Thursday, November 26, 2009

Panasonic ZS3 -- First Look

So my new concert cam has arrived. I'm still on the fence regarding its sound quality, but I have certainly seen some wicked videos from it ... I don't think anyone needs to be convinced once they've seen a video like this one:



Meanwhile, I set about checking out its image making ability. And I must admit that I'm a little surprised. Panasonic is no Fuji ... they have never been known for their high ISO prowess. But their more recent efforts have been surprisingly strong as they eschew excessive noise reduction in favour of retaining a lot of detail. This makes a huge difference for someone like me, as I process every image anyway, so I am perfectly happy to process the noise away ...

A superb example of what it can do is epitomized by this flickr set. These images are impressive no matter what camera shot them ... but for it to have been a Panny compact, well that impresses the heck out of me. Here is an image from that set shot at 800 ISO ... and it's terrific. (Note: This is just a link.)


So ... with all this in mind, I set out to create an ISO ladder. This is a time honored test that puts crops together from identically shot images at each possible ISO. I set ISOs manually for these images and left the exposure on automatic. Compensation was set to 0ev, although they could have used more than that.


Those images are loaded through ACR with a bit of adjustment to exposure etc and ACR's NT applied. Almost none through 400 ISO, then more for 800 and 1600. What I note is that the ZS3 retains most of the detail and remains mostly noise free up to and including 400 ISO. This is enough for many concerts.

80 ISO


400 ISO


The 800 ISO image starts to show some smearing and chroma noise (color blotches.) Not fatal though ... as shown in the lovely image above.

800 ISO


The 1600 ISO image is pretty bad ... lots of grain and chroma noise ... too much for the image to look acceptable. Even on the web. But when you process it into black and white, it becomes perfectly acceptable because of the excellent detail retention (for a compact.)

1600 ISO


1600 ISO processed to black and white


I plan on taking it to some concerts on its own to see what it can do. It might just replace my Fuji F70EXR ... which is some kind of feat.

Edit: I just saw an excellent series of images from a KISS concert on the Panasonic Talk forum at DPReview. The fellow show shot them mentioned the minimum shutter setting to be used of 1/60s or 1/125s depending on how much they move. This pins the aperture wide open and the ISO at 400 (although you can set ISO manually.)

Interestingly, this is the moral equivalent of manual mode on other compacts, as all I use that for is to peg the shutter speed.

My conclusion, therefore. is that the ZS3 is an appropriate camera for concerts. Better video and audio than the F70EXR, excellent detail retention to 400 and even 800 ISO ... certainly better battery life. Wow ... look out Fuji.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi, I had read some post (camera review) of your blog and find it very useful. However, I need some of your expert view. Currently, I am sourcing for a good compact camera and 3 models came into my mind. They are Panasonic ZS3, Fujiflim 200EXR and 70EXR. I believe you had tried these 3 camera and like to know your advise. Which will be your recommendation? I am looking for a good low light (nightshot) and daylight camera. My mind is more on ZS3. Thank you and sorry for the trouble!!

Kim Letkeman said...

I've shot the F70 and a bit with the ZS3 so far ... I'll be posting tests with the ZS3 shortly. As far as high ISO freedom goes, there is no question that the Fuji is cleaner at 800 and 1600. There is no question that the Fuji protects highlights better. But ... the ZS3 makes very decent enthusiasts camera, excepting the fact that it has no manual controls at all.

Anonymous said...

May I know how about F200? Review all ard mention it's image is more better than F70. Heard it
s actually the same spec as F70 except F70 is 10x potical zoom. Any comment?

Kim Letkeman said...

I don't own the F200, but have processed test images form it extensively. And have seen comments by people who own both. Basically, if you shoot wide all the time (28mm), then the F200 will be better. Slightly sharper in corners and less CA. Otherwise, they are close to par on images in all lighting, and the F70 has more features and better reach. I consider the F70 a no brainer over the F200 for general use.

Kim Letkeman said...

Regarding the specs ... F70;s sensor is slightly smaller than F200's sensor ... 1/2" versus 1/1.7" I think ...

Anonymous said...

sorry... may i know small sensor better for noise? Don't really know the term... Arghhh... so furastrated!! haha.. F200 or F70.... hmm....

Kim Letkeman said...

The F200 has a theoretical advantage in noise ... perhaps as much as half a stop. I find the F70 just fine though ... as do others.

crazy football mom said...

Nice concert video! Funny, I saw Nickelback in April and they didn't do "highway to hell"...

crazy football mom said...

Good concert video! Funny, I saw Nickelback and didn't know they did "Highway to Hell". That's it :-)

crazy football mom said...

Didn't mean to leave two comments, but thought the first one went into cyber-space...was having technical difficulties...solly.

Anonymous said...

It's stange to see my video posted on someone elses blog!

The video quality is actually better than what was posted to youtube as I shrunk it down from a 250M file to a 50M file before uploading.

It's a great video camera but I'm disappointed in it's low light capabilties, still prefer the F30 as long as you can get close enough to the action!

Kim Letkeman said...

A little fame for your video ... it probably added to some more hits, which is never bad. It's a good video ... and yes, the native video is probably better, but huge.

Jen said...

Hi--I found your blog and wanted to get a quick opinion if you have a sec...I am a (very!) amateur photographer and choosing between the Panasonic ZS3 and the Fuji 70EXR for a new camera. Main types of shots will be both indoor and outdoor shots of my kids (not sports action--they are little, so I am trying to capture quick moments like smiles).
Thanks!
-Jen

Kim Letkeman said...

Hi Jen ... there is no easy answer to your question. Generally speaking, you should be able to get good images from either, but if you plan on shooting in fairly low light a lot, I have to give the nod to the Fuji. You can get decent images from the Panny with flash, but I have not tested that mode enough to say whether it will work. I'll see if I can do that at some point. By the way, a lot of people like the Canon S90 for indoor shooting, as it has a very fast lens at wide angle. But, of course, it suffers from short reach and it is expensive.