Last year, Panasonic released the Lumix DMC-TZ1. The chunky, little 5-megapixel camera contained a 10x zoom lens that let it fit snugly into the compact, high-zoom snapshot camera niche. It didn't exactly wow us, and we gave the camera a less than stellar rating. Now Panasonic has released the Lumix DMC-TZ3, taking the TZ1's basic design and improving nearly every aspect of it.
The DMC-TZ3 looks almost identical to the DMC-TZ1, sharing its predecessor's chunky 9-ounce frame, its prominent lens, the tasteful gold-and-silver Leica accent, and a straightforward, minimalist control scheme. I readily accessed the camera's buttons with just my right hand for one-handed shooting, though they were a little smaller than I would have liked. If you're not careful, you may end up hitting the wrong button, especially when using the four-way multicontroller.
Much like the DMC-TZ1, the DMC-TZ3's lens remains the camera's most notable feature. The camera's 28mm-to-280mm-equivalent, f/3.3-to-f/4.6, 10x optical, Leica zoom lens can handle both wide and close-up shots, a distinct improvement over its predecessor. Most high-zoom cameras, including the TZ1, use 35mm or narrower lenses, so the TZ3's 28mm wide-angle lens gives it a definite edge when pulling back to take a shot. Panasonic included its Mega OIS optical image stabilization on the TZ3, a vital inclusion for any high-zoom camera.
The DMC-TZ3 also uses a 3-inch LCD screen, notably larger than the DMC-TZ1's 2.5-inch display. The camera misses one minor feature its little brother had: the TZ3 doesn't have the TZ1's nifty stop-motion Flip Animation movie node. Beyond this minor mode omission, however, the TZ3 either retains or improves upon all of the TZ1's features. Unfortunately, like its predecessor, the TZ3 also lacks any significant manual exposure controls.