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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3 - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 08/04/05
Rating: Highly Recommended!

Check latest price on Amazon: UK | US


Introduction: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3, is available for around £260 - the Lumix FZ3 is a fairly compact 3 megapixel digital camera, with an impressive 12x optical zoom lens (equivalent to 35-420mm on a 35mm camera), and a 1.5" TFT screen. The camera is enclosed in a silver plastic body. It records unlimited 320 x 240 / 30fps videos with sound. The camera's quite compact for an ultra zoom with the following size: 108 x 68.4 x 84.8 mm. (without protruding parts), and weighs 290g (without the battery and memory card)

Panasonic have this to say about the camera:

"Panasonic is introducing the incoming LUMIX model DMC-FZ3, 3.1 mega effective pixels CCD model with MEGA O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilizer), incorporating a 12x optical zoom (equivalent to 35mm to 420mm on a 35mm film camera) with full-range F2.8. The DMC-FZ3 is the heir to the 2.0-megapixel DMC-FZ2, achieving the downsizing in the smooth rounded form. DMC-FZ3 has enhanced its excellence, not only with the total number of pixels but also with the innovative technical improvements in the image processing LSI and in the accuracy of O.I.S."

The Camera: It's compact and made out of silver plastic.
(Photos of the camera taken with a Nikon Coolpix 4800)


Front - Camera off, lens cap on.


Front - Camera on, lens extended, flash up, microphone, and AF-assist lamp.


Back - the 1.5" TFT screen, electronic viewfinder (diopter corrector on left of this), EVF/LCD switch, flash open button, display button, exposure button, on/off, menu, 4-way controller, focus button, speaker.


Top - mode dial, continuous shooting mode, shutter, zoom control.


Bottom, under the camera there is a metal tripod mount, and the battery and memory compartment.


Left Side (from back) AV/USB out, DC in.


Nothing on this side (apart from the strap hole).

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm automatic.


Size comparison.


Size comparison.


Size comparison next to the Nikon Coolpix 4800 (photo taken with the Olympus Mju Digital 500). The body of the Panasonic feels smaller than the Nikon, however the lens on the Panasonic is much larger.

Specifications / Features:

  • 3-megapixel sensor captures enough detail to create photo-quality 10-by-13-inch enlargements
  • Leica DC Vario-Elmarit lens 12x optical zoom lens combines with 4x digital zoom for 48x total zoom
  • MEGA Optical Image Stabilizer keeps low-light and telephoto images sharp
  • 0.008-second shutter release lag
  • Store images on Secure Digital (SD) memory cards
  • Zoom: Capture unbelievable photos with the outstanding 12x optical and 4x digital zooms
  • 1.5" LCD: Watch the action and review images through the 1.5" LCD screen
  • MEGA optical image stabilizer: Shots are clear even at full zoom with this image stabilization system
  • Venus Engine" II LSI shutter release time lag: Take consecutive pictures at speeds up to 3fps
  • Movie mode: Record 320 x 240 at 30fps with sound
  • ISO: Auto ISO, Manual ISO 80, 100, 200, 400
  • TV Out

Box Contents:

  • Camera
  • Strap
  • Lens cap / cap string
  • Li-ion battery and charger
  • 16MB SD Memory card
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-Rom
  • Instruction Manual
  • Lens hood / lens hood adapter

Average box contents - 16mb is an average size memory card for a 3 megapixel camera.

Battery usage: Up to 360 images with fully charged battery according to Panasonic - however as the camera uses a proprietry battery, I would recommend you buy a spare battery just in case. Battery life seemed good.

Menu Options / Modes: The camera mode is selected using the rotating dial.

Photo mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right below:

Photo mode Photo Menu

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown on the left) The screen is a fairly decent resolution, and updates smoothly - the colours appear accurate. There is a live histogram available and the screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read. Optical Viewfinder: The electronic viewfinder is a bit small for me as I wear glasses. It has a dioptor corrector which helps.

Menu options are: White balance (including custom), Sensitivity, Picture size, Quality, Audio recording, Metering mode, AF mode, Continuous AF, AF Trigger, AF Assist lamp, Digital zoom (on/off), Colour effect (Cool, Warm, Black and White, Sepia), Picture adjust (Natural, Standard, Vivid), Stabiliser mode (off, Mode 1, Mode 2), Flip Animation.

Scene modes Setup Menu

Scene modes: (shown on the left, above) Portrait, Sports, Scenery, Night scenery, Night portrait, Panning, Fireworks, Party, Snow.

Setup menu options: (shown on the right, above) Monitor, Auto review, Play on LCD, Power save, beep, shutter, volume, clock set, no. reset, reset, USB mode, highlight, video out, scene memu, language.

Playback (Review) mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right, below:

Playback mode Playback Menu

Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is quick. The zoom is quick up to 16x.

Playback menu options: Rotate, Protect, DPOF Print, Slide show, Audio Dub, resize, trimming, format.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number of images will fit on the 16mb memory provided with the camera:

Size / Quality: Number of Photos Stored
  TIFF Fine Normal
3mp (2016x1512) 1 9 17
HDTV (1920x1080) 2 13 25
2mp (1600x1200) 2 14 28
1.3mp (1280x960) 2 22 41
VGA (640x480) 13 69 113
Video 320x240 30fps 26 seconds

You can fit a small number of images on the built in memory - a larger memory card is definitely recommended, unless you want to use the lower image sizes / higher compression options in order to fit more pictures in memory. There is a very good choice of image sizes, and there is a very good choice regarding image compression.

A larger memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 128mb or 256mb memory card, and preferably a 512mb memory card, or larger, especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3:

128mb SD memory card - £11.99 from Amazon.co.uk.
256mb SD memory card - £19.00 from Amazon.co.uk.
512mb SD memory card - £33.99 from Amazon.co.uk.
1gb (1000mb) SD memory card - £59.99 from Amazon.co.uk.

Speed: The camera is fairly quick to switch on and take photos - however the camera can occassionally 'hunt' for the focus in darker indoor conditions. The screen updates are quick and smooth (in good light). The playback mode is also quick. Playback mode allows you to zoom as close as 16x. The camera has a quick continuous shooting mode. The camera shutter response seemed quicker than normal when pre-focused.

Ease of use: The camera is easy to use, although the camera does have a lot of options and features. The controls on the back of the camera are fairly easy to use - the menus are responsive and easy to read. The camera is compact although not as compact as other ultra zoom cameras due to the 12x lens. The menus are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly. The modes are easy to access, quick and simple - there's even a basic mode for simple point and shoot operation.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The buttons are fairly easy to use, and they are in a good position. There seems to be the right amount of buttons. The buttons feel okay, the shutter release is quite decent. The buttons are labelled fairly well. I thought the camera felt very good ergonomically, and was the correct weight - it seemed lighter than it looked, but not too light. The hand grip may be a bit small for people with large hands.

Image Quality: Here are some sample photos/video(s) taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, Movie to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the new gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower Group photo

Inside: The camera has good colour. It has a powerful flash, and copes well with group photos. The camera did a good job at focusing the majority of the time. Red-eye didn't seem to be a problem.

Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels, and manual ISO settings (ISO80, 100, 200, and 400) - below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings.


Noise test photo - flash on

ISO80 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels

Noise levels appear low at ISO80 and ISO100 although in some photos noise was still visible, for example in the sky. At ISO200 noise becomes much more noticable and in my test photos it was just about acceptable, at ISO400 noise seems very high.

Outside:

Unisys Building Mercury Court Clock

Outside, the camera had very good colour, with good contrast and saturation. There was very good detail. Noise seemed slightly on the high side. I didn't notice jpeg artefacts in the images.

Zoom: This camera has a 12x optical zoom lens and a built in 4x digital zoom - in the case of this camera the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software blurring the image so that it is not pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using digital zoom as it degrades the quality of the image and, often, better results can be obtained by using a photo package such as Adobe Photoshop. I've included examples below to show what the 12x optical zoom is capable of - the 12x optical zoom means you shouldn't need or want to use digital zoom.

Wide-angle 3x Optical zoom 12x Optical zoom

Lens noise and zoom: The lens is very quiet. The lens is quick at going from wide to telephoto - there are too many steps between wide and telephoto to count! However this gives you good control on how you frame your subject.

Other Image Quality issues: I did notice purple fringing in some photos, i.e. the clock tower photos, however it is still quite low.

Macro: To use this camera in macro mode, you switch to macro mode - you can use the macro mode at wide angle, all the way to telephoto. You can use the flash in macro mode. The camera can be roughly as close as 2cm away from the subject from the front of the lens.

Macro Watch (ISO 200) Actual Pixels (100%)

The macro mode is very good - the camera does a good job of toning down the flash, and colours and detail are very good.

Movie: 320x240 at 30fps with sound. The movie is recorded as an .MOV file. Unfortunately you can't use the optical zoom whilst recording videos.


Formby Beach Sand-dune surfing - 320x240 movie - Download. (right click, save target as, 1.78mb) (saved as Zip file)

The quality of the movie(s) is quite good, colour is quite good, the camera also does a good job in low-light. The frame rate is good.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality is excellent, the images have good colour, saturation, contrast and excellent detail for a 3mp digital camera - however there is some purple fringing. Images tend to come out of the camera perfectly, without requiring any post-processing! The camera did a good job focusing - thanks to the AF-assist lamp. Noise was on the high side, especially at ISO 200 and 400. I did notice some vignetting in the corners. There is a good range of image sizes and a very good choice of compression options (TIFF). The macro mode is very good. Auto white balance and metering seemed to be very good. Red-eye was controlled very well. The movie mode is slightly better than average, at 320x240 / 30fps with sound.

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is compact and is designed well - the camera feels very comfortable in my hands, and seems like a "real" camera. The camera is fairly compact considering the zoom power. The camera is easy to use, the menu system is easy to use and there is a good layout of buttons and controls. There is a good choice of features and options to suit all levels of experience, from shutter/aperture control to scene modes, as well as manual white balance, live histogram etc - although some may be dissapointed to find that there is no manual focus. The camera speed is good, with a okay switch on time, good focusing time, and good shutter response.

Alternative ultra zoom digital cameras: 8x Optical zoom: Nikon Coolpix 4800 (read my review) Konica Minolta Dimage Z10 / Z20, Olympus C-725 (read my review) 10x Optical zoom: Fuji Finepix S5500, Olympus C-765 (read my review) / C-770, Canon S1 IS (Image Stabilisation), Kodak Easyshare DX7490 (read my review) 12x Optical zoom: Konica Minolta Dimage Z3 (read my review) / Z5 (Anti-shake), Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3 / FZ4 / FZ5 / FZ15 / FZ20 (Image Stabilisation), Sony Cybershot H1 (Image Stabilisation) - Check amazon.co.uk / kelkoo.co.uk or amazon.com for the latest prices.

Summary: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3 is a fantastic digital camera! The camera has a very impressive stabilised Leica 12x optical zoom lens that captures a lot of detail despite the cameras seemingly low 3 megapixel sensor. The camera has a very good macro mode. The camera has very good image quality - only slightly let down by noise. The Panasonic offers very good value for money as an easy to use, quick and powerful digital camera that consistantly produces good results.

I have been so impressed by this camera that I've used it for nearly all of my recent photos of other cameras, and would only be happy getting rid of this camera if it was to upgrade to the new FZ4 or FZ5!

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3 Rating: Highly Recommended!
Check latest price on Amazon: UK | US

What I like:

  • Excellent macro mode
  • Excellent picture quality (colour, saturation)
  • Excellent detail
  • Excellent 12x Leica optical stabilisation lens
  • Colour effects (Cool, Warm, Natural, Vivid etc)
  • Full manual controls (shutter, aperture, custom white balance)
  • 30fps video mode with sound

What I don't like:

  • Small 1.5" screen
  • Slightly high noise (at ISO200/400)
  • Small EVF
  • High noise

Remember to have a look at the test photos in the new gallery.
Related Reviews: Panasonic Lumix FZ7 Review, Panasonic Lumix FZ30 Review.