The various AF area-mode selections are pretty practical as well, though more for limiting the range of subjects the AF system chooses to focus on than for speed. For instance, the 11-area AF will frequently choose incorrect subjects, where the 1-area AF, which limits the focus area to the middle of the frame, will probably choose correctly more often (since most people simply point at their subject, which puts it in the middle of the frame). The ZS3 has a variety of continuous-shooting modes: standard burst (three best quality shots); a slower infinite burst (highest quality until the card is full), which most closely resembles a typical continuous-shooting mode; and a high-speed burst scene mode, with combinations of various reduced resolutions and ISO sensitivity setting constraints.
Movie-specific options include size and quality, a choice of area or face detect for AF, continuous AF, color, and wind filter. The ZS3 shoots 1,280x720 30fps (720p) HD video, which gets saved in the AVCHD Lite format. This might be a bit of a problem on the software end; many players (software and standalone) need to see the entire AVCHD path on the media, but if you use a photo downloader it might either ignore the movies entirely or simply copy them over without the directory structure. The ZS3 can zoom--quietly, too--while shooting video, but the autofocus doesn't adjust while zooming and takes a second to lock again once you've stopped. But it's got a dedicated movie-record button, which comes in handy.
While the 12x lens covers a nice focal range, 25-300mm-equivalent, it's fairly slow: maximum aperture is f3.3-4.9, depending upon the zoom. The 3-inch LCD looks nice, but tends to get reflective in direct sunlight making it difficult to frame scenes, especially if you're trying to view off-angle.
The ZS3 delivers decent performance, a bit better than the TZ5 and about average for its category. It powers on and shoots in about 2.3 seconds. While it takes a reasonable 0.5 second to focus and shoot in good light, its 1.1 seconds to do so in dimmer, lower contrast lighting is on the high side--too high. Shot-to-shot takes a hair more than 2 seconds, and increases moderately to 2.4 seconds with flash enabled. Our tests with the standard three-shot burst mode yielded a range from 1.9 to 2.3 frames per second.
Overall, the photo quality is quite good for its class. While not quite as sharp as that of the Canon PowerShot SX200 IS, the lens is sharper than the TZ5's with less distortion and practically no fringing. It renders excellent color, saturated and accurate, and generally exposes well, though it tends to clip highlights and haze over a bit in bright scenes. Typical of a point and shoot, the ZS3's noise profile fares well up to ISO 200; at ISO 400 noise-suppression artifacts like blurring start to appear, though the quality isn't bad. Despite the camera's ability to go up as high as ISO 6,400 (in the scene modes), I certainly wouldn't use it beyond ISO 1,600 and even then only in an emergency.
It would be nice if the camera had some more--OK, any--manual features, like the SX200 IS, but if you're looking for a real point and shoot with the flexibility to cover a large variety of shooting situations, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 offers a very compelling alternative.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)