4K zoomer for $599 with Panasonic Lumix DC-TZ90 pocketable camera

One of the great things about smart phones has been how they’ve put the acid on camera makers to improve their compact offerings. But of course the question arises, why would one even need a small camera given that you already have one in your phone? Easy: distance.

All camera phones are wide-angle models. Even the zoom setting on the dual camera iPhone is still pretty wide. Just less wide than usual. With the Panasonic Lumix DC-TZ90 (the TZ stands for “Travel Zoom”) compact camera you can get in really, really close with its 30x optical zoom. It’s equivalent to the field of view produced in the 35mm world of a 24mm to 720mm focal length.

With 720mm, you can snap a shot of a bird in a tree and have it fill most of the picture frame.

That zoom range shouldn’t be at the expense of image quality since the glass is a Leica DC Vario-Elmar lens.

There has been a lot of technological trickling down from Panasonic’s higher level models. To ensure sharp images are delivered to the 20 megapixel sensor, and delivered quickly, “Depth from Defocus” technology is used. This was an innovation from Panasonic first seen in its top of the line DMC-GH4 in 2015. Rather than hunting around to find the best focus, DFD uses programmed information about the lens characteristics so that the camera can take a look at the scene through its lens and closely estimate how far out of focus it is just from the relative fuzziness of different parts of the picture. Then it can whip right to the correct focus. That makes it very fast. Panasonic says a tenth of a second with this model.

It also implements a 49 point autofocus system. It can burst shoot at up to ten shots per second. If you have autofocus on “continuous” mode, it can still manage five shots per second. And it has Panasonic’s 4K photo mode, which essentially works as a 4K video camera, allowing you to select frames from a stack collected in different ways. One mode includes pre-bust, so you can grab a frame from shortly before you pressed the shutter button. Another takes a bunch of shots with different focus points so you can choose those frames focused on one or more of the important features. Or you can use Focus Stacking to create a composite image with incredible depth of field.

The viewing screen is touch sensitive to control things like the area of focus, and can be flipped up by 180 degrees so that you can check framing while taking selfies. It also means that you can take shots from down low without having to get down on your tummy.

But there’s also an electronic viewfinder, so even on the brightest days with the sun at the least convenient angles you can still frame your shot without difficulty.

Plus for the real enthusiast there’s RAW image capture, panorama mode, a control ring around the lens itself and WiFi so you can download photos to your smart phone, or remotely control the camera.