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My biggest surprise with the TZ3 is its overall performance. The TZ2 was about average in this respect, and so I naturally assumed the TZ3 would be much the same, or possibly slightly slower due to larger file sizes. In fact the TZ3 is faster, and by a very large margin. Start-up time is the same at roughly two seconds, but in single-shot mode the TZ3 can take a picture roughly once every 1.2 seconds, which is over twice as fast as the TZ2. In continuous mode too it is quicker, shooting approximately two frames a second up to the capacity of the memory card. The TZ2 could only manage a shot every 1.3 seconds. The autofocus system is also very fast, focusing accurately in good light in well under a second, and not slowing much in low light. It did slow down when focusing at telephoto zoom in low light, but focusing was still accurate under these circumstances. Movie recording is also above average, with the ability to shoot 16:9 aspect ratio video at a resolution of 848 x 480 at 30fps. Battery duration is good too. Panasonic claims 270 shots on a full charge of the 1000mAh li-ion battery, and my experience with the camera tends to bear this out.
In terms of image quality too the TZ3 stands out from the crowd. As with the TZ2 the superb lens can take a lot of the credit, producing pin-sharp corner-to-corner detail with virtually zero distortion at all focal lengths. The TZ3's 1/2.3-inch sensor has better dynamic range than most of its more powerful rivals, and combined with very accurate exposure metering it produces good shadow detail with very little highlight clipping. The TZ3 also goes some way toward repudiating Panasonic's reputation for image noise. Like the TZ2 it is limited to a maximum of 1250 ISO in normal shooting modes (3200 is high-sensitivity mode), but even at this level colour reproduction is fairly accurate, with only a little loss of saturation. Images at 800 ISO show unmistakable signs of noise reduction, but the level of sharp detail is still higher than most other comparable cameras. All in all the TZ3 is a very capable and versatile snapshot camera that succeeds in its aim to be the perfect holiday accessory. If the new TZ4 and TZ5 are anything like as good then they will be formidable contenders in this expanding area of the market.
The Panasonic Lumix TZ3 is sold as the perfect travel snapshot camera, and it delivers in every respect. With solid build quality, fast performance, comfortable handling, simple operation, a massively useful zoom range all topped off with excellent picture quality, it's no wonder that the TZ3 has been such a big hit for Panasonic. It is still an expensive camera a year after its launch, but you get a lot of camera for your money.
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