I bump into a guy I haven’t seen for 45 years called Richard Elphick. It turns out he’s done incredibly well in the law – no surprise there – and is a regular reader of this page. I like him already. Richard emails a few days later: “We’re going to Zimbabwe and I want to buy a good camera with a decent lens. Animals at a distance will be large part of the job. Ideally I don’t want to spend more than £1,000. Plus I am a techno-dunce, so ease of operation would be a bonus.”
That’ll be easy, I think. And then think again. I know expensive cameras; I know complex cameras – but easy-to-use, sub-£1,000 cameras with an optical zoom for wildlife? This required research, which led to my discovery of this new Panasonic with a Leica lens offering an insane 30-times (24mm to 720mm in focal length) zoom.
The TZ80 (ZS60 in the US) turns out to be one of the most remarkable cameras I’ve ever used. My only hesitation before recommending it to Richard was that it costs typically just £330, which felt almost like a failure, but there was no complaint and he is in Zimbabwe – hopefully capturing sharp, close-up shots of big cats from a safe distance – as I write.
My less exotic test run of the TZ80 on London’s streets left me dry-mouthed with excitement and determined to bag one myself. It has almost everything I could ever want, all in a diminutive yet not-too-small-to-handle package – a touch screen, insane 4K video, Raw image format, manual focus, an electronic viewfinder and a good-size sensor. It’s a marvel how much electronics and optics Panasonic and Leica have squeezed into it. The photos it produced are as good as anyone other than a pretty picky pro could want – pin-sharp, vibrant, suitable for anything.
I should point out a couple of caveats. The lens has quite a small aperture, especially when zooming in – unless the sun is providing a ton of light (no problem in Zimbabwe) and you have the electronic stabilisation on, your long-range photos are likely to look soft around the edges. And although this is a point and shoot camera, a long-haul flight spent with the manual will reap benefits – there is so much more it can do if you only know how. Neither is a big deal though. This is a sensational travel camera.