Like many photographers I look for a small camera to carry with me all the time. This narrows down to one of these P&S cameras like the Canon 10 and the Panasonic ZS3.
Our problem has been so far that we cannot frame properly just using a LCD. If framing is no pleasure I won't get nice pictures. Fortunately I found a solution as we reported here:
What re the main criteria for such a camera:
- Pocketable (here the Panasonic G1 fails)
- Ready for video notes
- Zoom range at least 28 - 130mm (here the otherwise good Panasonic LX3 was out of considerations)
- Image stabilization
- 3" LCD with at least 400K pixels (here the Canon SX200 was not a choice for us)
- Manual control vs. automatic exposure
- RAW or JPEG only
- Build quality
- Battery life
- If JPEG only: How are the colors
- If JPEG only: Sharpening and JPEG artifacts
- Overall image quality
- Lens quality
- Price (G10 about $499 and ZS3 about $399, this difference would not influence our decision much)
The idea is of course not to replace our full frame cameras with one of these P&S camera. But the images should be nice enough for smaller prints, books and the web. We plan to have this camera always with us and this way the photos would only compete with photos that otherwise we would not have taken (big cameras are at home).
Note: Had today the ZS3 with us but forgot the SD card :-). Lesson learned: Have always some SD card in your wallet and/or cars. Fortunately the shots from today can easily be repeated.
Lets check out our list:
Manual control vs. automatic exposure
The automatic exposure of the ZS3 (called iA Intelligent Auto) is very good. But it still too often blows the highlights. This means it won't work for us in the long run. Unfortunately the ZS3 allows only minimal manual control in it's least automatic mode: exposure compensation. Overall we learned to accept this but we would like to control ISO and f-stop.
The G10 has all the manual control you ever want. Even ISO and exposure compensation have their own physical dials. The downside of this is that it would be hard to make it much smaller.
Here the ZS3 wins clearly. It weighs about 230g vs. 400g of the G10 (both with battery). The G10 is only borderline pocketable.
Ready for video notes
You can make simple video clips with the G10 in mono. The ZS3 allows more sophisticated HD 720p video with stereo sound. For our needs the G10 may work ok though.
The G10 zoom range of 28-140mm is just fine while the 25-300mm range of the ZS3 is short of amazing.
Both cameras feature image stabilization and it seems to work very well in both cases.
3" LCD with at least 400K pixels
Both LCDs fit the bill. For our new framing method using the HoodLoupe even higher resolution and a higher refresh rate would be welcome.
RAW or JPEG only
The key strength of the G10 is support for RAW. The ZS3 only shoots JPEG. The cooked JPEGs show JPEG and sharpening artifacts if you start pixel-peeping.
The G10 is built like a tank and you likely pay the price via more weight. The ZS3 is nicely built and maybe more "elegant". The mode dial is way to lose so that the settings often get changed without intention. In both cases we would like to have better and finer control over the zoom. Getting the desired focal length is often trial and error (the ZS3 seems worse than the G10 in this respect).
One main weak point of the ZS3 seems to be battery life (about 100 photos). The G10 can take more pictures on one load (new battery compared to the Canon G9).
If JPEG only: How are the colors
Normally we control the color in the RAW converter. But if the camera only shoots JPEG you are at the mercy of this camera. We can report that we love the colors from the ZS3 as they are. This is of course for our own taste and yours may vary.
If JPEG only: Sharpening and JPEG artifacts
If you start pixel-peeping you can find the JPEG and sharpening artifacts with the ZS3. The G10 files are much cleaner at low ISO.
Overall image quality
Overall the image quality of both cameras is very good for P&S cameras. All the noise is in the dark shadows. Here the G10 is cleaner than the ZS3 (this may also be just a benefit from using RAW with the G10).
The Panasonic ZS3 camera corrects distortions and CA (chromatic aberrations) inside the camera. No surprisethat we hardly find any CA in the images. The G10 RAW files don't get corrected and show mild CA that easily can get corrected in Lightroom/ACR. For 5x and 12x zooms both lenses are quite amazingly good.
Bracketing (AEB - Auto Exposure Bracketing)
Both cameras allow only brackets for 3 shots. The ZS3 allows only -1, 0, +1 EV while the G10 allows a more usable range of -2, 0, +2 EV. Here is a shot at Fort Point with the G10 (from tripod):
We use the bracketing feature in the ZS3 for normal exposure bracketing to have the choice from 3 exposures.
Sample pictures from the Lumix ZS3
ZS3: SF Mission Graffiti
ZS3: Plaza Hall Porch in San Juan Bautista
ZS3: Plaza Hall Curtain
As mentioned before we love the colors produced by the ZS3.
Panasonic ZS3 sample gallery
Sample pictures from the Canon G10
G10: San Juan Bautista Stable
G10: Plaza Hall Porch in San Juan Bautista
G10: Fort Point Lighthouse
Canon G10 sample gallery
We like the results from both cameras very much. If the ZS3 would allow RAW and more manual control it would come close to the camera we are looking for. The main issue with the G10 is just size and weight. I would say if you plan to own only one camera the G10 has lot going for it. If you look for a smaller pocketable camera the ZS3 could be your choice. As so often a hybrid of both cameras would be closer to the ideal pocket camera for critical photographers.
Note: The older Panasonic TZ5 gets close to what the ZS3 can deliver. You still may be able to get some good deals (these soon will be gone though).