After my last digital camera met its untimely demise by falling in water, I started looking for a new digital camera. I have historically been a fan of the Canon Digital Elph series (Canon SDxxx) as they are extremely compact (around 5 ounces) and take beautiful pictures automatically with essentially no need to meddle with settings. However, I found repeatedly found myself frustrated by the limited zoom (around 3-4x optical depending on the camera) and the inability to zoom in videos.
My objective was to find a point-and-shoot camera that had a much better optical zoom, was easy to take pictures with and remained light. With such requirements, the range of cameras to look at was rather limited and Panasonic TZ5 rapidly rose to the top of the list. It’s a $240, 9 megapixel digital camera with a 10x optical zoom and a 3” LCD weighing slightly over 7 ounces. As I was about to buy it, Panasonic released the ZS3.
The ZS3 is essentially the next version of the TZ5. It’s a $400, 10 megapixel digital camera with a 12x optical zoom and a 3” LCD weighing 7.2 ounces. The camera is the best compact digital camera I ever used! The 12x zoom is unparalleled in a compact digital camera and works wonders. The optical image stabilization works extremely well whether you are zoomed in or not. You can even take effective pictures while walking. The automatic context detection setting automatically and intelligently figures out the context of your pictures – sceneries, low light, etc. – and adjusts accordingly. Picture quality is great. Video quality is also amazing – the best I have on a compact digital camera. Videos are taken in 720p in AVCHD and also have great sound quality. You can even zoom in and out while taking videos.
Note that you can easily convert AVCHD to AVI or other formats using Handbrake. You can also play back AVCHD in Windows Media Player by installing ffdshow then Haali Media Splitter.
If you are not price sensitive, this is the camera to get! Alternatively, for $160 less you can get the Panasonic TZ5. If you value size and weight over zoom, the best compact digital camera is the $240 Samsung SL820. It’s a 5.5 ounce, 12 megapixel digital camera with a 5x optical zoom, a 3” LCD and 720p video support.
The Panasonic ZS3 is the camera for me, but you can’t go wrong with any of these 3 choices. Enjoy!