I have a history with this camera. Three years ago, I needed an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera for my job at the Zoo - one that my marketing cohorts could easily use. After exhausting research (because I'm a camera geek), I settled on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1 -- the original version of the camera that arrived on my doorstep yesterday. The TZ1 turned out to be one of the best little super-zoom cameras on the market AND one of the best hybrid still/video cameras I've ever used. Its phenomenal video capabilities were found out by accident - when I dialed the wrong (video) setting and hit the shutter button. Mind you, I had no need for a video camera at work because I already have the semi-pro Sony HDR-A1U.
Since then, the TZ1 went through several generations to arrive in 2009 as the ZS3 (chronologically, the TZ7, as it's known overseas). Panasonic and others classify their super zoom, hybrid (still/video) cameras as "travel zoom." I suppose that's because it fits in your pocket. All I can say is this camera defies classification. It is just as good as the little pro-sumer cameras on the market -- you know, the ones that look like DSLRs but aren't. But, you may ask, why did I buy it? I mean, for home purposes, I already HAVE a DSLR (the Canon Digital Rebel XTi), a Fuji 10x super-zoom, a Canon point-and-shoot and a great Sony Mini-DV camorder. The reason is simple: my passion for music. I need a camera that can take excellent concert photos, great video and fit in my pocket. So I can get it past security. I CONFESS. I'm a live music junkie! That being said, I have a great opportunity coming up in September - I'm going to Italy on vacation then popping over to England to see my favorite band, Turin Brakes, live in London. Hmm... do I need a new kick-ass camera? Yep.
What I ended up with is one of the greatest little cameras I've ever held in my hand. The ZS3 has made major improvements from its "TZ" days. The zoom is phenomenal (12x), and it has even better wide angle capabilities - 25mm. The one complaint I always had about this camera is it doesn't have a manual mode -- specifically, shutter-priority. What I didn't learn from reviews is that it DOES have a setting that limits the shutter speed -- i.e., you can choose the minimum. BINGO. Action shots, here I come. Panasonic has added to it's "scene" selection for quick choices (including "high-sensitivity" -- also known as: "concert"). There's an "iA" (intelligent Auto) mode for no-brainer shooting. The ISO setting goes to 1600 for low light conditions, and all the usual bells and whistles are included: aperture priority to adjust for back-lighting conditions, auto-focus modes, white balance, excellent macro focus modes, image stabilization and color modes like sepia. They've also added burst shooting and bracketing and things I may never use like "face recognition." And then comes the new video capabilities: the video button is no longer on the mode dial (so you can take video on the fly), there's HD capability, and, finally, STEREO sound. Here's to the YouTube haters who will no longer insult my sound quality. I really can't ask for much more in a pocket-sized point-and-shoot. But to sweeten the deal, they even made it in BLUE.