Camera Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3

10x optically-stabilized zoom and great image quality makes this pocket rocket a real winner.

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ3

Camera-Test-Panasonic-Lumix-DMC-TZ3

Camera Test: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ337988986439PanasonicDMC-TZ3The 10x optically stabilized optical zoom (28-280mm 35mm equivalent) Panasonic DMC-TZ3 (street: $299.00) is the upgrade to Panasonic's original 10x pocket rocket, the Lumix DMC-TZ1. Overall, we were very impressed with this first model, although there were a few areas of improvement: the five megapixel sensor was a bit small by modern standards, and noise was a concern at most ISOs. We also put a full manual mode on our wish list for the next generation in Panasonic's travel zoom line. You can't always get exactly what you want, but, in this case, two out of three isn't bad. Panasonic fixed the important things: The TZ3 features a 7.2 Megapixel CCD sensor backed by the Venus 3 processing engine, which dramatically reduces noise and improves overall performance. There's still no full manual mode, but it's not the end of the world -- but we'll get into that later. The most notable feature of the TZ1 was the big, round owl-eye of an internally-focusing Leica Vario-Elmarit 4.6-46mm (35-350mm equivalent) lens, that even had a removable lenscap! This glass was fast -- f/2.8-4.2! It's gone, and so is half an f/stop at either end: instead the TZ3 has a retracting Leica Vario-Elmarit f/3.3-4.9 maximum aperture zoom lens with integrated lens protector. We were skeptical at first at why Panasonic would choose to mess with such a nice fast Leica optic and slow it down -- but then we saw the results of our DxO 2.0 distortion tests, even with the wider wide-angle setting and did a double-take.

The 10x optically stabilized optical zoom (28-280mm 35mm equivalent) Panasonic DMC-TZ3 (street: $299.00) is the upgrade to Panasonic's original 10x pocket rocket, the Lumix DMC-TZ1. Overall, we were very impressed with this first model, although there were a few areas of improvement: the five megapixel sensor was a bit small by modern standards, and noise was a concern at most ISOs. We also put a full manual mode on our wish list for the next generation in Panasonic's travel zoom line. You can't always get exactly what you want, but, in this case, two out of three isn't bad.

Panasonic fixed the important things: The TZ3 features a 7.2 Megapixel CCD sensor backed by the Venus 3 processing engine, which dramatically reduces noise and improves overall performance. There's still no full manual mode, but it's not the end of the world -- but we'll get into that later.

The most notable feature of the TZ1 was the big, round owl-eye of an internally-focusing Leica Vario-Elmarit 4.6-46mm (35-350mm equivalent) lens, that even had a removable lenscap! This glass was fast -- f/2.8-4.2! It's gone, and so is half an f/stop at either end: instead the TZ3 has a retracting Leica Vario-Elmarit f/3.3-4.9 maximum aperture zoom lens with integrated lens protector. We were skeptical at first at why Panasonic would choose to mess with such a nice fast Leica optic and slow it down -- but then we saw the results of our DxO 2.0 distortion tests, even with the wider wide-angle setting and did a double-take.

What's Hot • 10x Optically stabilized Leica lens • Wide angle distortion among the best we've seen in a compact camera • Easy menu navigation • Spot, center-weighted, or average metering • Auto Exposure Bracketing • 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 aspect ratios What's Not • No full manual modes • Off-centered plastic tripod socket flexes too much • Product Gallery • Image Quality Gallery • Rate this Camera • How to Read a Camera Test

There is only Slight barrel distortion (.11%) at the widest setting, 28mm, which is a true wide-angle lens -- not the 35mm or 38mm "wide" setting of most of its competitors . We're used to seeing results for wide settings on compact cameras that are up in the .30%s and beyond -- even for "wide" settings around 38mm. Consider that a score of .10% ranks "imperceptible" and a score of .11% ranks "slight" to get a better understanding of just how impressive this distortion control is. At 140mm and 280mm, it turns to Slight Pincushion (.16%, .18%). These are still very respectable results, but the barrel distortion control at wide-angle is amazing! We're not sure if Panasonic accomplishes this strictly by the optical characteristics, or if there is an in-camera distortion fix during image processing, and really, we don't care how they do it -- we're simply thrilled by the results! (There is still a bit of big-nose barrel distortion evident in macro focusing, which leads us to believe the distortion control is mostly optical.)

Do we miss that half stop, after seeing the DxO wide angle results? Nope, not at all. Not one bit.

But doesn't a smaller aperture mean less light-gathering power? Yes it does -- but don't forget that the 10x lens is a Mega Optical Image Stabilized piece of glass. The floating elements to minimize camera shake are effective: at 280mm, it is effective enough to gain 2.5-3 stops hand-held (meaning you can shoot as slow as 1/30-1/50 second and not be limited to 1/300 as you would on a non-stabilized lens) with acceptable sharpness and edge clarity in our observations. Half an f/stop loss in maximum aperture? We don't miss it at all.

Our single biggest criticism of the TZ1 was its mediocre noise performance. That was then, using the Venus II image processing engine. The TZ3 is now, with the lastest Venus III engine. Noise is handled much better in the TZ3. It doesn't score the lowest numbers we've ever seen, but scores much better than its predecessor. It only creeps into "Unacceptable" territory at ISO 1250. Here's the numbers for the data hounds:

Resolution is in the middle of the pack for the 7 megapixel class, with a respectable 1730 score (Excellent) at 100. It drops slightly, to Extremely High at 400 (1580), and Very High at ISOs 800 (1480), and 1250 (1380). Our advice is to stay in the lower ISOs and trust the Image Stabilization to gain a stop of light in your exposures.

The TZ3's LCD monitor also gets a half-inch upgrade, to become a 230,000 pixel 3-inch display and viewfinder. It gains up and down automatically, but also includes a "Power Up" mode for severe sunlight, and "High Angle" for those over-the-crowd shots. As the name of the game is compactness, there's no optical viewfinder -- typical for this camera class. There are several live preview display options, from grid, to live histogram, to the option of shrinking the live preview to have the full unobstructed preview framed by right and bottom rails showing the settings aside, not on top of, the scene to be captured.

The build is first rate. The zoom is well-damped, with very little zoom-barrel play, even at long reach. The mode dial atop the camera, in the retro-rangefinder styling of this line, spins nicely with just enough resistance to indicate that quality control is a big part of the design and marketing of this travel cam. The cross-and-center multi-array is on the small side, which may challenge photographers with very large hands. If you can "palm" a basketball, the multi-array may present some challenges.

Autofocus speed in bright and average light is fast -- not the fastest we've ever seen, but it certainly doesn't crawl. At lower light levels, the AF assist beam kicks in to help find focus, and it slows down AF just a bit. There are nine AF zones (3x3 grid covering about 2/3 of frame) and multiple AF point selection settings, along with Single or Continous AF in most settings. Metering options? Average, center-weighted average, and spot, just as you'd find on a DLSR. There's still no full manual mode, but it's not the end of the world -- scene modes can be used to cheat shutter or aperture priority, and there's +/-2 exposure compensation to give the creative shooter a degree of manual-like controls. Again, we'll take the much-improved image quality and bigger sensor, and be happy that two of our three big requests were addressed.

We wish there was RAW, and we'd gladly pay a hundred dollars more for RAW capture in this camera. (We'll also take that full manual mode tossed in for the extra $100.00) as well. But, this camera is still very capable, and very affordable, even if it skips some of the really cool features of its bigger (and pricier) siblings, such as RAW, manual, and user-adjustable noise control settings.

One really great feature for the control freak is the "Speed Rack" image quality menu, which appears on-screen by pressing the Function/Trash button. From here, it's a couple of quick clicks on the multi-controller to adjust white balance, ISO, image quality and more. To put these image quality adjustments so close to top-level and almost one-touch in a compact camera is great for on-the-fly once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunities.

There's a couple of flavors of burst capture. High-speed, maximum quality will capture 5 shots at three frames per second. Low speed will grab 7 shots at standard quality in just under four seconds. There's also the INFINITY SYMBOL burst mode, which starts at 2 frames per second and chugs along until the card is full. It will slow down with a slower card (we strongly suggest an SDHC for this style of shooting), at higher ISOs (aggressive image processing), and at maximum quality (more data to be analyzed and algorithmed to the card.) The best we can tell you is this: it keeps going and going and going, but the ∞ burst is challenging to quantify, since there are a number of scene-specific and setting-specific factors that will affect your results.

Scene modes? Of course. And they cover just about any situation the world traveler might find themselves in -- starry sky, night portrait, aerial, fireworks, sunset, beach, snow, and underwater, to name a few.

Video mode captures at a maximum 640x480 at 30 frames per second at any focal length, but as as very typical of this camera class, there's no zooming during recording. The TZ3 also abandons the fun and silly stop-action video mode of its predecessor -- it was a fun feature, but it just doesn't seem to fit the whole "world traveler" photographer who is the target market for this camera.

If you've been paying attention, you'll have seen the word "travel" or "traveler" several times so far. "TZ" stand for "Travel Zoom" and Panasonic has gone to great lengths to incorporate many features aimed specifically at the frequent flier. Travel Date allows the photographer to pre-set and pre-load the dates and location for a trip, and the time and date will be adjusted accordingly, whether it's Morocco, Macau, or Miami for this photo adventure.

Another great traveler-centric feature is "Clipboard" capture mode. This low-resolution (1 or 2 megapixels) shooting mode writes to the internal memory of the camera, not the SD card. 2 megapixels isn't big enough for an enlargement, but it's plenty big for using the LCD screen to help navigate the sidestreets of Amsterdam off a snapshot of a map. And since these "Clipboard" maps and itineraries are saved to the internal memory, they're always on the camera, even if you swap out SDHC cards.

In playback mode, it's possible to add audio notes to a photo, while the details are still fresh in your mind. There's a calendar view option, and some rudimentary image adjustments, but clearly, the thinking is that the photographer that buys the TZ3 will wait to get home to do the serious image optimization adjustments on their home computer. There's the basic slideshow, with some fade effects and canned music, but the TZ3 isn't a pocket photo editing device -- it's a camera for the serious photographer looking for a compact device to make pictures on their travels.

If you're a High Dynamic Range enthusiast, you'll love that this compact cam has Auto Exposure Bracketing. It is only +/- one EV, but it can be combined with Exposure compensation to bracket a sequence of images all the way from -3 to +3 for your HDR visions. (And even if you're not into HDR, AEB is a great feature in this camera class.)

All in all, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 has a great feature set, easy-to navigate menus, and great optics combined with true image stabilization in a compact, affordable package that is ready for just about any adventure. Toss it in the optional underwater housing, and this digicam is a capable world traveler, on land and at sea.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3

Resolution: Excellent at ISO 100 (1730), Extremely High at ISO 400 (1580), Very High at ISO 800 (1480) and ISO 1250 (1360)

Noise: Low at ISO 100 (1.6), 200 (1.8), and ISO 400 (1.7), Moderately Low at ISO 800 (2.3), and Unacceptable at ISO 1250 (3.1)

Color Accuracy: Excellent. Average Delta E: 7.57 ISO 100 Auto White Balance.

Distortion: Slight Barrel distortion at 28mm/1x (.11%), Slight Pincushion at 140mm/5x (.16%), and 280mm/10x (.18%)

Overall Image Quality, ISO 100-800: Extremely High.

CIPA Battery Life Rating: 270 shots

In the box

• CGA-S007 Rechargeable Lithium-ion Battery
• Battery Charger
• USB Cable
• A/V Cable
• Wrist Strap
• Software CD-ROM (ArcSoft PhotoImpression, ArcSoft Panorama Maker, ArcSoft PhotoBase, USB Driver, Lumix Simple Viewer, Photo Fun Studio)
• User Guide
• 1 Year Parts/90 Days Labor U.S.A. Limited Warranty

Technical Specifications

Camera Effective Pixels: 7.2 Megapixels
Optical Image Stabilizer: MEGA O.I.S. (Mode 1 / Mode 2 )
Optical Zoom: 10x
CCD (Image Sensor): 1/2.35", 8.50 Total Megapixel CCD Primary Color Filter

Extra Optical Zoom
4:3 Aspect Ratio: 12x for 5 Mega, 15x for 3 Mega, 2 Mega, 1 Mega, 0.3 Mega
3:2 Aspect Ratio: 12.6x for 4.5 Mega, 15x for 2.5 Mega
16:9 Aspect Ratio: 13x for 3.5 Mega, 15x for 2 Mega

Digital Zoom (*1): 4x (Max. 40x combined with Optical Zoom without Extended Optical Zoom) (Max. 60x combined with Extended Optical Zoom)
Focal Length: f=4.6-46mm (35mm equiv: 28-280mm)
Leica DC Vario-Elmarit Lens: 11 Elements in 9 Groups (3 Aspherical Lenses/4 Aspherical Surfaces, 1 ED Lens)

Aperture Range
Wide: F3.3/F8 (2 steps)
Tele: F4.9 - F11 (2 steps)

Focusing Area
Normal: Wide 50cm/ Tele 200cm - infinity
Macro, Simple, Intelligent ISO, Motion Image, Clipboard: Wide 5cm/Tele (except for Tele end) 200cm - infinity
Tele Macro (at Tele end): 100cm - infinity

AF Metering
1 point
1 point high speed
3 points high speed
9 points
Spot

Focus
Auto Focus System
Normal/Macro (Dial)
Continuous AF On/Off

AF Assist Lamp: Yes
ISO Sensitivity: Auto / 100 / 200 / 400 / 800 / 1250 (High Sensitivity Mode: 3200)
White Balance: Auto / Daylight / Cloudy / Shade / Halogen / White Set / White Balance Adjustment (+10 steps) (except for auto set)
Exposure: Program AE
Exposure Compensation: 1/3 EV Step, ± 2 EV
Backlight Compensation: Yes (at simple mode)
Auto Bracketing (AE): +1/3EV-1EV Step, 3 Frames
Light Metering: Intelligent Multiple / Center-weighted / Spot
Shutter Speed: 8 - 1/2,000 sec.
Starry Sky Mode: 15, 30, 60 sec.
Self Timer: 10 seconds / 2 seconds
Auto Review: 1 sec/3 sec/zoom
Review: 1x/4x/8x
Picture Adjustment: No
Color Effect Mode: No

Recording Format
JPEG(Design rule for camera file system based on Exif 2.21 standard)
DPOF corresponding
image w/audio:JPEG(Design rule for Camera File system, based on Exif2.23 standard)+QuickTime
Motion image:QuickTime Motion JPEG

Image Quality: Fine/Standard

4:3 Aspect Ratio (Still Image)
3072 x 2304
2560 x 1920
2048 x 1536
1600 x 1200
1280 x 960
640 x 480

3:2 Aspect Ratio (Still Image)
3216 x 2144
2560 x 1712
2048 x 1360

16:9 Aspect Ratio (Still Image)
3328 x 1872
2560 x 1440
1920 x 1080

4:3, 3:2, 16:9 Multiaspect
Motion Image (4:3 Aspect Ratio): 640 x 480, 320 x 240
Motion Image (16:9 Aspect Ratio): 848 x 480

Burst Shooting Mode
Full-Resolution Image: 3 frames/sec or 2 frames/sec
Full-Resolution: Max. 7 images(standard mode), Max. 5 images(fine mode)

Unlimited Consecutive Shooting (*2): Yes
Still Image Recording with Audio: 5 seconds
Audio Dubbing: Maximum of 10 Seconds
Real-time Histograms: Yes
Composition Guide Lines: Yes (2 patterns)
Built-in Memory: 12.7MB
Scene Mode Help Screen: Yes
Auto Angle Detection: Yes
Travel Date: Yes
Economy Mode: Yes

Built-in Flash Mode
Auto, Auto/Red-eye Reduction, Slow Sync./Red-eye Reduction
Forced On/Off
Wide: 0.6 - 4.2m (ISO Auto)
Tele: 0.3 - 2.8m (ISO Auto)

External Flash: No
Viewfinder: No

LCD Monitor
3.0" Diagonal Polycrystalline TFT LCD Display (230k pixels)
Field of view: approx. 100%
Power LCD Mode, High Angle LCD Mode

Playback Mode
25 or 9-Thumbnail Display
Calendar Display, Zoomed Playback (16x max)
Image Rotation
Slide Show
Favorite Pictures
Resizing
Trimming, Protection
DPOF Print Setting

Recording Media
Built-in Memory
SD Memory Card
SDHC Memory Card
MultiMediaCard

Microphone: Yes
Speaker: Yes
Direct Print: PictBridge
Color: Blue

Power Supply
Lithium-ion Battery Pack (3.7V, 1000 mAh)(Included)
AC Adaptor (Input: 110-240V AC)(Optional)

Battery Life (*3): Up to 270 pictures (CIPA Standard)
ArcSoft® PhotoImpression™: Yes
ArcSoft® Panorama Maker™: Yes
ArcSoft® PhotoBase™: Yes
USB Driver: Yes
Lumix® Simple Viewer: Yes
Photo Fun Studio: Yes
Battery Charger: Yes
Battery Pack: Yes
Battery Carrying Case: Yes
SD Memory Card: Not included
Lens Cap: No
Lens Hood & Adaptor: No
Cables: AC, AV & USB
Strap: Yes
Dimensions (H x W x D): 4.20" x 2.37" x 1.47"
Weight: 0.51 lbs

Footnotes:
(*1) As digital magnification increases, resolution significantly decreases.
(*2) Number of shots may vary depending on memory card size, battery power, picture size, and compression. The consecutive shooting speed varies depending on the memory card or the built-in memory.
(*3) Shooting conditions: 73.4°F with 50% humidity;LCD On; Using an SD Memory Card; Starting to shoot 30 seconds after turning on the power; Shooting once every 30 seconds with the flash in full operation for every other shot; Changing the zoom setting from telephoto to wide, or wide to telephoto, for each shot; Temporarily turning the power off after each 10 shots (long enough to lower the battery temperature. For DMC-LC1: Shooting once every 30 seconds, flash in operation for every shot, 77°F(25°C) ambient temperature.

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