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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 Digital Camera Full Review
by Ben Stafford -  4/11/2007

The 7.2 megapixel, 10x optical zoom, compact Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 is the successor to the TZ1.  Improvements from its predecessor include a bump in resolution, a new imaging processor, the Venus Engine III processor, and Intelligent ISO control.  These new features get added to the image stabilization system that exists on every Panasonic camera.  The Panasonic TZ3 is a good option for someone looking for a compact ultrazoom camera, with quick performance and a nice feature set.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3
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NUTS & BOLTS

Image Sensor

The TZ3 has a 1/2.35” CCD that captures an effective 7.2 megapixels.  The images have a maximum size of 3216x2144 pixels.  There are two quality settings at each resolution setting on the camera.  At full resolution and highest quality, you can get approximately 280 shots on a 1GB memory card.

LCD

The TZ3 sports a huge 3 inch LCD with 230K pixels of resolution.  It’s not great outdoors, but there are a couple LCD modes that let you boost the brightness (power LCD) and optimize the display for high angle shooting.  The LCD shows colors well and it gains up and down, depending on lighting conditions.  Refresh rates on the large screen are not completely fluid, but still acceptable.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3
LCD Mode menu

Lens/Zoom

One of the biggest selling points of the TZ3 is its 10x optical zoom (in the compact body).  Not only is the lens capable of 10x zoom, it’s also capable of 28mm wide angle (35mm equivalent).  The lens also has a maximum aperture of f3.3.  Unlike the lens cap on its predecessor, the TZ1, this camera has a built-in lens cover to protect the lens.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3
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As with every Panasonic digital camera, the TZ3 has their MEGA O.I.S. image stabilization system.  There are two stabilization modes or it can be disabled completely.  The first mode provides constant image stabilization so that you can see the effects of stabilization on the screen.  However, this mode also drains battery faster and is less effective than the second mode, which provides stabilization only at the moment that the shutter is pressed.

Focus Modes and Focus Ranges

In normal focus mode, you can focus as close as 1.64 feet at wide angle and 6.56 feet at telephoto.  If you need to get close, the macro mode lets you focus as close as 0.16 feet at wide angle and 3.28 feet at telephoto.

As far as focus areas, you can use 9 area focusing, 3 area focusing (high speed), 1 area focusing (high speed), regular speed one area focusing, and spot focus.

Flash

The built-in flash has an on-paper range of 1.97 feet to 13.8 feet at wide angle and Auto ISO.  You can choose from the following modes: auto, auto with red eye reduction, flash always on, flash always on, slow synch/red eye reduction, and forced off.

Memory Media

The TZ3 accepts SD, SDHC, and MMC media cards.  There is approximately 12.7MB of internal memory.

Image/Movie File Format(s)

All images are stored as JPEG files and movies are recorded as Quicktime Motion JPEGs.

Connectivity

USB 2.0 Full Speed, A/V out, and DC in

Power

The TZ3 is powered by a 1000 mAh lithium-ion battery pack.  The included charger can charge the battery in about 120 minutes.  According to the manual, the battery life, according to CIPA standards is 270 shots per charge.  In real life, you won’t get this many – during my review which I consider to be pretty heavy use, I got right around 200 shots.

EXPOSURE

Auto/Program Auto Mode

The primary shooting mode on the TZ3 is the automatic mode, which is essentially a program auto mode since you can change the white balance, ISO, etc during image capture.  If you want *really* automatic, there is a simple mode that minimizes the options as far as flash modes, menu options, and so on.

The camera also has a bracketing mode which can be a very useful feature when you want to make sure you don't miss the correct exposure.  If you press the up direction on the control pad twice, you can set the bracketing interval (1/3, 2/3, or full stop of exposure). In this mode, the camera will take 3 shots: one with default exposure, one that is underexposed by the interval you specified and one that is overexposed by the interval you specified.

The high speed burst mode on the TZ3 takes 3 frames per second (fps), low speed is 2 fps and the “unlimited” mode lets you take as many shots as you want at 2 fps.

Scene Modes 

There are plenty of scene modes to choose from on the TZ3.  There are actually two options on the mode dial (SCN1 and SCN2) that access the same set of scene modes.  By having two entries, it’s easy to access two of your favorite scene modes, just by turning the mode dial since the last scene mode that you used is remembered.  Otherwise, you just need to use the menu system to pick which one you want.  Here’s what you can choose from: Portrait, Soft Skin, Self Portrait, Scenery, Sports, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Food, Party, Candlelight, Baby, Pet, Sunset, High Sensitivity, Starry Sky, Fireworks, Beach, Snow, Aerial Photo, and Underwater.  The manual that comes with the camera has some of the best descriptions that I’ve seen about what each scene mode does.

Intelligent ISO Mode

Intelligent ISO mode is another option on the shooting dial and a new feature that is on all of the latest Panasonic digital cameras.  This shooting mode detects subject movement and boosts ISO so that the shutter speed is fast enough to capture the subject.  With just standard optical image stabilization, shutter speeds can remain slow while the image stabilization handles any camera shake.  However, IS does not account for subject movement - a higher ISO allows a faster shutter speed.  You can set the ISO limit in this mode via the camera menu system.

Movie Mode

The TZ3 can capture movies in a 4:3 aspect ratio (640x480, 320x240) and a 16:9 aspect ratio (848x480).  At each resolution, you can capture movies at both 30fps and 10fps.  Unfortunately, the optical zoom is not available during movie capture.

Metering 

The TZ3 is capable of multiple area metering, center weighted metering, and spot metering.

White Balance

White balance can bet set to auto, daylight, cloudy, shade, halogen, or a custom setting that the user can set.  In all white balance modes, excluding auto, you can also tweak the white balance towards red or blue, whichever is needed.

Sensitivity

The sensitivity of the imaging sensor (ISO) can be set to auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1250.

In-Camera Image Adjustment

During image capture, you can adjust white balance, sensitivity, and color settings (standard, natural, vivid, cool, warm).  During image playback, you can rotate, resize, or trim images.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3
Menu screenshot

CONTROLS, DESIGN, ENGINEERING, & ERGONOMICS

While the TZ3 is considered compact, it’s not on the smaller end of the compact range.  It measures in at 4.1 inches wide x 2.3 inches high x 1.4 inches thick and weighs about 9 ounces with battery and memory card.  You also have to realize that the camera has to have some size to support the 3 inch LCD and 10x optical zoom.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3
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The hand grip is slightly pronounced (which I prefer for a nice handhold) and there is a lip to provide a thumb grip on the back of the camera.  The controls are actually pretty minimal on the camera and easy to access.

Build quality is very good, with a metal body and solid construction.  The buttons all feel solid and are easy to operate.

The front of the camera has the self-timer/AF assist lamp, lens, and flash.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3
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The top of the camera has the microphone port, speaker port, mode dial, shutter release, zoom switch, power switch and image stabilization mode button.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3
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The back of the camera is dominated by the large 3 inch screen, but you’ll also find the 5 way control pad, display button, and Func/delete button.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3
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The right side of the camera has the access door for the USB/AV jack and DC-in jack.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3
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The bottom of the camera has a tripod mount and the battery/memory media compartment.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3
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Included

Included with the camera is the battery pack, battery charger, battery carrying case, wrist strap, USB cable, AV cable, CD-ROM of software, and instruction manual.

PERFORMANCE

I was pretty pleased overall with image quality.  Colors are pleasing and accurate.  With the default “standard” color mode, colors are strong, but not too strong.  Details are good across the entire frame.   Chromatic aberration was very well controlled.

Default exposure did tend to overexpose by just a bit under some admittedly tough conditions and it’s not something that I’d worry too much about.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 sample image
(view medium image) (view large image) Slight over-exposure caused by the dark areas of the frame loses detail on the peacock's head and in the trees. Bumping down the exposure compensation or modifying the metering method would help here.

Despite the complexity of this lens, barrel distortion (straight lines bow out of the middle) at the wide angle setting and pincushion distortion (straight lines bow toward the middle) was very well controlled (see examples below).

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 sample image
(view large image) Wide angle
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 sample image
(view large image) Full telephoto

Flash performance was pretty much average for cameras in this class.  I was able to illuminate an average-sized room, but if you want to take pictures in a large area, like a reception hall, you’ll want to experiment with settings to see what will work best.  You can increase the ISO to increase the effective range of the flash, or you can try the slow sync mode.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 sample image
(view large image) Taken in a completely dark room

Noise performance (graininess at higher ISO settings) was good.  You can see the effects of noise reduction at higher ISO settings (ISO 800 and 1250) as details get a bit smudged looking, but the new imaging processor does seem to perform better than the one in the TZ1.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 sample image
(view large image) ISO 100
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 sample image
(view large image) ISO 1250

Sample Images

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 sample image
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 sample image
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 sample image
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 sample image
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 sample image
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 sample image
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 sample image
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 sample image
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Timing/Shutter Lag

I was very impressed with the speed of the camera.  Start up time is not the fastest, but this is not a big deal, in my opinion.  Shutter lag was also very good, as long as you do a partial press first to let the camera focus first.  A full press was about 0.6 seconds from click to capture.  If you get a focus lock first, then click to capture was 0.1 seconds.

Focus times were also good at just under a second in well-lit conditions.  In dark conditions, there is a focus assist light, but you will need to allow for a bit more time to focus.  Also, as is also typical of longer zooms, focus at telephoto settings does take longer.

Cycle time between shots is also very good.  With no flash, cycle time was under a second.  With the flash, a couple seconds were added to allow for the flash to recharge.

Conclusion

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 is a welcome improvement from its predecessor, the TZ1.  The 10x optical zoom lens provides excellent performance in a compact 7.2 megapixel digital camera.  The 3 inch LCD provides a nice big screen for previewing and reviewing your images.  Good image quality, good battery performance, and quick operation make this camera a good choice for someone looking for an ultra-zoom camera that doesn’t need manual exposure modes like shutter priority, aperture priority and so on.

Pros

Cons