Last year's TZ1 was something rarer than a steak tartare at a vegan convention - a compact camera with a detail plucking 10x optical zoom lens which could still just about call itself pocket-sized.
With its successor, Panasonic's gone one better and come up with something we can safely say is unique - a 10x zooming compact, with a 28mm wide angle.
Granted, neither is unique on its own – take Sony’s new 10x zooming H3 or Kodak's ultra wide V570 – but both together? Sorry, only Ricoh’s wide-angle Caplio R6 comes close, and that maxes out at 7.1x zoom. So no pressure Panasonic, but in the super zooming, super wide category, you’re our only hope.
We were immediately pleased to see the TZ3 had lost a few pounds from its slightly porky successor. The new design passes the jean pocket test – just – but we’re still talking an unsightly bulge in the trouser department.
Round the back is a large 3in display that acts as the only viewfinder. It can be customised to use the whole screen, or only a portion with the remainder blacked out to display the type of info you’d see in a DSLR’s viewfinder.
It’s a nice touch, as is the mode, which boosts the brightness so you can still see the screen when you hold the camera up above your head, concert style.
The menus have been given a bit of an overhaul and borrowed from the more advanced FX series. There are still no serious manual controls but exposure compensation and white balance are both one button press away – about as good as you’ll find on any non-DSLR.
The TZ1 had a bad rep for noisy snaps but Panasonic’s been listening and noise levels have improved on the TZ3. Unfortunately, in low light Panny’s detail-sapping noise still leaves a blurry, glass-like effect where solid lines should be. Print small and you won’t notice it but watch out with any enlargements or crops.
When the noise reduction isn’t doing its worst, the shots are extremely detailed and, despite being squashed-in, the 10x zoom produces surprisingly little distortion and as ever the optical stabilisation is top notch. Colour is a touch lacking but switching to the ‘vivid’ setting produced the ping we were looking for.
Combing a 28mm lens with a 10x zoom means the TZ3 maxes out at 280mm, whereas the TZ1, which starts at a standard 35mm, goes to a safari friendly 350mm. Unless you are out spotting lions in the Kalahari, you’re unlikely to miss it. The extra 7mm at the wide end, however, is a huge bonus and for group shots, snapping buildings, or simply for fitting more in, it’s invaluable.
The combination alone makes the TZ3 worthy of consideration. It’s picture quality isn’t right up there with the very best but to find any better, you’re going to have to quit stalling and move up to a bulky bridge camera or DSLR. Otherwise, this’ll do nicely.