Expert Recommendation

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Best Compact Digital Camera Overall Under $400
By Fotoguy
Expert (27 Recommendations and 7 Compliments)
Send a ComplimentComplimented (Change)
April 6, 2009 Updated: April 7, 2009
Overview

The Lumix DMC-ZS3 (as it’s known in North America, TZ7 elsewhere) is the update to Panasonic’s very successful DMC-TZ5. With all the proven features of the TZ5 and an all metal body, improved Leica Vario-Elmar 12X zoom lens, a new 10.1 megapixel (effective) image sensor, and better image quality make the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 my Best-In-Class pick.

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My Best In Class Pick
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3

Panasonic wisely didn’t mess with what was good with the DMC-TZ5, which was just about everything, when developing the Lumix DMC-ZS3, the next in the TZ-series. (Why it has a different name in North America as opposed to the rest of the world is beyond me.)

The first improvement is a wider view lens with a longer zoom range. The Leica DC Vario-Elmar 4.1-49.2mm (25-300mm equivalent) f/3.3-4.9 12X zoom lens is top-notch producing excellent images with good contrast and very low image distortion at all focal lengths. Built into the lens is Panasonic’s excellent MEGA O.I.S. image stabilization system that will give you blur free, hand-held pictures even at the longest focal length. Couple that with Intelligent Auto Exposure Control for perfect exposures–It actually works!–and you’ve got a winning combination for auto point-n-shoot picture taking.

If totally auto isn’t your thing, the ZS3/TZ7 has 21 scene modes, 7 image parameters, 5 white balance presets plus custom set, 6 AF modes, 3 metering modes, ISOs from 80 to 1600 (up to 6400 on Hi-auto), and shutter speeds from 8 seconds (15, 30, and 60 in Starry Sky mode) to 1/2000th second. There’s even a built-in flash with 5 modes. Plus, there are movie clips up to 1280x720 (HD) at 30 fps and a fantastic 3”, high resolution, 460,000 dot LCD to view everything on. It all makes for a pretty impressive little camera that will handle just about any shooting situation that comes along.

So, you ask, after such a glowing recommendation, what’s wrong with it? Very little actually. The only thing that could be called a caveat is image noise, but this is an inherent problem plaguing all small, high density image sensor cameras and not just something particular to the ZS3. What really matters is not that there is noise, but how well it is controlled without adversely affecting the image. In this respect, Panasonic has done a good job–better than most–reducing noise while preserving image quality. And that’s what counts.

Overall, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 (or TZ-7, if you prefer) is the perfect, all-in-one camera for those who want more in a camera and are willing to pay a little extra to get it.

Comparison with Canon PowerShot SX200 IS

Newly release in February 2009, the Canon Powershot SX200 IS is a worthy alternative to the ZS3 with a 12.1 megapixel sensor, 12X 28mm - 336mm (35mm equivalent) lens, and similar features, size and weight. Its only failing is the standard resolution 3.0”, 230,000 dot LCD.

Comparison with Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1/TZ6 is for all intents and purposes exactly the same as the ZS3/TZ7, except it lacks the HD movie mode and has a standard 2.7” 230,000 pixel LCD instead of ZS3’s 3” 460,000 pixel one. And it’s cheaper.

Pros
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    Price
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    Lens
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    Optical Image Stabilization
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    Intelligent Auto Exposure Control
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    Face recognition AF
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    720p HD movie mode
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    Lens zooms in movie mode
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    3" 460,000 dot Hi-res LCD
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    Metal body
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    Live View
Cons
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    Average battery life
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    Image noise
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    No optical finder
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 is the Best Compact Digital Camera Overall Under $400
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3
Specifications
  • Zoom: 12.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 25mm (40% wider)
  • Resolution: 10.1MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (3 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Excellent by CNET.com

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
Best badge
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3
2
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS
3
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1
Customer Rating
Price $313.29
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Effective Sensor Resolution
10.1 megapixels 12.1 megapixels 10.1 megapixels
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Min Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
25mm 28mm 25mm
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Max Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
300mm 336mm 300mm
Image Stabilization Type Optical (lens shift) Yes (Lens) Optical (lens shift)
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Face Detection Available
Yes Yes Yes
Video Available Yes Yes Yes
HD Video Available Yes Yes No
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LCD Screen Size
3.0 in. 2.7 in. 2.7 in.
LCD Screen Resolution 460,000 pixels 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels
Size (W x H x D) 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.3 in 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.5 in 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.3 in
Weight (with batteries) 8.1 oz 7.8 oz 8.1 oz
2
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS

Canon has always turned out quality products and the Powershot SX200 IS maintains those high standards with excellent design and build quality. And when it comes to optics Canon produces some of the best. The 5.0 - 60.0mm f/3.4-5.3 12X zoom (28mm - 336mm equivalent) produces sharp images will little distortion. The camera’s main flaw is overzealous noise control coupled with a little too much sharpening and contrast, but some people like this look. Overall, it’s an excellent camera and worth the money.

Canon PowerShot SX200 IS is one of the Best Compact Digital Cameras Overall Under $400
Where to buy
Canon PowerShot SX200 IS
  • Best Price: $313
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 12.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 28mm (25% wider)
  • Resolution: 12.1MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (2 reviews)
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com
3
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1

The Lumix DMC-ZS1 or TZ6 is a frugal man’s ZS3. It has the important hardware and features–same lens, image sensor, etc.–to produce still images that equal those from the ZS3 at a lessor price. So, if you don’t need HD video and a 2.7” standard resolution LCD is sufficient, then this fine camera just might suit your needs.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1 is one of the Best Compact Digital Cameras Overall Under $400
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1
Specifications
  • Zoom: 12.0x
  • Wide-Angle Lens: 25mm (40% wider)
  • Resolution: 10.1MP
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (3 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

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