Panasonic's gone mad with its 'intelligent' automation features in the 14.1-megapixel Lumix DMC-ZX3, which also has no fewer than four different types of zoom. The 25-200mm 8x zoom is the high point, but you'll pay around £250 to get your hands on this camera.
Tiny, long zoomer
Panasonic has squeezed a surprisingly long zoom range into the DMC-ZX3's extremely compact body. You get an 8x zoom lens, rather than the 12x zoom in the new Lumix DMC-TZ8 and DMC-TZ10, but you also get a smaller, more pocketable camera. Besides, the DMC-ZX3's 25-200mm focal range is more than enough for most needs.
The camera also offers a 720p, high-definition movie mode; Panasonic's latest Power Optical Image Stabilizer, which is apparently twice as effective as the regular Mega Optical Image Stabilizer; and the excellent design and build quality we've now come to expect from the Lumix models.
Panasonic is keen to big up its new 'intelligent resolution' technology. Intelligent resolution is a new approach to image processing, whereby the image is divided into 'contour areas, texture areas and smooth areas' and the optimum image processing is then applied to each. It sounds as if Panasonic may have developed a clever solution to the noise-versus-smudging dilemma faced by all makers of small-format, high-resolution sensors.
Indeed, Panasonic's so confident in this technology that it uses it to optionally extend the optical zoom range 'digitally', from 8x to 10x when the intelligent-resolution feature is activated. The increased zoom range is branded 'intelligent zoom'.
Mush like a husky
Well, the old-fashioned word for this is 'interpolation'. It's not much interpolation (from 8x to 10x), but then it's hardly a massive zoom increase. This intelligent-resolution mode can enhance clearly defined detail, but, in some of our test shots, it turned lower-contrast areas into mush. It all depends on what kind of detail the processor thinks it's looking at, presumably.
But this isn't the worst of it. You've got this intelligent zoom, right? But you've also got 'digital zoom' and 'extra optical zoom'. What the heck? The digital zoom doesn't crop into the centre of the image like you might expect. Or it does, but then it blows it up to a full 14-megapixel file, which means you get all the pixels but a fraction of the definition. The extra optical zoom is more like conventional digital zooms, in that you just get a smaller, cropped image.
Normally, we'd dismiss digital zooms with scarcely a mention, but since Panasonic's included three of them in such a mind-meltingly convoluted combination, they deserve a triple kicking. People complain about the complexity of digital SLRs, but they've got nothing on this.
The point is that the DMC-ZX3 doesn't need this technological flotsam. It's a smart, well-made little camera with an excellent zoom range and a top-quality finish. Its pictures are good rather than excellent, but that's tiny sensors for you.
The Lumix DMC-ZX3 packs an amazing 8x super-wide-angle zoom range into a very compact body, but Panasonic's weakness for over-complicated 'intelligent' technologies has finally tipped over the edge into madness. The intelligent-resolution feature and four types of zoom are just too much.
Edited by Charles Kloet