The TZ3 is the smallest 10x optical zoom digital compact available. Alongside it's sibling, the 6Mp TZ2, the camera offers the zoom - 28mm wide angle Leica DC Vario Elmar lens, a huge 3in. screen as well as a plethora of other features all for the price of £250.
- Sensor: CCD - 7.2 Mp
- Image Size: 3072 x 2304 pixels (4:3)
- Lens: f/4.6-46mm (10x optical zoom)
- Focus: TTL Auto - 5cm Macro
- Exposure: Program AE
- Metering: 1-point/3-point/9-point/Spot
- Movie Mode: Yes
- Storage: SD, SDHC, MMC
- Batteries: Li-Ion Battery Pack
- Video Output: Yes
- Size/Weight: 105.0 x 59.2 x 36.7 mm - 232g
- Transfer: USB
Other cameras around the same price range are the Canon Ixus 950 IS at £259 which sports a 4x optical zoom, 8Mp and Image stabiliser, the Pentax Optio A30 at £249 with 10Mp only a 3x optical zoom and Shake reduction. Neither match up to the zoom capabilities of the Panasonic which also offers the optical image stabiliser.
Modes and features
The metal body of the TZ3 is ergonomically designed with a small grip on the front and a thumb rest on the back. The mode dial is situated on the top of the camera slightly overhanging to be manipulated by the thumb, however the dial is slightly too stiff for just thumb use. The image stabiliser button is located on the top of the camera next to the shutter release. The back of the camera is dominated by the stonking screen which easily overshadows the small menu access and navigation pad.
The mode dial offers Auto, Macro, Video, Direct print, Clipboard, two Scene modes, Simple mode, Playback and Intelligent ISO mode. The Auto mode should, theoretically, be the exact same as Simple mode and in picture taking, that is the case. The differences lie in the menu system. The menu offers next to nothing in the Simple mode and gives options in Auto that would normally be in the Manual mode which, in this camera, doesn't exist. By making Auto the new Manual mode and Simple the new Auto mode, Panasonic have devolved the modes in an attempt to make them easier to understand, which I was unaware was a problem in the first place.
A few options available in Auto mode are White balance, Quality, ISO rating, Metering, Continuous shooting, Slow shutter override and the set up for the camera is also available by choosing the spanner tab on the left of the screen.
The scene modes are quick access options to your favourite settings. This allows two modes to be set out of the gargantuan list of Portrait, Soft skin, Self portrait, Scenery, Sports, Night portrait, Night scenery, Food, Party, Candle light, Baby 1, Baby 2, Pet, Sunset, High sensitivity, Starry sky, Fireworks, Beach, Snow, Aerial Photography and Underwater saving time scrolling through the list.
Panasonic have given three options for cutting down the blurry pictures that stack up in the rear of a photo album. Firstly, they have provided the Optical Image Stabiliser which is by the far the most effective as it doesn't cut down on picture quality. The other two are the High sensitivity mode and the Intelligent ISO mode on the dial. These two options raise the ISO to allow for a faster shutter speed, but doing that can cause graininess which even Panasonic warn can happen.
The camera also has two ways of viewing your photos. The dial houses the Playback option and if this mode is selected, the camera can be turned on without the lens opening. Pressing the down button on the back of the camera, you can access the review mode.
On the back of the camera is the LCD mode button. This allows for scrolling through options on what the screen will show you. You can have Information, No information, Histogram or Composition aid which is more detailed than any other composition aid I have seen. It gives Rule-of-thirds , Perspective guide and Centre point.
The zoom lens is the main point of the cameras existence. Covering from 28mm to 280mm, the versatility of the camera accelerates beyond other cameras in its price range. The optical image stabiliser will help to steady the image if camera shake is blurring them and if that isn't enough, lens gurus Leica have provided the glass to ensure clear, sharp results.
Build and handling
The camera is made of metal, so the quality feels nice although this does add to the weight of the camera and it does feel heavier than other models. The features are easy enough to get to, the main drawback is that there are so many features it can get overwhelming. The battery compartment has a switch to unlock it and, like the power button, has some resistance meaning it cannot just open by getting caught. This is also where the SD card is housed and these are both snared in so they cannot just drop out.
The screen can still suffer from bright days as I found out when I went out for the location shots. I had to wait until I was in shade to review the images. The LCD mode does have a screen option where the camera has to be tilted to an oblique angle to view which can eliminate reflections.
The flash offers the options of Auto, Red-eye reduction, Flash on override, Slow sync with red-eye reduction and Flash off override. The flash can manage a distance of 0.6 - 4.2m (Wide), 0.3 - 2.8m (Tele).
The camera fired eight shots in the 10 second test before it had to download to card, however it managed to squeeze in another two before the ten seconds were up but the download time for the two other shots was on top of the 10 seconds.
The camera provides very good images which is thanks in part to the Leica lens. The Image stabiliser ensures no shakiness and up to ISO400 will give little noise. The camera can push up to a maximum of ISO1250 and the limit on the intelligent ISO setting can be set lower if desired which can improve image quality.
The TZ3 saturates the Red and Blue but pales out the Green.
The macro mode coped well with a busy bee.
The Auto mode gives an unflattering portrait image.
The soft skin mode certainly gives a softer complexion, but where is the warmth?
The 28mm wide angle lens gets lots in.
280mm gets the detail of being closer without the tediousness of actually walking there.
Metering from the winch bleached out the sky and there is minimal noise in low-key areas.
The landscape came out nicely but again the sky was bleached out.
Expectedly, ISO100 gives a soft image with detailed orange petals. Standard results are produced at ISO200 but the image starts to break down noticeably at ISO400. ISO800 and ISO1250 visibly breaks down the image with the petals changing colour.
The ISO100 test.
The ISO200 test.
The ISO400 test.
The ISO800 test.
The ISO1250 test.
The Panasonic is a very capable camera that will be able to cope with all but the most unusual situations it will have thrown at it. In some ways the camera has too many features on it referring of course to the array of scene modes. Whilst these are handy, ask yourself if you will remember that you have a Starry night or Underwater mode on your camera.
It is not the smallest camera in its class, but considering the size of the zoom, it is very small. None of the other cameras in the price range can match the zoom. The Pentax has higher resolution, but that will depend on whether you essentially need two million more pixels on each image.
Due to the fact that the camera has a massive zoom on a small body coupled with a wide angle, the Panasonic DMC-TZ3 has been granted our prestigious Cutting Edge Award.
Huge 10x optical zoom
Wide 28mm lens
Optical image stabiliser
Too many preset modes
A bit weighty
The Panasonic DMC-TZ3 costs £250 and is available from the ePHOTOzine shop here.