Last year, Panasonic released the Lumix DMC-TZ1. The chunky little 5-megapixel camera contained a 10x zoom lens that let it fit snugly into the compact, high-zoom snapshot camera niche. It didn't exactly wow us, and we gave the camera a less than spectacular rating. Now Panasonic has released the Lumix £250 DMC-TZ3, taking the TZ1's basic design and improving nearly every aspect of it.
The DMC-TZ3 looks almost identical to the DMC-TZ1, sharing its predecessor's chunky 230g frame, its prominent lens, the tasteful gold-and-silver Leica accent, and a straightforward, minimalist control scheme.
We readily accessed the camera's buttons with just our right hand for one-handed shooting, though they were a little smaller than we would have liked. If you're not careful, you may end up hitting the wrong button, especially when using the four-way multicontroller.
Much like the DMC-TZ1, the DMC-TZ3's lens remains the camera's most notable feature. The camera's 28mm-to-280mm-equivalent, f/3.3-to-f/4.6, 10x optical, Leica zoom lens can handle both wide and close-up shots, a distinct improvement over its predecessor. Most high-zoom cameras, including the TZ1, use 35mm or narrower lenses, so the TZ3's 28mm wide-angle lens gives it a definite edge when pulling back to take a shot. Panasonic included its Mega OIS optical image stabilisation on the TZ3, a vital inclusion for any high-zoom camera.
The DMC-TZ3 also uses a 76mm (3-inch) LCD screen, notably larger than the DMC-TZ1's 64mm (2.5-inch) display. The camera misses one minor feature its little brother had: the TZ3 doesn't have the TZ1's nifty stop-motion Flip Animation movie mode. Beyond this minor omission, however, the TZ3 either retains or improves upon all of the TZ1's features. Unfortunately, like its predecessor, the TZ3 also lacks any significant manual exposure controls.
The DMC-TZ3 performed admirably in our tests. The camera's shutter lagged only 0.6 seconds for our high-contrast target and 1.3 seconds in low-contrast conditions. We waited a mere 1.3 seconds between shots, and that wait increased to 2.4 seconds with the onboard flash enabled. Burst mode took five shots in just less than 2 seconds for a satisfying rate of 2.5 shots per second.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Typical shot-to-shot time||Time to first shot||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The TZ3's pictures looked good and were almost completely free of lens distortion. This greatly impressed us, as most ultrazoom lenses -- especially those with 28mm-equivalent wide-angles -- tend to heavily distort images at their extreme settings. Fuzzy artefacts obscured certain finer points, but photos were otherwise colourful and detailed.
Noise was evident, even at the camera's lowest sensitivity of ISO 100, but the Panasonic keeps it well under control up to ISO 400, where the amount of finer detail in our images diminished further. Even at ISO 800, the TZ3 produces usable images, though fine detail and shadow detail decrease slightly compared to those taken at ISO 400.
The noise turned into a sea of static at ISO 1,250, taking away most fine detail and shadow detail, though you should still be able to eke out a usable 100x150mm (4x6-inch) print. Of course, it's best to stick with lower ISOs whenever possible.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 puts a lot of lens into a small package. The wide-angle, high-zoom camera performs well and takes acceptable shots, though it's hardly perfect. Its higher resolution, wider lens and larger screen make it better than its predecessor in nearly all categories.
Unfortunately, it misses one of the TZ1's most fun shooting modes, and it keeps some minor image issues that, while improved over the TZ1, still cause problems. All that said, the DMC-TZ3 offers great value for the money and easily trumps most other superzooms on size.Edited by Philip Ryan
Additional editing by Nick Hide