Top positive review
Best 1/2.33" travel zoom that was every made
January 9, 2015
This is the best 1/2.33" travel zoom camera that was ever made. I got my wife a zs7 but after some research, decided to get a refurbished zs3 for myself. At the time this was a top-5 camera among panasonic cameras on the FLICKR website, and still even today, it's in the top-10, even after being discontinued half a decade ago!
This camera's 12x zoom and 12MP sensor produces pictures that are as sharp as a needle. You cannot get a good picture without a sharp lens. I'd wager this is the sharpest zoom lens above 10x that has ever been shipped on any travel zoom (including sony and canon and all later panasonic cameras). This is VERY SIGNIFICANTLY sharper than anything Canon has ever made in a pocket camera! I say this having owned the successor lens in a ZS15 (16x Leica), and also having purchased SLR lenses for their sharpness for Pentax and Nikon cameras, and my wife having owned a Canon G2 camera.
The intelligent auto is amazingly smart and wicked fast (1.4 secs to turn-on and 0.4 seconds shutter lag). It takes sunset photos and gets optimal details BELOW the horizon, where you have to set a special exposure otherwise the sun blows out the highlights everywhere else in the photo. The focus system is superb and normally gets at least 2/3 of the frame in perfect focus, which leverages the exceptional power of the tack-sharp lens.
The sensor is very cleverly made in a + shape so that no matter if you are shooting 4:3 or 16:9 photos, you have the maximum number of pixels available to get a quality photo!
We used this camera nonstop for 2 years to photograph and shoot video in soccer tournaments and swim meets. The camera was used with a tripod for the soccer tournaments, and some of the 720p video was superior (more saturated and realistic-looking) than that of a $5,000 Canon rig that the professional videographer dad was using. And, this is because Panasonic (and Sony) specialize in Video, so their cameras pan and zoom without the stabilizer trying to "hold on" to the photo (resulting in very jerky pans and zooms in other cameras, such as Canon).
Unlike some other cameras, this one can do motorized zoom while filming (not just digtal magnification like in most crappy canon pocket cameras.)
The trick to getting optimal photos is to set ISOMAX=800 and intelligent everything, and then let the stabilizer clean up your photos. This forces the OIS to work much harder than normal.
The main downside to this camera is that in low light, it produces a great deal of yellow color noise, i.e. yellow splotches in dark areas. People install the GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program) freeware program and add the "Wavelet Denoise" add-on. Then you can post-process out the color noise. The ZS7 fixed the color noise problem but it has too much processing and too much pixel detail was lost. You can get almost as good a photo on the ZS7 if you turn down the processing algorithms to minimum.
The other downside is that the photo mode wheel can get stuck between two settings and the camera won't take pictures for a moment when this happens. It's a very minor annoyance that only happens if you are switching modes al the time.
There is still not a point and shoot camera (circa 2015) that can take a sharper photo at 12x zoom than this model.
I lost my zs3 so today I use a zs15. The later 16x and 20x and 25x and 30x lenses are all declining in sharpness, and especially doggy were the zs8, zs9, zs10 CCD cameras, so stay away from these cameras!. My new zs15 has a very special FZ200 CMOS sensor and so it takes much better night photos than the CCD in this ZS3 camera, and it was an attempt by Panasonic to salvage its reputation after the horrific failure of the zs10. The zs15 is almost as sharp as the zs3 but I cannot take pictures 25 feet away in a daylight room with lights off and read the book spines, like I can on the zs3 or zs7 with processing turned down. The lack of a CMOS sensor in the zs3/zs7 camera is its only disadvantage, and it's a minor disadvantage compared to what you get for advantages in picture sharpness and fluid movie-taking.