Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 Review

April 22, 2011 | Mark Goldstein | Rating star Rating star Rating star Rating star


The Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 is the first model in a new range of simple, stylish and smart digital compact cameras aimed at beginners. The 14.1 megapixel Panasonic S3 features a 28mm wide-angle 4x optical zoom lens with Optical Image Stabilizer, Intelligent Scene Selector, Venus Engine VI processor, 2.7 inch LCD screen and 720p movie recording. The Panasonic Lumix S3 is available in black, silver, red, blue or purple, priced at £107.99 / $129.95 respectively.

Ease of Use

Despite its budget price-tag, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 is a good-looking camera, with a distinctive pebble shape, rounded corners and an attractively glossy finish to the all-plastic body. Outwardly, the solid feeling, pocket-sized Lumix DMC-S3 has a slim 20.8mm depth and black and silver finish to our review sample. Weighing a mere 100g without the battery or card inserted, it still feels fairly sturdy when gripped in the palm, although the retracted lens does rattle alarmingly when you shake it. The lens has a very audible mechanical "buzz" when it extends and retracts, making the S3 ill-suited to more candid moments.

The S3 has a 4x optical zoom, starting at a respectable wide-angle of 28mm equivalent (in 35mm terms) and peaking at 112mm at the telephoto end. The fairly bright f3.1 lens is pretty good for such a cheap camera, although the slow maximum aperture of f/6.5 at full telephoto betrays its budget price. Its broad-ish focal range (for an entry-level compact) ensures that the S3 has most everyday subjects covered, from landscape and group portraits to candid close ups. if you don't mind a resolution drop to three megapixels then use can be made of the device's Extra Optical Zoom function which utilises the central part of the CCD sensor - effectively a crop - to boost the reach to a 8.4x zoom equivalent.

There's nothing provided on the camera's rounded edges or smooth and shiny front and back surfaces for the user to get a firm grip on when taking photographs without the aid of a tripod, so it's important that the S3's image stabilization proves effective to avoid external wobble translating into blurred images. Thankfully the S3 does have an effective anti-shake system, on this model the MEGA O.I.S. variant. Turn it on via the Stabilizer option in the main menu and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 automatically compensates for camera shake, which is a slight blurring of the image that typically occurs at slow shutter speeds when the camera is hand held.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3
Front Rear

There are three different modes, Mode 1 is on all the time including image composition, Mode 2 is only on when you press the shutter button, and there's also an Auto mode. It does make a noticeable difference in practice, as shown in the examples on the Image Quality page. Thankfully leaving the anti-shake system on didn't negatively affect the battery-life, with the camera managing 250 shots using the supplied rechargeable Li-ion battery, more than the S3 model that we recently reviewed.

The High Sensitivity mode also helps combat the effects of camera shake. When this scene mode is selected, the camera automatically raises the ISO speed from 1600 up to a maximum of 6400 and therefore allows for a faster shutter speed. This mode allows you to handhold the DMC-S3 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 reduction in resolution to a maximum of 3 megapixels in the 4:3 aspect ratio, and the Quality is also set to the lowest level. The user guide states that "you can take pictures suitable for 4x6 inch printing" using the High Sensitivity mode. You also need to select the right scene mode and therefore have some idea about when it is applicable to your subject.

The Intelligent ISO menu option is the third way in which the DMC-FX70 attempts to avoid subject blur in low-light conditions. The camera 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-FX70 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 the fastest available setting of ISO 1600 produces very noisy images - ISO 800 is a better choice.

From the front the DMC-S3 displays a clean, unfussy faceplate, with the retractable lens barrel the most prominent feature, top left of which is a lozenge shaped window for the built-in flash - sufficiently clear of the camera edges to avoid fingers partly obscuring it - and also a small porthole housing the reasonably powerful AF assist lamp/self timer indicator. Underneath the lens are two tiny holes which house the mono built-in microphone.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3
Side Front

Moving to the top, set into silver metal panel that runs the length of the S3's top plate is the lozenge shaped shutter release button, the largest control here, to the right of which is the on/off button which powers up the camera in just over a second, with the rear 2.7-inch bursting into life in the absence of any optical viewfinder alternative. The screen has a resolution of 230k dots, which is OK for an LCD panel of this size. A thumb-operated button on the rear of the camera is used for operating the 4x zoom lens. You can move through the complete focal range from wide to tele setting in just over three seconds.

The S3 can record 720p 1280 x 720 movies at 30 frames per second in the Motion JPEG format. In addition it can also record Motion JPEG movies at 320 x 240 and 640 x 480 at 30fps. There is no one-touch movie record button, instead you have to press the Mode button and then select the Motion Picture option. You can choose one of the various colour modes and set the white balance for movies.

You can use the zoom lens during recording and really make the most of the 5x focal range, although the zoom speed is unfortunately much slower than for still images and you can hear the zoom mechanism during recording. Also on the negative side, you'll find that if you choose continuous auto-focus, areas of the video will be blurred before becoming sharp again as the camera tries to refocus. On a more positive note, the the S3 is quite fast at re-focusing, and having this system is much better than not being able to auto-focus at all.

The back of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 is uncluttered, with the afore-mentioned LCD screen on the left and all of the external controls grouped together on the right. The S3 offers Intelligent Auto, Normal, Scene, and Motion Picture modes. The Intelligent Auto mode automatically chooses the best settings for the user's chosen subject. Panasonic have tried to make things as easy as possible for the complete beginner by providing this shooting mode, which allows you to point and shoot the camera without having to worry about choosing the right mode or settings.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

In practice the Intelligent Auto Mode system works very well, with the camera seamlessly choosing the most appropriate combination of settings for the current situation. The 6 available scene modes are Macro, Portrait, Scenery, Night Portrait, Night Scenery and Sunset, so obviously not all situations are covered by Intelligent Auto Mode, but it does work for the majority of the time. It makes it possible for the less experienced photographer to easily take well-exposed, sharp pictures of people, scenery and close-ups by simply pointing and shooting the camera. If you prefer to have a little more control, the Scene Mode option lets the user select from amongst 16 different options.

The Normal Picture mode provides the greatest level of control over what is predominantly a point-and-shoot camera. Select this option and then press the camera's Menu icon and you're provided access to a wider range of functionality than offered by the pared down previous modes, laid out across three successive screens.

The S3 has a conventional navigation pad with four options ranged around it - exposure compensation, flash, display and self-timer - along with a Menu / Set button that accesses the main system and confirms selection respectively. Underneath are self-explanatory Playback and Delete buttons, with the latter doubling up as a "Go Back" button when required. It's all very conventional and therefore perfect for its target audience.

While the left hand flank of the camera - if viewing the S3 from the rear - is devoid of any features, the right hand side features an indented eyelet for attaching the provided wrist strap, alongside which is a covered port for the combined AV out/USB socket. At the base of the S3 we find a plastic screw thread for a tripod which is inconveniently located in the far-left corner, alongside which is a sliding compartment that houses both the rechargeable battery and a slot for an optional SD / SDHC / SDXC card.

The Pansonic Lumix DMC-S3 is well-suited to its beginner target audience, with a clean and unthreatening interface, just enough key features and an attractive design. Now let's take a look at its image quality.

Image Quality

All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 14 megapixel Fine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 5.5Mb.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 produced images of good quality during the review period. The 1/2.33 inch, 14 megapixel MOS sensor used in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 produces noise-free images at ISO 80-200, with limited noise and colour desaturation starting to appear at ISO 400. ISO 800 exhibits quite visible noise, smearing of fine detail and colour desaturation, and ISO 1600 is even noisier, although still usable for small prints.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 dealt fairly well with chromatic aberrations, with some purple fringing effects appearing mostly in high contrast situations. The flash worked well indoors, with a little red-eye and adequate exposure. The night photograph was excellent, with the maximum shutter speed of 60 seconds allowing you to capture plenty of light. Anti-shake is a feature that works very well when hand-holding the camera in low-light conditions or when using the telephoto end of the zoom range.

Macro performance is fine, allowing you to focus as close as 5cms away from the subject. The images were a little soft straight out of the camera at the default sharpening setting and ideally require further sharpening in an application like Adobe Photoshop, or you can change the in-camera setting if you don't like the default results.


There are 6 ISO settings available on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting:

ISO 100 (100% Crop)

ISO 200 (100% Crop)


ISO 400 (100% Crop)

ISO 800 (100% Crop)


ISO 1600 (100% Crop)


Focal Range

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3's 4x zoom lens provides a focal length of 28-112mm in 35mm terms, as demonstrated below.




Here are two 100% crops which have been Saved as Web - Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are a little soft at the default sharpening setting. You can change the in-camera sharpening level if you don't like the default look.

Original (100% Crop)

Sharpened (100% Crop)


Chromatic Aberrations

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 handled chromatic aberrations fairly well during the review. There's some purple fringing between areas of high contrast, but it's only noticeable on close inspection, as shown in the examples below.

Example 1 (100% Crop)

Example 2 (100% Crop)


The Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 offers a Macro setting that allows you to focus on a subject that is 5cms away from the camera when the lens is set to wide-angle. The first image shows how close you can get to the subject (in this case a compact flash card). The second image is a 100% crop.

Macro Shot

100% Crop


The flash settings on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 are Auto, Auto/Red-eye Reduction, Forced On, Slow Sync./Red-eye Reduction, Forced Off, and Flash Synchro. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m.

Flash Off - Wide Angle (28mm)

Flash On - Wide Angle (28mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

Flash Off - Telephoto (112mm)

Flash On - Telephoto (112mm)

ISO 64 ISO 64

And here are a couple of portrait shots. Both the Forced On setting or the Auto/Red-eye Reduction option caused a tiny amount of red-eye.

Forced On

Forced On (100% Crop)

Auto/Red-eye Reduction

Auto/Red-eye Reduction (100% Crop)


The Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3's maximum shutter speed is 60 seconds in Manual shooting mode and the Starry Sky Mode scene mode, which is great news if you're seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 15 seconds at ISO 80. I've included a 100% crop of the image to show what the quality is like.

Night Shot

Night Shot (100% Crop)

Anti Shake

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 has an anti-shake mechanism, which allows you to take sharp photos at slower shutter speeds than other digital cameras. To test this, I took 2 handheld shots of the same subject with the same settings. The first shot was taken with anti shake turned off, the second with it turned on. Here are some 100% crops of the images to show the results. As you can see, with anti shake turned on, the images are much sharper than with anti shake turned off. This feature really does seem to make a difference and could mean capturing a successful, sharp shot or missing the opportunity altogether.

Shutter Speed / Focal Length

Anti Shake Off (100% Crop)

Anti Shake On (100% Crop)

1/6th / 28mm
1/2th / 112mm

Sample Images

This is a selection of sample images from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 camera, which were all taken using the 14 megapixel Fine JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.

Sample Movie & Video

This is a sample movie at the highest quality setting of 1280x720 pixels at 30 frames per second. Please note that this 14 second movie is 55.7Mb in size.

Product Images

Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3

Front of the Camera

Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3

Front of the Camera / Turned On

Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3

Isometric View

Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3

Isometric View

Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3

Rear of the Camera

Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3

Rear of the Camera / Image Displayed

Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3

Rear of the Camera / Turned On

Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3

Rear of the Camera / Main Menu

Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3

Rear of the Camera / Main Menu


Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3

Top of the Camera

Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3
Bottom of the Camera
Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3
Side of the Camera
Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3

Side of the Camera

Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3
Front of the Camera
Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3
Front of the Camera
Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3
Memory Card Slot
Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3
Battery Compartment


The Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 is a perfectly competent digital camera for beginners that won't break the bank, with the added bonuses of a stylish design, responsive operation and 720p movies. Sure, it doesn't have too many bells and whistles, but that could well be seen as a benefit by prospective owners.

A wide-angle setting of 28mm is a real attraction of this model, with the telephoto reach of 112mm enough for candid head and shoulder shots. The 14.1 megapixel sensor produces good image quality, , with noise readily apparent at ISO 400 and much more obvious at ISO 800 along with smearing of fine details, with the fastest speed of ISO 1600 being something of a last resort. Th S3 shares the same sensor as the twice-as-expensive FX77 model, so Panasonic haven't cut any corners here.

An official asking price of £107.99 / $129.95 doesn't feel like too much for such an accomplished camera. If you're in the market for a budget compact point-and-shoot, then the Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 certainly fits the bill.

4 stars

Ratings (out of 5)
Design 4
Features 3
Ease-of-use 4
Image quality 4
Value for money 4.5

Review Roundup

Reviews of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 from around the web. »

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-S3 is by no means perfect, but it's still head and shoulders above most other budget compact cameras. It's also very light, and refreshingly easy to operate.
Read the full review » »

Panasonic announced the release of the DMC-S3 in January 2011 and it is aimed at those who are buying their first digital camera or have limited photography knowledge. As well as being stylish the camera is designed to be simple to use, with easy to use features while performing to a high standard. As well as the black version reviewed here the DMC-S3 is also available in white, purple, blue and red for £104.99.
Read the full review »



Dimensions (W x H x D) 98.8 x 58.8 x 20.9 mm / (3.89 x 2.31 x 0.82 in)
Weight Approx. 117g with Battery and SD Memory Card (0.26 lb) / Approx. 100g without Battery and SD Memory Card (0.22 lb)


Camera Effective Pixels 14.1 Megapixels
Sensor Size / Total Pixels / Filter 1/2.33-type / 14.5 Total Megapixels / Primary Color Filter
Aperture F3.1 - F6.5 / Multistage Iris Diaphragm (F3.1 - 9.0 (W) / F6.5 - 20.0 (T))
Optical Zoom 4x
Focal Length f=5-20.0mm (28-112mm in 35mm equiv.)
Extra Optical Zoom (EZ) 4.7x (4:3 / 10M), 6.8x (4:3 / 5M), 8.4x(4:3 / under 3M)
Lens LUMIX DC VARIO / 6 elements in 5 groups / (3 Aspherical Lenses / 6 Aspherical surfaces)
Optical Image Stabilizer MEGA O.I.S. (Off / On)
Digital Zoom 4x / ( Max. 16.0 x combined with Optical Zoom without Extra Optical Zoom ) / (Max. 33.8 x combined with Extra Optical Zoom)
Focusing Area Normal / Intelligent AUTO / Motion Picture : Wide 5 cm - infinity / Tele 100cm - infinity
Focus Range Display Yes
AF Assist Lamp Yes
Focus Quick AF (Always On)
AF Metering Face / 11 pt / 1pt
Shutter Speed approx. 8 - 1/1600 sec
Shutter Interval approx. 0.9 sec


Optical Image Stabilizer Photo / Movie
Intelligent ISO Control Photo
Face Detection Photo
Intelligent Scene Selector Photo (Portrait, Scenery, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Sunset, Macro)
Digital Red Eye Correction (Red-Eye Removal) Photo
File Format Still Image: JPEG(DCF/Exif2.3) / Motion picture: QuickTime Motion JPEG
Mode Switch [Playback] button
Mode Dial / Mode Button Intelligent Auto, Normal Picture, SCN, Motion Picture
Still Image Scene Mode Portrait, Soft Skin, Self-Portrait, Scenery, Panorama Assist, Sports, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Food, Party, Baby, Sunset, High Sensitivity, Fireworks, Beach, Snow
Unlimited consecutive shooting 1.5 frames/sec
Motion Picture Recording [4:3] VGA: 640 x 480 pixels, 30fps (Motion JPEG) QVGA: 320 x 240 pixels, 30 fps (Motion JPEG) / [HD Movie(16:9)] 1280x720 pixels, 30fps (Motion JPEG)
Exposure Program AE
Exposure Compensation 1/3 EV step, +/-2 EV
Backlight Compensation Yes (only in Intelligent AUTO mode)
Light Metering Intelligent Multiple
ISO Sensitivity I.ISO / 100 / 200 / 400 / 800 / 1600 / High Sensitivity mode (ISO 1600-6400)
Aspect Ratio 4:3 / 3:2 / 16:9
Still Picture Recording [4:3] 4320x3240(14M) / 3648x2736(10M EZ) / 2560x1920(5M EZ) / 2048X1536(3M EZ) / 640X480(0.3M EZ) / [3:2] 4320 x 2880 (12.5M) / [16:9] 4320 x 2432 (10.5M)
White Balance Auto / Daylight / Cloudy / Shade / Incandescent / White Set / (Selectable at Portrait, Soft Skin, Self-Portrait, Sports, Baby, High Sensitivity?
Color Mode / Color Effect Standard, Vivid, Natural, Black & White, Sepia, Cool, Warm
Composition Guide line Yes (1 pattern)
Auto Review Yes (On/Off)
Easy Zoom / Zoom Resume No / No
Orientation Detector Yes
Scene Mode Help Screen Yes
Self Timer 2sec / 10sec
Focus Icon Select Yes


Playback Mode Normal Playback, Slideshow, Filtering Playback(Category Playback), Calendar Playback
Thumbnails / Zoomed Playback 12,30-thumbnails / Max. 16x
Calendar Display / Dual-Image Playback Yes / No
Set Favorites / Rotate Image Yes / No
Playback Motion Picture Yes
Slideshow Mode All / Category / Favorites / BGM Effect (Natural / Slow / Swing / Urban / OFF)
Delete Image Single / Multi / All / All except Favorites
DPOF Print Setting / Set Protection No / Yes
Copy / Title Edit / Text Stamp Yes / No / Yes (only date stamp)
PictBridge Support Single / Multi / All / Favorites


OSD language Japanese, English, German, French, Italian, Spanish
Travel Date / World Time No / Yes


LUMIX Image Uploader Yes
LCD Monitor 6.7cm (2.7") TFT Screen LCD Display (230K dots) / Field of View : approx. 100%
Built-in-Flash Auto, Auto/Red-eye Reduction, Slow Sync./Red-eye Reduction, Forced On, Forced Off / 0.4 - 3.3m (Wide/I.ISO), 1.0 - 1.6m (Tele/I.ISO)
Recording Media Built-in Memory, SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card, SDXC Memory Card
Built-in-Memory approx. 70MB
Microphone / Speaker Mono / Yes
Interface AV Output (PAL), USB2.0 High speed
Power Li-ion Battery Pack (3.6V, Minimum: 660mAh) (Included)
Battery life (approx.) 250 pictures (CIPA Standard)*1
Included Software PHOTOfunSTUDIO 6.0 / QuickTime / Adobe Reader
Standard Accessories Battery Charger, Battery Pack, USB Cable, AC Cable, Hand Strap, CD-ROM

Further Specifications

NOTE *1 Motion pictures can be recorded continuously for up to 15 minutes in European PAL area.

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