Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ3 Review

 
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Panasonic LZ3 Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Generally good color and saturation, though some moderate color casts (either warm or reddish).

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.

Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life. The Lumix DMC-LZ3 produced good saturation overall, though it did pump up strong reds and blues a little. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc. Here, the DMC-LZ3 performed well, and captured natural-looking skin tones with only a hint of added pink.

The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is. The Lumix DMC-LZ3 shifted some colors, mainly cyan toward blue, blue toward purple, and orange toward yellow (though this is common among digital cameras for better-looking skies and richer reds).

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Strong warm cast with the Incandescent white balance setting, though more accurate results with Auto and Manual. Average exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance +1.0 EV Incandescent WB +1.0 EV
 
Manual White Balance +1.0 EV  

The DMC-LZ3's Auto and Manual white balance options both produced nearly accurate results here, though the Manual setting was more pleasing because of its slightly warmer color. (The Auto setting was a hint reddish.) The DMC-LZ3 required average exposure compensation for this shot, at +1.0 EV. Overall color looks good, though the blue flowers are a hint dark and purplish. (A very common outcome for this shot.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the US.

Outdoors, daylight
Good color balance with very bright colors. Good exposure accuracy as well.

Auto White Balance, +0.7 EV Auto White Balance, Auto Exposure

Outdoor shots generally showed accurate exposure with slightly blown out highlights. Shadow detail was pretty good, with some limitations, and though the highlights were generally bright, they held onto a fair amount of detail as well. Exposure accuracy overall was slightly better than average, the camera requiring a tad less exposure compensation than we're accustomed to seeing with consumer digicams.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
High resolution, 1,200 lines of strong detail.

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,200 lines per picture height, with extinction at around 1,700. (The camera did produce a few slight color artifacts at lower line frequencies, visible in the full-sized res target shots.) Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail. Beware that while you might be able to make out what looks like distinct lines at numbers higher than those we've mentioned here, the camera is just doing its best to continue interpreting the lines.

Strong detail to 1,200 lines horizontal Strong detail to 1,200 lines vertical

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Sharp images, with some blurring of detail from noise suppression.

Good definition of high-contrast elements, though some coarsening from over-sharpening. Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail in areas of subtle contrast, as in the darker parts of Marti's hair here, and even across some of the lighter parts.

The Lumix DMC-LZ3's images are pretty sharp, though with a little over-sharpening from the camera in high contrast areas, such as in the tree limbs above. (Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.)

Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears. The crop at far right shows moderate noise suppression in both the darker and lighter areas of Marti's hair, which limits fine detail.

ISO & Noise Performance
High noise with strong blurring, especially at the higher ISO settings.

ISO 80 ISO 100
ISO 200 ISO 400

Noise was moderately high at the DMC-LZ3's lowest ISO setting, though with a fair amount of blurring. At ISOs 200 and 400, noise is very high, with intense blurring that makes the images look more like illustrations than photographs. Really a very poor performance here, the glaring low point in the LZ3.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
Detail and resolution both good overall, though limited shadow detail and high contrast. Pretty good color as well, just a hint reddish. Pretty good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images under average city street lighting and slightly darker conditions.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

Sunlight:
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)

The Lumix DMC-LZ3 produced high contrast in response to the harsh lighting above, with limited shadow detail and bright highlights. Noise is somewhat high, and the camera's noise suppression system contributes to the loss of detail in the shadows. Overall exposure looked best with a +0.7 EV exposure compensation boost, as the highlights began to overpower the shot with a +1.0 EV adjustment. (In "real life" though, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.)

 

  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
ISO
80
Click to see LZ3LL03.JPG
2 sec
f2.8
Click to see LZ3LL04.JPG
3.2 sec
f2.8
Click to see LZ3LL05.JPG
6 sec
f2.8
Click to see LZ3LL06.JPG
8 sec
f2.8
Click to see LZ3LL07.JPG
8 sec
f2.8

 

Low light:
Despite its maximum shutter time of eight seconds, the Lumix DMC-LZ3 was only able to capture usable images down to the 1/2 foot-candle light level (about 1/2 as bright as average city street lighting at night). Still, this should be sufficient for most average consumer needs.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.

Flash

Coverage and Range
The DMC-LZ3's powerful telephoto lens extends the capabilities of the flash, though results are good closer in. Our standard shots required slightly less than average positive exposure compensation.

37mm equivalent 222mm equivalent
Normal Flash +0.7 EV Slow-Sync Flash +1.0 EV

Flash coverage was only slightly uneven at wide angle, and practically nonexistent at telephoto. (The DMC-LZ3's very long lens surpasses the flash capabilities.) In the Indoor test, the flash underexposed our subject slightly at its default setting, requiring a +0.7 EV exposure compensation adjustment, which is better than average. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced slightly brighter and more even results, though with a stronger pinkish-orange cast from the room lighting. Here, the exposure looked best with a +1.0 EV exposure compensation adjustment.

8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft
Click to see LZ3FL08.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.7
ISO 100
Click to see LZ3FL09.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.8
ISO 100
Click to see LZ3FL10.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.9
ISO 100
Click to see LZ3FL11.JPG
1/30 sec
f4.1
ISO 100
Click to see LZ3FL12.JPG
1/30 sec
f4.2
ISO 100
Click to see LZ3FL13.JPG
1/30 sec
f4.4
ISO 100
Click to see LZ3FL14.JPG
1/30 sec
f4.4
ISO 100

 

The DMC-LZ3's flash was brightest at the eight foot distance, and slowly decreased in intensity from there. At 14 feet, results are quite dim.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality, okay color, usable 8x10 inch prints. ISO 400 images are only usable at 4x6.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5000 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)

With the Panasonic LZ3, we found that it had enough resolution to make decent 8x10 inch prints. At 11x14, its prints were unacceptable. Image quality deteriorates quickly as early as ISO 200, which produces a pretty stippled image at 8x10, and by the time you reach ISO 400 it looks like you're looking at the 8x10 through a translucent shower door. ISO 400 images are reasonably passable at 5x7, but finally usable at 4x6. We suggest you use the LZ3 only for 4x6 shooting. Color-wise, the Panasonic LZ3's images looked good when printed on the Canon iP5000, with somewhat more muted color as we moved up the ISO ladder.

 

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ3 Photo Gallery.

Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!

Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ3 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.

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