The TZ3 is designed as a snapshot camera, and its features reflect this. It has several automatic shooting modes, offering different levels of user input, but no real manual options. The primary shooting mode is program auto, with a quick function menu that provides control over drive mode, white balance, ISO setting, aspect ratio, image size and compression quality. The second mode is the slightly simpler Intelligent ISO mode, in which an upper limit for the ISO setting can be selected, but the actual setting is chosen automatically by the metering system. The other main shooting mode is the simple mode, where the function menu is disabled and the main menu is cut down to only four items. As well as this the TZ3 has two scene mode options; there are 21 scene programs to choose from, and a different one can be assigned to each both settings, so it is possible to switch between two scene programs quickly.
The main feature is of course the big zoom lens. Like most of Panasonic’s premium cameras, the TZ3 bears the Leica brand name on its optics, and as noted previously this doesn’t mean that the lens is made by Leica. It’s made by Panasonic, in a Panasonic factory, to a design approved by Leica. They were right to approve it though, because it is superb. With a maximum aperture of f/3.3-f/4.9 it’s not the fastest lens on the block, but it makes up for it with outstanding optical quality and usability. The zoom action is very smooth, and is continuous rather than stepped as is more usual. The rotary bezel control is also quite responsive, so it is possible to accurately frame and compose photos.
Photographic options include the usual three metering modes (multi-zone, centre-weighted and spot), a range of colour adjustments including natural, vivid, cool, warm, monochrome and sepia, and a useful range of focus point options found on most high-end Panasonic cameras, including nine-point area mode, three-point and single-point high speed mode, centre area and spot focusing. Drive modes include high-speed and low-speed burst mode and a 2fps continuous mode.
The TZ3 has a couple of features designed for the traveller. The most useful is the ability to set world time zones, but then most cameras have this feature. The other is a Travel Time setting, in which you enter your departure and return dates, and the camera helpfully tells you how many days until departure, and once you’re on holiday it tells you how many days until you return. I suppose it might be useful if you’ve forgotten to take your watch with you, and the hotel you’re staying in has no clocks or calendars, but personally if I’m on holiday I don’t ”want” to be reminded that I have to come home again.