Digital Camera Comparison/Review III, May 22, 2009
Fujifilm FinePix F30 vs. FinePix F200EXR vs. Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 (TZ7)
(Last updated June 28, 2009)

Other F200EXR Reviews: DPReview (4-30-09)
Other DMC-ZS3 Reviews: DPReview (5-14-09); Steve's (5-11-09)

I added a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 (TZ7 in Europe) (10 megapixels) to my collection of digital cameras on May 19, adding to my Fujifilm FinePix F200EXR (12 megapixel) and my F30. I got the blue DMC-ZS3A version of the Panasonic. I really wanted this camera for two reasons: 1. the 12X optical zoom, and 2. the AVCHD 720p HD video capability (which allows zooming and focusing during the video!). The built-in gyro to auto-detect the camera orientation was a bonus. I'm not sure what's taking Fuji so long to implement some of these features.

I've already done a comparison between the F200EXR and my friend's F100. The comparison on this page is between my three compacts. All pictures were taken by me, holding the cameras in my hands, at the same distance from the subject, as close together in time as possible. I tried to hold the cameras as still as possible, but there could be some variation in camera shake shot-to-shot. I kept the F200EXR in EXR mode, the F30 in automatic mode (or night-scene mode when I wanted to suppress the flash), and the ZS3 in normal mode. I regret that I forgot to put the ZS3 in iA (intelligent auto) mode, but I don't think it would change the results much. On some shots I suppressed the flash on all the cameras intentionally. On close-ups I put them in macro mode.

The results show, to me at least, that the two new cameras clearly outclass my F30, even though many consider the F30 to have unparalleled low-light sensitivity. The DMC-ZS3 was clearly worth the purchase. The 12X zoom works great for bringing in detail, especially in good light. Interestingly, the DMC-ZS3 relies more heavily on its optical image stabilization (OIS) than the Fuji cameras (the F30 does not have OIS), usually with good results. The flash on the Panasonic is also noticeably more powerful than the Fuji flash, which is nice, though it can be too powerful at times (see the wooden cat picture).

The DMC-ZS3 videos, which I haven't posted here due to size constraints, are gorgeous. They far and away beat either of the Fuji's. You can find samples on YouTube (be sure and click on the HD button to watch them in HD). Fortuitously, apps like VideoLAN, MPlayer, and FFmpeg can all handle the ZS3 .mts video files now, though a powerful computer definitely helps for smooth playback.

So far I'm happy with both my new cameras. They give me great options for capturing beautiful pictures and video with a "fits-in-my-pants-pocket" camera. On vacations, I can carry one and my wife the other!

Update June 28, 2009: After using both cameras for a month, I'd have to say that if I only got one, I'd probably go with the ZS3, but I like having both. I tend to reach for the F200EXR if I know I'm going to be shooting in low light because it's better at going to higher ISO's and leaving the backgrounds more naturally bright (with slight increase in gaininess due to higher ISO), as opposed to the ZS3 which uses a very powerful flash to light the subject but usually leaves the background dark. I may try to add a couple demonstration photos showing this. There may be something you can do to make the ZS3 use higher ISO, but I haven't looked into it much. Even so, the ZS3 is much more flexible with its 12X zoom and has far superior video capability. Outdoors, it's definitely the camera I prefer.

Here as in many of the shots, the ZS3 auto-mode uses a much slower shutter speed than the F30 or F200, presumably relying on the optical image stabilization (OIS). This gives the ZS3 picture more detail (look at the Christmas tree on the cup, for example).

Here the ZS3 again has a slower shutter speed and truer colors. The F30 is quite washed out.

All shots here are without zoom or flash, about 10 feet away.

Same distance, now with all cameras set to max zoom (no flash).

Same as previous, but with flash.

No zoom, flash suppressed. Here the F30's sensor holds up well against the two newer models, but it has the advantage of slightly higher magnification than the F200 (see the source image resolution). Both the Fuji's have a little better detail than the fuzzier ZS3.

This shot of a bottle-brush tree allows the F200 to show off its "D/R" dynamic range priority mode, which keeps the sky from being so washed out.

All the macro shots look good here, but again the slower ZS3 shutter speed gives it excellent color and detail.

The F200 dynamic range boost again comes in handy in this fern picture.

Stangely, for this macro shot the ZS3 had the fastest shutter speed and consequently came out a little dark.

This is an interesting study in image stabilization. The F30 has none, so it uses the highest ISO and fastest shutter. The F200 is inbetween, and the ZS3 again relies heavily on OIS in order to have a slow shutter speed and get to ISO 400, resulting in the most vivid colors.

This shot demonstrates Fuji's use of "intelligent flash," where the flash is only made strong enough to get the F200 shot to ISO 800. The ZS3, by contrast, uses a very powerful flash and gets to ISO 100, but has heavy shadows and more glare.

Same story--the ZS3 has the longest shutter speed and makes up for it with OIS.

Not too much to point out here. The F30 is a bit less saturated than the others.

Here's the same shot at max zoom on each camera, cropped to just the bird house. The 12X ZS3 zoom gives it the win in detail, but the colors are less washed out in the F200 shot.

The ZS3 did the best job focusing on this snail from very close range.

Here's a very closely cropped street sign from several yards away. The 4th image is the F200 in D/R mode rather than in resolution priority mode. I think the 2nd shot (F200 resolution priority) shows the best detail.

Again, for distance shots in daylight, the F30 comes out a bit washed out compared to the F200 and ZS3.

Same story.

Distance shot of an antenna.

Same antenna, max zoom on each camera. The ZS3's 12X zoom wins here.

Similar to some of the other shots, the F200 and ZS3 get almost the same performance, but the F200 does it using the dynamic range boost, and the ZS3 uses a longer shutter speed and OIS.