A very compact, extended-zoom digicam that would be an excellent choice for travellers.Panasonic has released two updates to last year's DMC-TZ1 model, which we reviewed in June 2006: the 6-megapixel DMC-TZ2 and the 7.2-megapixel DMC-TZ3 (which is reviewed here). Both have the same 10x optical zoom lens, which covers a focal length range equivalent to 28-280mm in 35mm format but the TZ1's 2.5-inch LCD monitor has been replaced in the TZ3 by a 3.0-inch display that fills three quarters of the back panel. No viewfinder is provided. . . [more]
Panasonic has released two updates to last year's DMC-TZ1 model, which we reviewed in June 2006: the 6-megapixel DMC-TZ2 and the 7.2-megapixel DMC-TZ3 (which is reviewed here). Both have the same 10x optical zoom lens, which covers a focal length range equivalent to 28-280mm in 35mm format but the TZ1's 2.5-inch LCD monitor has been replaced in the TZ3 by a 3.0-inch display that fills three quarters of the back panel. No viewfinder is provided.
Like the TZ1, both of the new models are, essentially, point-and-shoot cameras and many of the more noteworthy features of the TZ1 can be found in the new models. The design of the three cameras is also similar, although grip in the new models appears slightly shallower and the new models have a built-in lens cover instead of a rather clumsy removable lens cap.
Basic controls are the same in all three cameras but a couple of new shooting modes have been added to the mode dial on the TZ2 and TZ3: 'Intelligent ISO' and 'Clipboard'. The former detects subject motion and boosts the ISO and shutter speed to minimize blurring, while the latter lets you record shots to the clipboard section of the built-in memory. It's handy for taking shots of maps and timetables and acts as a pictorial memo. Two new colour settings, 'Natural' and 'Vivid', have been added to the shooting menu and histograms can be viewed in both shooting and playback modes. A print mode is also provided for direct printing of shots via a PictBridge connection.
Although the TZ-series cameras lack the P, A, S and M shooting modes that are provided by Panasonic's similarly-sized LX series cameras, they can also produce shots with three aspect ratios: 4:3, 3:2 and 16:9. This is achieved by cropping the imaging area of the sensor, which in the TZ3 is actually an 8-megapixel imager. Unlike the LX2, which has the aspect ratio selector just above the lens, in the TZ3 selection is made in the camera's menu.
The structure of the TZ3's imaging chip is quite different from the structure of the sensor in the DMC-LX2 model, which has a 16:9 aspect ratio. We haven't been able to obtain the dimensions of the '1/2.35-inch type' imager in the TZ3 but, going by the pixel dimensions of the highest-resolution images in each aspect ratio, the cropping appears to have the following effects:
With the TZ3, the highest resolution is achieved with 4:3 aspect ratio images but the other settings are only a little lower. As a result, photographers can feel more confident about using the different aspect ratio settings, knowing they should not sacrifice a significant amount of picture quality when they change aspect ratios. In the LX2, the highest resolution is at the 16:9 setting. Cropping reduces the 4:3 aspect ratio resolution by a huge 2.5 megapixels, reducing the resolution of a 10-megapixel camera to 7.5 megapixels as shown below.
The effective focal lengths of the TZ3's zoom lens vary only marginally with the different aspect ratio settings. In contrast, with the LX2, the zoom lens, which is equivalent to 28-112mm in the 16:9 mode changes its field of view to the equivalent of 34-136mm when the switch is at the 4:3 position.
A welcome addition to the TZ3's control system is the dedicated Function (FUNC) button, which is shared with the LX and FX cameras. Pressing this button gives quick access to Burst, white balance, ISO, aspect ratio and image size/quality settings, without requiring the photographer to toggle through the camera's menu. The menu itself is the traditional Panasonic offering with large-easy-to-read text and a reasonably logical arrangement of menu items.
The redesigned 10x zoom lens extends further than the TZ1's but zooming is wonderfully smooth and controllable, making the camera a pleasure to use. Features unchanged - or barely altered - from the TZ1 include the AF and AE systems and the excellent optical image stabilisation (O.I.S.) system as well as the Venus Engine III image processor.
We suspect there has been some tweaking between the two models as the TZ3's sensitivity can go as high as ISO 3200 in the new High Sensitivity mode and up to ISO 1250 via the manual settings. This allows users to combine O.I.S. with ISO boosting to freeze subject movement. However, shots taken with the test camera show noise-related problems at setting above ISO 800 (see Performance, below).
New additions to the playback menu include a Dual Display mode that lets you display two sequential shots vertically on the LCD and a Date Stamp setting that imprints the date on one or up to 50 sequential shots. With the Dual Display mode, you can enlarge each shot individually but can't enlarge both together to compare them. The Date Stamp setting reduces image resolutions to a maximum of 3-megapixels but, if you use the relevant scene modes, you can imprint the age of your baby or pet or the day of your vacation you took the shot on via this setting. Finally, the TZ3 includes a batch delete setting that lets you delete a group of shots instead of deleting them one at a time.
Movie capture has very similar functions to those offered by the TZ1 but you can no longer use the optical zoom while shooting (although digital zooming remains available). This is probably because the lens requires a more powerful motor to drive it. Movies are saved in QuickTime Motion JPEG format with the first frame of each clip saved as a JPEG thumbnail. When viewing a movie in playback mode, you can grab a single frame or create an index picture from nine surrounding frames. No other in-camera editing functions are provided.
Shots taken with the test camera were bright and punchy but outdoor pictures in bright sunlight showed the blown-out highlights and blocked shadows that are common with small-sensor digicams. Exposures were generally well-balanced and we obtained a reasonably wide dynamic range in slightly overcast conditions (high, diffuse cloud).
Colour saturation with the default colour setting was also more restrained than we normally find in compact digicams. (The Vivid setting delivered the expected saturation boost without oversaturating strong colours as the settings in some cameras do.)
Imatest confirmed our subjective assessments, showing the TZ3 to produce shots with accurate colours and restrained saturation. Lateral chromatic aberration was negligible and we found little evidence of coloured fringing due to blooming. However, we detected noticeable edge softening in many shots and this was confirmed by Imatest, which showed a significant difference in resolution between the centre and edges of test shots.
The built-in flash worked well indoors at ISO settings of 400 and above but produced under-exposed shots at lower sensitivities. Red-eye correction was generally good. Macro performance was average, with the camera limited to a 5cm distance from the subject. Digital zoom shots were better than average, although some artefacts were visible and images were a little soft.
White balance performance was typical of many digicams. The test camera failed to correct the inherent casts of either incandescent or fluorescent lighting in auto mode and only provided full correction with manual measurement. The only long exposure capability is provided via the Starry Sky mode, which supports exposure times of 15, 30 and 60 seconds. Shots were generally noisy and high levels of noise reduction produced noticeable softening.
Overall, the test camera was quite responsive, offering fast and accurate autofocusing, even in relatively dim conditions, thanks to a built-in illuminator. Start-up time averaged less than two seconds and it took about the same time to process each shot. We measured an average capture lag of 0.5 seconds, which reduced to 0.1 seconds with pre-focusing. In continuous shooting mode, shots were recorded at 0.35 second intervals and a burst of five high-resolution shots was processed in less than two seconds.
Noise at ISO 100.
Noise at ISO 1250.
Wide-angle with 4:3 aspect ratio.
Full zoom with 4:3 aspect ratio.
Dynamic range in bright, overcast conditions.
Image sensor: 1/2.35-inch type (~5.92 x 4.87 mm) CCD with 8.5 million photosites (7.2 megapixels effective)
Lens: 4.6-46mm f/3.3-f/4.9 Leica DC Vario-Elmar zoom (28-280mm in 35mm format)
Zoom ratio: 10x optical, 4x digital
Image formats: Stills – JPEG, TIFF; Movies – QuickTime Motion JPEG
Image Sizes: Multi-aspect selectable (4:3, 3:2, 16:9), 4:3 Ratio Formats:, 3072 x 2304 pixels, 2560 x 1920 pixels, 2048 x 1536 pixels, 1600 x 1200 pixels, 3:2 Ratio Formats:, 3216 x 2144 pixels, 2560 x 1712 pixels, 2048 x 1360 pixels, 16:9 Ratio Formats:, 3328 x 1872 pixels, 2560 x 1440 pixels, 1920 x 1080 pixels; Movies 30 or 10 fps (16:9 Aspect Ratio: 848 x 480 pixels), 30 or 10 fps (4:3 format: 640x480 or 320x240 pixels, 16:9 format: 848x480 pixels)
Shutter speed range: 8-1/2000 sec. (15/30/60 sec. in Starry Sky mode)
Image Stabilisation: MEGA O.I.S. (Mode1/Mode2)
Exposure Compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3 EV steps
Focus system/range: 9/1-area AF; range 50 cm to infinity; macro to 5 cm
Exposure metering/control: Intelligent Multiple, Spot, Centre-Weighted metering; Program AE with Simple mode, Normal Picture, Macro, SCN1/SCN2 (Portrait, Sports, Scenery, Night Scenery, Panning, Night Portrait, Fireworks, Party, Snow)
ISO range: Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1250, (High Sensitivity mode: 3200)
White balance: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, B&W, White Set
Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Auto/Red-eye Reduction, Slow Sync./Red-eye Reduction, Forced On/Off; range 0.6-4.2 m
Sequence shooting: 3 or 2 fps, Max. 7 (Standard) or 5 (Fine) images
Storage Media: 12.7MB internal memory plus SD/SDHC/MMC expansion slot
LCD monitor: 3.0-inch low-temperature polycrystalline TFT (approx. 230,000 pixels)
Power supply: Lithium-ion battery pack (3.7V, 1000mAh)
Dimensions (wxhxd): 105.0 x 59.2 x 36.7 mm
Weight: 232 grams (without battery and card)
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- OVERALL: 8