Design and Handling
Although it's a little smaller and a little sleeker the TZ3 doesn't veer too drastically from the design of its predecessor, and it's still pretty amazing to see such a small camera sporting such an impressive zoom range. There are a couple of minor changes of note; a new FUNC button (for Panasonic's useful new quick menu) is very welcome, the slightly shallower grip less so (it makes the camera a lot slimmer, but doesn't help handling). There's no optical viewfinder (it would be pointless given the huge zoom range), and the diminutive dimensions mean there's no space for an electronic viewfinder either, so if you like to shoot with the camera to your eye... this ain't the camera for you.
Key body elements
Although you don't get the manual control over shutter speeds, apertures, focus and so on found on Panasonic's FZ series of cameras, the TZ3 - like its predecessor - packs a surprising number of useful features into its small body. In everyday use the majority of controls you're likely to need (flash, AE compensation, self-timer) get their own external control buttons, with the new FUNC menu making a huge difference to people who like to change white balance, ISO, metering etc on a regular basis.
Panasonic has struck the perfect balance between making the TZ3 small enough to be truly portable and the need to be big enough to use without fumbling over the buttons. I was surprised at how well the controls are positioned and how well the camera handles.
Controls & Menus
Panasonic has been refining its user-interface for several generations of Lumix camera, but the essentials remain the same, with lots of control and an admirably logical, easy to use and yet attractive design. Users of any recent Panasonic model will feel completely at home here.
|The live view screen in record mode will be familiar to anyone who's ever used a Panasonic compact. The DISP button lets you choose the amount of information overlaid, from nothing at all this fairly comprehensive display, complete with histogram. There is also a handy grid option.||Half-press the shutter release and the camera will calculate exposure (AE) and focus (AF) indicating the AF area used and the aperture/shutter speed chosen. You'll also get a warning if camera shake is a danger.|
|New for the TZ3 is this 'SLR viewfinder' style (as seen on all the recent FZ series cameras).||Also new for the TZ3 is the quick 'Function' menu seen on the LX and FZ series. This offers fast access to burst mode, white balance, ISO, aspect ratio, size and quality. Note that the FUNC menu is normally displayed as an overlay on the live preview (click).|
|A nice touch - common to all Panasonic models - is the easily accessible AE-Compensation, AE-Bracketing and WB adjust options. These are accessed via repeated presses of the 'up' arrow on the rear of the camera.||Switching to the 'Simple' mode (indicated by a heart symbol on the mode dial) gives you a friendlier, simpler on-screen display with larger icons, fewer controls and less information.|
|The record menu in 'Simple' mode is suitably basic, with easy icons and limited options.||There are 21 scene modes in total, and an option in the setup menu allows you to choose between seeing this menu when you turn the dial to the SCN1 or SCN2 position. If you choose not to, the last selected scene mode for each position on the dial is remembered, allowing you to set the two SCN positions on the dial as your two favorite scene modes. Pressing the info button brings up a brief description of each mode.|
|The three-page record menu covers options such as white balance, sensitivity, picture size/quality, focus modes and image adjustments.||A new feature is the 'Clipboard'. This allows you to shoot low res images and save them in a special area on the internal memory - the idea being you snap train timetables and so on for use later. I suspect most users will, like me, see this as a bit of a waste of a notch on the mode dial.|
|As when in record mode you can choose the amount of information displayed in playback mode - from nothing at all to full data and histogram (as shown here).||A new option is 'Dual Display' - useful for comparing and sorting through lots of shots (the thumbnails can be scrolled and zoomed independently). You can view 3x3 or 5x5 thumbnails, and magnify images up to 16x. As is now fairly common you can also view images sorted by date using the calendar view.|
|The three-page playback menu offers the usual array of printing, erasing, protecting and slide show options. There's also the option to add sound to saved files, as well as crop (trim) and resize them.||The setup menu - accessible from either playback or record mode - has three pages of basic camera-related settings, from monitor brightness and auto review settings to power management, sounds and date and time settings.|