Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 Review

Steve's Conclusion

Leading Panasonic's new Lumix series of cameras is the DMC-ZS3, a very powerful, full featured compact digicam. Sporting a 12x Leica optical zoom lens, Venus Engine HD processor, Mega O.I.S. (optical image stabilization) and iA (intelligent auto) mode, it has been designed to be more versatile and capable than other digicams. Its main feature is the ability to capture HD video using the AVCHD format. This allows for the camera to capture more HD video while using less memory. To accent the HD capture, Panasonic has included a Dolby stereo mic and the ability to zoom while shooting.

Although it isn't the smallest digicam on the market, its features and capabilities more than make up for the size. A hand grip on the right side makes the camera fit well enough into your hand that allowing operation of all cameras features with just one hand, including the mode dial and navigating the menus. There is also a dedicated movie button on the back, meaning that you do not have to put the camera into movie mode to record as it's always ready. Framing and viewing your images is done via the 3-inch, 460,000 dot LCD screen. It is one of the highest quality screens that we have seen on a compact digicam, showing you more detail than ever before. It is easy to see in all lighting conditions including direct sunlight, and thanks to the auto power LCD mode, you will never have to adjust the brightness.

Performance from the ZS3 is very good, although it is a little slow on start-up. After turning the camera on, you are able to capture your first image in 2.5 seconds. When pre-focused, the shutter lag is less than 1/10 of a second and between 6/10 and 7/10 of a second when allowing the autofocus to work. In single shot mode, I was able to capture 5 images in 10.6 seconds with the flash and 5 images in 6.8 seconds without.

This Panasonic also features 4 burst modes; 2 at the full 10-Megapixel resolution and 2 at a lower resolution. At full resolution you can capture 3 images in 9/10 of a second before filling the buffer or, the infinite mode will capture the first 5 images in 2.4 seconds, and then slows to a pace of approx. 1fps. The next 2 modes are found via the Scene mode on the dial. First is the Hi-Speed Scene, allowing the camera to capture 10 images in just 1.2 seconds, the only drawback being the maximum image size in this mode is 3-Megapixels. This is the same for the flash burst scene. It can capture 5 images in 2.6 seconds while firing the flash each time. All of our tests were completed using a RiDATA Pro 120x 2GB SD memory card, Program mode, Flash off, ISO auto and all other settings at the factory defaults. All times may vary depending on lighting, camera settings, media, etc.

The image quality of our outdoor images is outstanding. Our sample pictures show excellent exposures and bright, vivid colors that really make your images pop. Featuring a Leica DC Vario-Elmar 12x optical zoom (35mm equivalent of 25-300mm), this camera has a range that not found on many cameras this size. At the wide end of the zoom, you will see some barrel distortion, standard for any digicam. It is excellent for shooting vast landscapes and large group portraits. The telephoto end brings you extremely close to distant subjects. This makes the O.I.S. necessary in order to compensate for the magnification of camera shake at these telephoto levels. This can be seen in the samples of the basketball game, as I used the full telephoto end of the zoom without a flash from the last row of the arena.

Our indoor image samples show the same great exposure and color, as well as a crisp image from edge to edge. ISO 400 is the first time noise appears in the image. Even then, the level is acceptable and will not be noticed in prints of 8x10 or larger. With a range of up to 11.8-feet at ISO auto, the ZS3 features a very powerful flash that had no problem properly lighting our scene from 6-feet away at ISO 80. The shooting mode makes everyday shooting incredibly easy, even portrait shots. The camera does an excellent job of finding and following faces very quickly. Our portrait sample shows excellent exposure and skin tone as well as the cameras ability to find a face that is not directly facing the camera.

The ZS3 is the world's first compact camera to record HD video via the AVCHD compression. This allows you to capture more HD video because the compression uses less memory than the standard motion JPEG without losing the image quality from the video. With HD resolution of 1280x720 and an HDMI output built right in, it is incredibly simple to view your movies on your HDTV. This is also the first camera to feature Dolby stereo sound built in. If you are running low on space, you can also record in the standard 640x480 and 320x240 video resolutions. One more useful feature is the ability to use the optical zoom while recording. The camera does have some trouble focusing while the zoom is in use.

Powering the Lumix ZS3 is a 3.6v, 895mAh Li-Ion battery that Panasonic claims can capture up to 300 images by CIPA standards. We were not able to match these results during our tests, bringing up the only complaint that we have about the camera. During our time with the camera we captured just over 300 images and videos, but the camera had to be recharged twice in that time, giving us about 100 shots per charge. Because of this we recommend keeping an extra battery on hand at all times, and with the included external charger, this is not a hard thing to do.

Bottom Line - Panasonic's new Lumix ZS3 is an outstanding new addition to the Lumix line. Packed full of features, you will be able to find a way to shoot in even the most difficult of situations. The 12x optical zoom lens makes this one of the most versatile cameras of the market, while the O.I.S. makes the 300mm telephoto end functional as a handheld. All of this combined with good performance and excellent image quality, the MSRP of US$399.99 makes this an excellent choice for anyone looking for a little more out of their compact camera.

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