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A new year has started, and Panasonic has launched its range of cameras for the year, comprising of new travel, stylish, and adventure cameras, and we’ve played with most of them.

Launching the cameras just a few days ago on Norfolk Island, GadgetGuy was given a chance to properly put several of the cameras through their paces before they head to stores in April.

The best of the bunch was taken a look at first, with Panasonic’s Lumix TZ series now hitting its seventh generation.

This year, you’ll find the TZ30 and TZ25 sitting in the top spot, with autofocus, build, and imaging technologies improved upon from the last generation.

Colours can really pop on the TZ30's "expressive" creative mode.

The TZ30 is the premium Lumix for 2012, offering a new 14.1 megapixel sensor, GPS connectivity with built-in map data, 20x optical zoom roughly equivalent to 24 – 480mm, 3 inch touchscreen, 10 frames per second shooting, and support for 1080p Full HD video capture at a $449 price point.

Fifty bucks less and at $399 RRP, the TZ25 cuts back on the features a little by removing the GPS, ditching the touchscreen, supporting a 16x optical zoom (equivalent to 24 – 384mm) and switching the 14.1 megapixel sensor for a 12.1 megapixel version.

Both cameras features a panorama mode, however, that can continuously shoot an image as a camera as panned left, right, up and down, stitching the long image together inside the camera fairly quickly.

Creative colour modes are also thrown into the bundle, supporting vivid “expressive” colours, an aged “retro” look, a stark black & white in “dynamic monochrome”, and one of those neat “miniature effect” modes that makes objects and people look like toys from far away.

A high-dynamic range mode is also supported (above), allowing you to grab photos with more detail in light and shadows than normally offered.

We played with both cameras this weekend, the TZ30 ranking very well thanks to sheer versatility between places we went, colour options, autofocus speed, and the ease of use both the touchscreen and physical controls provided. The TZ25 was equally as good, and we didn’t even miss the touchscreen or GPS model, making for a pretty decent $50 compromise between the two models.

The macro wasn't the strongest, though it's not too far off and the colours really pop.

The creative art modes – such as the dynamic monochrome and expressive colour – don’t appear to allow you to change how they work, meaning that while the black & white or vivid colour can look amazing in some shots, it can also look flat in others.

We can report that the high-dynamic range mode does work excellently, snapping up a few bracketed photos at once and blending them in-camera to provide more detail in scenes with too much light or shadow.

Black and whites out of the camera can look amazing.

Adventure cameras are also getting a boost, with two new models from Panasonic.

At the top end, customers will find the Lumix FT4, a tough camera that’s shockproof to two metres, freeze proof to -10º Celsius, and waterproof to 12 metres. GPS is also thrown in – something that appears to be a staple in the premium cameras Panasonic is offering this year – as is 12.1 megapixel sensor, 2.7 inch LCD, 28mm wide angle lens, 4.6x optical zoom (equivalent to 28 – 128mm) and support for capturing 1080p Full HD movies.

Slightly beneath it, you’ll find the FT20, a tough camera designed to handle 1.5 metre drops, freeze proofing to -10º Celsius, and water down to depths of 5 metres. The FT20 also features a 2.7 inch LCD,  16.1 megapixel sensor, 25mm lens with 4x optical zoom (equivalent to 25 – 100mm), and HD recording.

You can go snorkelling with this camera. You'll probably do better than we did.

The two cameras sit at different price points, with the premium offering fetching $449 while the lesser FT20 hits $299.

A model also exists for those not interested in the top-end or drop-proof models.

Two SZ models are being released, packing in the same ultra-fast autofocus as the top-tier TZ models, but ditching the GPS and making the body even slimmer.

We played with the SZ7, the $349 slim model with 10x zoom roughly equivalent to 25 – 250mm, 14.1 megapixels, 1080p Full HD video capture, 3D photo capture, and similar creative and panoramic modes seen on the TZ30, including the miniature effect.

Panoramas are handled inside the camera. Click the image to see the full-size file right out of the camera.

The camera is quite responsive, providing images with strong colour and clarity. The panorama mode works just as well here, providing us with images that reached as much as 1 metre across.

Even the entry-level options have changed, with the Lumix S2 presenting pretty solid value for consumers. At $129, this camera packs in 14 megapixels, fast autofocus, 28mm worth 4x optical zoom, an auto retouch mode, face detection, and 720p HD video capture. Black and pink are the only colours on offer here, but you can find this model – like most of these – in stores in April.

Interestingly, the prices have dropped severely, with these cameras fetching at most $449, values that were unthinkable years ago and now put high-end camera technologies within the reach of virtually anyone.

It’s not just compacts, though, with Panasonic also announcing a few new camcorders to complement its range.

We spent some time with one of them – the X900M, Panasonic’s top-tier model that brings technology from its broadcast cameras into a consumer model.

Taking advantage of Panasonic’s “3MOS Pro” system, customers receive the benefit of three sensors to produce 1080p Full HD video.

Image stabilisation is also improved, with Panasonic bringing in a five-axis stability system that effectively gives the camcorder a steadicam, making it possible to capture scenes with increased stability.

Image quality in the X900M could certainly be clearer for stills.

The X900M also features 32GB of storage built-in, as well as an SD card slot for expanding the memory further. Images can also be captured on the camera, with 16 megapixels available. Low-light is also catered for with an F1.5 lens, while the audio is captured in 5.1 surround sound.

Testing the camera, the stability control is excellent, with the image above citing just how obvious the improvement is. Image quality from stills, however, leaves a lot to be desired. While the video quality seems to be pretty good, the stills aren’t very sharp. Given that this was a pre-production unit, it’s possible that this could change closer to release.

The Panasonic X900M will be heading to stores in April for $1799 and will be compatible with the optional VW-CLT2 3D adaptor, available for an extra $399.