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For travel or sports photography a long zoom is almost essential. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 (also known in Europe and Australia as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ7) takes it even further in that the wide end of the Leica DC Vario-Elmar zoom equates to a 25mm lens on a 35mm SLR, stretching out to 300mm at the tele end. A good widey and a terrific longey!
A plus is the Panasonic ZS3’s large 7.6cm LCD screen. A minus is that it does not have an optical finder.
The still image maximum size is 3648×2736 pixels, on a 10.1 megapixel CCD. It also shoots 1280×720 pixel High Definition motion pictures with stereo sound. Not Full High Def — but still in an 16:9 aspect ratio.
The exposure options are not breath-taking: there’s only Program AE exposure mode with three metering options (multi zone, centre-weighted and spot) as well as 27 scene modes.
The shutter speed range is pretty good: long exposures up to 60 seconds. Shortest is 1/2000 second.
The camera runs from ISO 80 to 1600 with a step up ISO 6400 in the High Sensitivity scene mode, limited to 2048×1536/2048×1360/1920×1080 pixel image sizes.
The camera has face detection and recognition; the latter can distinguish faces of frequently photographed people!
A USB 2.0 output is built in, as is an HDMI outlet so you can connect to a High Def TV or Blu-ray player with an optional cable.
The optical image stabiliser offers three settings plus off. AF Tracking ‘locks’ focus onto a moving subject and tracks it as it moves, keeping it in focus without the user having to hold the shutter button halfway down.
Shooting a burst of 10 megapixel shots demands heaps of buffer memory: the Panasonic Lumix ZS3 can capture three pictures at a maximum speed of 2.3 fps or five pictures at 2.5 fps, in a lower JPEG quality. You should also be able to record an unlimited number of frames at 2 fps, until the card is full.
Memory: SD, SDHC, MMC cards are OK, with the Class 4 card recommended for video; the camera also has 45 MB of internal memory.
Rarely seen, this digital still camera shoot videos and retains access to zoom and focus while recording. A big help.
There are some cautions: when shooting video, you can’t do snap zooms — they just drift slowly.
You cannot alter focus while zooming — your fingers struggle over the crowded zoom and shutter buttons anyway!
Initially, I wondered why there was a separate record button for video. Then the penny dropped: taking this route means the normal shutter button can serve as the trigger for auto focus — in video. Simple really!
You can shoot video in Motion JPEG and a new format called AVCHD Lite, which represents half the file size of the former. Space saver!
You can replay HD video to a normal TV via a composite video connection or to an HD TV or Blu-ray recorder via HDMI.
From power on to first shot took three seconds with early follow on shots about a second apart.
I was impressed by the optical performance in the TZ7 with no evidence of any distortion with the zoom at wide or tele end.
Still images: accurate colour rendition with excellent sharpness. A great performance.
Movies: I shot parallel tests in Motion JPEG and AVCHD Lite. Viewed on a huge Panasonic Viera LCD screen, the quality between them was indistinguishable.
I did not notice there was poor sound pickup. Also, the text indicators on the four way cursor are hard to see.
Ostensibly, the Panasonic DMC-ZS3/TZ7 is a simple point-and-shoot camera. But I found it an impressive camera!