Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ50 with Wi-Fi

By Naomi Graychase

October 17, 2008

While the picture-taking features are plentiful and easy to access in this 9.1MP point-and-shoot digital camera from Panasonic, the Wi-Fi component suffers from some serious usability issues.

Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ50
www.panasonic.com
$449.95
Pros:
9.1MP, photographic features easy to use, 12 months of T-Mobile hotspot service (for the camera only) included
Cons: Pricey, heavy, problematic Wi-Fi.

Panasonic’s Lumix line of digital still cameras is aimed at the point-and-shoot consumer. The cameras in this line include a few higher-end options with interchangeable lenses and D-SLR technology (the Lumix G series, $799.95 and up), but mostly it’s made up of compact and relatively affordable digicams ($129.95 and up) that are intended to be easy enough to operate that an everyday user can start snapping photos and take advantage of the special features without pulling his or her hair out or spending hours pouring over the manual. So, for this review of the DMC-TZ50 with Wi-Fi ($449.95)—Panasonic’s first Wi-Fi-enabled camera—we put the unit into the hands of an Average Joe. Or, in this case, an Average “Pete.”

Because the price point is high—a consumer has to care enough about the Wi-Fi and other features in this camera to fork over $250 more than the cuter and higher-res 10.1MP DMC-FS5 ($199.95), for instance—we chose a tester who is not a professional reviewer, but who is a tech-savvy consumer who prioritizes both Wi-Fi and photography in his buying choices.

Our tester, Peter, was an amateur photographer in his mid-thirties who is experienced with both print and digital cameras. He owns his own D-SLR camera (a Canon), works part-time for a photography studio taking portraits (with professional-grade digital cameras), and uses an 802.11n-draft Wi-Fi network at home. In other words, he’s someone who might be willing to pay $449.95 for a point-and-shoot camera to compliment his more high-powered model—something he could put in a pocket and use for snapshots at a party or on vacation when he doesn’t want to carry his larger D-SLR camera around with him.

Set up

Pete began by evaluating the camera’s ability to take good photographs. He found it extremely easy to use and was able to access the camera’s features, such as the Scene Modes (there are 21, including Pet, Candle Light, Portrait, Sunset, Food, and Baby 1&2), the self-timer, and the flash controls.

The interface was intuitive and he was able to navigate menus and discover his various options without resorting to flipping through the manual.

He liked the 3” (diagonal) LCD display, which was larger than the one on his existing camera, although he lamented the lack of a viewfinder. The only way to frame and shoot an image with the DMC-TZ50 is by holding the camera out and looking at the LCD, an act that felt uncomfortable to our tester, who, like many photography enthusiasts, enjoys looking through the camera at his subject, rather than at his camera.

Unfortunately, when it came to the Wi-Fi component, our tester’s experience was not quite as positive. Of the ten hours Pete spent testing the camera, nearly a quarter were spent on trying to successfully set up the Wi-Fi features. After a couple of hours of frustrating attempts to navigate the confusing menus and input his information, he cried “uncle” and called in backup—us.

With 14 years of consumer electronics reviewing experience under our belt, we expected to breeze through the set up and conquer the blocks that had caused our tester to throw in the towel. Pride goeth before the fall, however, and we had no better luck; just like our tester, we were unable to navigate the baffling menu choices and decipher the appropriate set up for home WLAN or hotspot access. A call with a product engineer, a PR rep, and a trip to a T-Mobile hotspot (to rule out issues related to our WLAN) also reaped no results.

To rule out a faulty camera, we were sent a replacement unit, which came pre-configured with a Gmail address, Picasa account, and password—all of which are required to use the Wi-Fi—already programmed into the camera. It should have worked out of the box at a T-Mobile hotspot, sparing us the agonizing process of entering our own user name and password for our WPA-protected home network, but it didn’t. To get on our home network—which uses a Trendnet draft-n router (not listed among the supported routers)—we had to enter network information, including our PSK, using the maddening input system. We managed to do this successfully, but unfortunately, the camera didn’t work there either; we received the same unhelpful error message we received at the T-Mobile hotspot.

Wi-Fi access

In the end, by working with a representative at Panasonic, we were able to determine that the issue was related to a flaw in the pre-configured account information, not a flaw in the camera. Once that was corrected, our camera worked just fine. We could access our home WLAN and take advantage of all the Wi-Fi features we’d been struggling to utilize during the review period.LUMIX TZ50s_side_sm.jpg

We were able to easily upload photographs to our Picasa account using our home network. We were hoping it would be possible to stand in the yard and upload the photographs we had just taken of our garden, a feature that would come in handy in all sorts of scenarios, such as on vacation or at an event, when one wants to instantly share or store photos without locating a PC, but we found that if we strayed more than about 30 feet from our access point, we lost our ability to connect. Moving between floors and outdoors decreased also decreased our odds.

There is no customization possible within the camera, so photos automatically get uploaded into generic folders labeled Lumix 1-5. Users can’t create their own themed or dated folders, for instance. Once images are uploaded to Picasa, they can be printed, shared, or moved into other folders, of course, by accessing Picasa from a computer.

Too little, too late

Even though we were able to resolve our problem, we have to give low marks to the DMC-TZ50 for usability when it comes to Wi-Fi. With the first camera, our tester attempted to set up the Wi-Fi on his own, just as any consumer would, but was never able to complete the task. He found the manual to be “useless.” And we, with our bounty of set up experience, fared no better.

The main source of the problem in Panasonic’s approach to Wi-Fi is the absence of meaningful menus and error messages, and the presence of confounding navigation. Even the product engineer with whom we spoke could not use the error messages we received to effectively diagnose the issue. His best guess was that our router was not supported, when the actual problem was related to an incorrect e-mail address.

Two cameras, two trips to Starbucks in a neighboring town (to use its T-Mobile hotspot), one frustrating phone call, a lot of e-mails, and many hours of struggle later by expert and amateur alike, and it was only the clever problem-solving of a Panasonic PR supervisor who, in the 11th hour, deduced the true source of the error. Since most users who encounter trouble don’t have access to an inside PR team, they are stuck trying to guess what might be causing the issue, which, according to our tester makes trying to access the Wi-Fi feature “colossally bad.”

Features

On the photographic side, there were no usability nightmares to contend with. At 9.1 MP, the Lumix DMC-TZ50 is capable of taking good-quality photographs and it even records High Definition video, as long as users first change the aspect ratio to 16:9. LUMIX TZ50s_side_sm.jpg

Pete wasn’t wowed by the 28mm wide-angle lens, the 10x optical zoom, or the Intelligent Auto mode, which combines five functions to correct lighting differences, prevent blur, and optimize exposure settings, but he also had no complaints. He described his overall photographic experience with the camera as “fine, average, acceptable.”

The camera weighs in at nearly half a pound, so despite a light “look” with its attractive silver casing, it’s a burden to toss in a bag and impractical in a pants pocket. And the extra optical zoom which offers “greater telephoto power” only works in 3MP-mode.

The bottom line

When it works, the Wi-Fi in the Lumix DMC-TZ50 enables users to upload images to their Picasa albums using the built-in 802.11b/g Wi-Fi CERTIFIED radio. When it doesn’t, it’s useless and virtually impossible to troubleshoot.

While the picture-taking features are plentiful and easy to access, for the money, we suspect that until Panasonic improves its Wi-Fi features, another camera, such as the new Lumix DMC-FX150 ($399.95), which offers an amazing 14.7MP, and an Eye-Fi card, or a different Wi-Fi-enabled camera, such as the Nikon COOLPIX 52c, might be a better choice for consumers looking to incorporate Wi-Fi into their cameras.

For related reviews, read “Review: Eye-Fi Explore,” “Review: Nikon COOLPIX S52c,” and “Review: D-Link 10" Wireless Internet Photo Frame (DSM-210).”

Naomi Graychase is Managing Editor at Wi-Fi Planet.

Originally published on .

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