Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3 Review

 
Camera Reviews > Panasonic Lumix Cameras > Lumix Point & Shoot i Express Review
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3
Resolution: 14.10 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/2.33"
Lens: 8.00x zoom
(25-200mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
ISO: 80-6400
Shutter: 60-1/2000
Max Aperture: 3.3
Dimensions: 3.9 x 2.2 x 1.0 in.
(98 x 55 x 26 mm)
Weight: 5.6 oz (159 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $280
Availability: 03/2010
Manufacturer: Panasonic
14.10
Megapixels
8.00x zoom
1/2.33"
size sensor
image of Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3
Front side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3 digital camera Back side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3 digital camera Top side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3 digital camera Left side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3 digital camera Right side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3 digital camera

Imaging Resource rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3 Overview

by Greg Scoblete, Mike Tomkins and Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 11/09/2010

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3 has a slim inch-thick body, and offers an effective sensor resolution of fourteen megapixels from a 1/2.33-inch RGB CCD image sensor. Panasonic has coupled the ZR3's sensor to a Leica DC Vario-Elmar branded 8x optical zoom lens, which offers focal lengths spanning the range from a generous 25mm-equivalent wide angle to a useful 200mm telephoto. Importantly, the Panasonic ZR3's lens features a true optical image stabilization system, with which to fight blur caused by camera shake. The DMC-ZR3's POWER O.I.S. system is said to offer double the stabilizing power of the company's previous generation MEGA O.I.S. systems. The minimum focusing distance for the Panasonic DMC-ZR3 is just three centimeters at wide angle or 100 centimeters at telephoto, when the camera is switched to either the Macro or Intelligent Auto mode. The Panasonic ZR3 has a two-step aperture, which can select between F3.3 or F10.0 at wide angle, and F5.9 or F18.0 at telephoto. There's sadly no optical viewfinder, with the Panasonic ZR3 instead opting solely for a 2.7" LCD display with 230,000 dot resolution, on which images and videos are both framed and reviewed.

The Panasonic DMC-ZR3 has an 11-point multi-area autofocus system which also includes a single-point "high speed" focusing mode. As with many digital cameras these days, there's also a face detection function, with Panasonic's implementation able not only to locate faces and then use the information when calculating both focus and exposure variables, but also to recognize the faces of specific individuals for labelling and prioritizing purposes. The Panasonic Lumix ZR3 also has an implementation of autofocus tracking, which can monitor a subject as it moves around the frame, continuing to update autofocus as required. Unusually, the Lumix ZR3 has a Travel mode which allows the user to specify a destination as well as the travel dates, with the camera then automatically organizing photos by trip.

ISO sensitivity ordinarily ranges from 80 to 1,600, with the ability to extend this as far as ISO 6,400 equivalent in High Sensitivity Auto mode. Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 60 seconds are possible. The Panasonic DMC-ZR3 uses Intelligent Multiple metering, and offers six white balance settings including Auto, Manual, and four fixed presets. A whopping selection of twenty nine scene modes let users tailor the look of their images, useful given that the Panasonic ZR3 doesn't offer aperture-, shutter-priority, or fully manual modes. Among the scene mode choices is a High Dynamic mode which increases dynamic range and offers three settings - standard, art or black and white. There's also an Intelligent Scene Selection function, which can automatically select from a subset of six commonly used scene modes. A five mode flash strobe includes red-eye reduction capability, and has a rated range of up to 5.3 meters at wide angle, or 2.9 meters at telephoto. The Panasonic DMC-ZR3 also includes the company's Intelligent Exposure, Intelligent ISO, and Intelligent Auto functions as seen on past models.

As well as JPEG still images, the Panasonic ZR3 can capture 30 frames-per-second movies with monaural sound, at resolutions of 1280 x 720 pixels or below, using either AVCHD Lite or QuickTime Motion JPEG compression. (AVCHD Lite 720p format is 60p from 30p sensor output.) A new Video Divide function allows in-camera movie splitting, letting users trim away the unwanted portions to keep just the parts of movies that they desire.

Unlike many cameras, the Panasonic ZR3 does allow use of its optical zoom lens during movie recording. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3 stores its images and movies on Secure Digital cards including the newer SDHC and SDXC types. There's also a useful 40MB of built-in memory. Connectivity options include a USB 2.0 High-Speed connection, plus standard definition NTSC / PAL (NTSC only in North America) and high-definition mini HDMI video outputs. Power comes from a proprietary Lithium Ion battery pack with ID-Security feature that prevents use of counterfeit or third-party batteries, and is rated as good for 330 shots on a charge to CIPA testing standards. The software bundle includes PHOTOfunSTUDIO v5.0 HD Edition.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3 shipped from mid-March 2010, priced at around US$280. Four body colors are available - silver, black, red or blue.

 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3
User Report

by Greg Scoblete

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3 is a straightforward, mid-range point-and-shoot digital camera with a retail price tag of $279.95. It packs a 14-megapixel image sensor alongside an 8x optical zoom wide angle lens, and HD video recording in both AVCHD Lite and Motion JPEG file formats. Besides a wide assortment of 29 scene modes, a smattering of color modes and a few "intelligent" functions -- auto mode, ISO, exposure and LCD -- there isn't much to the Panasonic ZR3 in which to get lost. That's good if you're in the market for a basic point-and-shoot, but more advanced users may find themselves feeling somewhat limited.

Look and Feel. The Panasonic ZR3 cuts a modest, somewhat unassuming figure, with silver trim circling the lens barrel, and a silver accent running down the left of the camera body. Panasonic offers the ZR3 in four color choices -- deep black, silver, red, or blue -- catering both for those who want an understated look, and for those who prefer their camera with a little more dramatic flair. The Panasonic ZR3 is quite compact, at 3.85 x 2.15 x 1.02 inches, and weighs 5.6 ounces, including memory card and battery. It's an unobtrusive companion on any excursion, but despite its light weight, the Panasonic ZR3 doesn't feel flimsy or cheap.

A gently rounded grip runs down the left side of the Panasonic ZR3's front panel beneath the mode dial, and is accompanied by a small patch of textured dots on the thumb grip at rear -- the only significant ergonomic details on on its clean, pocket-friendly body.

Controls. The top of the Panasonic ZR3 features a sliding Power switch which is easy to operate and has a firm detent, so it's unlikely you'll accidentally turn the camera on or off. To its right sits a well-sized zoom lever with a responsive shutter button resting in the center. Rounding out the top is a Mode dial that provides access to six operating modes -- Intelligent Auto (iAuto), Program Auto, two slots for user-assigned scene modes, the main Scene mode menu and a Notepad function. This last option saves low resolution images to the camera's internal memory, and doesn't seem particularly worthy of valuable Mode dial real-estate. (Frankly, I never found much use for it at all).

On the back of the camera, clustered to the right of the 2.7-inch LCD display is a switch for toggling between capture and playback modes, a dedicated Movie Record button, and a Four-way Controller that serves double-duty in record mode, providing access to exposure compensation, flash, macro focusing and self-timer options. In the center, a Menu / Set button confirms selections, and accesses the Panasonic ZR3's main menu system. Beneath the Four-way Controller are two smaller buttons, for changing display modes and entering the quick menu, which brings a series of camera functions to the top of the camera's display so you don't have to dig into the more expansive main menu system.

For the most part, the controls on the Panasonic ZR3 are well executed. The shutter button is fairly comfortably within reach shooting single-handed, but with the rear panel dominated by the LCD panel, controls here are quite close to the edge of the camera, and so require use of both hands. The dedicated Movie Record button is a nice touch, since it allows you to quickly start movie recording without switching modes, but it's quite small and flush with camera, so it's harder to turn on than it should be. Both the display and quick menu buttons are also on the small side, but they're raised off the body of the camera, and so not terribly difficult to activate even if -- like me -- you're cursed with sausage-link fingers.

Lens. One of the highlights of the Panasonic ZR3 is its Leica DC Vario-Elmar-branded 8x optical zoom lens, which folds away quite unobtrusively when this svelte Lumix is powered down. When you turn the Panasonic ZR3 on, the lens extends almost three quarters of an inch, and adds a further half inch when zoomed to the 200mm-equivalent telephoto position. At the other end of the range, it offers a 25mm-equivalent wide angle -- useful for fitting in more of your subject when shooting in tighter confines.

The Lumix ZR3 offers what Panasonic dubs Intelligent Zoom, which the company says boosts the zoom range by 1.25x to 10x -- or 250mm equivalent -- while still retaining sharpness and details. Intelligent Zoom is a form of digital zoom -- that is to say, it takes data from the sensor and interpolates the missing data required to save the image with larger overall dimensions. Thanks to some clever processing and it's relatively modest magnification level, though, images don't appear to suffer much for its use. The Panasonic ZR3 also offers a traditional 4x digital zoom function, which will take you out to 800mm equivalent (or 1,000mm equivalent when using Intelligent Zoom) -- but with an accompanying decrease in resolution and detail.

Panasonic also offers an Extra Optical Zoom function, which operates only at resolutions below the ZR3's native 14 megapixels, and simply crops the central portion from the image sensor. Since there's no interpolation involved, there's no loss in detail, and the function does allow you to frame, focus, and meter as if you had the extra optical zoom range available. In terms of subject detail, there's no advantage over simply cropping the image in post-processing, however, and once an image is saved with extra optical zoom in use, there's no way to restore the data that was cropped and discarded, if you later discover you've accidentally cut off part of your subject. Extra Optical Zoom boosts the effective telephoto to 238mm equivalent at 10 megapixels, 283mm at 7 megapixels, 338mm at five megapixels, or 423mm at resolutions of three megapixels or below. While Intelligent Zoom and digital zoom can be disabled, Extra Optical Zoom is always active when the Panasonic ZR3's resolution is set to anything below its native 14 megapixels.

Pocket friendly, but with plenty of zoom reach

All photos in this series were taken from the same position. The 25mm wide angle (above left) will help you fit in your subject when you can't simply take a few steps back, while the 200mm zoom (above right) should give enough reach for most shooting situations.

Enabling Intelligent Resolution (above left) boosts perceived sharpness a little, at the expense of some added noise. Intelligent Zoom (above right) combines this with a modest 1.25x zoom, yielding an effective 250mm focal length without too much loss in image quality.

The digital zoom function takes you out to 800mm equivalent (above left), or 1,000mm equivalent when using Intelligent Zoom (above right), but with a fairly dramatic drop in image quality compared to the uninterpolated source image.

The lens on the Panasonic ZR3 is composed of nine elements in seven groups, with four aspherical elements, and offers a two-step aperture. At wide angle, aperture choices are either f/3.3, or f/10.0, and as you progress through the zoom range, the aperture values gradually increase, until reaching either f/5.9 or f/18.0 near the telephoto position.. The lens is optically stabilized, and this stabilization is available for both still and movie recording. (Some cameras with optical stabilization limit its use only to still image capture, and require use of digital stabilization for movie capture.) Panasonic's Power O.I.S. stabilization system offers three operating modes - Auto, Mode 1 (which corrects for shake continuously, allowing you to preview the stabilizer's effect on the LCD display) or Mode 2 (which kicks in only as you press the shutter). You can also turn it off completely. Unfortunately, Panasonic buries the stabilization function in the Record menu, so you'll have to dig a bit to change it, even though it seems like a more useful function to put in the quick menu than some of the other items listed, such as the video format. The stabilizer is automatically switched on for you in iAuto and certain scene modes.

Macro focusing. Able to focus down to just 3cm, the Panasonic ZR3 can almost create the illusion that coarse beach sand consists of small boulders, although it can be tricky focusing so close without casting a shadow on your subject.

The Panasonic ZR3 is ordinarily capable of focusing as close as 1.6 feet (50 cm), but offers two macro modes that let you get much closer to the subject. In AF Macro mode, the full zoom range is available, and minimum focusing distance varies between 0.1 feet (3 cm) and 3.3 feet (1 m) across the zoom range. In Macro Zoom mode, the lens is fixed at the wide angle position, yielding the same 0.1 foot (3 cm) focusing distance, and only digital zoom is available. There are also several auto focus modes on offer in the Panasonic ZR3, including face detection, 11 point, AF tracking, one area high speed, one area and spot.

Modes. The Panasonic ZR3 is well stocked with scene modes, with a generous selection of 29 scene types on offer.

If you're confused as to the influence of a particular mode, a press of the Display button in the Scene Mode menu will call up an info screen, providing a brief description of what the mode does. It's a shame that this explanatory assist isn't offered anywhere else in the Panasonic ZR3's operation. As well as the Scene Mode position on the Mode dial, there are two My Scene Mode positions -- MS1, and MS2. Each allows you to select one of the 29 available scene modes, and then recalls that scene mode immediately when selected with the Mode dial. It's a useful idea, saving you time browsing the Scene Mode menu for your most commonly-used modes.

Scene modes

Compared to a Program Auto exposure (above left), the Landscape scene mode (above right) has slightly higher contrast and saturation. It also fixes focus at infinity, and disables the flash.

The Aerial Photo scene mode (above left) is similar to Landscape mode, but boosts contrast and saturation a little further. The Pin Hole scene mode (above right) drops saturation and sharpness, adds a vignetting effect, disables i.Resolution, and sets focus to infinity.

The High Dynamic scene mode offers three preset types, with sensitivity fixed at ISO 400 equivalent. Standard (above left) pulls detail out of shadow areas, while aiming for a reasonably natural look. Art (above right) boosts saturation for a punchier look.

The final High Dynamic preset, B&W (above left) offers a black and white image with detail restored in shadow areas. By contrast, the Film Grain scene mode offers a contrasty, grainy black and white image, by locking the sensitivity at ISO 1600 equivalent.

Panasonic's iAuto mode is available for both stills and movies. When shooting stills, iAuto will select from Portrait, Scenery, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Sunset, or Macro scene types. In addition, when face recognition is enabled, iAuto mode can recognize a Baby scene type when the face of an infant is detected in the scene. For movie recording, iAuto recognizes a more limited selection of scene types, including Portrait, Scenery, Low Light and Macro. The iAuto function works as advertised, with the icon on the LCD switching as the scene changes. It doesn't remain on the screen though, only flashing briefly when it changes, and so can be a bit tough to know how the camera's reacting and if it's choosing the appropriate mode.

You can set some parameters for how iAuto mode will operate. For instance, an "intelligent ISO" function lets you designate the maximum ISO the Panasonic ZR3 will use when it decides it needs to boost camera sensitivity (you can choose either ISO 400, 800 and 1,600). Although the results at ISO 800 were decent, it's best to leave the Panasonic ZR3 at a default of ISO 400.

Finally, the Program Auto mode provides access to all available camera settings, but doesn't allow direct control over aperture or shutter speed.

Both iAuto and Auto modes offer the ability to tweak the look of images, courtesy of a Color Mode function in the Record menu, but the precise selection differs depending on the operating mode. Three Color Modes are available for both Auto and iAuto shooting -- Standard, Black & White, or Sepia. In addition, iAuto mode enables a "Happy" mode, which boosts saturation, while Auto mode offers Natural, Vivid, Cool, and Warm color modes.

Intelligent Auto vs. Program Auto

Intelligent Auto mode includes scene recognition capability, and here selects i-Scenery mode (above left), yielding a similar result to the Landscape scene mode shown previously, but uses a slightly shorter exposure. Compared to the Program Auto exposure (above right), the result is a contrasty, saturated image that loses shadow detail in areas such as the tree trunk.

HD Movie Capture. The Panasonic ZR3 offers two HD video formats for recording 1,280 x 720 pixel, progressive scan video: AVCHD Lite, and the more widely available Motion JPEG (which creates ".mov" files). AVCHD Lite is a variant of the AVCHD file format, jointly developed by Panasonic and Sony, and found on higher-end HD camcorders from a variety of manufacturers. AVCHD Lite videos are saved with a .mts file extension, while Motion JPEG videos have a .mov extension.

In AVCHD Lite mode, capture resolution is fixed at 1,280 x 720 pixels, but you can set quality settings much like you would on a camcorder: Super High (SH, with a maximum bit rate of 17Mbps), High (H, with a 13Mbps bit rate) and Low (L, recorded at 9Mbps). In Motion JPEG, you can't adjust the compression level, but instead can select from four resolutions -- 1,280 x 720 (HD), 848 x 480 (WVGA), 640 x 480 (VGA), or 320 x 240 (QVGA), allowing you to conserve memory card space.

The sales pitch for AVCHD Lite is that it not only delivers higher quality footage than Motion JPEG video, but does so with a considerably lower file size, allowing you to store more video on your memory card. And, in fact, the AVCHD Lite videos recorded on the Panasonic ZR3 delivers on both promises - the video quality at 720p was superb for a point and shoot still camera. The colors were crisp and there was very little pixelation, even under some challenging conditions. Plus, the file sizes were indeed much smaller than comparably long video recorded at the same resolution, using Motion JPEG compression.

HD movies. You'll enjoy near camcorder-like high def video thanks to the Panasonic ZR3's AVCHD Lite recording.

In fact, when you compare the videos captured in AVCHD Lite to the movie clips recorded in Motion JPEG you'll wonder why Panasonic even bothered to offer a choice for Motion JPEG. That is, until you import the video files onto computer. If you haven't updated your PC in a while, your computer may struggle with editing AVCHD video files coming off the Panasonic ZR3, or perhaps have issues even viewing them at all.

Panasonic does bundle its PhotofunStudio HD edition software for viewing and doing some light editing on your AVCHD files, but the software isn't much of an organizer or an editor, and is pretty cumbersome if you want to do any serious work with your photos or videos. Besides, without a decent processor and copious memory -- I'd recommend at least 2GHz with 2GB of RAM -- you could find yourself quite frustrated when it comes to viewing the Panasonic ZR3's AVCHD Lite movies.

Movie Compression

Side-by-side, the video recorded in AVCHD Lite (left) is sharper, with less pixelation than in the Motion JPEG clip (right).

Helpfully when filming distant subjects, the Panasonic ZR3 can use both its 8x optical zoom lens and its optical image stabilization function during video recording and there's very little pickup of the zoom motor or stabilization mechanism on the Panasonic ZR3's monaural microphone. It also offers an HDMI output, allowing you to view your videos on the big screen, which you'll most assuredly want to do.

Face Recognition. The Panasonic ZR3 offers face detection capability, but goes a step further than many cameras, in that it can also be programmed to recognize the faces of specific individuals. Whenever they pop up in future frames, the Panasonic ZR3 will prioritize them over any unrecognized faces, when optimizing focus and exposure on them. You can also input the person's name and date of birth, so that photos containing them will be tagged with that information. You can also program the Panasonic ZR3 to display a custom icon next to the focusing frame whenever your special subject swims into view.

Sounds great, in theory. In practice, setting up the face recognition function isn't simple. It took the Panasonic ZR3 several tries to register a face, and the first face I was able to successfully register wasn't recognized by the camera after I jumped out of the mode. A few valiant attempts later, I successfully registered a face and got the desired response from the Panasonic ZR3. There is some utility in face recognition, leaving aside the somewhat cumbersome set-up. If you're shooting in crowded areas, it's nice to have the camera be selective with its face detection, but the effort/reward ratio for enabling the feature is such that you'd really have to want it, to make it worthwhile. Keep in mind that if you leave face recognition on, you can't adjust the Panasonic ZR3's autofocus settings, as it (quite naturally) stays locked on face detection.

Menus. Panasonic makes good use of the ZR3's 2.7-inch LCD display, with large icons that are easy to scroll through and an accessible menu structure that makes finding what you need simple and straightforward -- just as it should be.

In the main menu, there are four tabs for adjusting shooting and video settings, plus a travel mode where you can designate the date and duration of a trip, key in the name of your destination and the time zone you'll be in. There's also a tab for basic camera settings. Conveniently, you can jump out of the menu whenever you want by half-pressing the shutter button.

The Panasonic ZR3 also includes a separate Quick menu, accessed via a dedicated button, which brings up several functions on the LCD display for faster access. When in Program auto, the Quick menu will let you select Drive mode, AF mode, White Balance mode, ISO sensitivity, Intelligent Exposure, image size, video file format, video quality (for AVCHD Lite) or resolution (for Motion JPEG), and LCD power mode. When you're shooting in iAuto, the quick menu options are cut down to just Drive mode, image size, video file format, video quality / resolution and auto power LCD.

The Quick menu is also available in Scene mode shooting, but the precise selections available vary depending on the mode in use. Overall, the quick menu function is a nice touch -- it gets you at the functions you're likely to want at your finger tips without having to dig through the full menu.

Memory and Battery. The Panasonic ZR3 packs 40MB of internal memory -- a little more generous than some cameras, but still only enough for around seven frames at full resolution, or perhaps 90 seconds of QVGA video, so an SDHC card is a must. The Panasonic ZR3 accepts higher capacity SDXC cards too, providing a small measure of future-proofing. You can copy images between the SD card slot and internal memory (or vice versa) in camera.

The Panasonic ZR3's lithium ion battery is rated for 330 shots, which is a pretty good duration for a camera in this class. The battery/memory card compartment is locked securely with a easy-to-open latched door beneath the camera. A separate bay on the right of the camera houses the HDMI high definition video output, and a USB port. It swings open and shut smoothly, but doesn't latch.

Fall color. The Panasonic ZR3 renders the last gasp of these vivid fall colors nicely, and offers a good balance of detail versus noise in this low-ISO scene.

Shooting. The Panasonic ZR3 delivers what a basic point-and-shoot should: it's inconspicuous when you're not using it, starts up briskly, and offers a decent shot-to-shot interval when it's time to shoot, which is especially impressive in a camera with a longer optical zoom lens.

Image quality. While most of my shots were exposed well, I noticed an occasional tendency to blow highlights under harsh sunlight. In this scene, the Panasonic ZR3 did pretty well, though, with only very slight red channel clipping on the boy's nose, and blue channel clipping on his T-shirt.

I bounced between iAuto and some of the Panasonic ZR3's numerous scene modes on a pair of "daycations," and was quite pleased with the results. Intelligent Auto generally delivers on its promise of matching up the right scene mode, although I found it didn't always get it right in lower light environments.

Some of my snapshots were a bit over-exposed in the sun, and in a few cases the skin tones were off, but nothing too egregious. I kept the Intelligent ISO at a max of 400 and couldn't find much to complain about when the lights went down.

One nice aspect of the Panasonic ZR3 that I discovered while shooting with it is the LCD display. It's not huge by today's standards, but it offers an auto brightness feature which adjusts to ambient lighting to provide a clear view of your scene regardless of the surrounding lighting. I spent a fair amount of time drenched in sun, and had no trouble properly framing scenes. You can turn off this auto-brightening function if you desire, or set the LCD to its maximum brightness, understanding that you'll accelerate battery drain in the process.

Automatic White Balance

Auto white balance was for the most part accurate, but not infallible. Here, the Daylight preset (left) offered a more accurate assessment of this golden hour scene, with Auto mode (right) yielding a rather cool result, by contrast.

Another feature I found helpful was AF tracking, which lets you lock onto a subject and keep focus on it, even as it moves across the frame. I put this to perhaps the ultimate test at an amusement park, locking in on a ride before it got rolling and watching as the Panasonic ZR3's focus icon darted across the display. AF tracking works quite well, though it did get a bit confused by the circular motion of the ride. It's better suited for tracking a subject moving horizontally.

When it came time to film some faster action, I experimented with the Panasonic ZR3's burst modes. The full resolution burst mode clocks in at a leisurely 1.8 frames per second (fps). You can also avail yourself to a Hi-Speed Burst scene mode, with two priority settings. The Hi-Speed Burst mode shaves the resolution down to 3-megapixels, but offers a choice of either 10fps in Speed priority mode, or 6 fps in Image priority mode. Both modes lock focus and exposure from the first frame in the burst, and nor is there any change in compression levels used by either mode, so despite the inference in the names, it appears that burst rate is the only difference.

Playback. The Panasonic ZR3 offers several playback options, including a slideshow which can be tweaked to play stills or video only, or only videos tagged in certain categories (the categories correspond to the camera's scene modes).

There's also a calendar view, and you can add image titles using the controller and a virtual keyboard, although it's not something you're likely to want to do too much of in-camera. Some basic video editing is also available, such as a video divide function which lets you cut snippets of recorded video in half.

You can add text to photos (which are re-saved as a 3-megapixel copy), or resize images from 14-megapixels to either 3-megapixels or 0.3-megapixels for emailing. Other in-camera editing options include cropping, leveling and tagging. All in all a fairly substantial set of post-capture options for a compact camera.

 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3 Lens Quality


Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Soft, lower right
Tele: Sharpest at center
Tele: Mild blurring, upper right corner

Sharpness: Both the wide-angle and telephoto ends of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3's zoom show mild blurring in the corners of the frame compared to what we see at center. At wide-angle, blurring doesn't extend very far into the main image area, though at telephoto some softness extends further. There is also some noticeable flare as you move away from the center at both ends of the zoom. Still, good results overall.


Wide: Low barrel distortion; only slightly noticeable
Tele: A tiny amount of barrel distortion, barely visible

Geometric Distortion: There is surprisingly little barrel distortion at wide-angle (0.4%), and very little pincushion distortion (0.05%) at telephoto. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3's processor works hard here.


Wide: Moderate
Tele: Very low

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is moderate, with quite a few bright blue pixels visible on top of the black target lines, and a hint of yellow pixels on the opposite side. Telephoto shows less noticeable distortion, with only a suggestion of blue pixels.


Macro
Macro with Flash

Macro: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3's Macro mode captures a fairly sharp image at center, with strong detail. However, blurring is moderate in the corners of the frame, with a hint of chromatic aberration (a common limitation among consumer digital cameras in macro mode). Minimum coverage area is 1.66 x 1.25 inches (42 x 32mm), which is quite good. Flash performance is poor at this close range, as the lens creates a strong shadow in the lower left corner, and the rest of the exposure is uneven as well.


 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3 Viewfinder Accuracy


Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor

Viewfinder Accuracy: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3's LCD monitor showed about 100% coverage accuracy at wide-angle and at telephoto, which is very good.


 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3 Image Quality


Color: Overall color looks pretty good, though some bright reds and blues are pumped a little high, while bright yellows are actually a little muted. Hue is also a little off for colors like yellow, green, cyan, red, and orange. Dark skintones are significantly shifted toward orange-yellow, while lighter skin tones are just about spot-on. Overall about average performance.


Auto WB:
Reddish
Incandescent WB:
Too warm
 
Manual WB:
Good, just a hint cool

Incandescent: Manual white balance handled our incandescent lighting best overall, despite a very slight cool tint. Auto produced a slightly reddish tint, while Incandescent mode was quite warm.


Horizontal: 2,200 lines
Vertical: 2,200 lines

Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,200 lines per picture height horizontally, and to about 2,200 lines vertically. Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,600-2,800 lines per picture height.


Wide: Inconclusive

Tele: Dim

Auto Flash

Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) doesn't work well at wide angle when the reported distance goes beyond 16 feet, because that takes the camera out of the main lab, so the wide-angle result is inconclusive at 17.4 feet and ISO 320. The telephoto test came out dark at 9.5 feet, despite a significant ISO increase to 800.

Auto flash produced dark results in our indoor portrait scene, retaining little ambient light despite a slightly slower shutter speed of 1/40 second, and ISO boost to 200. At 1/40 second, it is still possible to hand-hold the camera without significant blurring, but a tripod and even slower exposure will yield better results here. Subject motion blur could be a problem however, especially with wiggly kids, etc.


80
100
200
400
800
1,600

ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is good at ISO 80 on up to 200, with some minor softening at ISO 400. Chroma (color) noise remains under control up to about 1,600, where we also see the biggest break-down in detail. Noise suppression efforts are also to blame for losses in definition from 400 on up. See Printed results below for more on how this affects prints.


Printed: The Panasonic ZR3 produces good 13x19-inch prints from ISO 80 images, though corners are slightly soft at this size, and chromatic aberration does show up.

ISO 100 shots look about the same at 13x19 inches.

ISO 200 images look better at 11x14 inches, and the softness in the corners isn't as pronounced at this size.

ISO 400 files print very well at 11x14 inches. There's just a hint of noise emerging in the shadows, but it's not bad at all.

ISO 800 images have surprisingly good detail at 8x10, with good color and contrast.

ISO 1,600 shots are quite good printed at 5x7, with good detail and color.

Overall, it's a pretty good printed performance for the Panasonic ZR3. Panasonic was wise to limit the ISO to 1,600 at full resolution.


 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3 Performance


Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is quite good, at 0.31 second at wide-angle and 0.33 second at full telephoto. Prefocused shutter lag is 0.010 second, also very good.


Cycle Time: Cycle time is fairly good, capturing a frame every 1.99 seconds in single-shot mode. Panasonic rates the ZR3's full-resolution continuous mode at 1.8 frames-per-second for 5 standard JPEGs or 3 fine, but we didn't test that. High speed modes up to 10 frames-per-second are also available at reduced resolutions of 3 megapixels or less.


Flash Recycle: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3 flash recycles in about 6 seconds after a full-power discharge, on the slower side of average.


Low Light AF: The Panasonic ZR3's AF system was able to focus down to just below the 1/4 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, though the camera was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled.


USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3's download speeds are quite fast. We measured 6,499 KBytes/sec.


 

In the Box

The retail package contains the following items:

  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3 body
  • Battery pack
  • Battery charger
  • Battery case
  • AV cable
  • USB cable
  • Hand strap
  • Software CD-ROM

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Panasonic ZR3 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Slim and trim form factor
  • Good quality wide-angle lens with image stabilization
  • Excellent HD video recording in 720p AVCHD Lite
  • Optical zoom and stabilizer both work while recording movies
  • Dedicated movie record button
  • Quick menu streamlines camera operation
  • Speedy autofocus
  • Very fast shutter lag
  • Good cycle times
  • Very fast 10fps burst rate at low resolution
  • Large selection of scene and color modes
  • Two My Scene Mode dial positions
  • Generally easy to use for casual shooters
  • HDMI output
  • Auto power LCD improves image framing
  • Good macro mode
  • Low geometric distortion
  • Decent battery life
  • Pretty good printed performance for its class
  • Face recognition set up is cumbersome
  • Movie shutter button is often difficult to activate
  • No manual or priority exposure modes
  • 2-step aperture
  • Mode dial is too easily turned
  • Some over-exposure
  • Moderate chromatic aberration at wide-angle
  • Some flare visible wide-open
  • Strong noise reduction softens detail starting at ISO 400
  • Full resolution burst mode a little slow
  • No optical viewfinder
  • Included software is clumsy
  • Mono microphone
  • Weak flash

 

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR3 delivers almost all of what you want in your basic point-and-shoot digital camera. It's slim and trim but designed well enough that there aren't many trip-ups while shooting. There are ample scene modes and "intelligent" functions which let the camera do the photographic leg work for you, but there's not much for the photo enthusiast to tinker with. For the most part, the Intelligent Auto mode delivers excellent snapshots, although you'll need to be on the lookout for occasional overexposure and some off-color skin tones. The Panasonic ZR3 starts up briskly and shot-to-shot time affords ample opportunity for catching your moment.

Unquestionably, the highlight of the Panasonic ZR3 is its HD video capture using the AVCHD Lite video format, which produces much crisper video without creating huge files to clog your memory card. But you'll need a robust CPU if you want to actually enjoy -- let alone edit or share -- those videos on your computer. Fortunately, you can drop to Motion JPEG videos if your computer can't handle the AVCHD Lite files. The bottom line: the Panasonic ZR3 is a competent compact that's packed with just enough features to keep your average shooter engaged and amused until it's time for the next upgrade. A Dave's Pick.

 

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