DCRP

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 Review

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor

Originally Posted: April 1, 2009

Last Updated: March 26, 2010

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 ($399) is the follow-up to the extremely popular DMC-TZ5. I was a big fan of the TZ5, which put a 10X zoom lens, a beautiful 3-inch LCD, and HD movie recording into a small package. I've "sold" a few friends on it, and they absolutely love it. The DMC-ZS3 takes everything that was great about the TZ5 and improves upon it. You get a wider, more powerful zoom lens, a new image processor, improved face detection, and an HD movie mode. And that's on top of all the other great features that haven't changed, which I'll cover throughout this article!

The chart below compares the ZS3 to both its predecessor, and its "little brother", the DMC-ZS1, which costs $100 less:

Feature

DMC-TZ5

DMC-ZS1 DMC-ZS3
Resolution 9.1 MP 10.1 MP 10.1 MP
Image processor Venus Engine IV Venus Engine IV Venus Engine HD
Lens focal range 28 - 280 mm (10X) 25 - 300 mm (12X) 25 - 300 mm (12X)
Lens maximum aperture F3.3 - F4.9 F3.3 - F4.9 F3.3 - F4.9
AF system 9-point 11-point 11-point
LCD size 3.0" 2.7" 3.0"
LCD resolution 460,000 pixel 230,000 pixel 460,000 pixel
Movie resolution (frame rate) 1280 x 720 (30 fps) 848 x 480 (30 fps) 1280 x 720 (30 fps)
Movie codec used Motion JPEG Motion JPEG AVCHD Lite
Sound recording Mono Mono Dolby Digital Stereo Creator
Dedicated movie recording button No No Yes
HDMI output No No Yes
Built-in memory 50 MB 40 MB 40 MB
Battery used CGA-S007 DMW-BCG10 DMW-BCG10
Battery life, live view off
(CIPA standard)
300 shots 320 shots 300 shots
Dimensions 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.4 in. 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.3 in. 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.3 in.
Weight 214 g 206 g 206 g

Those are the major differences between the three models. The only other thing I want to mention about that table is that the ZS1 and ZS3 actually use different sensors. The ZS1's is 10.3 million total pixels, while the ZS3's has 12.7 million.

Alright, are you reading to learn more about the DMC-ZS3? Then read on -- our review starts right now!

The Lumix DMC-ZS3 is known as the DMC-TZ7 in some countries.

What's in the Box?

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 10.1 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-ZS3 camera
  • DMW-BCG10 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring PhotoFunStudio 3.0 HD, ArcSoft Media Impression and Panorama Maker
  • 137 page camera manual (printed)

Panasonic has been doing the built-in memory thing for a few years now. The DMC-ZS3 comes with less memory than its predecessor (40MB vs 50MB on the TZ5), but it's still enough to get you started. Even so, you'll want to buy a large memory card right away. The ZS3 supports SD, SDHC, and MMC memory card formats, though I'd stick with the first two. I recommend a 2GB card if you won't be doing a lot of movie recording, and a 4GB or even 8GB card if you will be. It's definitely worth spending a little extra on "high speed" cards, though there's no need to go overboard.

The DMC-ZS3 uses the new DMW-BCG10 lithium-ion battery. This battery packs just 3.2 Wh of energy, which is actually less than the battery used on the TZ5. Despite that, Panasonic managed to get exactly the same battery life numbers on the ZS3 as they did on its predecessor. Here's how the DMC-ZS3 compares to other compact ultra zooms in terms of battery life:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Battery used
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS 280 shots NB-5L
Olympus Stylus 9000 250 shots LI-50B
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 300 shots DMW-BCG10
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H20 290 shots NP-BG1

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

The table above is a little shorter than I'd like, since I lack battery life information for two of the ZS3's competitors: the Kodak EasyShare Z915 and Samsung HZ15W. In the small group of cameras that I do have numbers for, the ZS3 comes out on top.

I have to make my usual mention of the issues that surround proprietary batteries like the one used by the DMC-ZS3. They're pricey, often costing $40 or more (exact pricing for the DMW-BCG10 was not available when this review was written). In addition, should that battery die, you can't use an "off-the-shelf" battery to get you through the day. The only camera that supports that is the Kodak EasyShare Z915, which is powered by AA batteries.

When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the included charger. It takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes to fully charge the battery. This is my favorite type of charger -- it plugs directly into the power outlet.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 in the hand

The DMC-ZS3 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no lens cap to deal with. As you can see, it's a pretty small camera, especially when you consider the fact that it packs a 12X zoom lens!

There are a handful of accessories available for the DMC-ZS3, and I've compiled them all into this table:

Accessory Model # Price Description
Underwater case DMW-MCTZ7 $300 Take the camera up to 40 meters under the sea.
AC adapter DMW-AC5 From $57 Power the camera without draining your battery. Requires the MC adapter below.
Multi conversion adapter DMW-MCA1 $50 Allows you to use the USB/video out port and the optional AC adapter at the same time
HDMI mini cable RP-CDHM15 From $25 You can buy generic versions for a lot less online

No conversion lenses for this camera, sorry!


PhotoFunStudio 3.0 HD

Panasonic includes several different software products with the Lumix DMC-ZS3. First up is PhotoFunStudio 3.0 HD, which is for Windows only. After you've imported photos from the camera or a memory card, you'll end up with the standard thumbnail view you can see above. From here you can view a slideshow, e-mail or print a photo, and upload videos to YouTube. You can also use a new "face recognition" feature that lets you identify people in your photos, which allows for easy searches later on. Speaking of searches, PhotoFunStudio lets you search through photos by all kinds of things, whether it's by camera model, scene mode, baby name, date, and more.


Editing photos in PhotoFunStudio

Choose the "retouch" option from the toolbar and you'll get the editing window you see above. Here you can adjust things like brightness, contrast, color, and sharpness. Images can be changed to sepia, black and white, or "negative color", and redeye can be removed with the click of your mouse. There's also an auto enhancement feature, for those who want to keep things simple.


ArcSoft MediaImpression in Mac OS X

Another option for basic image editing is ArcSoft MediaImpression software (for both Mac and Windows). MediaImpression can be used to import photos from the camera, with the unique option of removing redeye during import. After that's done, you get the usual thumbnail view you see above. There are plenty of editing options here, including an Easy-Fix Wizard that lets you straighten, crop, sharpen, and remove redeye from a photo, with very little work on your part.


ArcSoft Panorama Maker in Mac OS X

Another piece of the ArcSoft suite is Panorama Maker, 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.


Editing AVCHD videos via PhotoFunStudio

That brings us to the touchy subject of video editing. On most digital cameras, you can just double-click on the AVI or MOV file and it would open up in Windows Media or QuickTime Player. That's not the case on the ZS3, at least if you're using the AVCHD Lite codec. The camera creates a fairly complex file structure on your memory card, and even if you do find the video file, there's not much you can do with it.

For viewing and editing the movie (at least in Windows), you'll want to use PhotoFunStudio. You can view the movies, remove unwanted footage (see screenshot above), and burn them to a DVD or Blu-ray disc. This software does not allow you to convert videos to more common formats like AVI or QuickTime. For that, you'll need a more serious video editor, like Adobe Premiere (see this list for more ideas).


Using iMovie 09 to import videos from the ZS3

Mac users don't get any video viewing/editing software with the camera. If you have iMovie 08 or newer, or Final Cut Express/Pro, you can get them off of the camera fairly easily. However, they play back at double the frame rate, and I believe that's because the software does not natively support AVCHD (it instead converts the movies to another format). Panasonic says that Apple is aware of this issue, and they hope it will be resolved shortly.

The above issue was apparently resolved with the iMovie 8.0.3 update

I was able to view the videos on my Mac using the latest version of VLC. For burning AVCHD videos to a DVD or Blu-ray disc, you'll want to pick up Roxio Toast 10 (which can also convert them).

By the way, if you don't want to deal with AVCHD Lite's limitations, you can go back to the old Motion JPEG codec in the camera's movie settings menu. The file sizes will be larger, but you'll still get the same 720p resolution as if you were using AVCHD.

The manual included with the DMC-ZS3 is just average. It's obvious that Panasonic is trying to make their manuals a bit more user-friendly, though there's still a ton of "notes" on each page. You will find the answer to your question in the manual, though it'll require a little work. Documentation for the software described above is installed onto your computer.

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