printer-friendly reviews are for non-commercial use only
DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: October 1, 2004
Last Updated: February 4, 2008
One of the best ultra zoom cameras in the last year was the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ10. It featured an F2.8, 12X optical zoom with image stabilization, a 4 Megapixel CCD, manual controls, a hot shoe, and more.
In Summer 2004, Panasonic introduced three new ultra zoom models: the DMC-FZ3, DMC-FZ15, and DMC-FZ20. The FZ15 ($499) and FZ20 ($599) are successors to the FZ10, offering 4 and 5 Megapixel CCDs, respectively, while the FZ3 ($399) is a compact model with 3.2 Megapixels. I'll be looking at the entry-level FZ3 in this review.
This chart describes the differences between the three new models:
Please note that those street prices were accurate at the time I wrote this and are subject to change. I'll compare the dimensions and weight of these cameras a bit later in the review.
And speaking of which, let's start the review! Do note that since the cameras are so similar, I'll be reusing some text from the FZ20 review here.
What's in the Box?
The DMC-FZ3 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
Panasonic includes an 8MB Secure Digital (SD) card with the FZ3 which is too small for everyday use. So consider a larger card a required purchase! I would recommend a 128MB card as a good place to start. I should point out that the FZ3 does take advantage of high speed memory cards. For example, it took 11 seconds to flush the buffer after a burst of 7 shots using a "regular speed" SD card and only barely one second using an "ultra high speed" card. While the camera can use MultiMediaCards (MMC), I would recommend avoiding them, as they are slower and lower capacity than SD cards.
The FZ3 uses the same CGA-S002A lithium-ion battery as the FZ15 and FZ20. This battery packs a modest 4.9 Wh of energy into its plastic body, which translates to approximately 260 photos using the new CIPA battery life standard. That's a little better than the FZ15 and FZ20 do. As for the two other stabilized cameras out there, I only have CIPA numbers for one of them: the Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3 can take 320 photos using 2300 mAh rechargeables. (The Canon PowerShot S1 is the other camera in question.)
The usual caveats about proprietary batteries apply here. For one, an extra battery will set you back $50 (third party options are available for less). Secondly, if you're ever in a jam, you can't just pop in some alkaline batteries to get you through the day like you could on an AA-based camera.
When it's time to charge the battery, just snap it into the included charger. The charger plugs right into the wall -- no power cord is needed. It takes about two hours to fully charge the CGA-S002A.
Panasonic includes a lens cap with a retaining strap with the camera to help protect that big lens!
Something else you'll find in the box is a big plastic lens hood, which comes in handy when you're shooting outdoors. The lens hood is actually comprised of two parts: an adapter and the hood itself. The adapter can also be used for attaching 55 mm filters (which Panasonic would be happy to sell you).
Panasonic offers just a few accessories for the FZ3, including neutral density (reduces light hitting the lens) and MC protector filters ($30 each), as well as an AC adapter. One thing Panasonic does not offer (unlike on the FZ15/20) are conversion lenses. That doesn't mean that you can't use one, though, as third party lenses combined with the lens hood adapter should work just fine. Our Panasonic forum is a good resource for those interested in conversion lenses.
Panasonic includes ArcSoft's camera suite with the FZ-series cameras. This includes PhotoImpression 5, PhotoBase, and Panorama Maker for Mac and Windows. PhotoImpression (shown above) lets you view, enhance, and share images. The interface is unique and easy-to-use, and the whole product is well designed. PhotoBase is a less impressive product that you can use for organizing and performing basic edits on your photos. Panorama Maker will stitch together several shots into one big photo.
Panasonic's manuals leave much to be desired. Much like the manual that came with your VCR or DVD player, there's tons of fine print and bullet points, and finding what you're looking for can be difficult.
Look and Feel
Unlike the monstrous FZ15 and FZ20 cameras, the DMC-FZ3 is compact and unassuming. Despite being the cheapest camera in the FZ-series, the FZ3 doesn't feel poorly built at all. In fact it's made of a combination of metal and plastic, and I think it'll hold up quite well in the long term. The FZ3 is fairly easy to hold, though I would've liked a more substantial right hand grip. The important controls are all within easy reach of your fingers.
Now, let's take a look how the FZ3 compare in size to other ultra zoom cameras in this class:
As you can see, the FZ3 is the second smallest ultra zoom camera in the group -- and the smallest with image stabilization.
The FZ3 is slightly smaller than the Minolta DiMAGE Z3 and MUCH smaller than the FZ15/20
Okay, let's begin our tour of the FZ3 now!
Although its a bit smaller than on the FZ15/20, the specs on the FZ3's lens are just as impressive. This is an F2.8, 12X optical zoom lens covering a range of 35 - 420 mm (4.6 - 55.2 in "digital terms"). The maximum aperture spec is worth repeating: it's F2.8 all the way through the zoom range. No other ultra zoom camera can match this. By using the lens hood adapter you can attach 55 mm filters as well as third-party conversion lenses.
The FZ3 has the same optical image stabilizer as the other cameras in the series. Here's why you want this feature: when shooting at the telephoto end of the lens, tiny movements of the camera can blur your photos, even at fairly fast shutter speeds. Sensors in the camera detect this motion and an element in the lens is shifted to compensate for the shake. This lets you use shutter speeds 3-4 stops slower than what you can use on an unstabilized camera. For example, a 1/30 sec shutter speed will result in a blurry photos for most people (unless you have hands of stone), but with image stabilization you'll most likely get a nice, sharp photo.
For more details on how the OIS system works, see this page. Want to see how well it works? Check out this movie that I created for you. As you can see, the stabilizer doesn't eliminate camera shake altogether -- it just reduces it.
Directly above the lens is the FZ3's pop-up flash. The working range on this flash is a very impressive 0.3 - 4.6 m, which is quite a bit less than on the FZ15/20. You cannot attach an external flash to this camera.
To the upper-right of the lens are the microphone and AF-assist lamp, with the latter doubling as the self-timer lamp. The AF-assist lamp helps the camera focus in low light situations and it has a range of about 1.5 meters.
The back of the FZ3 looks a whole lot like the FZ20, with the LCD size being the main difference.
And speaking of which, you'll find a 1.5" LCD display on the camera, which is quite a bit smaller than the 2-inch screen on the FZ15/20. The 114,000 pixels on the screen product sharp images, and the screen is bright and colorful as well. In low light the LCD doesn't "gain up" automatically like on some other cameras, making it darn near impossible to see your subject. Turning up the LCD brightness doesn't help.
Like all ultra zoom cameras, the FZ3 uses an electronic viewfinder, or EVF. The EVF resolution isn't so hot when compared to some of the latest models out there (with just 114,000 pixels), and you can tell when you use it. Don't get me wrong, it's not horrible, but I've seen better. As was the case with the LCD, the EVF is basically unusable in low light conditions since it doesn't brighten automatically.
The EVF has a diopter correction knob which can be used to focus the image on the screen.
Above the LCD are four buttons plus the power switch. The buttons are for:
To the right of the LCD are the menu and focus / delete photo buttons, as well as the four-way controller. The focus button can be used to activate the autofocus, instead of halfway-pressing the shutter release button. The four-way controller is used for navigating the menus as well as:
I want to talk about those options that appear when you press the "up" button on the four-way controller. Backlight compensation is something you can toggle on and off while in "simple mode". Use this if your subject has a bright light source behind them. Exposure compensation is the usual -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments like on every camera. Flash exposure compensation lets you adjust the flash strength using the same range. Auto bracketing takes three shots in a row with each shot having a different exposure. You can choose from ±0.3EV, ±0.6EV or ±1.0EV increments. White balance fine-tuning lets you adjust the preset or custom WB that you've selected in the red or blue direction, with a total range of ±10 (in 1-step increments).
The last item to see here is the FZ3's speaker, which is located to the right of the four-way controller.
If this picture looks a little weird, it's because it was rotated to get things pointing "up".
Unlike the FZ15 and FZ20, the FZ3 does not have a hot shoe. So let's start on the mode dial, which has the following options:
Hopefully everything up there is self-explanatory. Do note that you can access the macro focus range while in A/S/M mode without turning on macro mode. You cannot do that in program, mode, however.
To the right of the mode dial is the is the burst mode button. Not surprisingly, the FZ3 can shoot faster than the higher resolution FZ20. Like that camera, there are three burst modes on the FZ3: high speed, low speed, and infinite. Both high and low speed modes have the same number of photos that can be taken continuously: 7 at the high image quality setting and 13 at low quality. High speed shoots at 4 frames/second, while low speed is at 2 frames/second. Infinite mode will keep shooting at about 2 frames/second until the memory card is full. The LCD and EVF don't "black out" between shots (though there's a slight pause), so you should be able to track a moving subject.
The final item on the top of the camera is the zoom controller, which is wrapped around the shutter release button. The zoom controller moves the lens from the wide-angle to telephoto position in about 2.1 seconds (that's faster than on the FZ20). One thing I like about the FZ-series cameras is how precise you can be with the lens: quick presses of the zoom controller make tiny adjustments to the focal length.
Here's one side of the FZ3, where you can see some more differences between it and the FZ15/20. There's no manual focus ring (in fact, there's no manual focus at all) and no port for a wired remote control.
What will you will find here are I/O ports for USB + A/V out (one port for both) as well as DC-in (for optional AC adapter). The ports are covered by a fairly sturdy plastic door.
Nothing to see over here!
The final stop on our tour is the bottom of the FZ3. Here you'll find the battery compartment, memory card slot, and metal tripod mount (barely seen in this picture). The battery/memory card slots are covered by a sturdy, reinforced plastic door. I'm not a big fan of having the memory card slot down here because you can't get to it while the camera is on a tripod.
Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3
The "powering on" experience on the FZ3 is just like it was on the FZ20. If you just turn the FZ3 on and let it go, it'll take about 3.7 seconds before you're ready to shoot. It takes so long to start up because the lens has to move all the way to the wide-angle position. You can press a button to stop the lens from zooming out, which speeds things up, as long as you want to use the lens where you stopped it. I hope that makes sense.
There's a live histogram!
Autofocus speeds on the FZ3 were about average, with a typical delay of about half a second. At the telephoto end, or if the camera has to hunt for focus, it can take upwards of one second. Low light autofocus performance was above average thanks to the FZ3's AF-assist lamp.
Shutter lag was low, even at slower shutter speeds where it often occurs.
Shot-to-shot speed is excellent, with a delay of a little over a second before you can take another shot, assuming the post-shot review feature is turned off. If you shoot in TIFF mode there can be a delay of 11 seconds while the image is saved, although you can eliminate this wait by using a high speed SD card.
There is no easy way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you must use the Review feature first.
Now, here's a look at the resolution and quality choices on the FZ3:
Yes, you DO need a larger memory card right away!
As you can see, the FZ3 supports the TIFF image format. This is uncompressed image data that is as close to perfect as you'll get out of the camera (as there's no RAW mode). If you plan on using TIFF mode, I'd recommend a high speed SD card to reduce the time between shots.
The camera saves images with a name of PXXXYYYY.JPG, where X = 100-999 and Y = 0001 = 9999. The camera will maintain the file numbering, even as you erase and switch memory cards.
There are two menu systems on the FZ3. One is used only in "simple mode" and it's quite stripped down. The other is the menu you're used to seeing on the other FZ-series cameras. Here's a quick look at the simple menu:
All the other menu options are fixed and cannot be changed.
If you do want to change those other menu items you'll have to use one of the other shooting modes. In those you'll get to use the attractive new menu system that I also saw on the FZ20. The full menu includes the following options:
I want to mention two things here. First, the stabilizer options. When the "mode 1" setting is used, the stabilizer is always running, which helps you compose your photo. Mode 2 only activates the stabilizer when the picture is actually taken, which actually does a better job of eliminating camera shake. You can also turn the whole thing off, which is advisable under certain situations, one of which I'll describe in a bit.
The flip animation feature lets you take up to 100 shots in a row and then throw them together into a 320 x 240 movie up to 20 seconds long. You can choose from a frame rate of 5 or 10 frames/second. This feature can be used for making "stop motion" animation.
There's also a setup menu, which is accessed from the record or playback menu. The items here include:
Well that's enough menus for one day, so let's move on now to our photo tests!
The FZ3 did a great job with our macro test subject. Mickey's colors are accurate and everything is nice and sharp. My quartz studio lamps were no challenge for the FZ3's manual white balance. There may be a dead pixel near the top of the red cloak, though.
You can get as close to the subject as 5 cm at wide-angle and 120 cm at the telephoto end.
The night test shot was a mixed bag. You don't have to enlarge the image to see the first problem: vignetting. The FZ3 has the tendency to do this (darkening the corners, to be exact), and to be honest I've never seen it in a night shot before. While the FZ3 took in plenty of light (thanks to its full manual controls), it seems like the noise reduction system has eaten away at some detail, giving the image a soft look. One thing you won't find here is purple fringing -- Panasonic has done a great job in controlling this.
A word of advice for those taking tripod shots like this: turn the image stabilizer to "off" or "mode 2", as "mode 1" can blur your photos.
Using that same shot, let's have a look at the effect of the ISO sensitivity on noise levels.
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
Interestingly enough, the image looks sharper at ISO 100 than ISO 80, probably due to the added noise. But after that the noise gets worse and details get destroyed. ISO 400 really isn't too bad, all things considered.
I got moderate amounts of redeye in our flash test, just like I did with the FZ20. While your results may vary, odds are that you'll be dealing with this issue.
The distortion shows moderate barrel distortion and some vignetting. The barrel distortion is noticeable at the wide end of the lens and makes buildings look curved. Believe it or not, there is software to correct this problem. Vignetting, or dark corners, did show up occasionally on the FZ3 -- unlike on the FZ20. I've seen this one some other lower-cost ultra zoom cameras such as the Fuji FinePix S5100 and Kyocera Finecam M410R, though I'm a bit disappointed to see it on a camera with a Leica lens.
I'm going to use the same comparison shot (a crop, actually) that I used in the FZ20 review here. This shows how the fZ3's photo quality compares quite nicely with the more expensive and higher resolution FZ20 and how it's much better than what you'll get from Minolta's DiMAGE Z3.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3
View Full Size Image
Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3 (firmware v 1.02)
View Full Size Image
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20
View Full Size Image
Aside from the vignetting issue, the image quality on the FZ3 is excellent. Photos were well-exposed, colorful, and sharp. Noise levels were low, and grass looked like grass instead of mush. As I said above, Panasonic really has a handle on purple fringing -- there isn't much to speak of.
Please don't just take my word for it -- have a look at our gallery and decide if the FZ3's photos meet your expectations!
While decent, the FZ3's movie mode isn't really anything to get excited for. You can record video at 320 x 240 at either 10 or 30 frames/second until the memory card is full. Sound is recorded as well.
The included 8MB memory card can hold a whopping 10 seconds of video at the 30 fps setting. By comparison, a 128MB SD card will allow you to take a movie 4 minutes long.
As is usually the case, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming. The image stabilizer functions in movie mode which is certainly a nice feature.
Movies are saved in QuickTime format. A capture of the first frame of the movie is saved as JPEG along with the movie.
Here's a brief sample movie for you:
Click to play movie (5 MB, 320 x 240, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't play it? Download QuickTime.
The DMC-FZ3 has a pretty standard playback mode. Basic playback options include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, audio captions (10 seconds), and zoom and scroll. The camera is also PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.
The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom in as much as 16X (in 2X increments) into your photo, and then scroll around. This feature is well-implemented on the FZ3.
You can also rotate, resize, and crop your photos in playback mode.
One other feature that I appreciate is the ability to delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all.
By default, the camera doesn't give you a lot of information about your photos. But press the display button and you'll see plenty of info, including a histogram.
Photo playback speed varies a bit, depending on the speed of your SD card. It can range from instant on an "ultra" card to about 0.5 second on a regular one.
How Does it Compare?
While not as nice as its big brother (the DMC-FZ20), the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3 is a very good choice for an ultra zoom camera. The two biggest features are its lens and optical image stabilization system. The 12X optical zoom lens has a maximum aperture of F2.8 throughout the zoom range, unheard of in the digital camera world (aside from other Panasonic models, that is). The lens isn't quite as nice as the one on the FZ15 and FZ20, though, as it exhibited vignetting in several of my photos. The FZ3's image stabilizer helps reduce the effects of camera shake which can blur your pictures both indoors and outdoors while taking advantage of that powerful zoom.
Other nice features on the FZ3 include full manual controls, an AF-assist lamp, a nice continuous shooting mode, and support for filters and third-party conversion lenses. For people who don't want to fuss with settings, a "simple mode" and various scene modes makes things easy. While not tiny, the FZ3 is one of the smallest ultra zooms on the market, and it's a pleasure to use.
There are a couple of downsides though, and I already mentioned the vignetting issue. For fans of flash pictures, do note that redeye may also be a problem. The LCD is on the small size, and along with the electronic viewfinder, it doesn't "gain up" in low light. The shutter speed in "P" mode is limited to 1/4 second, so you'll have to use the night scene or one of the manual exposure modes for longer exposures. Finally, I found the movie mode to be a bit lacking in the year 2004.
Despite its flaws, the FZ3 is a great choice for a low cost ultra zoom camera. The lens and stabilizer alone should make you forget about the other ultra zooms in this price range. The FZ20 is without a doubt a better camera, but the FZ3 is not far behind.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other low-cost ultra zoom cameras include the Canon PowerShot S1 (has image stabilization), Fuji FinePix S5100, HP Photosmart 945, Kodak EasyShare DX7590, Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3 (has IS) and Z10, Kyocera Finecam M410R, Nikon Coolpix 4800, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ15 and DMC-FZ20 (both have IS), and the Olympus C-765 Ultra Zoom.
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DMC-FZ3 and its competitors before you buy!
Want to see how the photo quality turned on? Check out our photo gallery!
Want a second opinion?
Read more reviews at Steve's Digicams and Digital Photography Review.
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
Home | News | Digital Camera Reviews & Info | Forums | Buyers Guide | Shopping | FAQ | About | Advertising
All content © 1997
- 2012 Digital Camera Resource Page LLC (R)
All trademarks are property of their respective owners.