Merely having a long zoom isn't enough for a camera to succeed these days - big lenses have to be squeezed into stylish packages to raise the pulses of increasingly fussy consumers.

Casio's elegant EX-V7 managed a 7x zoom in a compact chassis and now Panasonic unveils a 10x zoom in an all-metal body no thicker than 36mm.

But that's not all. The second headline feature of the Leica-branded lens is its genuine wide-angle setting of 28mm. And, in a nutshell, that's why you'll buy the TZ2.

The optics are sharp enough, Panasonic's optical stabilisation (now found throughout its range) is as reliable as ever and there's very little sign of chromatic fringing. This is all in a tough, friendly body that's only a shade heavier and larger than many 3x snappers. This means that the TZ2 still fits (just) into a trouser pocket, and is light enough to carry all day long.

Don't let the slightly geeky, super-long lens fool you, though, this is no SLR substitute. The TZ2 is all about scene modes and auto-everything simplicity, rather than tweaking aperture settings and choosing contrast levels.

You can crudely adjust the exposure if you think a scene is too light or dark, but basically you're trusting in Panasonic and its 20-plus programmed scene modes. Some programs are over-specialised (when was the last time you needed Aerial Photography or Baby with Auto Age Calculation modes?) although Panasonic has included the bare essentials (Portrait, Sports, Night Scenery and so on).

Menus are speedily navigated with a precise four-way pad, although the mode dial is both unnecessarily crowded with icons and too easy to knock accidentally.

A Func button pulls up a quick menu to adjust white balance, drive mode, sensitivity and image quality. This only responds if you hold down for a second or two - slowing the Panasonic down just when you need it at its quickest. There's little speed on offer with its burst mode, either. You get a couple of frames at 1fps, then it settles down to clunking away at about 0.8fps.

The 2.5-inch display is first class, combining sufficient resolution with a high level of responsiveness - move from light to shade and it will recover before your eyes do. That makes the absence of a separate viewfinder tolerable, if not ideal.

Daylight exposure is good, and distortion is only really visible at that extreme wide-angle 28mm setting. Colour reproduction is extremely punchy and bright, even at its Standard setting. Switch to Vivid and it's like have a bucket of oil paint emptied into your eyeballs.

The 6MP chip shows that other manufacturers' strategy of forcing a 10MP sensor into a compact camera simply isn't necessary: the TZ2 captures good levels of detail and reliably sharp, defined edges.

Panasonic compacts have often suffered from noise, and there's scant sign of improvement with the TZ2. Even at ISO 400, detail succumbs to both grainy noise and heavy-handed noise suppression - venture to ISO 1250, or the 3200 High Sensitivity setting, at your peril.

Additionally, the autofocus is easily distracted and the Panasonic struggles to meter low-light shots indoors. The flash is strong and brings out colours well but, again, dodgy autofocusing can make for blurry night portraits. Movies are smooth, bright and even sound pretty good - plus you can select 'wide format' recordings (848 x 480 pixels) that look great on widescreen TVs.

There's certainly no denying that the TZ2 offers a lot of camera for your money. Daylight photos are simply stunning: vibrant splashes of colour and detail, helped by that extremely useful 28mm wide-angle setting and 10x range.

But weak low-light performance, questionable AF and a lack of manual settings means the TZ2 fails to make the jump from being merely convenient to being a camera bag essential.

Via PhotoRadar