Lumix DMC-LZ3

Lumix DMC-LZ3

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ3 Review

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ3

Steve's Conclusion

The Lumix DMC-LZ3 is yet another "LZ" series model from Panasonic this year (2006) and is the little brother to the DMC-LZ5. It shares many of its features, but with less resolution (5-megapixels compared to 6), a slightly smaller 2.0-inch LCD and no audio during movie mode. Likes its big brother, the LZ3 features a 6x optical zoom lens that includes Panasonic's MEGA O.I.S. image stabilization system. This is a simple entry-level point-n-shoot model that can be used by every member of your household. There's the Simple mode for those who have very little experience and want the camera to choose all options as well as several pre-programmed scene modes, which help you capture great images in a variety of shooting situations. And the novice in your family will enjoy being able to "play" with more advanced settings like ISO sensitivity, White Balance, AF mode, etc.

The LZ3 is very well designed. While it can't be described as an ultra-compact camera, I found it fits easily in coat or sweatshirt pocket as well as small purses and handbags; thanks in part to its zoom lens neatly retracting into the body. The back of the camera is dominated by its large 2.0-inch LCD monitor, which unfortunately is the only viewfinder. It is however an excellent display and was very effective for menu navigation, image review and as a viewfinder in the bright sun. In marginal lighting conditions the exposure system is very sensitive to light and the LCD also "gains-up" slightly, allowing you to frame in conditions where you would have no such luck with a 35mm film camera. The various controls mounted on the top and back of the body are positioned well within the reach of your finger tips. Its menu system was simple and easy to navigate, making changes to camera settings a snap.

One of its most appealing features has to be the Lumix DC-VARIO 6x optical zoom lens. It offers a great deal of flexibility in composing your shots with its 37-222mm (35mm equivalent) focal length range; especially when compared to the typical 35-105mm range of similar cameras in this class. The 37mm wide-angle provides a field of view sufficient for most indoor group portraits and outdoor landscapes shots. While its 222mm telephoto extreme enables you to bring distant subjects much closer than the competition, and lets not forget about the MEGA O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilization) system. It helps reduce the occurrence of camera shake at longer focal lengths and slower shutter speeds as well as when shooting video. Panasonic's O.I.S. has proven to be very effective, allowing me to capture consistently sharp images at relatively slow shutter speeds; you'll be more concerned with subject movement than camera shake using this feature. I found that this lens exhibits a bit of barrel distortion at full wide angle, but virtually no pincushioning at the moderate and full telephoto focal lengths. chromatic aberration (purple fringing around subjects with high contrast) was very well controlled at all focal lengths. Unlike other Panasonic digicams, the LZ3's lens does not carry the Leica brand, and sharpness suffered a bit; it produced images that were sharp at the centers, but a bit soft at the edges.

Shooting performance was very good for a camera in this class. From power up to first image captured measured about 2.4 seconds. Shutter lag when pre-focused measured less than 1/10 of a second and 5/10 of a second including autofocus time. When shooting a sequence of images in single exposure mode, the shot to shot delay averaged 1.5 seconds between frames without the flash and about 2.6 - 4 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance and battery life. One thing that I found annoying was that the LCD goes blank while the flash charges, making it difficult to prepare for the next shot while you wait for the flash to recharge. The LZ3 offers three Burst mode settings to choose from (Low-speed, High-speed, No- limit.) Using the Low-speed setting, I was able to capture 3 frames in about 1 second. High- speed captured 3 frames in just 5/10 of a second. No-limit mode allows you to continuously capture frames at about 1.7fps, limited only by available memory. Our tests were done using a Lexar 1GB SD card, shooting in "Normal" mode, size/quality set at 5M Fine, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.

The image quality was average. Outdoors it captured the best images in my opinion, with our samples being relatively sharp, well exposed and showing good color saturation. Like the LZ5, noise levels were average when shooting with an ISO of 100 or lower, becoming much more noticeable at 200 and 400. By looking at our ambient light sample of the M&M man, you can see what I mean. While this may not be an issue with those who use the "Normal" exposure mode and can select the desired ISO speed, those who use Simple mode will have to hope the camera is using the lowest setting possible. However, on a better note, these signs of noise can only be seen by the untrained eye when viewing images at 100%; something your typical consumer does not do. And it is very unlikely that you'll see much in your 4x6 or 8x10-inch prints, as long as there isn't much cropping.

The LZ3 was also very good when capturing portraits. Our outdoors shots were well exposed and showed very natural skin tones. Indoors you'll ave to work within its flash range of about 13 feet. I found this flash worked well indoors in mid sized rooms and we had very few occurrences of red eye when using the red eye reduction flash mode; just be sure you warn your subject that it will flash twice. I was glad to see Panasonic equipped these newer models with a focus-assist lamp. Although the autofocus system is very precise and performed reasonably well in many lighting conditions, the addition of the assist-lamp really improved its low-light capabilities.

When wanting to record video, the LZ3 can capture clips at VGA (640x480) or QVGA (320x240) resolutions, with a frame rate of either 10 or 30 frames per second. Sound is not recorded, so your movies will be silent. This is an aggravating feature, why even include a movie mode? Once I got past this, I found that it captures good quality video, with very little compression artifacts.

Bottom line - the Lumix DMC-LZ3 is pretty much identical to its 6-meagpixel brother the LZ5 both in quality and performance for about $50 less ($229.) True you lose 1- megapixel of resolution, about a half of an inch on the LCD and sound in movie mode, but just about every other aspect of this model is the same. We feel it should make a great starter camera for anyone who has not taken the plunge into the digital world or anyone who wants an affordable digicam with plenty of resolution and a generous zoom range.

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