Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 Review

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Steve's Conclusion

The Lumix DMC-TZ3 is the second "TZ" series model from Panasonic, however the first unit we have seen (as of 6/2007.) This "super-zoom" model offers some powerful features like 7-megapixels of resolution, a Leica 10x optical zoom lens, MEGA O.I.S. (optical image stabilization), 16:9 HD format movie mode, all stuffed inside a compact and durable "stainless steal" shell. The TZ3 is also very user-friendly, with Simple, Program Auto, and 21 dedicated scene modes, there's sure to be an exposure mode to fit the needs of everyone in your household or office.

I found the TZ3 has a nice well-built feel, and the stainless steal exterior ensures it will stand up to the test of time. While not an ultra-compact camera, it can be easily tucked away in most pants pockets or small purses. The huge 3.0 LCD display occupies over 2/3 of the back of the camera. This is a high-quality monitor that works well both indoors and out. While the surface is a bit reflective, I still had no problems using it outdoors, even in bright sunlight. In marginal lighting conditions the display also "gains-up" nicely, allowing you to frame your subject. Controls on the back are minimal, and easily accessed by your thumb. The Function button brings up a useful shortcut menu that allows you to quickly change settings for ISO, white balance, etc. The menu system is also logically organized, making for simple navigation.

The TZ3 is robust performer. From power up to first image captured measured about 2.3 seconds. Shutter lag was almost absent when pre- focused, measuring less than 1/10 of a second and only 3/10 of a second including autofocus time. When shooting a sequence of images in single exposure mode, the shot to shot delay averaged 1.1 seconds between frames without the flash and about 2.3 - 3 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance and battery life. You can also choose from three different Burst mode settings (High-speed, Low- speed, and No Limit) High speed captured at a rate of 4fps, while Low speed was at about 3fps; surpassing Panasonic's claim of 3fps (high speed mode) and 2fps (low speed mode). Both modes captured 5 full resolution images before filling the buffer, and it took about 1 second before the next burst could be taken. No limit mode allows you to continuously capture images at about 3fps, and is limited only by memory card capacity. In all three modes, the LCD briefly displays the last image captured, which makes it a bit difficult to follow fast moving subjects. Our tests were done using a Lexar Professional (133x) 1GB SD card, shooting in "Normal" mode, size/quality set at 7M Fine, flash off, Auto review off, stabilizer on (mode 1) and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.

In my opinion, the most important feature of the TZ3 has to be its Wide view Leica Vario-Elmarit 10x optical zoom lens. It covers a focal length 28-280mm in 35mm equivalence. With such a versatile zoom range, you'll be able to capture beautiful landscapes and large group portraits at its 28mm wide angle extreme, while bringing distant subjects up close with the 280mm telephoto capability. As usual, I noticed a moderate amount of barrel distortion at full wide angle as well as slight pincushioning at the telephoto end, respectively. Chromatic aberrations (also known as purple fringing) were surprisingly scarce around objects with extreme contrast. Usually, the longer the focal length of a lens, the more likely it is that you will see traces of camera shake (blurring of the subject due to camera movement). Non-stabilized lenses with high power telephoto capabilities require the use of a tripod or a faster shutter speed to overcome blur; the rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed no slower than the reciprocal of the lens focal length, 1/400 of a second when using a 400mm lens for example. Depending on the lighting conditions, a high ISO setting might be required to use a fast shutter speed, compromising image quality (noise) to avoid blur. This is not an issue with the Panasonic's Lumix line. The MEGA O.I.S. stabilization system reduces the effect of camera shake and allows you to capture images using slower than normal shutter speeds.

I was pleased with the overall image quality of our 7M Fine image. The majority of our samples photos sharp, well exposure and show rich color saturation. Noise levels are average for a camera in this class, just remember, as you increase the sensitivity, you also increase imager noise. When shooting indoors or outside at night, Panasonic claims the TZ3's built-in flash unit can cover up to 13.8 feet at wide angle, using ISO Auto. This is a typical range for a consumer models, and I found works well when shooting close-up macro photography as well as portraits. I achieved the best close-up portrait shots when shooting from about 5-6 feet away using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range. Doing so produced images that show good flash exposure, sharp facial detail and natural skin tones.

Movie mode allows you to capture video at either the standard 4:3 (640x480 or 320x240) or HD 16:9 (1280x720) aspect ratios, at a frame rate of 30 or 10fps. Because sound is recorded, the optical zoom cannot be used while recording, but you can preset the desired focal length before hand. Overall, I was very pleased with our movie mode results. Both the 4:3 and 16:9 30fps modes produce good video with minimal compression noise and the AF system does well with moving subjects.

Bottom line - Panasonic has created yet another appealing digital package that offers excellent performance, good image quality, loads of user-friendly exposure modes, a stylish and durable body. and lets not forget a powerful 10x optical zoom with their MEGA O.I.S. system. That said, I feel the Lumix DMC-TZ3 will make a great choice for anyone in the market for a versatile compact super-zoom model, with an affordable price tag (only US$349 or less.)

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