I already had a digital camera, the one I have used for the photos I posted here, and when I bought it some years ago it was leading-edge technology. By now, however, it was looking rather old-fashioned and I felt a need to change.
I decided that I wanted a small camera, with a good zoom and a good ISO range.
Small size is important. If a camera is big, then you have to make an effort to take it with you with the result that you only take it on special occasions. If you have a tiny camera, you can put it in your bag or pocket and forget about it until you want to use it. This means you always have a camera to hand when you see something worth capturing.
I like photographing details on buildings, old clocks, gargoyles, weather vanes, etc.; I also like photographing birds and animals. You usually can’t get very close to these subjects and so a good zoom is essential. In general, too, a zoom is useful in enabling you to frame the subject nicely.
I wanted a good ISO range because I don’t like using flash. It’s makes you noticeable for one thing! I would rather wedge myself against some solid object and take a slow exposure than use flash. I therefore wanted a camera that would cope with reasonably low-light situations.
On the recommendation of a friend, I betook myself (or rather Tigger took me as I couldn’t find my way out of a paper bag unaided) to the excellent London Camera Exchange where I spoke to a very knowledgeable and helpful assistant. When I explained my requirements, she showed me the Panasonic DMC-TZ5. It seemed to fill the bill admirably.
First, the camera is certainly small enough to go in my handbag or pocket. Secondly, it has a 10X zoom, which is pretty good for a camera of this format. In fact, you can go further still, up to about 16X with the “Extra Zoom” button, but you are warned that picture quality falls off at this level. Also, the greater the zoom, the more likely pictures are to suffer from camera shake even though this camera has image stabilization.
Thirdly, the ISO range is pretty good and I have already taken some low-light shots though the flash performs quite well too. The Leica lens is wide-angle and I still tend to gasp when I look at the preview screen to see how much of the scene is included. I use the zoom to home in on the subject. The zoom mechanism is very smooth and also very fast: I tend to overshoot a little too easily.
The camera of course has “Intelligent Auto” but there are many other settings, either macros (prepared settings for different sorts of subject) or settings you can choose from menus. It can even do movies with sound. The settings are fairly easy to use and there are so many of them that it takes time to get to know them all. Generally speaking, the ones you want to use most often are the quickest to get to, which makes sense.
The camera is quite heavy for its size but I like that. I feel I have something solid in my hand. I have the wrist loop on it and always slip my hand into this first so that there is no chance of dropping the camera as I pull it out of my bag and lean over the side of a tram or peer over a bridge to photograph a moorhen!
My old camera had a small preview screen but it also had a direct viewfinder which I used all the time. Viewfinders are as rare as hen’s teeth in cameras of this format so I have had to give it up, reluctantly, in exchange for the other benefits. The preview screen is big and bright but in sunlight or in low light conditions I still sometimes have trouble locating and framing the subject.
Viewfinders have two great advantages. Firstly, if you can see something with your eyes, you can see it with the viewfinder. This is not always true of preview screens. Secondly, when you use a direct viewfinder, you hold the camera against your head and this stabilizes it marvellously. No one can take a steady picture when holding a camera away from the body. Modern cameras have image stabilization, of course, but this will always be second best. The solution is to use a tripod or monopod but then you lose the advantage of having a small camera.
The TZ5 can record photos on its internal memory or on an SD card, so I bought one of these, with 4GB capacity. That should be enough for a day’s shooting! Thinking about it, though, I finally decided to buy another card as a backup in case we went somewhere for several days and the first card filled up. I also bought a spare battery. These wonderful things recharge in 2 hours at the most and I think would last well over a day even with plenty of activity but having a spare makes me feel more comfortable.
If you have read this far, you are probably feeling pretty bored, so I will stop. For more information, just look up “Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5” on the Web. There are plenty of sources (for example, here) as a lot of interest is being shown in this camera.