Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 review:

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3

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.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot
Typical shot-to-shot time
Shutter lag (dim)
Shutter lag (typical)
Canon PowerShot SX110 IS
2.3
2.1
0.7
0.5
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS
2.4
2.3
0.8
0.5
Nikon Coolpix S630
3.9
3.1
0.8
0.5
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3
2.3
2
1.1
0.5

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

What you'll pay

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