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:
||35 - 420 mm
||35 - 420 mm
||36 - 432 mm
|Supports conversion lenses
|* While Panasonic doesn't
offer conversion lenses for the FZ3, third-party
lenses will work
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:
- The 3.2 effective Megapixel Lumix
- 8MB Secure Digital card
- CGA-S002A lithium-ion rechargeable
- Battery charger
- Lens hood w/adapter
- Lens cap
- Shoulder strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring ArcSoft software,
SD Viewer, and USB drivers
- 122 page camera manual (printed)
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
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
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
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
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
(W x H x D, excluding protrusions)
PowerShot S1 IS
x 3.1 x 2.6 in.
x 3.2 x 3.1 in.
x 3.2 x 3.2 in.
x 3.4 x 3.4 in.
Minolta DiMAGE Z3
x 3.1 x 3.3 in.
Minolta DiMAGE Z10
x 3.2 x 3.7 in.
x 2.9 x 3.4 in.
x 2.6 x 2.1 in.
C-765 Ultra Zoom
x 2.4 x 2.7 in.
C-770 Ultra Zoom
x 2.7 x 3.3 in.
x 3.4 x 4.2 in.
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
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,
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
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
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:
- Flash release
- EVF/LCD - choose which one to use
- Display - toggles what's shown
on the EVF and LCD
- Exposure - adjust the shutter speed
or aperture in the manual shooting modes
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:
- Up - Backlight compensation, exposure
compensation, flash exposure compensation, white
balance fine-tuning, auto bracketing (see below)
- Down - Review (quickly jumps to
- 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)
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
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:
||Fully automatic mode with all menu options
available; there's no program shift feature
on the FZ3, unlike the higher-end models;
also, the slowest shutter speed available
in this mode is 1/4 sec
|Aperture Priority mode
||You pick the aperture, the camera picks
the appropriate shutter speed; aperture range
is F2.8 - F8.0
|Shutter Priority mode
||You choose the shutter speed and the camera
picks the correct aperture. You can choose
from a range of 8 - 1/2000 sec; Do note that
the 1/1300 sec speed is only available at
F4.0 or higher, the 1/1600 at F5.6 or higher,
and 1/2000 at F8
|Full Manual mode
||You pick the aperture and shutter speed.
See above for values and restrictions
||Same as program mode
but for close subjects; more on macro later
| Movie mode
||More on this later
|| You pick the scene and
the camera uses the appropriate settings;
choose from portrait, sports, scenery, night
scenery, night portrait, panning, fireworks,
party, and snow
||Fully automatic, with
a simplified menu system (and fewer options)
||More on this later
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
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
Using the Panasonic Lumix
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
Now, here's a look at the resolution
and quality choices on the FZ3:
||# images on 8MB card
||# images on 128MB card
Yes, you DO need a larger memory card
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:
- Pict mode (Enlarge, 4 x 6, e-mail)
- change the resolution and quality
- Auto review (on/off) - post-shot
- Beep (Off, low, high)
- Clock set
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:
- White balance (Auto, daylight,
cloudy, halogen, flash, white set) - the latter option
will let you use a white or gray card to set a reference
for white, allowing for accurate color under any
lighting; I mentioned the ability to fine-tune the
WB earlier in the review
- Sensitivity [ISO] (Auto, 80, 100,
- Picture size (see chart)
- Quality (see chart)
- Audio recording (on/off) - record
a 5 sec audio clip with each picture
- Metering (Multiple, center-weighted,
- AF mode (9-area, 3-area, 1-area,
- Continuous AF (on/off) - camera
is always focuses which reduces AF delays; puts extra
strain on batteries
- AF trigger (Shutter release, focus
button) - what button makes the camera focus
- AF-assist lamp (on/off)
- Digital zoom (on/off) - it's best
to keep this off
- Color effect (Off, cool, warm,
black & white, sepia)
- Picture adjust (Natural,
vivid) - this menu was a lot bigger on the FZ20!
(Off, mode 1, mode 2) - see below
- Flip animation - see below
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
- Monitor/finder brightness (-7 to
+7 in 1-step increments) - you can have a different
brightness setting for the EVF and LCD
- 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
- Play on LCD (on/off) - photo is
always shown on LCD after it is taken or in playback
mode, even if you're using the EVF
- Power save (Off, 1, 2, 5, 10 mins)
- Beep (Off, soft, loud)
- Shutter sound (Off, soft, loud)
- Volume (0-7)
- Clock set
- File number reset
- USB mode (PC, PictBridge/PTP)
- Highlight (on/off) - overexposed
areas of your photos flash in review and playback
- Video out (NTSC, PAL)
- Scene menu (Off, auto) - if set
to auto, scene menu opens automatically when you
turn the mode dial to one of the two scene mode positions
- Language (English, French, Italian,
Japanese, German, Spanish, Chinese)
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
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
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.
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
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:
to play movie (5 MB, 320 x 240, 30 fps, QuickTime
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
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:
- Very good photo quality (though
see issues below)
- F2.8, 12X optical zoom lens
- Image stabilization system
- Very little purple fringing; unusual
for an ultra zoom camera
- Full manual controls including
ability to fine-tune white balance
- AF-assist lamp
- Robust performance, especially
with a high speed SD card
- Supports filters and third-party
- Lens hood/filter adapter included
- Good continuous shooting mode
- Histograms in record and playback
What I didn't care for:
- Occasional vignetting (dark corners)
- Above average redeye and barrel
- LCD and EVF don't "gain up" in
- Can't remove memory card while
camera is on tripod
- A VGA movie mode would've been
- Slowest shutter speed in program
and simple modes is 1/4 sec
- Skimpy memory card included
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
Want a second opinion?
Read more reviews at Steve's
Digicams and Digital
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.