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Back in March last year I reviewed the then-new Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ2. It was one of a pair of models being promoted by Panasonic as the ideal travel cameras, tough and versatile with 28-280mm-equivalent 10x zoom lenses. The TZ2 is a six-megapixel model, and I assumed that it would be more popular than its more expensive sibling, the 7.2-megapixel TZ3, so beset as usual by too many cameras and not enough time, I neglected to review that model. It turns out I was wrong though; the TZ3 has been much more popular than the TZ2, and I've had a number of people ask me to review it, so nearly a year late and probably just in time for it to be replaced by the TZ5, here at long last is my review of the Panasonic TZ3.
When it was launched, the TZ3 was in the vanguard of what is now becoming a whole new sector of the digital camera market, the high-zoom compact. Unfortunately it wasn't the first one to find that particular niche though, since it is already occupied by the people who invented it; Ricoh. Whenever somebody emails me asking about the TZ3, it is nearly always because they are trying to decide between this camera and the excellent Ricoh Caplio R7, and it's easy to see why. Both cameras have 7MP sensors, both offer wide-angle lenses with longer zoom ranges and image stabilisation, and both have scored high marks in most objective reviews. However there is a big difference in pricing. The TZ3 is currently selling for around £230, which is pretty expensive compared to the £160 currently being asked for the Ricoh R7.
As with the almost identical TZ2, the initial impression of the TZ3 is very positive. Measuring approximately 105.0 x 59.2 x 36.7 mm it is quite a large camera by modern compact standards, and is very solidly made, as befits a camera designed for travel. It weighs a substantial 257g with battery and card in place, so while it will fit into a larger pocket you'll certainly know you're carrying it. This is the sort of camera belt pouches were invented for. The large size, the shaped handgrip and the thumbgrip on the rear make it a very comfortable camera to hold. The controls are sensibly arranged for easy one-handed operation, with the mode dial, power switch and shutter button with its rotary-bezel zoom control all being positioned on the top plate. This means that despite the large three-inch 230k LCD monitor there is plenty of room on the back for your thumb. My only criticisms of the design are that the D-pad and accompanying buttons are rather small, and the silver-on-silver labelling is difficult to make out. Also, I found that the main shooting mode dial, which stands out on the top plate, is quite easy to jog especially when taking the camera out of your pocket or bag. Several times I went to take a shot only to find that the camera was in playback or movie mode.