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Panasonic Lumix SZ5 First Impressions Review
Panasonic has built decent wireless functionality into a horribly boring camera.
Design & Usability
The SZ5 is a slim pocket camera for casual photographers, and looks just like most other slim pocket cameras for casual photographers. The 10x zoom lens (25-250mm) is very respectable for such a thin camera, but otherwise, there's really nothing exciting in the design. Read our preview of the almost-identical Panasonic SZ1 if you actually care about the details—Panasonic readily admits that the SZ1 and the SZ5 are basically two versions of the same camera, but the SZ5 has wireless features, and the SZ1 has a higher megapixel count.
Look: We give every camera the benefit of the doubt until we've seen them—even an average, entry-level point-and-shoot like the SZ5. But it's 2012, and when a company uses a CCD sensor in a camera (at least, without a stated technical rationale), it's hard to believe that even the manufacturer wants this camera to be taken seriously. The SZ5 was slow on the showroom floor, with sluggish shot-to-shot times, no burst mode to speak of, basically no picture effects or filters, no sweep-panorama mode, and no 1080p video. We took a couple shots at the highest ISO setting, and they looked incredibly messy, even on the SZ5's tiny, low-res LCD. It's no substitute for a proper lab test, of course, but based on our preliminary look, we wouldn't anticipate great results.
The SZ5 isn't Panasonic's first crack at in-camera wireless (the FX90 from a 2011 was an earlier attempt), and it looks like they've ironed out any first-generation kinks. We got a demo of the features at Photokina.
Our guide showed us the remote control feature, in which the camera syncs to a an Android smartphone or tablet using the Lumix Link app (also available for iOS devices), and the phone/tablet works as a remote viewfinder and surrogate controller for camera settings. It also allows users to view the pictures on their camera, and save them to the phone, or upload them directly to Facebook. This feature works well, and doesn't even require a WiFi signal—the two devices just broadcast to each other. The app was slick and responsive in our demo, with an intuitive interface.
We also got a quick demo of the wireless transfer function. Plug your camera into the wall charger, and it'll automatically load your photos onto your computer. It was a smooth process in our booth demo, up and running in about 10 seconds. Wireless transfer only works when the camera is charging; our guide said it was a way to make sure the camera knows when it's "home," and so that the battery doesn't get chewed up by constantly looking for a connection, or trying to offload a whole night's worth of photos with a 250-shot battery.
The question that we can't answer is how the setup process works. Panasonic dedicated a whole corner of their booth to the SZ5, and it was set up and staffed in such a way as to make the feature look as smooth as possible for visitors. Judging by the thrown-together WiFi menu, we're betting that setup is, uh... less than intuitive. But there are redeeming, useful wireless features waiting in this camera if you're willing to read the manual.
It's puzzling to see Panasonic make yet another timid attempt at a "connected camera," especially while competitors make bolder moves. They have a decent wireless system, and yet choose to put it into one of their lamest cameras. If they had even put it into the SZ7 (like the SZ1, but with a CMOS sensor, faster performance, and better image quality) it might have made a better impression. But the way it turned out, it's a totally forgettable proof-of-concept model, not even worth a look from curious early adopters.
But none of the "what ifs" really matter anyway, because Samsung just blew away the whole field with the Galaxy Camera. It's a proper 21x travel zoom with a CMOS sensor, a huge and beautiful screen, a 4G data antenna, and the Android 4.1 operating system. It's not only a much better camera, but a much better wireless gadget, too. There's no need to use your phone or tablet as a go-between to get pictures online, and you can run almost any Android app on it, photo-related or otherwise.
Wireless connectivity is part of the future of digital cameras, but the Samsung Galaxy Camera is a much more attractive vision of that future. We thought that the evolution of in-camera wireless would be gradual, based on the slow, half-hearted roll-outs by Canon, Fujifilm, and Panasonic. But Samsung went all in, and we'll all be better off if the rest of the industry follows their example.
Panasonic is very cautiously testing the waters of the wireless camera trend. The SZ5 is a WiFi-enabled compact camera, announced back in July of this year. With promises of remote control via smartphone and wireless photo transfer, Panasonic makes it sound like the WiFi in this camera is convenient and cutting-edge. We scoped it out at Photokina 2012, and all we found was a boring camera with a decent wireless implementation.