight but I was able to reassign the Post Focus button to this function.
Post Focus is interesting — it captures a scene by sweeping through the focus range and saving it as a 4K video file. It’s then possible to save individual frames by tapping the part of the frame you want to be in focus. The downside is that it takes 10 seconds between shots, which I don’t have the patience for. The 4K Photo function is similar but without the variable focus, and is useful for capturing subjects with split-second timing. The camera records a 4K video file and then lets you choose which 8-megapixel frames you want to save as JPEGs after the event.
In normal use it’s fast, taking 0.6 seconds between shots. Continuous mode ran at 10fps for 85 JPEGs or 14 RAW frames before slowing. Enabling continuous autofocus, it managed an impressive 5.9fps. It was a little slow to switch on, though, taking around two seconds. Switching on, zooming in and taking a shot took five seconds.
This is an outstanding video camera. 4K capture uses an 8-megapixel crop of the 20-megapixel sensor, which means the 25-250mm lens for photos becomes a 37-370mm lens for 4K video. This extra telephoto extension is particularly welcome for shooting wildlife or people without invading their personal space.
The quality of the 4K and 1080p footage is top notch, with pin-sharp details and little evidence of noise except in very low light. Autofocus was responsive and easy to control while recording via the touchscreen. Slow-motion 1080p recording is also available, recorded at 100fps and played back at 25fps. Details aren’t quite as sharp as in the normal-speed recordings as lower-quality anti-aliasing is used, but it’s a minor criticism.