Image quality isn't perfect, but tons of useful features add up to a superb all-rounder
1/2.3in 18.0-megapixel sensor, 20.0x zoom (24-480mm equivalent), 198g
The other significant change over the TZ30 is a move from 14 to 18 megapixels. This is an extremely – we’d argue ridiculously – high resolution high for a compact camera with a tiny 1/2.3in sensor. The gains in detail are usually minimal and the increased noise levels are far more substantial. However, we’re relieved to report that our worst fears weren’t realised here. Comparing our ISO 100 studio test shots with the TZ30’s, there was a small increase in detail in text and other high-contrast details. It’s a credit to this lens that it’s able to resolve enough detail to live up to the 18-megapixel rating – at middle-range zoom positions at least. Comparing high-ISO test shots, noise looked different to the TZ30’s output, but it wasn’t noticeably worse. However, this also means that the TZ40 still lags behind its rivals for image noise.
In practice, photos looked superb when resized to fit a 1080p screen but zooming in or heavily cropping revealed their limitations. Image quality was inevitably at its best in bright conditions at modest zoom positions, but even then, subtle textures such as skin and foliage looked somewhat featureless, save for a light sprinkle of noise. It got progressively worse as the ISO speed increased in diminishing light – or when shooting at the long end of the zoom in overcast weather. However, the digital processing did a fine job of handling the rising noise levels, and it was only at ISO 1600 that noise reduction became really intrusive.
These skin tones are a little scruffy and there’s not much definition in the grass, but it’s by no means a bad result
Shooting in the shade at the long end of the zoom has pushed the ISO speed up to 800 here. There’s a lot of noise in the shadows, but again, we’re happy with this shot
ISO 1600 is a step too far for us. Still, we appreciate how the camera identified a moving subject and raised the shutter and ISO speeds to avoid motion blur. This photo looks fine after resizing to around 1 megapixel
A key attraction of this kind of camera is being able to zoom right in to capture distant subjects. We were seriously impressed with the TZ30’s ability to maintain sharp focus throughout its zoom range, but the TZ40 wasn’t quite as crisp for telephoto shots. The two cameras appear to use exactly the same lens, so we’re not sure whether this is down to variations in individual samples or because the 18-megapixel sensor places higher demands on the lens. Either way it’s a little disappointing, but as with the noise issues, it’s only really a significant concern when heavily cropping photos or printing enlargements.
Focus is good rather than great at the full zoom extension, and it deteriorates towards the edges
There’s very little definition to the details in this telephoto shot…
…and the 2x digital zoom that’s offered in Intelligent Auto mode is pointless
The things that made the TZ30 great are still intact. The video mode is top notch, with outstanding picture and sound quality, smooth autofocus and zooming, powerful optical stabilisation and a choice of frame rates including 1080/50p and slow motion capture at 720/100p.
GPS worked superbly, with clever power management so it doesn’t forget its position when you power off but doesn’t constantly drain the battery.
The controls are intuitive and quick to use, with full manual exposure control, touchscreen spot-focus and a Q.Menu button to access various key settings. It’s extremely responsive for photo capture, taking 1.5 seconds to switch on and shoot, and 0.8 seconds between each shot. Continuous mode ran at 10fps, or 5fps with updating autofocus between each shot. The increased resolution isn’t accompanied by a larger memory buffer, though. It could only maintain these speeds for six or seven frames before slowing, whereas the TZ30 managed ten to 12.
We wish that Panasonic had resisted the temptation to use an 18-megapixel sensor. We’d happily settle for less detail for the sake of less noise. Still, image quality is on a par with the TZ30, which makes it the right side of acceptable for general snapping. As with the TZ30, it’s the superb features and performance that really make this camera shine, and the new Wi-Fi functions fit in perfectly. We’re looking forward to testing the latest models from Canon, Fujifilm and others, but for now at least, this is the best pocket ultra-zoom camera we’ve seen.
|CCD effective megapixels
|Viewfinder magnification, coverage
|LCD screen size
|LCD screen resolution
|Zoom 35mm equivalent
|optical, lens based
|Maximum image resolution
|JPEG; AVCHD, MP4 (AVC)
|Battery Life (tested)
|USB, AV, micro HDMI, Wi-Fi, NFC
|Focal length multiplier
|Kit lens model name
|one year RTB
|program, shutter priority, aperture priority, manual
|4 to 1/2,000 seconds
|f/3.3-8 (wide), f/6.4-8 (tele)
|ISO range (at full resolution)
|100 to 6400
|auto, 4 presets with fine tuning, manual
|Additional image controls
|Closest macro focus
|multi, flexible spot, face detect, tracking
|multi, centre-weighted, centre, face detect
|auto, forced, suppressed, slow synchro, red-eye reduction
|single, continuous, self-timer, AE bracket, WB bracket, panorama, HDR