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DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3  
   

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: April 7, 2007
Last updated: February 25, 2008

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The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 ($350) is the follow-up to the popular TZ1, a camera that I enjoyed so much, that I bought one as a gift for my dad. That camera offered a big 10X zoom, optical image stabilization, super fast performance, and decent photo quality in a compact body. It wasn't perfect, but it was definitely the best compact ultra zoom on the market.

Earlier this year Panasonic announced the TZ3, and it brought with it a host of improvements. They include:

  • A 7.2 effective Megapixel CCD (compared to 5MP on the TZ1)
  • Much wider lens starts at 28 mm instead of 35 mm
  • Enormous 3-inch LCD (versus 2.5")
  • New Intelligent ISO mode boosts the ISO for a sharp photo depending on subject movement; ISO can go as high as 1250 manually, or 3200 in a high sensitivity mode
  • Slightly better battery life (270 shots/charge vs 250 on the TZ1)
  • Support for SDHC memory cards

That's not too shabby, eh? And while it's not sold in the USA, I should mention the TZ3's little brother, the Lumix DMC-TZ2. It's the same camera, but with a lower resolution CCD, smaller LCD, and better battery life.

Oh, and one more thing before we go on. The TZ3 has a much higher resolution CCD than its effective pixel count would let you believe (8.5 total MP, 7.2 effective MP). This lets you shoot at 28 mm, regardless of what the aspect ratio is. Contrast this with cameras like the DMC-LX2, where the focal length was different with each aspect ratio.

Okay, enough blabbing on my part -- let's start the review of the DMC-TZ3 now!

What's in the Box?

The DMC-TZ3 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 7.2 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-TZ3 camera
  • CGR-S007A lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Lumix Simple Viewer, PhotoFunStudio, ArcSoft Photo Suite, and drivers
  • 105 page camera manual (printed)

Like the TZ1 before it, the Lumix DMC-TZ3 has a tiny amount of memory built into the camera -- 12.7MB to be exact. That's basically nothing, so you'll want to buy a memory card right away. The TZ3 supports SD, MMC, and the new SDHC memory cards, and I recommend a 1GB card as a good starter size. It's worth buying a high speed card (rated at 10MB/sec or above) as well, as the camera takes advantage of them.

The DMC-TZ3 uses the same CGA-S007 lithium-ion rechargeable battery as its predecessor. Despite having a larger LCD, Panasonic actually managed to improve the TZ3's battery life compared to the TZ1. Here are their battery life numbers, as well as some from the competition:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon PowerShot S3 IS * 550 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Canon PowerShot TX1 * 160 shots NB-4L
Casio Exilim EX-V7 * 240 shots NP-50
Fuji FinePix S700 500 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
GE X1 * 600 shots 4 x 2500 mAh NiMH
Kodak EasyShare V610 135 shots KLIC-7001
Nikon Coolpix S10 * 300 shots EN-EL5
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 380 shots CGR-S006
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 * 250 shots CGA-S007
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ2 * 300 shots CGA-S007
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 * 270 shots CGA-S007
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 * 300 shots NP-BG1

* Has optical image stabilization

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

A couple of observations to make about battery life. First, The TZ3's numbers are about 8% better than the TZ1's, despite the former's power-hungry LCD. In the compact ultra zoom category, the TZ3's battery life is well above average. If you add in midsize models, it falls below average, though buying one of those sort of defeats the purpose of having a compact ultra zoom.

The usual caveats about proprietary batteries apply here. First, they're really expensive -- an extra CGA-S007 battery will set you back at least $30. Secondly, if you're ever in a jam, you can't just pop in some off-the-shelf batteries to get you through the day like you could on an AA-based camera.

When it's time to charge the battery, just place it into the included external charger. It takes about two hours to fully charge the CGA-S007 battery. I should add that this is my favorite type of charger -- it plugs directly into the wall.

One of the minor annoyances on the TZ1 was its clumsy lens cap. Well, those days are over, as Panasonic has added a built-in lens cover to the TZ3. Yay!


The TZ3's monstrous underwater case; Image courtesy of Panasonic

There aren't too many accessories available for this point-and-shoot camera. Probably the most interesting is the DMW-MCTZ3 underwater case ($220), which lets you take the TZ3 up to 40 meters underwater. To power the camera without draining your battery you can pick up the DMW-AC5 AC adapter (priced at a whopping $70). Last, but not least, we have two camera cases: the DMW-CT3 leather case (around $45), and the DMW-CHTZ3 semi-hard case ($14).


Lumix Simple Viewer for Windows

Panasonic includes several software products with the camera, though only one of them is Mac compatible. The first one is Lumix Simple Viewer, which does just what it sounds like: it imports and views photos (including via slideshows). You can't do any editing -- just rotation, printing, and e-mailing.


PhotoFunStudio for Windows

There's also PhotoFunStudio, though to be honest, it doesn't do a whole lot more than Simple Viewer. There still no real editing functions. For that, you'll need...


ArcSoft PhotoImpression for Mac

... ArcSoft PhotoImpression! While it has a rather quirky interface, this software can do just about everything -- and it works with Macs. You can edit photos (adjusting color/sharpness/lighting), reduce redeye, design creative projects (making calendars, photo books, etc), and more.


ArcSoft PanoramaMaker for Mac

Another piece of the ArcSoft suite is PanoramaMaker, which helps you combine photos that you've taken side-by-side into a single panorama. It's easy to use, and the results can be really impressive. Just a tip for those of you interested in panoramic shooting: bring a tripod.

Word must have gotten out that I haven't cared for Panasonic's camera manuals, as the one that comes with the TZ3 is vastly improved over previous books. While there's still a lot of fine print and big ugly tables, the overall style of the manual is more user-friendly.

Look and Feel

From the front, the DMC-TZ3 looks like a sleeker version of its predecessor. The lens design is different (obviously), but the overall shape is quite similar. Only when you look at the back will you see the big difference: the LCD display.

The TZ3 is made almost entirely of metal, and it feels quite solid in the hands. There are a few cheap plastic parts, namely the battery/memory card slot cover and the tripod mount. A lot of cameras with huge LCDs have nowhere to put your thumb (except for on the screen), but you'll have no such problem on the TZ3, as there's a thumb rest available to the upper-right of the display. On the whole ergonomics were quite good, with my only "beef" being that my thumb sometimes bumped the exposure compensation button accidentally.

Images courtesy of Panasonic

It seems like everybody has to offer their camera in at least one color, and Panasonic is no exception. You can find the TZ3 in silver, black, or blue.

Alrighty, now let's take a look at how the TZ3 compares to other ultra zooms in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot S3 IS 4.6 x 3.1 x 3.0 in. 42.8 cu in. 410 g
Canon PowerShot TX1 3.5 x 2.4 x 1.1 in. 9.2 cu in. 221 g
Casio Exilim EX-V7 3.8 x 2.4 x 1.0 in. 9.1 cu in. 150 g
Fujifilm FinePix S700 4.2 x 3.0 x 3.2 in. 40.3 cu in. 306 g
Kodak EasyShare V610 4.4 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 8.7 cu in. 160 g
Nikon Coolpix S10 4.4 x 2.9 x 1.6 in. 20.4 cu in. 220 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 4.4 x 2.8 x 3.1 in. 38.2 cu in. 310 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 4.4 x 2.3 x 1.6 in. 16.2 cu in. 234 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 4.2 x 2.4 x 1.5 in. 15.1 cu in. 232 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7 4.3 x 3.3 x 3.4 in. 48.2 cu in. 375 g

As you can see, the TZ3 is both smaller and lighter than its predecessor. The DMC-TZ2, not listed here, is even lighter. In the group as a whole, the TZ3 isn't the smallest camera out there, but it's still very compact considering what's inside. It's not a jeans pocket type of camera, but it's still small enough for a camera bag or purse.

Enough about that, let's start our review of the Lumix TZ3 now, starting with the front of the camera.

One of the two big changes on the TZ3 is its lens. It's still 10X, but now it has the much more appealing focal range of 28 - 280 mm, instead of 35 - 350 mm. If you like wide-angle shots, then you'll love the TZ3. The lens is a bit slower than on the TZ1, with a maximum aperture range of F3.3 - F4.9, instead of F2.8 - F4.2.

The lens extends out from the body quite a bit more than on the TZ1, and that's because it does not use the "folded optics" design of its predecessor. The lens is not threaded, and conversion lenses are not supported.

Deep inside the TZ3's lens is Panasonic's "Mega" optical image stabilization system. Tiny movements of your hands can blur your photos, especially in low light situations, or when shooting at the full telephoto end of the lens. Sensors inside the camera detects these movements, and one of the lens elements is shifted to compensate for it. The OIS system won't work miracles (no 1 second handheld exposures) and it won't stop a moving subject, but it will allow you to use slower shutter speeds than you could otherwise. Want proof? Look at this:


Image stabilization off


Image stabilization on (mode 2)

Both of the above photos were taken at 1/6 of a second. As you can see, the OIS system did its job well, providing a nice, sharp photo that you just couldn't get on an unstabilized camera. If you need to see another example of how the OIS system works, check out this sample movie.

Back to the tour now. To the upper-right of the lens you'll find the TZ3's AF-assist lamp, which also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer. The AF-assist lamp is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light situations.

Moving now to the upper-left of the lens, you'll see the built-in flash. While the flash range before was pretty good for a compact camera, it's even better on the TZ3. Expect a working range of 0.6 - 4.2 m at wide-angle and 1.0 - 2.8 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). You cannot attach an external flash to the camera.

The other "big" new feature on the DMC-TZ3 is its enormous 3-inch LCD display. As I said before, Panasonic left plenty of room for your hands, so you won't leave fingerprints all over the display. Not only is the screen large -- it's sharp too, with 230,000 pixels. Outdoor visibility was good at default settings, and very good if you turn on the Power LCD function. There's also a "high angle" option that works remarkably well when you're holding the camera over your head. Low light viewing was good (at the screen brightens automatically in those situations), though I've seen better.

As you can probably tell, there's no optical viewfinder on the TZ3. It's up to you about whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. Some people love'em, others never touch'em.

To the right of the LCD you'll find the four-way controller, with two buttons below that. The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, as well as:

  • Up - Backlight compensation, exposure compensation, auto bracketing, white balance fine-tuning
  • Down - Review (quickly jumps to playback mode)
  • Left - Self-timer (2 or 10 seconds)
  • Right - Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, flash on w/redeye reduction, slow sync w/redeye reduction, flash off)
  • Center - Menu + Set


White balance fine-tuning

Let's go over those options that appear when you press up on the four-way controller. Backlight compensation is something you can toggle on and off while in the automatic shooting 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. Auto bracketing takes three shots in a row with each shot having a different exposure. You can choose from ±1/3EV, ±2/3EV or ±1EV increments. If you've got the space on your memory card, this is a great way to ensure proper exposure every time. Finally, there's a white balance fine-tuning feature, which lets you push the color temperature in the red or blue direction.


Function menu

The buttons below the four-way controller are for Display (toggles what's on the screen and can also turn on the Power LCD and High Angle features that I mentioned above) and Function/Delete photo. Pressing the Function button opens up the function menu, which gives you quick access to commonly used settings. They include:

  • Burst mode (Off, high speed, low speed, infinite)
  • White balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, shade, incandescent, custom)
  • ISO (Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1250)
  • Aspect ratio (4:3, 3:2, 16:9)
  • Resolution (7M, 5M, 3M, 2M, 1M, 0.3M)
  • Quality (Fine, normal)

I will discuss all of those items in detail in the next section of the review.

There's plenty more to see on the top of the DMC-TZ3. Starting on the left, we find the microphone, followed by the speaker. After that is the mode dial, which has these options:

Option Function
Simple mode Dumbed down menu system for real beginners
Playback mode More on this later
Intelligent ISO mode A high sensitivity mode that boosts ISO (to a maximum of your choosing) depending on subject motion
Normal picture mode Point-and-shoot with all menu options available
Macro mode For taking close-up shots; more on this topic later
Movie mode More on this later
Print mode For when you're connected to a Pictbridge-enabled photo printer
Clipboard mode A sort of low resolution "photo memo" feature
Scene mode 1/2 You choose the situation and the camera uses the proper settings. Choose from portrait, soft skin, self-portrait, scenery, sports, night portrait, night scenery, food, party, candle light, baby, pet, sunset, high sensitivity, starry sky, fireworks, beach, snow, aerial photo, underwater

The DMC-TZ3 is a 100% point-and-shoot camera. While you won't find any manual controls, you will find plenty of scene modes, including some which are quite unique. There's baby mode, which lets you enter the birthday of your baby, and the photo will be recorded with his or her age when the photo was taken. The pet mode is basically the same as the baby mode. The high sensitivity mode boosts the ISO as high as 3200 in order to get a sharp, properly exposed photo, but I wouldn't recommend using it, as you'll get a photo which has been destroyed by noise reduction. Instead, boost the ISO manually or use the Intelligent ISO feature -- but don't let it go up too high. The starry sky feature is your bulb mode, allowing for 15, 30, or 60 second exposures. The aerial photo mode is made for taking pictures out of airplane windows.

If you're confused about any of the scene modes you can press the Display button to get a help screen. Oh, and why are there two scene mode spots on the mode dial? This is because the camera allows you to pick a default scene for each spot, so you can store two favorites for easy retrieval later.

To the right of the mode dial you'll find the zoom controller, which has the shutter release button inside it. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in 2.5 seconds, which is on the slow side these days. I counted something like thirty seven steps in the TZ3's 10X zoom range -- nice.

Next to that we have the power switch, with the image stabilization mode button above that. When OIS Mode 1 setting is used, the stabilizer is activates as soon as you halfway press the shutter release button, which helps you compose your photo without any camera shake. Mode 2 only activates it when the picture is actually taken, which actually does a better job of eliminating the blurring caused by camera shake. And yes, there are situations in which you'd want to turn the OIS system off entirely, like when the camera is on a tripod.

Nothing to see here, except for the lens at its full wide-angle position (see the TZ1 at full wide-angle).

Here's the other side of the TZ3, with the lens at the full telephoto position. Quite a change from the TZ1, wouldn't you say?

Under a plastic door of average quality you'll find the camera's I/O ports. They include USB + A/V out (one port for both) and DC-in (for the optional AC adapter).

For some silly reason, Panasonic still hasn't jumped on the USB 2.0 High Speed bandwagon. Instead, you'll get USB 2.0 Full Speed, which is just as slow as the original USB 1.1. Sigh.

On the bottom of the TZ3 you'll find a plastic tripod mount, as well as the battery/memory card compartment. The latter is protected by a fairly flimsy plastic door (though at least it has a lock). You should be able to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod without issue.

The included CGA-S007 battery is shown at right.

Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3

Record Mode

With a totally different lens design, it's not surprising that the TZ3's startup time differs from that of its predecessor. Unfortunately, it's in the wrong direction. The TZ3 takes 1.7 seconds to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. The old TZ1 took just over one second to do the same.


A live histogram is shown in record mode

Autofocus speeds on the DMC-TZ3 range from fast to smokin' fast. If you use the "regular speed" AF modes, expect focus lock in 0.2 - 0.4 seconds in most situations. If you use the high speed modes, you can halve those numbers -- it's almost instantaneous. Telephoto focus times were pretty snappy as well, with delays rarely exceeding one second. Low light focusing was very good, thanks to the TZ3's AF-assist lamp.

I did not find shutter lag to be an issue on the TZ3, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes crops up.

Shot-to-shot speeds were excellent, with a delay of about a second before you can take another shot with the flash off. If you're using the flash, expect to wait just under three seconds before you can take another picture.

There is no easy way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you must use the Review feature first.

Now let's take a look at the image size and quality options on the TZ3. Since there are three different aspect ratios available, it's a pretty lengthy list.

Aspect ratio Resolution Quality # images on 12.7MB onboard memory # images on 1GB SD card (optional)
4:3 7M
3072 x 2304
Fine 2 270
Standard 6 540
5M
2560 X 1920
Fine 4 390
Standard 9 770
3M
2048 X 1536
Fine 7 600
Standard 15 1180
2M
1600 X 1200
Fine 12 970
Standard 24 1880
1M
1280 x 960
Fine 19 1470
Standard 36 2740
0.3M
640 x 480
Fine 61 4640
Standard 100 7550
3:2 7M
3216 x 2114
Fine 3 280
Standard 6 550
4.5M
2560 x 1712
Fine 5 440
Standard 10 860
2.5M
2048 x 1360
Fine 8 680
Standard 16 1310
16:9 6M
3328 x 1812
Fine 3 310
Standard 7 610
3.5M
2560 x 1440
Fine 6 520
Standard 12 1020
2M
1920 x 1080
Fine 11 910
Standard 22 1720

Panasonic seems to think that you can never have too many choices when it comes to image size! The chart also illustrates why you need a big memory card right away, as the built-in memory won't hold much. And as much as I'd like it to, the TZ3 does not support the RAW image format.

As with its predecessor, the TZ3 has an "extended optical zoom" feature. By lowering the resolution you can use digital zoom without losing image quality. The lower the resolution goes, the more zoom you can use. For example, if you select the 3 Megapixel setting, you can get a total zoom power of 15X. By the way, you can do the same thing with your favorite image editor on your computer -- the camera is basically just cropping the center of the image.

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.

The TZ3's menu system is basically the same as the one on the TZ1. If you have the camera in Simple Mode, you'll get a very basic menu system, which has these items:

  • Picture mode (Enlarge, 4 x 6, e-mail) - doesn't get anymore basic than this, folks
  • Auto review (on/off) - post-shot review
  • Beep (Off, low, high)
  • Clock set

In the other shooting modes you'll get a more traditional menu. Do note that some of these items may be "grayed out" in the automatic shooting modes. And with that, here's the complete list of items in the record mode menu:

  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, shade, halogen, flash, white set) - see below
  • Sensitivity [ISO] (Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1250)
  • Aspect ratio (4:3, 3:2, 16:9)
  • Picture size (see chart)
  • Quality (see chart)
  • Audio recording (on/off) - record a 5 sec audio clip with each picture
  • Metering (Multiple, center-weighted, spot)
  • AF mode (9-area, 3-area high speed, 1-area high speed, 1-area, spot) - see below
  • Burst (Off, high speed, low speed, infinite) - see below
  • Continuous AF (on/off) - camera is always focusing, which reduces AF delays; puts extra strain on batteries
  • AF-assist lamp (on/off)
  • Slow shutter (1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1 sec) - slowest shutter speed the camera will use
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - it's best to keep this off
  • Color effect (Off, natural/soft, vivid/sharp, cool/more blue, warm/more red, black & white, sepia)
  • Clock set

The only manual control on the DMC-TZ3 is for custom white balance. This lets you use a white or gray card to get accurate color, even in mixed or unusual lighting conditions. For all of the WB options (except for auto) you can use the fine-tuning feature that I discussed earlier in the review.

There numerous autofocus modes on the camera, and they should be self-explanatory. The difference between the 1-area high speed and regular 1-area mode is that with the former the image on the LCD pauses briefly while the camera is focusing.

There are three continuous shooting modes to choose from on the TZ3, and all of them need a high speed memory card (10MB/sec or greater) for best results. In the high speed mode, the camera took five photos in a row at 2.9 frames/second. Dropping down to low speed also nets you five photo, but at 2 frames/second. Finally, there's the infinite mode, which keeps shooting at 2 frames/second until the memory card is full. The LCD keeps up with the action nicely, regardless of which mode you're using.

There's also a setup menu, which is accessed via the record or playback menu. The items here include:
  • Clock set
  • World time (Home, travel)
  • Monitor brightness (-3 to +3 in 1-step increments)
  • Guide lines - put a composition grid and more on the LCD
    • Rec info (on/off)
    • Histogram (on/off)
    • Pattern (3 x 3, complex)
  • Travel date (on/off) - when set, records what day of your vacation a photo was taken (e.g. day two)
  • Auto review (Off, 1 sec, 3 sec, zoom) - the zoom option shows the picture for a second, then enlarges it by a factor of four for a second
  • Power save (Off, 1, 2, 5, 10 mins)
  • Economy (Off, level 1, level 2) - power saving
  • Beep (Off, low, high)
  • Shutter sound (Off, low, high)
  • Volume (0-7)
  • File number reset
  • Reset
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
  • TV aspect ratio (16:9, 4:3)
  • Scene menu (Off, auto) - if set to auto, scene menu opens automatically when you turn the mode dial to the scene mode position
  • Dial display (on/off) - whether a "virtual" mode dial is shown on the LCD as you rotate the real one
  • Language

That's enough for menus, let's move on to our test photos now!

The DMC-TZ3 did a great job with our macro test subject. The subject is nice and sharp, and the colors are both accurate and saturated. The custom white balance feature -- the only manual control on the camera -- allowed for accurate color under my unusual studio lights.

The minimum focus distance on the camera is 5 cm at wide-angle, 1 m at mid-telephoto, and 2 m at full telephoto. You don't have to be in macro mode to get at that range, either -- it also works in the simple, movie, Intelligent ISO, and clipboard modes.

Since there's no way to manually select a shutter speed on the TZ3, you'll have to use a scene mode to take shots like the one you see above. That also means that the camera may boost the ISO higher than you'd like, but thankfully that wasn't the case here. The TZ3 took a nice shot of the San Francisco skyline, taking in plenty of light. The buildings are quite sharp, there's no visible noise, and purple fringing was nonexistent.

Unfortunately, I cannot do the night scene ISO test since there is no way to manually control the shutter speed. I do have the studio ISO test below, however.

There's not much in the line of redeye on the TZ3, which is a major improvement over the TZ1. Great!

There is remarkably little barrel distortion at the wide end of the TZ3's lens -- most impressive. While the test chart shows some vignetting (dark corners), I did not find this to be an issue in my real world photos. Blurry corners were not a problem, either.

Here's that studio ISO test that I promised earlier, which is taken under a pair of 600W quartz studio lamps. You can compare this test with those in other reviews on this site. While the crops below give you a quick view of the differences at the various ISO sensitivities, it's a good idea to view the full-size images as well.


ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1250

The ISO 100 shot looks quite good -- no complaints here. ISO 200 is about the same, though we start to see a tiny bit of noise reduction artifacting in the shadows. Noise reduction really starts to kick in at ISO 400, where it starts to eat away detail. Still, a midsize print should be a piece of cake at that setting. The NR only gets worse at ISO 800, and details look really smudged, with ISO 1250 being pretty lousy. Both of those settings are best saved for desperation. And let's not even talk about ISO 3200 (accessible in the high sensitivity mode), which produces really awful results.

Overall, I'd rate the DMC-TZ3's photo quality as very good, though are some negatives to bring up. The camera captures plenty of detail, producing sharp photos with very little noise. Purple fringing is well controlled. Exposures were good most of the time, though the camera overexposed several photos. Colors seem pretty dull as well , and if you agree, try using the "vivid" color mode. Lastly, while there's very little noise in the TZ3's photos, you will see the effects of heavy-handed noise reduction (courtesy of the Venus III image processor), especially at higher ISOs. This tends to smudge fine details, as you can see in these examples (one, two). This shouldn't be much of an issue for typical users, but if you're making huge prints or inspecting the photos at 100% on your computer screen, then you may be bothered by this. A good rule to follow is to always use the lowest possible ISO setting that will still result in a sharp photo.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, and print a few of the photos if you can. Then you should be able to decide if the TZ3's photo quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

If you just glance at the specs, it appears that the TZ3's movie mode is unchanged since the TZ1, but that's not the case. What hasn't changed? You can record movies at either 848 x 480 (16:9) or 640 x 480 (4:3) at 30 frames/second until the file size hits 2GB, or your memory card fills up (whichever comes first). Sound is recorded along with the video. The built-in memory doesn't hold much video (and you can't record at the highest quality settings to it anyway), so you'll want a large, high speed memory card for longer movies. A 1GB card holds about 9.5 and 11 minutes of 848 x 480 and 640 x 480 video, respectively.

Another way to get longer movies is to lower the resolution (to 320 x 240) or the frame rate (to 10 fps). I would not recommend doing the latter, as you'll end up with really choppy video.

So here's what's changed in the TZ3's movie mode: you can no longer use the optical zoom during filming like you could on the TZ1. This is presumably because the lens now extends out of the body, and the noise from the zoom motor could be picked up by the microphone. The optical image stabilizer is, of course, still available for use.

Movies are saved in QuickTime format using the M-JPEG codec. A capture of the first frame of the movie is saved as JPEG along with the movie.

This isn't the most exciting sample movie of all time, but it's going to have to do. I took it at the 848 x 480 setting.


Click to play movie (17 MB, 848 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The Lumix DMC-TZ3 has a nice playback mode with a few unique features. The basic playback features include slideshows, voice captions, image protection, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view (in many sizes), and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge the image by as much as 16X (in 2X increments), and then move around the enlarged area. Images can be rotated, resized, and cropped, as well.


Dual display

The dual display feature is new to the TZ3. This lets you look at two photos side-by-side while the LCD is viewed vertically. You can enlarge photos in this view, but not at the time (I would kill for a "match zoom and location" feature like in Photoshop).

The TZ3 has a rather unique date printing feature. You can print the date/time on your photo, the age of your baby or pet (if you used those scene modes, of course), or what day of your vacation you took the photo on. Do note that the camera will downsize the image to 3 Megapixels or less when using this feature, which is fine for what most people will be doing with them (printing them at 4 x 6).

If you're viewing a movie, you can grab a single frame, or create a collage consisting of nine frames. There's no way to edit movies on the camera, unfortunately.

Last, but not last, I like how the TZ3 lets you delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all of them.

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 (shown above).

The TZ3 moves through photos at an average clip, with a delay of about one second between each one.

How Does it Compare?

While it wasn't perfect, I liked the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 enough to buy it for a family member. The new DMC-TZ3 doesn't really improve on that camera's weak spots -- namely overaggressive noise reduction and a lack of manual controls -- but it does add a really nice 28 - 280 mm lens and a big and beautiful 3-inch display. Yes, it has it's flaws, but it's a fun-to-use camera that offers a lot of zoom in a relatively small package. The TZ3 easily earns my recommendation.

At first glance you'd never guess that the DMC-TZ3 contained a 10X zoom lens, but somehow Panasonic's engineers have managed to pull it off. The TZ3 is compact (but not tiny) camera made mostly of metal. It's well built (for the most part), easy to hold (without having to put your fingers all over the LCD), and won't overwhelm you with button clutter. While the original TZ1 had a 35 - 350 mm lens that used folded optics, the TZ3's 28 - 280 mm lens uses a more conventional design, which has two consequences. One, the lens extends out from the much further than on the TZ1, which means slower startup times. Second, since there are now moving parts near the microphone, the zoom can not longer be used while recording movies. The lens itself is quite good, with remarkably little barrel distortion at its 28 mm wide end.

Inside that lens is Panasonic's optical image stabilization system which, as always, works as promised, letting you use slower shutter speeds than you could on an unstabilized camera. On the back of the camera is a large, bright, and sharp 3-inch LCD display. It's got great outdoor visibility -- especially with the Power LCD function turned on -- and decent low light viewing. I also like the high angle feature, which lets you view the screen while the camera is held above your head. There's no viewfinder of any kind (optical or electronic) on the TZ3.

The DMC-TZ3 is a point-and-shoot camera, with just one manual control (white balance). It has a ton of scene modes, some useful, some not. One scene mode you'll want to avoid is the high sensitivity mode, which produces some truly awful photos. For those of you who are really technologically challenged, there's even a simple mode which has just four menu items. The TZ3's movie mode is quite nice, though I miss the ability to zoom while recording (though I understand why this is no longer possible). You can record video at either 848 x 480 (widescreen) or 640 x 480, both at 30 frames/second. The playback mode has two features of note, including date printing after you take the shot (instead of before), and the ability to view two photos at the same time (though I wish I could zoom in on both of them simultaneously).

Panasonic cameras have always been great performers, and the DMC-TZ3 is no exception. While it doesn't start up as fast as its predecessor, the TZ3's 1.7 second startup time is still respectable. Focus times are great, especially when you use the high speed modes, even at the telephoto end of the lens. Low light focusing was quick and accurate, thanks to the TZ3's AF-assist lamp. Shutter lag was not a problem, and shot-to-shot delays were minimal. Like all Panasonic models, the TZ3's continuous shooting modes are great, especially the infinite mode, which lets you keep shooting at 2 frames/second until your high speed memory card fills up. Battery life was above average compared to other compact ultra zooms.

Photo quality results are generally favorable. Straight out of the box, the TZ3 tended to produce photos that are a tad overexposed and dull in color. If you notice the same thing, you can handle both of those by adjusting exposure compensation and color mode, respectively. The camera captures plenty of detail, though the Venus III's heavy-handed noise reduction system tends to smudge it away once you leave the base ISO setting. The heavy noise reduction does mean that there's not much in the line of noise, though. Purple fringing, rarely a problem on Panasonic cameras, is not an issue here. Redeye was minimal.

I've got a few other negatives to mention before I wrap things up. First, I really wish that the TZ3 had some more manual controls. And maybe support for RAW? Next, it's really inexcusable that, in 2007, the TZ3 lacks support for the USB 2.0 High Speed standard. Finally, it would be nice if Panasonic included more built-in memory than the paltry 12.7MB that's onboard the TZ3.

Something I tend to forget sometimes in this job is that photography is supposed to be fun. Like its predecessor, the TZ3 reminds me that there's more to photography than test charts and Mickey Mouse figurines. It lets me have my cake and eat it too: I can take both wide-angle and super telephoto shots with one camera. I get a huge LCD, but it doesn't suck up battery life like on most cameras. And so on. Yeah, it has its share of flaws, but it's a heck of a travel camera, and its annoyances won't affect the majority of TZ3 buyers. If you want an ultra zoom camera that can go almost anywhere, then the DMC-TZ3 should be high on your list.

What I liked:

  • 10X, 28 - 280 mm lens in a relatively compact body; lens has remarkably little barrel distortion
  • 28 mm wide-angle available at all three aspect ratios
  • Good photo quality, even better with a few tweaks
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Enormous, high resolution 3-inch LCD display; easy to view outdoors; handy Power LCD and High Angle functions
  • Robust performance, especially in terms of focus speeds
  • Not much in the line of redeye
  • AF-assist lamp; good low light focusing
  • Tons of scene modes
  • Great continuous shooting mode
  • Can record movies in both high res 16:9 and 4:3 formats
  • Above average battery life for its class
  • Optional underwater case
  • It's just fun to use, darn it

What I didn't care for:

  • Still too much noise reduction, which smears details once the ISO leaves 100
  • Colors tend to be dull straight out of the camera (use vivid mode if you agree); some overexposure issues
  • Needs more manual controls
  • Useless high sensitivity mode
  • No zoom in movie mode (only mentioning this because the TZ1 had it)
  • No optical or electronic viewfinder
  • No USB 2.0 High Speed support
  • Flimsy door over memory card/battery compartment; plastic tripod mount
  • Tiny amount of built-in memory

If it's a compact ultra zoom you want, the only other options are the Canon PowerShot TX1, Casio Exilim EX-V7 (only a 7X zoom), Kodak EasyShare V610 (which I'd avoid), and the Nikon Coolpix S10. If you don't mind something a little larger then consider the Canon PowerShot S3 IS, Fuji FinePix S700, GE X1, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H7.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DMC-TZ3 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

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Feedback & Discussion

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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 or technical support.

Want a second opinion?

You can read more reviews of the TZ3 at Digital Photography Review and CNET.