Editor's note: this camera is identical in specifications to the S1, released at the same time, except it has a higher resolution sensor (14.1 vs. 12.1-megapixels).
At the cheapest end of the Lumix range, the S3 and its companion, the S1, look a little bit like blobs of Play-Doh moulded into a camera shape. Sporting a 2.7-inch LCD screen these two cameras take rounded corners to the extreme, resulting in a camera that is easy to hold, particularly for young photographers.
As a result of its price the S3 feels a bit plasticky to use, but it's very light to carry around and is ideal to throw in a handbag or pocket for spontaneous photography. The 4x optical zoom lens opens to 28mm wide-angle, and the camera also comes with Panasonic's Mega OIS (optical image stabilisation).
Controls at the back of the camera are simple and, thankfully, buttons are large enough for chunkier fingers. Rather than having a zoom control around the shutter button, the S3 has its zoom controls set to a single button at the back.
The S3 has a range of shooting modes available, including intelligent automatic, normal picture, video mode and scene modes. Connectivity is via a single digital AV out-port at the side, and the S3 uses SD/SDHC/SDXC cards and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery.
As with any other camera in this price range, you do need to keep your photo quality expectations in check for the price. That said, the S3 does a pretty decent job at making images with good colour rendition and pleasing saturation levels. Unfortunately, as seems to be the case with cameras of this price range, the S3 has far too many megapixels for the lens to be able to resolve. At reduced magnification, images look great; zoom in to full resolution and you'll see the over-processing issues.
The flash also seems rather under-powered, particularly noticeable on night shots. Images taken at high ISO levels are naturally full of colour noise. Fortunately, the S3 doesn't tend to push itself too high in the ISO levels except when absolutely needed.
Video is OK, with above average image quality let down by very poor audio recording from the mono microphone. Expect your recordings to sound like they were made in a tunnel.
Click each image for full-sized samples from the Lumix S3. No post-processing has been done to alter these photos.
Exposure: 1/200, f/6.5, ISO 100
Exposure: 1/200, f/4, ISO 100
Exposure: 1/60, f/3.1, ISO 320
Exposure: 1/125, f/3.1, ISO 400
Keep your photo quality expectations in check and you'll enjoy using the Lumix S3, even if it does look like it could have been moulded out of Play-Doh.