Conclusion - Pros
- Uniquely versatile compact with 28-280mm equiv. lens
- Excellent resolution, surprisingly sharp lens
- Unusually versatile aspect ratio options
- High quality construction for the price
- Little (if any) color fringing
- Very low distortion
- Good shot-to-shot speed
- Reliable white balance with fine tuning
- Feels fast and responsive with some important improvements over predecessor
- High speed (and accurate) focus; near class-leading performance
- Superb, bright, high-resolution 3.0-inch screen
- Decent movie mode with 848 x 480 pixel 30fps wide screen option
- Image stabilization works well
- Histogram in record and playback mode, full on-screen exposure information
- Excellent on-screen menus and control system
- New 'natural' and 'vivid' color options
- Easy - and fun - to use
- Good value for money
Conclusion - Cons
- Heavy noise reduction - make ISO 400+ usable only for small prints
- NR smoothing/smearing of fine detail and texture even at ISO 100 (and fairly strong at ISO 200)
- Mild vignetting at widest zoom setting / maximum aperture
- No manual control of shutter speed or aperture (not a huge issue to most users)
- Images look a little soft and flat using default settings
- Separate sharpness, saturation and contrast controls would have been nice!
- Occasional exposure problems and clipped highlights when shooting in bright light
- Closest focus not close enough, macro mode slows down focus and is not that impressive
- Focus hunting at long end of the zoom in low light and near close focus limit
- No longer allows zooming during movies
I really liked the TZ1 - as a concept and as a camera to use - and I would have been able to give it a much more wholehearted recommendation had the image quality issues and shutter lag not let it down so badly. The TZ3 is a camera I wanted to like even more; the 28-280mm range is considerably more versatile (you're gaining a lot more at the short end than you're losing at the long end in my opinion), plus it's smaller, faster and even more feature-laden.
So let's get one thing out of the way right away; the image quality has not come on in leaps and bounds; resolution is a bit higher (for those of you that shoot res charts all day), but the output with the default settings looks softer and flatter, and really needs a little post-processing to get the best results. Whether this is a good thing or not depends on your workflow; I'd much rather do a little PP than be stuck with the camera's idea of pleasing output. The new image parameters give you a little more control in-camera, and to my eyes the 'vivid' setting looks a lot like the output from the TZ1.
Otherwise the main issues we worried about with the TZ1 are still here, and they're all related to noise, or more importantly the suppression of it using Panasonic's unmistakable Venus III chroma smearing. The NR effects are very slightly less painful than they were on the TZ1, but we're not talking about a quantum leap here.
On the plus side the TZ3 is an innovative, fast, fun, versatile camera that, especially outdoors in decent light, makes getting great pictures remarkably easy. It's not best suited to snapping the kids running around the house in dim light, but then it is, after all, designed as a travel companion, something it does very well indeed. It is also, at this moment in time, pretty much peerless.
And so then, the TZ3 is another fantastic Panasonic camera with a fantastic lens that struggles to impress if you look at the images too closely because of overblown noise reduction. It's a classic example of a camera that will never do that well in a dpreview test because the output doesn't look great at a pixel level, but that I would happily buy for myself for walkaround snapping.
It's well priced and easy to use, and - as long as you accept that there are always going to be compromises with a camera like this - capable of producing excellent results for normal print sizes or viewing at normal magnifications on-screen. Bearing all this in mind, take a look at the sample gallery to see for yourself if the output quality is acceptable. For us, the performance and feature enhancements are enough to make sure the question marks over the image quality don't deny the TZ3 a Recommended rating.
|Detail||Rating (out of 10)|
|Ergonomics & handling||8.0|
There are 35 images in the samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.
Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution (with a couple at different aspect ratios too). A reduced size image (within 1024 x 1024 bounds) is provided to be more easily viewed in your browser. As always the original untouched image is available by clicking on this reduced image.