Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3

Can you take a shot like this? Of course—it’s not difficult.

First, find a blonde serpent and a blonde girl willing to hold it.

Use a fairly long focal length lens and a relatively large aperture. This shot was taken with a 12X zoom set at 49mm (300mm equivalent) at f6.3 (1/1000 sec.). The combination provided intentionally limited depth-of-field which isolated the subjects from the background to make them appear even sharper.

Be sure to use a camera that’s at least in the 7-to-10 megapixel range. This camera, I think, is a 10-megapixel (I could look it up, but megapixels are the least significant variable in this equation). I was able to crop this picture and use only about 60% of the frame. But first I had to reduce the resolution significantly to make it fit this web page. The original shot is 3648x2736. The image you’re seeing here is 450x559, substantially smaller. You can imagine how sharp the full size, full resolution image is—

Making a snake pose is easy. Snakes smell with their tongue, so if you wait long enough you’ll see something like this sooner or later.

Next question: Can you take a shot like this with your pocketsize compact camera?

Probably not.

This image was captured with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 which will be available in the US for about $399 in April. The camera is small—about 4” long and 2.3” high—and slips easily into a pocket or purse. It weighs less than half a pound but has a 12X zoom lens that will bring soccer matches—or girls with snakes—up close. And it has a potent image stabilization system, so you can shoot handheld at 300mm without the picture getting all scaly—I mean fuzzy.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 produces images that are sharp and rich in detail, and delivers incredible color fidelity with very little fiddling. It has so many features that recounting them extends well beyond the realm of this blog. But I do have to mention what is clearly the most advanced video capture mode available on any compact camera. It’s called AVCHD Lite and you’ll be reading a lot about it in the coming months.

It also has what’s arguably the world’s smartest Face Recognition system. You can register up to five human faces and, when one of them appears in the frame, the camera automatically prioritizes focus and exposure for that person’s mug. You can even decide which person is most important—and if the camera “sees” the same face several times it will prompt you to register that person. (Hmmm—is this where the Law of Unintended Consequences comes into play? I can hear it now: “Honey, your camera’s broken. I took a picture of Helen today and the camera asked me if I wanted to register her face...”)

By the way, on the wideangle end of the 12X zoom you’re shooting at 25mm equivalent—that’s a REAL wideangle. The shutter goes as high as 1/2000 sec and…and if I don’t quit now I’m going keep remembering more and more cool things about this camera—there are so many. I don’t want to spoil it for you when you read the full review, so let me just say that if you’re planning for the perfect Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Graduation or TGIHBLOY (Thank Goodness I Haven’t Been Laid Off Yet) present, keep this camera in mind.