For the majority of people looking for a "pocket" camera - they can stop looking. This will honestly do for pretty much everything you really need. It's the newly released little brother to the £100 more expensive TX20. Personally I did have a good look at this and nearly got it but in the end decided that I wouldn't pay the extra money for the Geo-tagging feature on the camera and would make do with just remembering where I was when I took the photo. If you really want to know where you were maybe just take a photo of a road sign nearby ? Works for me anyway :o)
It is not perfect, of course, but even if you take a "money no object" approach to picking an upper premium compact camera - there is currently nothing on the market that is head and shoulders better than this - although there can always be a case made for different qualities.
Big zoom - check
Good "glass" on the front - yep, Leica
Good quality photos - sure, with the caveat that a "full monty" digital SLR will do better - the photos come out are a nice colour (not too vivid but also not too tame and washed out) and they aren't a funny colour in artificial light (some cameras can struggle and give you a funny tint under striplights or old fashioned tungsten bulbs).
Noise levels - definitely there especially at higher ISO's but you get this problem to and exten even with the bigger sensor SLR's up to a year or two ago - and even the best of the modern breed aren't infallible if you read the reviews
HD Video - check, but in MPEG format. This takes up more space than AVCHD but I would be wary of getting a camera that uses this format if you have an older PC or laptop and especially if netbook - because the hardware may not be able to cope - so I guess that's Windows XP definitely wary - Vista machines more wary esp if you have a laptop as the hardware will be likely slower than the equivalent PC. I have a mixture of laptops and netbooks running Windows 7 through to XP so didn't want to take the chance - especially as other family members and the kids will probably want to view some of the footage (family and my kids have the older machines whilst dad gets the upgrade LOL). I wonder if the AVCHD format on the more expensive TZ20 is going to be a bit of an evolutionary dead end - just as BLU RAY hasn't really taken off even though it's technically better than DVD - most people even if they have a big widescreen TV find that their DVD is fine (probably because the modern DVD players and TV's will upscale the DVD resolution to give a semi-HD picture quality). The TZ20 I think gives you the option to record in both I think I read somewhere but if this a deal breaker you should check for sure.
If you only want a great point and shoot camera this has loads of options - which are really easy to access and the menus pretty much tell you what each option (mode) is going to do for you. Some cameras have menus that were laid out by people from Mars as they are so unintuitive that you have to keep referring to the instruction book to work out what to do even if you're pretty experienced with cameras.
This has A LOT of manual control thrown in which is pretty unusual in the compact camera class. The big SLR cameras will all give you this - but until now there haven't really been any cameras that give you a big zoom range and full control like in an SLR. If you are looking for something more suited to your needs in a little bit if you want to be more creative and do more than point and shoot then this camera will do that for you - as it has Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Full Manual modes.
If you are an experienced SLR user looking for a backup camera, I can tell you that the PASM options are pretty nicely implemented. Pretty sensibly placed access buttons (the small round exposure button and Q Menu buttons to the right of the screen do this) and the menus are nicely set up to access the bits you want for Aperture / Shutter priority & full manual control.
The 16x optical zoom is class leading. Only compare optical zoom between cameras and ignore the Panasonic advertising guys (or anybody else )who point to the overall 20x zoom - because if you include the quoted digital zoom - the extra 4x zoom basically just crops your optical zoom photo in camera - and your laptop software will do that - only better - though I guess it might be relevant if you don't want to be doing with all that and just need an "okay" photo).
It has a really good wide angle lens - 24mm - the lower the number the better and 24mm is currently the lowest I am aware of. The lower the number the more you can fit into the photo - so if you are looking at a nice panorama or want to take a photo with the whole table in the shot - you are more likely to get it with this lens when compared to other cameras which start at 27mm, 28mm, 35mm. Be aware if you are thinking of getting a more budget camera or an outgoing model this small difference can be the difference between getting everything and not quite everything into the shot that you want.
OVERALL it just feels nice in the hand and has a cool solid feeling metal body - none of which would be of any use if the photos weren't top notch ... but luckily they are in my opinion. Sure you can get a little better photos perhaps but a lot of this is personal preference - like how you like your TV at home to be set up with brighter or more vivid colours or the opposite. In technical terms compact cameras are never going to match SLR cameras but the camera reviewers who do this for a living always seem to get a bit obsessed about this and not emphasising this enough. This gives great photos other compact cameras.
A lot of the websites offering camera reviews are a bit misleading IMHO as they often don't compare like with like.
For instance they will complain about high noise at higher ISO - which most pocket cameras will have as their image sensor is smaller than their digital SLR breathren.
If you want a big zoom compact for day to day use and have a digital SLR for "proper" photos (like I'm lucky enough to have) this will do a great job for you.
If you want a compact camera and this is going to be your primary camera you will be happy with what you get from this I think - but try not to get too hung up on technical reviews as it is never going to give you technical quality photos of a large SLR - but you can video with it (even the newest SLR's don't do that very well though heaven knows why not - maybe they just have a slow escalation marketing policy and are going to deliver that to the market as the desire for SLR's with video capability increases). And remember that if you wanted a whopping great SLR you'd have got a whopping great SLR.
Go and have a look at "in the flesh" in store to see if the size suits you though. There aren't any smaller camera's with this big a zoom, but there are plenty of camera's which are smaller and more pocket / handbag friendly.
IF you consider the size too big then you should definitely look at other camera's, but if the zoom is just what you are looking for like me - then this is for you I reckon (unless you have a strong afinity or hankering for another brand in particular I guess).
IF you really want lower noise on high ISO photos but don't want an SLR and still want the big zoom then do have a look around at the competition.
IF you just want a nice pocket camera that gives you nice photos but are on a budget then you should look at the outgoing models from all of the manufacturers but do have a look at Fuji as they have currently (March 28th 2011) some nice deals on their outgoing models which would give you good zoom and reasonable photos eg Finepix F80 10x zoom 12MP Finepix JZ300 10x zoom 12MP.
And finally don't get hung up on the megapixels on a compact camera - the quality of the "glass" on the front of the camera is likely going to have just a big if not bigger impact - and although there are exceptions this will often equate to more expensive = better glass ... which is why getting a formerly £200+ camera (eg the FUJI mentioned above) as they are being discounted for the newer models is worthwhile as the more expensive ones will have good quality lenses - plus anything above 10MP is going to be fine 90% of the time - more megapixels often means more grainy photos in darker conditions.
If you love comparisons and want to have "the best" here's my snapshot of some good alternatives - although there are potentially important subtleties amongst them - how fast can they take photos - how do they perform in low light with the flash off - how realistic are the colours (which can definitely be a personal taste thing) - and also really important day to day things away from how good the camera is technically in delivering a good photo or video - eg are the buttons and switches and menus in just the right or wrong spot for you - and does it feel good in the hand to you - you may prefer a lighter camera, bigger or smaller buttons
Panasonic TZ18 14.1MP 25mm wide angle 16x zoom - there are definitely lighter smaller cameras but not if you want a zoom this big.
Panasonic TZ10 - the old range topping TZ10 which has only just been replaced by the TX20 - was retailing at £349 on Amazon - before the current price drop to £242 - has a 25mm lens
Sony DSCHX7V at similar priced £254 - higher 16.2MP, but 25mm wide angle zoom and only 10x Optical Zoom
Canon PowerShot SX210 has 14.1 MP and 14x zoom but only 28mm lens - though it is currently down from £359 to £230.99 looks a good bet too
Nikon CoolPix S 8100 has 12. Read more ›