Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 Overview
by Theano Nikitas
Review Date: 7/6/2007
Updated Performance: 7/11/2007
The worthy successor to the Panasonic DMC-TZ1, the 7.2 megapixel DMC-TZ3, offers many of the TZ1's benefits including a 10x Leica-branded optical zoom lens and Panasonic's signature Optical Image Stabilization (MEGA O.I.S.). But the TZ3's 10x optical zoom lens--and those of all current Panasonic cameras--starts at 28mm (35mm equivalent), which automatically takes the TZ3's value up a notch or two for offering a true wide angle option. Even with all that lens power, the TZ3 is actually a hair thinner and lighter than its predecessor. It's still not comfortable in a shirt pocket, but it's definitely compact and portable.
That the Panasonic TZ3 has higher ISO capabilities than before (1,250 manually and a push to 3,200) is not as welcome as its high resolution, 3-inch LCD, and the ability to fine-tune white balance. And although the maximum shutter speed is set at 1/2,000--a fairly common number--exposures up to 60 seconds can be made on the other end.
You won't find manual exposure controls nor an optical viewfinder, but the Panasonic TZ3 has a Simple mode for no-brainer shooting, Normal (Program AE) for slightly more control, and a long list of scene modes, 20 in all, including two unique baby modes that record the child's age with each photograph. There's also a special Underwater mode that helps eliminate blue color casts when the Panasonic TZ3 is taken diving or snorkeling with the optional underwater housing. Overall, this is a user-friendly camera and ease of use has been increased with a new Function button for on-the-fly setting changes.
In case you were wondering, the TZ designation refers to Travel Zoom, referring not only to a large 10x zoom in a small package, but also to special features. There's the new Clipboard mode, which allows you to take pictures of maps, timetables and other travel reference materials, eliminating the need to carry extra pieces of paper when vacationing. You can also set your travel dates and the local time at your destination to track your travel shots.
The Panasonic TZ3 scores high marks for its versatile lens, with amazingly little distortion, and its ease of use. Some photographers will miss having aperture- and shutter speed controls but this camera is strong enough to stand on its own without manual exposure controls.
Panasonic Lumix DSC-TZ3 User Report
by Theano Nikitas
Intro. The Panasonic TZ3 may not hold the record for the tiniest 10x optical zoom digital camera on the market, but it comes close. More important is the Panasonic TZ3's one-two punch combination of MEGA O.I.S. and wide angle 10x zoom, which help this camera offer more versatility than most in its class. Whether you're shooting landscapes, wildlife, family reunions, or your child scoring a goal on the soccer field, the TZ3's lens is up to the challenge. Panasonic's optical image stabilization technology is very helpful when the lens is fully extended, and also when low light conditions require a slow shutter speed. Like any image stabilization solution, it's not a panacea, so a tripod is still a good accessory to have when you plan to shoot in low light or want to take advantage of the camera's long exposure capabilities.
Design. Like a Volvo, the Panasonic TZ3's design is boxy but good (if you've seen Dudley Moore's movie Crazy People, you know what I'm talking about). And while it's available in black, silver, and an interesting shade of blue, the camera won't win any fashion awards. That's not to say that the TZ3 is unattractive--it's a nice looking camera--but it's just not as sexy as some other models on the market. But there are few that can handle a 10x optical zoom, so function over form is a good thing; and the Panasonic TZ3 is built to work. It's sturdy and well-built, and the extra weight makes it easier to hold the camera steady.
Thankfully, Panasonic did away with the separate lens cap of the TZ1 and designed the TZ3 with a built-in lens cover, so you won't have to worry about losing or misplacing the plastic cap. The grip isn't as substantial as the TZ1's but it has enough surface and curve to make one-handed shooting possible.
A logical control layout is complemented by a clear, simple-to-navigate menu system. A small mode dial sits atop the camera, along with the shutter button/zoom lever, the on/off switch and a dedicated button to access the MEGA O.I.S. menu. The rear of the Panasonic TZ3 features a large, 3-inch LCD, 4-way arrow buttons, a center Menu button, a Function/Delete control, and the Display/LCD button. Because of the clean, almost minimalist control configuration, there's plenty of room to rest your thumb. The menu system has a virtual mode dial that appears briefly whenever you rotate the physical mode dial, so there's never any question of what mode you're in. Both the control layout and the user interface make this camera a pleasure to use, and beginners can quickly get up to speed after reading the manual.
Display/Viewfinder. Given the size of the camera and the LCD, it's no surprise that the TZ3 lacks an optical viewfinder. But other than high-noon sunlight that sometimes causes reflections, there were few times I missed having an alternative to the high resolution LCD. By pressing and holding the Display/LCD button you can increase brightness or choose a special setting to view the LCD as you hold it overhead. The latter is so bright that it washes out the LCD when viewed straight-on, but from below, the monitor is clear and perfectly usable.
The LCD brightens quickly in low light so it's easy to compose. And the screen retains its clarity, showing little evidence of graininess that strains low light performance of some other cameras.
Multiple on-screen display options, including full information (mode, flash setting, ISO, resolution, compression, battery life, number of pictures remaining, metering mode, O.I.S. setting) a grid overlay and a live histogram. Regardless of OSD mode (on-screen display), the shutter speed and f/stop are displayed when the shutter button is depressed halfway, so you'll always know whether you need to activate optical image stabilization.
OSD options are available in Review mode so you can see shooting information as well as a histogram. The TZ3 also has an interesting Dual Display setting that shows two images at the same time so you can compare them side-by-side to determine which is the better shot--a particularly useful feature when using the camera's bracketing mode.
Performance. Overall, the TZ3's performance was speedy, even considering the lens had to extend on start-up. Setting the camera to Zoom Resume, which returns the lens to the focal length used when powered down, adds a fraction of a second to start-up, but this feature can be turned off. Minimal shutter lag meant few missed shots and shot-to-shot time was brief, even with the flash activated.
Autofocus was rapid and accurate, slowing down only a hair under low light and when the lens was fully extended. But, even at 280mm, the lens didn't have to search for its focus point. And Panasonic's MEGA O.I.S., which can be set to Continuous or Shoot Only, works very well. Of course, how well and at what point the O.I.S. works depends on how steady you can hold the camera. Without an optical viewfinder, you're forced to hold the camera away from your body, thereby increasing the need for image stabilization; add the camera's 280mm telephoto range and O.I.S. becomes even more important. With the lens fully extended and the O.I.S. on Shoot Only, I was able to shoot comfortably at about 2 stops slower than normal.
Beyond its impressive focal range, the lens displayed surprisingly little distortion at either end of the zoom. What was most surprising was the minimal curvature at wide angle, making its 28mm setting even more useful.
Three burst modes are available. First there's a High Speed mode that captures up to five high-quality JPEG images at three frames per second; then there's a Low Speed mode that captures seven standard-compression JPEGs at 2 frames per second; and a Free mode that will shoot at approximately 2 frames per second until the card is full. Although speed will vary depending on a number of factors including ISO and card speed, Panasonic's estimates are pretty much accurate. But things can get a little dicey when you're shooting a moving subject, because exposure and white balance are based on the first frame, and will remain the same for the rest of the shots.
The TZ3's rechargeable lithium-ion battery seemed to meet or exceed its CIPA rating of 270 shots. Even after a full day of shooting, the battery was still going strong.
Auto White Balance was surprisingly accurate under a variety of conditions--even incandescent lighting. But a full complement of white balance presets and a manual option are available, as is the ability to fine-tune blues and reds--a useful feature that's not often found on a camera of this class.
Panasonic raised the ISO to 1,250, which can be set manually, and ISO 3,200 in Intelligent ISO mode on the TZ3. While high ISOs are all the rage, it's rare that these settings are useful for anything but those can't-get-it-otherwise types of shots. Fortunately, in Auto ISO and Intelligent ISO, you can set a maximum limit so the camera doesn't increase sensitivity above a certain ISO. One of the shortcomings of Panasonic digital cameras has always been image noise; and while they've improved noise reduction, it comes at a price. You get softer details due to overagressive noise reduction. I tried to keep the ISO set to 100 whenever possible, and only went up to ISO 800 when absolutely necessary, with the understanding that the size of enlargements would be limited.
Although the camera has a tendency to blow out highlights, the TZ3 generally delivered well-exposed images. Colors were accurate, so those who like highly saturated and bright photos might want to set the TZ3's color to Vivid.
Shooting. Most of my shooting with the Panasonic TZ3 was done at an airshow on a bright, sunny day. One of the reasons I chose to bring the TZ3 was its wide angle capabilities, since I knew there would be static displays of aircraft; and of course I thought the 10x zoom might come in handy to capture the exciting aerobatics. I also took the Casio Z75 and a Canon EOS 1D Mark III, and while I ended up using the Mark III exclusively for the aerobatics, I was disappointed that the TZ3's telephoto range and LCD High Angle viewing abilities didn't allow me to capture some of the action in the sky. Despite the camera's speed, it's almost impossible to follow jet planes without an optical viewfinder.
So the TZ3 wasn't right for that part of the airshow, but its wide angle lens was perfect for shooting the static displays. In the past, not having a true wide angle lens meant that I would either have to shoot only sections of the plane or have to step so far back from the aircraft that the plane would be obstructed by groups of people wandering among the exhibits. While the TZ3 didn't quite cut out all the people, I was able to stay closer to the plane and get the entire (or almost the entire) body in the same frame. I even made use of the High Angle viewing display option on occasion to snap a few pictures of personnel sitting on the top of a couple of the static displays (they, of course, were in an enviable position to shoot the aerobatics unobstructed).
Closer to home, I shot some flower close-ups and other garden/nature scenes. Macro isn't this camera's strong suit, and my flower shots were soft and often overexposed. But the Panasonic TZ3 is fun to shoot with, and given its strong lens, I had no problems leaving the flowers for another day and another camera.
Summary. Despite some image quality issues, the Panasonic TZ3 has many strengths, most notably its 10x optical zoom lens and its MEGA O.I.S. Add good performance, an above average feature set, a compact body, and an affordable price, and it's easy to see why this camera is so appealing regardless of the type of shooting you like to do.
- 7.2-megapixel CCD
- 10x optical zoom lens (equivalent to a 28-280mm lens on a 35mm camera)
- 15x extended optical zoom
- 4x digital zoom.
- 3-inch color LCD monitor
- Automatic exposure
- Built-in flash with red-eye reduction
- SD, SDHC, MMC compatible
- 12.7MB internal memory
- USB full speed connection
- Rechargeable Lithium battery and charger included
- MEGA O.I.S.
- ISO from 100-1,250 with ISO 3,200 Intelligent ISO Mode
- Twenty scene modes
- Live Histogram
- Aspect ratio options
- White Balance fine-tuning feature
- Natural, Vivid, Black & White, Sepia, Warm, Cool color options
- Dual image display in playback
- Above average Motion Picture Mode
- High resolution 3-inch LCD, with High Angle viewing
- Clipboard function for photographing maps, travel material
- Special Baby Scene Modes
- Special Underwater Scene Mode/Optional underwater housing
- Shutter speed from 60 sec - 1/2,000 sec
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TZ3 camera
- Wrist strap
- Rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack, battery case, and charger
- USB cable
- AV cable
- Printed manual
- Software CD with LUMIX Simple Viewer and PHOTOfunSTUDIO Viewer
- Large capacity SD or SDHC card. (These days, 512MB or 1GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity but you'll need a larger card, preferably high speed, for shooting long video clips.)
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Underwater housing for scuba divers/snorkelers (good to a depth of 130 feet)
Though it's not the best looking camera from certain angles, the Panasonic TZ3's images look pretty good; a remarkable improvement from the Panasonic TZ1. The TZ3 has a more conventional zoom design, which results in less distortion overall. Corner sharpness is good, and chromatic aberration is well-controlled, especially impressive when you consider the TZ3's 10x span from a 28mm wide angle to 280mm equivalent.
The TZ3's large, 3-inch LCD offers good resolution, and special modes to enhance viewability when shooting from the side or overhead. It's a nice enough LCD that we really didn't miss the optical viewfinder. The Panasonic TZ3's grip is just right to hold onto this relatively solid camera, and its controls are well-placed, if a little cheap in appearance.
Menus are logically laid out and offer a wide range of custom options. There are no semi-auto or full manual modes on the TZ3, but the camera does tell you what shutter speed and aperture it's set so you know what to expect. Its built-in image stabilization gives you a little extra help with indoor shots, as does the Panasonic TZ3's Intelligent ISO mode. You can even limit how high Auto will take the ISO setting, which is a thoughtful feature for the careful photographer.
We were impressed with the Panasonic TZ3's images, but were interested to find that they actually looked better onscreen than they did printed. They're still good either way, except for some muddiness in red areas as the ISO goes up. Still, for a 7-megapixel digital camera with a 10x zoom to produce quality 11x14 images: that's worthy of note, and a Dave's Pick.