Have you ever wanted to be able to put a 20.3MP camera with full manual controls and 4K video functionality in your pocket? If you said yes, the Lumix DMC-TZ90 might just be your new favourite thing – as long as you don’t plan to shoot after dark.
This camera was not designed for me; I’m well aware of it. I’m the kind of girl who will happily sacrifice her entire carry-on baggage allowance to bring 7kg worth of camera gear on holiday with her, and then drag it all over the countryside in a heavy backpack without complaint. I like shooting at night and I like a super shallow depth of field, and those aren’t really things you can do well with a compact camera – ANY compact camera.
If I WAS in the market for a compact camera, however, the TZ90 would be high on my list of considerations. The ability to manually control exposure settings, 4K photo mode for crazy burst photo options, flip up screen for selfies and vlogging, and the fact that it’s small enough to slip in your pocket or handbag make it perfect for those who prefer to carry a camera in addition to their phone, or for a snap-happy traveller keen on a little more control without the weight of a hefty camera. Its 24-720mm (35mm equivalent) focal range will also allow you to capture plenty of a scene, or zoom in close to the action from wherever you are.
If you haven’t already got one, you’ll need a VERY fast SDXC card to record 4K video with the TZ90 (or any other 4K-capable camera). My 32GB 30MB/s Sandisk Ultra SDHC could only record around 40 seconds at a time before conking out as it couldn’t write the data to the card as quickly as it was captured. This has been a regular issue for me as I’ve been testing out new cameras, since my own photo kit uses mostly compact flash cards and I don’t actually own a camera that can shoot video in 4K (yet!) so I’ve since invested in a nice, fast U3 SDXC card and I’m beyond ready to take on more than 40 seconds of video at a time!
Super keen vloggers will need to record audio separately, since there’s no audio input or hotshoe to sling a shotgun microphone on. That said, the built-in microphone did a far better job of reducing wind noise and general background sounds than I expected – I used it to shoot all but the first 9 seconds of the follow video right by a motorway in an inner city Brisbane suburb, and did not use any external recording devices to capture the audio, although I do want to point out that it has been edited a little for compression and gain.
The full suite of nifty Lumix features that I’ve come to love are all available on this camera – the aptly-named Intelligent Auto mode, which makes very well-informed decisions on your behalf to get the best photos and videos possible with the least fuss, the 4K burst photo mode to capture action at high speed and then choose your favourite frames, 4K video and 60fps available for 1080p, and some seriously steady image stabilisation for the shaky-handed stills shooter, or those who like to film freehand (like me). That means the changing lighting conditions of travel, day-to-day life or concert photos are a breeze, your selfie-game is strengthened and your super-steady videos will look like they were shot by a camera crew – assuming you haven’t tried to shoot while running or something equally shaky. Those same inbuilt image stabilisation features also make shooting in dim light a little easier, but if you’re hoping for super crisp and noise-free images in low light you’re out of luck -you’re going to need to step up to a mirrorless or DSLR camera, or use a tripod and a slowish shutter speed with the ISO set as low as possible.
At first I couldn’t get Lightroom or Photoshop to open the TZ90’s raw files at all. It still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me – this is the fourth Panasonic camera I’ve tested this year, and all of them use the same RAW file format. I had no trouble opening the GH5’s, FZ80’s or GX850’s raw files without updating any of my software, but after updating to Lightroom Classic and installing the latest version of Camera Raw I was finally able to open the TZ90’s .RW2 files in Lightroom. I like to shoot in RAW+JPEG when I’m testing a camera anyway, so I was still able to access my photos in the meantime, but always prefer having the extra editing flexibility of raw.
As with all the Lumix range, Panasonic’s Image App works with the camera to help you transfer photos quickly and easily to your phone for instantaneous editing and posting, or to allow you to use your phone as a remote shutter so you can easily star in your own photographs. I’m still using an iPhone 6plus, so I’m not sure about the newfangled phones that claim to wrangle raw files, but as a general statement I’d suggest you shoot in JPEG, or a combination of raw and JPEG, if you want to be able to use the app and the camera’s built-in wifi for transferring on the fly. Sadly VSCOCam won’t play nicely with your .RW2 files just yet. I’m not yet part of the world of livestreaming, so I haven’t tested the TZ90 for that purpose, but it does have a HDMI port so I’d hazard a guess that it’s possible to use this camera for live streaming once connected to your computer.
The TZ90 feels so reassuring in your hands – it’s far from heavy, but it doesn’t feel dinky, plastic-y or toy-like at all. It feels robust, like it would survive the occasional accidental drop (but you should still never drop it, if you can help it). It would be a great friend to a street photographer – black, unassuming and silencable, it would definitely suit a modern day Cartier-Bresson aspirer stealthily hunting down his decisive moment. I took it along to a concert I shot for the Iris’ sister site Hello Asia! (shameless cross-promotion alert), and while I wasn’t allowed to take “professional” photos on my DSLR after the first three songs as per the promoter’s rules, I was able to shoot with the TZ90 to my heart’s content as it wasn’t considered “professional” equipment. It certainly helped that the Triffid’s stage lights are lovely and bright, but I was impressed to see it produced crisp, colourful images and videos even in erratic lighting conditions, even from the back of the room. The pop-out screen made framing over the crowd and their outstretched phones ahead of me much easier too.
While its low light handling leaves me a little underwhelmed, the TZ90 still holds its own as a feature-packed, straightforward and convenient camera and would suit the needs of just about anyone who values portability and flexibility over fine detail in their images.
Score: 6.5 out of 10
Highlights: Ease of use, 4K video, light and portable
Lowlights: No mic input, noisy images in low light
Price: $599 RRP