Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 Review
Review Date: March 26th 2007
The new Panasonic DMC-TZ3 camera is a significant update of last year's popular TZ1 model. The most significant change has been made to the Leica lens. It still offers 10x focal length in a compact body, but instead of starting at 35mm, the Panasonic TZ3 now offers a range of 28-280mm. Sure, you lose 70mm from the telephoto end, but many photographers will applaud Panasonic's move to a more wide-angle field of view. The megapixel count has increased from 5 to 7.2, and the LCD screen is now a massive 3 inches in size (up from 2.5 inches on the old model). The Panasonic TZ3 also features a new Intelligent ISO shooting mode to help prevent motion blur, and Extra Optical Zoom, which uses the central part of the CCD sensor to extend the zoom up to 15x (although only at 3 megapixel resolution). The main problem with the DMC-TZ1 was noisy images at relatively low ISO speeds, so does the new Panasonic DMC-TZ3 improve in that crucial area, despite the megapixel increase? Read the rest of my review to find out.
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Ease of Use
At first glance the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 strikes you as being a little large, elongated and bulky, feeling similar in size to the Canon "A" series cameras. Then you have to remind yourself that Panasonic have somehow fitted in a 10x zoom lens equivalent to 28-280mm on a 35mm camera. Other models of this size typically offer a 3x or 4x zoom lens. Even when set to 280mm, the lens doesn't extend far from the front of the TZ3, looking to all intents and purposes like a "normal" camera. This helps to make the DMC-TZ3 a great candid camera, as people assume that it's just a standard point and shoot model. Panasonic have opted for a wider focal range than the older TZ1 model offered (35-350mm), which trims 70mm off the telephoto end of the zoom, but provides an entirely new wide angle of view that can only increase your creativity. Take it from me, you won't want to go back to a "standard" 35mm zoom after using the 28mm lens on the DMC-TZ3, and it's a very welcome move by Panasonic. The 10x zoom lens obviously makes this one of the most versatile compacts in terms of focal range, especially as it is coupled with Panasonic's Mega O.I.S system, which helps to ensure that the majority of photos taken in good light are sharp.
The DMC-TZ3 is a quite well-built camera, with a high quality plastic body and controls. The camera's design is dominated by the large 10x lens on the front and the massive 3 inch LCD screen on the rear. There is no optical viewfinder, which follows a recent trend in digital cameras, and this does make the camera a little harder to keep steady at the telephoto end of the zoom than holding it up to your eye. The combination of chunky hand-grip, (more rounded than on the older TZ1), 4cm thick body and 257g weight partly make up for this. The DMC-TZ3 is well-made overall, although there are a couple of external controls that don't instill much confidence. The cover for the battery compartment and SD card slot feels a little insubstantial and is locked using a cheap plastic switch, whilst the plastic tripod socket is positioned in the bottom-left corner of the camera, which doesn't make it very stable on a tripod. Overall. though, the DMC-TZ3 has a "substantial" feel.
As this is purely a point and shoot camera with no manual controls, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 is not overly complex in terms of the number of external controls that it has. I counted 12 in total. The majority of the controls are clearly labeled and common to most cameras. There's a traditional dial on the top of the camera that lets you select the various shooting and scene modes, plus image playback. This dial is a typical feature of SLR cameras, and enables you to quickly change between the various modes. It does have one drawback - you have to keep switching between the shooting or playback modes, rather than just pressing a button to review your images whilst in a shooting mode, as on most other digital cameras (although the Rev button on the back of the camera provides limited playback functionality). Interestingly there are two Scene modes on the dial, both of which offer exactly the same options, but which can be set independently of each other, allowing a little customization of the camera setup. Also found on the top of the camera are the on/off switch, zoom lever, shutter button and the optical image stabilisation button. On the rear of the camera is a new Func button, which is a very welcome addition, as it provides quick access to most of the principal creative controls, including ISO speed, image size, image quality and white balance (there are 6 settings in total). You can still access all of these options from the main menu system too.
Panasonic have added a new Extra Zoom feature to the DMC-TZ3, which basically works by digitally increasing the zoom from 10x up to a maximum of 15x by only using the central part of the image. To achieve that increase, though, a smaller image size has to be selected by the user. Choosing the 3 megapixel mode means that you can zoom up to 15x, whilst 5 megapixel provides a 12x zoom (both in the 4:3 aspect ratio). Fairly useful if you don't mind the decrease in resolution, but you do have to set the camera to the right picture size before the extra zoom function works. It would have been a much better system if the camera intelligently increased the zoom and then decreased the size of the image. Also, the maximum zoom levels in the 3:2 and 16:9 modes aren't quite as good (12.6x at 4.5M and 13x at 3.5M respectively). When activated, EZ is displayed next to the horizontal zooming scale.
|Main Menu||Main Controls - Top|
If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the easy-to-follow manual before you start is a good idea. Thankfully Panasonic have chosen to supply it in printed format, rather than as a PDF on a CD, so you can also carry it with you. The very large 3 inch LCD screen is the only way of framing your shots, so if you have to have an optical viewfinder, look elsewhere now, but I found that the high-resolution screen coped admirably with the majority of lighting conditions. There's a clever mode called High Angle, which essentially brightens the LCD screen when the camera is held over your head so that it is perfectly viewable, which is great for shooting over the heads of a crowd. The various icons used to represent the camera settings are clear and legible, although I was annoyed by the "Press LCDMode for 1 sec" message along the bottom of the screen, which is displayed whenever you press the Display button.
The main menu system on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 is straight-forward to use and is accessed by pressing the Menu/Set button in the middle of the navigation pad. There are two main menus, Record and Setup. Quite a lot of the camera's main options, such as white balance, image quality, auto-focus mode and ISO speed, are accessed here, so the Record menu has 15 options spread over 3 screens. As mentioned previously, the addition of the Func button on the rear of the camera speeds up access to some of the more commonly used options. Due to the large LCD screen and restricting the number of on-screen choices to five, the various options and icons are very clear and legible.
There is an innovative feature on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 that aims to make life easier for you. As with all current Panasonic models, this camera has an anti-shake system, dubbed Mega O.I.S - turn it on and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 automatically compensates for camera shake, which is a slight blurring of the image that typically occurs at slow shutter speeds. There are two different modes, Mode 1 is on all the time including image composition, and Mode 2 is only on when you press the shutter button, which is a slightly more effective system than Mode 1. In practice I found that it does make a noticeable difference, as shown in the examples on the Image Quality page. You don't notice that the camera is actually doing anything different when anti-shake is turned on, just that you can use slower shutter speeds than normal and still take sharp photos. Thankfully leaving the anti-shake system on didn't negatively affect the battery-life, with the camera managing over 250 shots using the supplied rechargeable Li-ion battery.
Panasonic also provide a High Sensitivity Mode to help combat the effects of camera shake. When this scene mode is selected, the camera automatically raises the ISO speed up to a maximum of 3200 and therefore allows for a faster shutter speed. This mode allows you to handhold the camera without using the flash and get more natural results, whilst at the same time freezing subject movement more successfully. There are some obvious drawbacks with this special scene mode, principally a significant increase in noise and blurring - Panasonic state that "Pictures may appear slightly grainy due to high sensitivity". You also need to select the scene mode and therefore have some idea about when it is applicable to your subject. You can see sample images using the High Sensitivity Mode on the the Image Quality page.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
The new Intelligent ISO mode is the third way in which the DMC-TZ3 attempts to avoid subject blur in low-light conditions. This feature is turned on by selecting the camera/"i" icon on the mode dial. The camera then automatically sets the appropriate shutter speed AND ISO speed for the subject that you are taking pictures of. So if you're taking shots of a child indoors, the DMC-TZ3 automatically raises the ISO and in turn the shutter speed to avoid blurring the child's movement. If the subject is still, then the camera chooses a lower sensitivity and slower shutter speed. It's a clever idea that works well in practice, with the camera generally choosing an appropriate combination of shutter and ISO speed. You can also limit the maximum ISO speed that the camera can choose, which I'd strongly advise, as ISO 1250 produces very noisy images - ISO 800 is a better maximum setting. There is one small caveat with the Intelligent ISO mode - if you turn on the flash, the ISO speed only reaches 640, but overall it's a useful addition for low-light shooting.
The start-up time from turning the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 on to being ready to take a photo is quick at around 1.5 seconds. Zooming from the widest focal length to the longest is very slow at around 4 seconds, but remember that this is a 10x zoom lens. Focusing is quick in good light and the camera achieves focus most of the time indoors or in low-light situations, helped by the focus-assist lamp. Note that the camera does struggle to lock onto the subject at the tele-photo end of the lens in low-light situations. The camera is very quick to find focus if you use the 1-point high-speed AF option. The visibility and refresh rate of the 3 inch LCD screen are very good. It takes about 1 second to store an image, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card - there is no LCD blackout between each image. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 has a good Burst mode which enables you to take 3 frames per second at the highest JPEG image quality, up to a maximum of 7 images (Standard mode) or 5 images (Fine mode). Overall the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 is quite fast in terms of operational speed.
Once you have captured a photo, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 has a good range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view thumbnails, zoom in and out up to 16x magnification, view slideshows, delete, protect, trim, resize, copy and rotate an image. You can also select favourite images, add a soundclip, add a date stamp, change the aspect ratio, and set the print order. Dual Display is a new option that takes advantage of the big LCD screen by allowing you to compare two images onscreen at the same time. The Display button toggles detailed settings information about each picture on and off, such as the ISO rating and aperture / shutter speed, and there is a small histogram available during both shooting and playback. When taking a photo, pressing the Display button toggles between the detailed information, the histogram and gridlines to aid composition.
In summary the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 is a simple-to-use, responsive, mid-sized camera with the obvious defining feature of that 10x zoom, wide-angle, image stabilized Leica lens.
PhotographyBLOG is a member of the DIWA organisation. Our test results for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 have been submitted to DIWA for comparison with test results for different samples of the same camera model supplied by other DIWA member sites.