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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ3 - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 21/05/2006
Rating: Above Average

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Introduction: Announced on the 4th of January 2006, the Panasonic Lumix LZ3 is a 5 megapixel digital camera with a 6x optical zoom lens and a 2" screen. The 6x optical zoom Lumix DC lens is equivalent to 37 - 222mm on a 35mm camera. The Panasonic Lumix LZ3 is available from around £153 (or £170 for the 6 megapixel LZ5), this makes it good value for money for a compact digital camera with a 6x optical zoom lens - only Kodak's Z740 or Panasonic's LZ2 is cheaper. The camera is enclosed in a sturdy plastic body. The LZ3 can record video at 640 x 480 at 30fps without sound - the LZ5 has the same video mode but records with sound. It is quite compact for a digital camera with a 6x optical zoom lens, however, it isn't as small as the 7x optical zoom lens Ricoh Caplio R3 or R4 - the body measures: 100 x 62 x 45 mm (3.94 x2.44 x 1.77 inch) (without protruding parts), and weighs approx. 183g. (0.4lb) excluding battery and memory card.

Panasonic have this to say about the camera:

"The DMC-LZ3 combines a compact, easy-to-carry size with a powerful 6x optical zoom lens - equivalent to a 37 to 222mm lens on a 35mm camera - for dynamic closeups or great shots from a distance. The Extended Optical Zoom function, which magnifies the image with minimal deterioration by using the center part of the high-resolution CCD, boosts the zoom power to 7.5x1 in 3-megapixel images."

You can find more information on their website.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ3 (and LZ5) have several improvements over their predecessors, the 4 megapixel LZ1 and 5 megapixel LZ2, which I reviewed previously, they are:

  • Higher resolution sensor - 5mp LZ3, 6mp LZ5
  • 2.5" screen on the LZ5
  • Larger hand-grip
  • Focus assist lamp
  • High-angle view
  • High sensitivity scene mode (uses ISO800, or ISO1600)

Apart from these improvements, everything else seems pretty much the same - same lack of microphone on the LZ3, and same lack of speaker for video playbak on both the LZ3 and LZ5.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Panasonic Lumix FZ3)


Front - Camera off.


Front view - camera on, lens at wide-angle position, flash, focus assist lamp.


Back / Left: On the left is the USB / Video out, and DC in. On the back is the 2" screen, 4-way controller, middle menu/set button, display button, and shooting mode / delete button.


Top: Mode dial, zoom control, shutter release, Mega optical image stabilisation mode button, On/off button.


Bottom / right - Plastic tripod mount, battery compartment. On the right is the SD memory card slot.


Zoom extended.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.


Size comparison.


Size comparison.


Size comparison, compared to the 5 megapixel Canon Digital IXUS Wireless.

Specifications / Features:

  • 5-megapixel sensor
  • 6x optical zoom lens - Lumix DC Vario (not Leica like other Panasonic Digital Cameras, such as the FZ30, FZ7, LX1, FX9 etc)
  • MEGA Optical Image Stabilizer keeps low-light and telephoto images sharp
  • Store images on Secure Digital (SD) memory cards
  • 2.0" LCD - 85,000 pixels
  • Movie mode: Record 640 x 480 at 30fps without sound
  • ISO: Auto ISO, Manual ISO 80, 100, 200, 400 (800 and 1600 available in High sensitivity scene mode)
  • 14mb built in memory
  • ~5cm macro mode

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • 2 x AA Oxyride battery
  • AV cable
  • USB connection cable
  • AC cable
  • Strap
  • CD-ROM software
  • 1 year manufacturer's guarantee.

Average box contents - There is limited memory provided with the camera. Some kind of case would be very useful.

Battery usage: Battery life seemed good, using (AA 2100mAh Ni-Mh rechargable) batteries, I was able to take about 250 pictures before the camera displayed "please replace the batteries". With higher powered rechargable batteries, battery life should be even better.  Panasonic rate battery life as 250 shots when tested to CIPA standards.

Camera Operation and OptionsThe top left dial selects the camera mode.  This allows the choice of the following modes: Photo, Economy, Macro, Video, Playback, Simple (Heart), Scene mode 1, Scene mode 2.

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

Photo mode Photo Record Menu

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown on the left) The screen has a low resolution of 85,000 pixels, but 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: There is no optical viewfinder.

Menu options: White balance (including custom), Sensitivity, Aspect ratio (16:9, 3:2, and 4:3), Picture size, Quality, AF mode, AF Assist lamp, Slow shutter, Digital zoom (on/off), Colour effect (Cool, Warm, Black and White, Sepia), Picture adjust (Natural, Standard, Vivid).

Scene modes Setup Menu

Scene modes: (shown on the left, above) Portrait, Soft skin, Scenery, Sports, Night portrait, Night scenery, Food, Party, Candle Light, Fireworks, Starry Sky, Snow, Baby 1, Baby 2, High sensitivity.

Setup menu: (shown on the right, above) Battery type, Clock set, Monitor, Auto review, Power save, beep, clock set, no. reset, reset, USB mode, video out, scene menu, 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 fairly quick. The zoom is quick up to 16x.

Playback menu: Slide show, Favourite, Rotate disp, Rotate, DPOF Print, Protect, resize, trimming, copy (allows you to copy from internal memory to memory card and vice versa), format.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number of pictures will fit in the provided memory:

Image Size: Number of Photos Stored / Quality
Ratio
Fine
Standard
3.5mp
16:9
6
14
2mp
12
24
4.5mp
3:2
5
11
2.5mp
9
18
5mp
4:3
5
10
3mp
8
16
2mp
13
27
1mp
20
39
VGA
67
110

As shown in the table above, higher quality images take a large amount of memory, and you can't fit very many photos in the provided memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended. 

A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 256mb memory card, and preferably a 512mb memory card, 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 be away from a computer for a long time (such as when going on holiday) then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in.  This camera takes only secure digital memory.  Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ3:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 256mb: £6.59, 512mb: £10.55, 1gb (1000mb): £23.40, 2gb (2000mb): £49.95
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera is quick to switch on and take photos, being ready in roughly 2 seconds, it then takes roughly a further 0.7 seconds to focus and take the photo. Focusing is quite quick at around 0.5 seconds set to wide angle. Shutter response is almost quite quick at around 0.1 seconds. Shot to shot time is fairly good at around 1.5 - 2.0 seconds (with review switched on), with flash switched on this shot to shot time is around 4 seconds. High speed continuous shooting allows you to take 3 shots at roughly 3 frames per second for 3 shots. Infinite continuous shooting is still quite quick and takes a shot every 0.7 seconds, roughly 1.2fps. Playback mode is fairly quick, and its easy to zoom upto 16x on your last shot and check for blur with the zoom control. Moving from picture to picture is fairly quick, but not as instantaneous as others such as the Casio series, for example the Casio Exilim EX-Z120. Moving around the different menu options is rapid.

Ease of use: The camera is easy to use, although the camera does have quite 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 for a digital camera that has a 6x optical zoom 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 (shown with a red heart). The economy mode makes it easy to extend battery life without having to customise power settings manually.

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 seemed good, without making the camera too big or bulky. All of the compartments and covers seem well positioned and are easy to open. The only design problem, which is a fairly minor one, is the location of the tripod mount, which is quite close the the edge of the camera.

Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Outside, Macro, 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 Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ3 Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower (ISO100) Group photo (ISO125)

Inside: The camera has good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - there is no red-eye in the photo, and there is none in other group photos. It has a decent flash, and copes well with group photos, and on AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was kept at the quite low in these photos, although noise was fairly high and detail seemed to be lacking, perhaps due to noise reduction. The camera did a good job at focusing most of the time even in low-light. Colour is richly saturated.

ISO Noise Test: 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 (ISO: 80, 100, 200, 400). ISO800 and ISO1600 are available in the High Sensitivity scene mode.

Below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 7 megapixel, Olympus Mju 720SW. The difference in colour is due to automatica white balance being used on both cameras.

ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Panasonic Lumix LZ3 on the left, Olympus Mju 720SW on the right. The 7 megapixel Olympus was picked as a comparison due to the similar ISO range of ISO64 - ISO1600. The colour difference is due to automatic white balance / different lighting conditions.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ3 (5mp) Olympus Mju 720SW (7mp)
ISO80 - Actual Pixels ISO64 - Actual Pixels
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels
ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels
ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels

Noise is visible at even the lowest ISO setting on the Panasonic Lumix LZ3. At ISO200 and ISO400 noise is very noticable and detail is being lost with jagged edges. The high sensitivity mode on the Panasonic LZ3 removes a dramtica amount of detail - so much so that at ISO1600 the 'W' is practically non-existant. The Olympus Mju 720SW has much lower noise and has a much better high ISO800 and ISO1600 mode - noise is high, but the camera keeps much more detail compared to the LZ3. You would expect a lower resolution digital camera such as the 5 megapixel LZ3 to have lower noise than a 7 megapixel camera, but unfortunately this isn't the case. With the Panasonic Lumix LZ3 I would say that ISO above 200 is to be avoided.

Anti-shake / Optical Image Stabilisation effectiveness: Here are some test photos taken with "Mega Optical Image Stabilisation" on and off - these photos were taken without flash in low light. The Panasonic Lumix LZ3's anti-shake system moves a section of the lens to counter any camera shake. These photos were taken at full optical zoom, set to macro.

Mega O.I.S On (Mode 2) Mega O.I.S Off
1/25 second, f4.5, ISO200, 222mm 1/20 second, f4.5, ISO200, 222mm

As you can see - image stabilisation is effective for low-light / high zoom, slow shutter speed photography helping acheive blur free photos.

Outside:

Liverpool shops (ISO80) Merry go round horses (ISO80)

Outside: The camera has rich colour, with good saturation and contrast. There was good detail. Noise was fairly low in ISO80 photos. The quality was set to maximum to minimise any jpeg artefacts.

Zoom: This camera has a 6x 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 6x optical zoom and 4x digital zoom is capable of.

Wide-angle 3x Optical Telephoto 6x Optical Zoom Full optical and Digital Zoom

Exposure: The photos of the clock tower are exposed well with detail in the dark areas as well as the lighter areas. Some of the indoor photos were slightly under-exposed both in good light and in poor light when the flash was off, as can be seen in the image stabilisation test above. Some other photos, namely the macro flowers, were under-exposed as well.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens is very quiet in operation. The lens gives excellent control over how you frame your subject with at least 19 steps between wide and telephoto zoom.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing was difficult to detect in the majority of normal photos. In some extreme test cases, by looking closely at the images some fringing might be noticed (particularly on the clock tower photos).

Macro:

Timex Watch Maxro Actual Pixels (ISO125)

The custom white balance helps get better colours in the macro mode - however the closest the camera can get to the subject is about average. Noise also becomes quite obvious, even when the ISO is as low as ISO125.

Video mode: The camera's 640 x 480 video mode at 30fps unfortunately lacks sound. To get sound on videos you will need to go for the LZ5 instead.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality is average to good, the images have good colour (highly saturated), with good contrast and detail, although noise is high and detail is lost when ISO settings are increased. Best results were achieved outside on sunny days, but inside noise was noticably high. Purple fringing was quite low, and red-eye was not a problem. Exposure was occassionally a problem with some images under-exposed both inside and outside. The camera was generally very competent at focusing thanks to the focus assist lamp. I did not notice vignetting, or barrel or pincushion distortion. There is a good range of image sizes, aspect ratios, and compression options. Auto white balance seemed to be good. The camera doesn't give you very many options to customise images - there are no sharpness or contrast controls for example. The camera's built in optical image stabilisation is effective and helps get blur free photos in low light or when using the zoom. (7/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is compact and is designed well - the camera feels very comfortable in my hands. The camera is quite compact considering it's large zoom range. 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 although the majority are aimed at beginners, rather than experts, however there is manual white balance, a live histogram, and high speed shooting. The camera speed is good, with a okay switch on time, good focusing time, good shutter response, and a decent continous shooting mode. The tripod mount position could be better, but all compartments are easy to open. The screen size and resolution is now slightly below average at 2" with 85,000 pixels, but the quality appears good. Battery life is quite good. The lack out sound on videos is disappointing. Optical image stabilisation is a very useful feature and enables blur free photos for low-light or long zoom photos. (7/10)

Value for Money: The Panasonic Lumix LZ3 at around £148, is very good value for money, as there is only one ultra-zoom digital camera cheaper than this, the Kodak Easyshare Z740. In terms of features, the LZ3 is slightly lacking as it does not record sound on videos, something the majority of digital cameras feature, however if you're not interested in sound, then the optical image stabilisation makes up for the lack of sound. If you need sound then you may want to consider the LZ5. Alternative compact ultra zoom digital cameras worth considering include the Canon Powershot A700, Kodak Easyshare V610, Ricoh Caplio R3 and R4, and the Panasonic Lumix TZ1. (8/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ3 is a decent digital camera - unfortunately little has improved since last years release of the LZ1 and LZ2 - and whilst they were good digital cameras last year - this year they, and the LZ3, are slightly lacking. The LZ5 with a bigger screen and sound recorded on video appears a much more rounded digital camera. The LZ3 seems to have taken a step backwards in regards to image quality, with noticably high noise, and the occassional under exposed image. The camera has optical image stabilisation which helps in low light or when using the optical zoom. The camera is very easy to use (in auto mode), and would definitely suit a beginner. The camera offers good battery life, with good controls and good build quality.  If you aren't interested in sound on videos, then the LZ3 is definitely good value for money for a compact ultra zoom, however if image quality is a priority then it would be worth looking elsewhere.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ3 Rating: Above Average (7/10)
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What I like:

  • Easy to use
  • Rich, saturated colours
  • Good macro mode
  • Good battery life with rechargable AA batteries
  • Optical image stabilisation - works well for low-light or zoom photography
  • Fairly compact for a digital camera with a 6x optical zoom lens - although now there are more compact ultra zoom digital cameras available
  • One of the cheapest ultra zoom digital cameras available

What I don't like:

  • High sensitivity / High ISO 800/1600 modes only available as a scene mode - makes images overly blurry.
  • No sound on videos
  • Tripod mount close to the edge of the camera
  • 2" screen - most alternatives now have a 2.5" screen
  • Occassionally under-exposes shots
  • Higher than average noise at all ISO settings - rough edges and detail loss at ISO200 and ISO400.

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ3 Sample Photo Gallery.

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