Wisely Panasonic hasn’t meddled too much with the successful formula that is its TZ-series compacts… except for improving it. Paul Burrows finds the TZ11 is still the ideal travel companion.

The TZ11 (a.k.a. the TZ4 in some markets) is very similar in styling to its predecessor, but has a new sensor with 8.1 MP resolution and new features such as face detection.

The contradiction with travel photography is that we want to be ready for anything, photographically-speaking, but don’t want to lug around huge amounts of camera equipment. Carrying a lot of camera gear is often impractical, if not downright risky in some places and simply gets in the way of your enjoyment of a place.

Panasonic recognised this dilemma when it came up with its TZ-series of digital compacts which, remarkably, are still really without direct rivals despite their success – with both sales and design awards (the TZ3 won everything going last year). Now there are two models which both stick with the basic formula, but offer buyers a choice of prices, resolution and features. The DMC-TZ11 is actually the TZ4 in some markets and the TZ15 is the TZ5, but as Australia is part of the Asia-Pacific region we get the Asian market designations. The TZ11 has 8.32 megapixels on tap and the TZ15 has 10.7 MP plus a bigger LCD monitor and some other goodies (see separate panel), but at $715 it’s starting to get a bit pricey for a camera to supplement your D-SLR kit. At $599 the TZ11 looks the goods as a dedicated travel camera for those times when you don’t want to risk your D-SLR… or simply don’t want to lug it around.

The basic styling hasn’t changed much from the TZ3, and these aren’t sub-compact models so there’s something reasonably substantial to hang on to and there’s also a reassuring weightiness although, at around 250 grams all-up, the TZ11 is hardly heavy. However, thanks to the extra real estate, all the buttons are a workable size and the aluminium bodyshell feels great. There’s also a main mode dial and the zoom’s rocker switch doesn’t have you constantly fumbling around looking for it.

Yet again, though, you’ll marvel that the slimline casing actually houses a 10x optical zoom with a focal range equivalent to 28-280mm in the 35mm world… and it incorporates an optical image stabiliser.

Face Value

As far as travel photography is concerned, 28- 280mm is an extremely handy focal range and its versatility is further enhanced by close-up focusing down to just five centimetres.

The zoom has been co-designed with Leica and employs a total of 11 elements in six groups – three of them have aspherical surfaces and one is made for extra-low dispersion glass. The ED glass is designed to correct for that perennial bugbear of wide-to-tele zooms, chromatic aberrations, while the aspherical elements deal with distortion. Its full title is, in fact, the Leica DC Vario-Elmar 4.7-47mm f3.3-4.9 ASPH which is very grand, but gives the Lumix TZ cameras an appealing cache. Incidentally, “TZ” stands for “traveller’s zoom”.

A new feature is face detection which might initially seem like a gimmick, but actually makes a lot of sense on a travel camera when grab shots are often the order of the day.

Up to 15 faces can be identified – although they have to be pretty well ‘full frontal’ – and both the focusing and exposure is adjusted according which is very useful when you can’t pick and choose your backgrounds. Face detection is one of a suite of advanced processing functions that Panasonic packages up in ‘Intelligent Auto Mode’ – selected via the main mode dial – and which also includes automatic selection of the subject program (i.e. portrait, landscape, macro, etc), contrast control and automatic ISO adjustment. The latter is designed to maintain a high enough shutter speed to freeze movement while the ‘Intelligent Exposure’ juggles the aperture/speed combination to expose for the highlights and then brightens the shadow areas by selectively changing the sensitivity.