Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3 Review
By Movable Type Admin
Ergonomically the FZ3 is a well-designed camera. It has a good secure feeling in your hands. The controls are easy to access and clearly labeled as to their function(s). The camera is much smaller than you would imagine, it is only slightly larger than an average sized hand. The FZ3 features both an LCD and EVF (Electronic ViewFinder.) The EVF is a miniature color LCD monitor located in the eyepiece that is magnified and made to have the users eye very close to it. This is a high-resolution EVF with very good color rendition and there's a diopter adjustment to match the user's eyesight. Both displays worked well. When shooting outdoors, the LCD has very few angles that reflect the sun, and the eyepiece of the EVF is deep enough to keep out ambient light. Indoors in low-ambient lighting the EVF does not "gain up" but I was still able to frame the subject in most cases. In completely dark conditions the AF-assist will focus properly within its working range of up to about ten feet but you can't really see what you're aiming at as the viewfinder is totally dark.
One of the most obvious features of the FZ3 is its 12x Leica Vario-Elmarit zoom lens, with a focal length coverage of 35-420mm in 35mm equivalence. That's a lot of lens by anyone's standards especially when the vast majority of other digicams in this price range only have 3x zooms. Anyone who has used a digicam with a long focal length zoom knows that these lenses really add to the overall "fun factor" of using a camera. But the longer the focal length, the more susceptible images are to blurring from camera shake. Non-stabilized cameras with high power telephoto lenses require the use a tripod or a faster shutter speed to overcome the camera-shake issue. But that's not the case with the FZ3; its optically-stabilized lens reduces the effect of camera-shake when using its telephoto capabilities, which allows you to capture images at slower than normal shutter speeds. In fact, I was able to capture sharp hand-held images at shutter speeds as low as 1/40 of a second at full telephoto. This remarkable lens also maintains a fast f/2.8 aperture throughout the entire zoom range, further enhancing your ability to capture sharp images in marginal lighting conditions. I noticed an average amount of barrel distortion at full wide angle and slight pincushioning at full telephoto. However, I was surprised to see that there was very little chromatic aberration (purple fringing on highlights) in high-contrast areas.
Shooting performance was very impressive. It seems the FZ3 is quite the performer with just under 4 seconds required to power up, extend the lens and capture the first image. The all important shutter lag (time between depressing the shutter release to actually capturing the image) measure approx. 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 3/10 of a second including autofocus. In single frame mode, the shot-to-shot delay averaged only 1.1 seconds without the using the flash, and 1.3 seconds with the flash. The FZ3 offers three burst (continuous) capture modes to choose from: High speed (4fps), Low speed (2fps), and No limit (2fps.) Using High speed mode, I was able to capture 7 frames in about 1.6 seconds. In Low speed mode, I captured 7 frames in about 2.5 seconds. No limit mode allows you to continuously capture images, and is limited only by memory card capacity. In both burst and single exposure modes, it takes less than 2 seconds to process a full buffer. Like most cameras that feature a burst mode, the LCD and EVF "froze" during burst mode capture; you will be unable to follow the action while shooting in burst mode because there is no optical viewfinder. Our tests were done using a Transcend 60X 512MB SD card, Program exposure mode, Large/Fine quality, preview off, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
Power is supplied by a proprietary lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack and it does the job well considering that you always have either the EVF or LCD turned on when using the camera. Panasonic also includes their small DE-993 rapid AC charger. This charger will fully replenish a depleted battery pack in 90 minutes or less. The claimed battery life is approx. 260 still pictures when using the color LCD and approx. 280 still pictures using the EVF (based on CIPA standards.) We had no problems capturing all of our sample images (about 160 shots) and concluding our other tests on a single charge. As with all cameras that use a proprietary battery, we recommend that you purchase at least one extra battery pack; there's nothing more aggravating then missing a photo opt due to a dead battery. These packs are charged outside of the camera so it's easy to charge one and use another.
The overall image quality when using 3-megapixel Fine mode was quite good. Its Auto white balance setting worked great in all types of lighting and only had problems under some very mixed conditions. There are presets for typical lighting conditions (sunny, cloudy, incandescent, fluorescent, etc.) and a custom manual setting if you're one who likes to make certain that the white balance is correct every time. Outdoors the exposure system turned out consistently well-saturated and properly exposed images with only an occasional under-exposure on a few of our beach shots with very bright sand. In these cases under-exposure is highly preferred to over-exposure where highlights will "blow out" the details. Both outdoor and indoors images showed colors that were very true to the original scene. Noise levels were average in high and low contrast areas, but you can only see this noise when looking at a 100% enlarged image. This is something that most users will not see, especially when printing the typical 4x6-inch print.
Bottom line - The Lumix DMC-FZ3 will make an excellent choice for the family or tourist user, especially if you're going on safari or attending sporting events. With its 12x optical zoom lens, you are rarely going to be too far away from a subject. And its 3.1-megapixel Fine image have enough resolution to create nice looking 8x10-inch prints. With a street price of around $399, it offers a good overall value. If you'd like more resolution, check out our review of the 5-megapixel DMC-FZ20 which can be had for about $599.
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