The lack of top lip controls obviously means more buttons squeezed onto the back panel, and at first glance it does look bit of a mess. At the top, right under where our thumb sits, resides the zoom controller, which is quite large for a compact; bigger than, for example, the one on the Kodak EasyShare V610. Below this are three lights that display different colours depending on what the camera is doing -- a green flashing light means that the auto-focus is locking in; solid red means the battery is charging and blinking orange means the flash is re-charging. The seven combinations are really too much to remember, but hopefully most of the warning ones won't arise.
Below the traffic signals there's a five-way controller for getting into frequently used options, such as macro and flash; a button to enter the playback mode; and the Fujifilm 'f' button, which provides you with quick access to important tweaks such as the number of megapixels shot -- from 0.3 right up to the full 5 -- and ISO and colour settings.
The rest of the back panel is taken up with a 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD screen. It boasts an impressive 230,000 pixels and proves itself to be an invaluable tool for framing and reviewing images -- especially as there's no optical viewfinder available. It even passes muster in bright sunlight, although with the sun directly behind our back we've encountered better screens.
At the bottom of the camera a flap pops out to reveal a compartment for the battery and memory card. Being a Fujifilm camera, it's no surprise to find that storage is via the xD card format, which are now available in sizes of up to 2GB for around £60. We have no real issues with xD, but when you consider the lack of compatibility with other technology it may be a problem -- Samsung's debut Blu-ray player, the BD-P1000, has a multi-card slot that covers most of the card formats, except xD.
Finally there's a small, mini-USB sized socket which allows you to connect the Z3 to the supplied docking station. You'll need this to both transfer images via USB and charge the camera, which means one more thing to pack if you're going on holiday. It's also is the only way to attach a tripod, and isn't the most elegant of solutions.
The Z3 benefits from the lack of a protruding lens. Instead of popping out the front of the camera, the 3x optical zoom actually sits sideways across the body of the Z3, with a prism to redirect the light through 90 degrees onto the 5.1-megapixel CCD.
The 38-108mm zoom falls between two stalls and is ideal for neither wide-angle scenic shots nor long enough to get really close to far-away subjects. We rarely wished for more in either direction, but on the odd occasion we wanted to shoot a panorama it was frustrating. For getting up really close the 80mm macro mode is great for shooting plantlife and the like.
If you are feeling adventurous, accessing the main menu allows you to take the camera out of automatic and into a number of pre-programmed shooting modes. There may not be as many here as on the average Pentax point-and-shoot, but natural light, natural + flash (which takes a natural light image and a flash one so you can compare), portrait, landscape, sport, night, fireworks, sunset, snow, beach, museum, party, flower and text should cover most bases.
If not, there's a manual option, which allows you to monkey around with numerous settings. These include exposure compensation (±2 EV in 1/3 EV steps), focus mode (centre or multi) and white balance (auto, fine, shade, fluorescent light 1, 2, 3 and incandescent). There's no way to set the white balance manually though, which is a shame. The whole menu system is simple and user friendly, and as the results of tweaks appear immediately on screen it's very easy to get the right settings for your shot.