Panasonic's TZ series of compact cameras is a widely respected choice for travellers and the new TZ60/ZS40 sits at the top of the range.
The company has made some significant changes for the latest upgrade, adding an electronic viewfinder, extending the zoom range to 30x, increasing AF speed, improving image stabilisation, adding a control ring around the lens and enabling raw files to be recorded.
However, to keep costs down, it has removed the touchscreen.
Like the TZ40, the TZ60 has an 18-million-pixel sensor, but we're told it's a new device for improved image quality.
For many, the most significant addition to the TZ60's feature set will be the electronic viewfinder. This 0.2-inch, 200,000-dot device is essentially the same as the unit in the Panasonic LF1, but it has two lenses rather than one to reduce chromatic aberration and generally improve image quality.
Another key change since the TZ40 (which still continues in the range for a while) is the extension of the zoom range from 20x to 30x. This means that the TZ60's lens has a focal length range equivalent to a 24-720mm lens on a full-frame camera. This should make it even more versatile, able to shoot inside cramped interiors and record distant details.
According to Panasonic, image quality from the TZ60 at the longest point of the lens is as good as, or better than, that from the TZ40 at its longest point (480mm equivalent). This has been achieved through improving the optics in the lens, which now has 12 elements in nine groups. These operate mechanically as six groups.
Panasonic has also improved the TZ60's five-axis Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) system by using balls rather than rods to move the OIS element. This makes the adjustment smoother. Consequently, OIS performance is boosted by 0.5EV, allowing images to be taken handheld at up to 3EV slower shutter speeds than normal.
There's also a new Level Shot function that automatically corrects sloping horizons. This is believed to correct by as much as around 40 degrees, but we are awaiting confirmation.
As before, the TZ60 has Wi-Fi connectivity built in to allow wireless transfer of images and remote control of the camera via Panasonic's free app.
Both NFC and QR code technology are present to speed connection to a tablet or phone. The NFC system has been improved to make it quicker and give greater range.
Autofocus speed has also been improved, with the readout speed from the sensor doubling from 120fps to 240fps. In addition, manual focus is available on the TZ60 and for the first time focus peaking has been introduced in a compact camera. As in Panasonic G-series cameras, this highlights areas of strongest contrast (usually the sharpest areas) in the EVF or LCD to make it easier to focus manually. It's even possible to see focusing peaking on the screen of a smartphone or tablet when using Panasonic's remote control app.
Like the TZ40, the TZ60 has GPS and GLONASS technology for better location recording.
While many cameras have grid displays to aid composition, Panasonic has gone a step further for the TZ60 with the addition of curved and diagonal guides.
Panasonic's Creative Controls are present (15 in total) and they can be used for stills and video or applied post-capture using the Retouch feature. It's also possible to use 14 of the effects in Creative Panoramic mode.
According to Panasonic, all the changes to the TZ60 have been implemented without reducing battery life. This is probably helped by the removal of the touchscreen. Incidentally, the camera is charged via a USB connection.
Build and handling
Although it's not dramatically larger than the TZ40, the TZ60 looks and feels just a little more serious and higher quality. It looks good in both variants - black or black and gun-metal.
The new camera also feels good in the hands – better than the TZ40. The narrow strip or rubber on the front and the small thumbpad on the rear make it more comfortable to hold, so it feels balanced in use. As before, all the controls are within easy reach.
Despite the huge increase in the zoom range of the lens the TZ60 is about the same size as the TZ40, because the stabilisation element in the lens moves out of the way to allow the barrel to collapse into the camera body. Consequently, the camera remains pocketable.
The ring around the lens feels well made and has just the right level of tension. An option in the menu allows audible clicks to be made to feedback when options are selected.
Pressing the Q. Menu button reveals the options available for selection via the ring (aperture, sensitivity, effects, aspect ratio, and white balance by default, but they are customisable). These are navigated by the left and right navigation keys. Once the desired one is selected the ring is used to choose the correct option.
We've only used a pre-production sample of the TZ60 so far, but it seems like a very good system. The ring provides a quick and easy way of changing settings whether the camera is held to the eye or the LCD screen is being used.
Though small, the electronic viewfinder provides a clear view and it will be a major bonus for many photographers – especially those shooting in bright conditions when the LCD image can be hard to see. A viewfinder is particularly useful when using a lens at it longest point because it's much easier to hold it steady and to find your target with the camera held to the eye.
Panasonic's TZ series has impressed us in the past and we're hopeful that the company has been able to maintain image quality in the latest offering.
As yet we have only used a pre-production sample, but the automatic focusing seemed fast and accurate, even in the low-light conditions we were able to use the camera in.
We have no reason to doubt that the TZ60 will produce images that are every bit as well exposed as the TZ40 with the same vibrant colours. Naturally we will investigate this fully when we get a review sample in for testing.
While it's a little disappointing that Panasonic has done away with the touchscreen, the addition of the lens ring, raw file recording and the electronic viewfinder (EVF) make the TZ60 seem a much more serious camera than the TZ40. The EVF should make the camera easier and more pleasant to use in a wide range of situations, while the lens ring offers a quick and easy method of control.
The TZ range has been popular, especially with travellers, but the addition of raw file recording should give it greater draw to enthusiast photographers looking for a 'carry-everywhere' camera. It gives them much greater control over their images and the ability to customise noise reduction if required.
On the face of it, the TZ60 looks like the camera that lots of existing TZ owners will want to upgrade to. We're looking forward to testing a full-production sample in the near future.