I spent three weeks away in Singapore and Malaysia recently, and the folks at Panasonic very kindly sent their feature-packed compact DMC-TZ110 camera along with me – winner of Camera Magazine Australia’s “Digital Fixed Lens Camera of the Year” at their 2017 Imaging Awards. I still took my D-SLR and two prime lenses along, because bokeh is important to me, but there were plenty of times I didn’t feel like carrying the extra 5kg of gear, and slipping the TZ110 in my handbag and heading out the door feeling light and unencumbered was a huge relief.
The TZ110 goes by different names in different regions – the ZS110 in the US and TZ100 in the UK – so if the name sounds unfamiliar that may be why. If you take a scroll through the TZ110’s sales page on the Panasonic website, you’ll find that it’s all about travel – “the ultimate travel companion”, “your holiday hero”, “small size, big adventure” – but with a recommended retail price of $999 it’s not a compact camera you’d invest in lightly, use only on holidays and ignore while you’re at home. Luckily, all those handy features that make quick shooting while travelling a breeze have plenty of use in the day-to-day as well.
With a nice big 1 inch sensor, the TZ110 handles low light far better than most compact cameras. Built-in long exposure noise reduction helps capture those night-time cityscapes, and the intelligent auto or iA shooting mode does a great job of selecting exposure settings for you. I left the camera set to iA for almost the entire trip, with exposure compensation set to underexpose by one stop to retain highlight information just in case, and had great results for both photos and videos.
One of the reasons I stuck to iA mode on my travels, besides it being a great shooting mode, was that I just couldn’t work out how to use the TZ110’s manual and semi-automatic modes, even after consulting the instruction manuals Panasonic sent me with the camera. I took them with me for exactly that reason: I didn’t want to be stuck trying to work out how to use the camera with no wifi and no idea. I looked online for a more extensive manual, and then for a tutorial of some kind but I still had no luck – all I could work out was how to change the ISO from within a menu. When got home from my trip and I finally had time to sit down fiddle for a good half hour, I eventually worked it out – a previous reviewer of this specific camera unit had assigned custom functions to the usual control mechanisms for aperture and shutter speed, and didn’t reset them before it made its way to me. When I worked out where they were supposed to go and reset them, finally it was easy and intuitive – the top wheel controls the shutter speed and the lens ring controls aperture. This wouldn’t be an issue if you were using the camera brand new and straight out of the box, of course, but it felt me feeling pretty dumb and wishing I’d worked it out before I left for my holiday.
Built-in wifi for image transfer is to be expected from cameras these days, but it’s no less convenient and has become part of my travel ritual – when moving between destinations on planes, trains or buses I love to trawl through my photos, transfer my favourites and edit them up on my phone so they’re ready to post to social media when I reach wifi again. If you are heading out with a new camera, it’s always a good idea to set up the wifi connection with your phone at home before you go so that you can connect easily when you need it, since you’ll need to download the manufacturer’s app to make it possible. The Panasonic Image App is fairly no-frills, and occasionally crashes, but for the most part it gets the job done, which is good enough for me. I prefer to shoot in RAW to allow me more editing flexibility once I get the files onto my computer, but since phones aren’t quite at the level of reading RAW files yet I stick to RAW+JPEG on the road to allow me to transfer easily. The TZ110 is actually capable of in-camera RAW conversion, so it’s not entirely necessary, but it’s one of those habits that I’ve carried forward from previous travels, and you know what they say about old habits.
Having 4K video in such a small package is so freeing – I was so excited as I vlogged my holiday, knowing the 4K footage was going to make my creative options so much greater in post (when using 4K footage to create a full HD final product). The image stabilisation wasn’t quite as steady as I would have liked but it still helped to make my footage smoother than it would have been without it.
I really wanted to test out 4K photo mode, which shoots 4K video for up to 15 minutes and then lets you choose which frames you’d like to save as still images, on some of our signature Aussie summer storms – what a great way to capture some epic lightning photos! Brisbane, my hometown, had its fair share of those storms… while I was away. I haven’t had a chance since I got home, sadly, with nothing but blue skies, but I did get to test out the time lapse feature extensively on my travels and loved how customisable it is. You set the interval and number of images you’d like, and the camera will do the math for you and tell you what time your time lapse will be finished, as well as counting down the number of frames left before your time lapse is finished. Once it’s done recording you can choose to have the camera compile the photos into a video file for you, again to your specifications, or you can do it yourself later from the image files with your time lapse software of choice. You’ll need to make sure your memory card is up to the task though, with plenty of space for all those pictures.
The TZ110 lacks a flip-out screen, which means it’s not great for vlogging if you wish to film yourself with some idea of how you look. It also doesn’t accommodate an external microphone, which can mean shooting outside in the wind means unusable sound, but for indoor situations it should be enough to get you by.
If you do plan to carry the TZ110 with you, whether on your travels or otherwise, I’d suggest investing in a case. The on-switch is in a great spot for easy access, but on several occasions I pulled the camera out of my bag and found it already on, having been switched on by something else in my bag, with the lens extended and open. I’m very against dust, scratches and oil getting on my lenses so it freaked me out to see the lens so exposed and vulnerable in my bag, kicking around so close to scary items like keys and hand sanitiser.
The TZ110 ticks most of the boxes I look for in a compact camera, and would be a great companion to a happy-snapping traveller or Instagram husband who is also an enthusiastic photo-taker at home.
Score: 7 out of 10
Highlights: Great image quality & zoom range, versatile, good in low light