It takes photos that are an amazing 4,000 pixels wide and 3,000 pixels deep. It also can capture high-definition video at the studio-quality frame rate of 30 frames per second. And all from a $79 camera.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983


12-megapixel Lumix camera joins cheap-snapshot league

Oct. 31, 2010

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2010, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2010, The Post-Standard

   I didn't need another new camera, but when I saw an ad for a Panasonic Lumix model for $79 I rushed down to the store and got the next-to-last one on the shelf. I've been having fun taking pictures ever since.
   Ordinarily, you'd expect a $79 camera to perform like a $79 camera. But the Lumix DMC-F3 isn't your ordinary everyday cheap digital camera. It's a 12-megapixel wonder able to strut its stuff like the big guys. It takes photos that are an amazing 4,000 pixels wide and 3,000 pixels deep. That's a lot, folks.
   But there's more. Most pocket-size digital cameras these days can take videos, and the Lumix does, too. But it also can capture high-definition video at the studio-quality frame rate of 30 frames per second (fps).
   And all from a $79 camera.
   I need to stop here and explain that the Lumix DMC-F3 was on sale when I bought it at what might seem an unlikely source -- the Big Lots store up the street. The regular discount price is more like $100 and the list price is $130. You can find current prices at discounters around the Web by searching Google using this phrase: PANASONIC LUMIX DCM-F3 BEST PRICE. The lowest price I saw a few weeks ago was $96, but it's likely to come back down as we approach the holiday shopping season.
   Nothing's perfect. After taking a hundred photos indoors and out, I was easily able to spot the only serious flaw in the camera's picture-taking. The built-in compression of image detail from the Lumix's JPEG processing seemed too obvious when I enlarged parts of photos. (The screenshot here shows some of this effect.)
   JPEG compression causes image artifacts no matter how well it is done, but the Lumix seemed especially prone to JPEG effects in photos showing leaves and other objects with sharp contours. Artifacts were not visible at all in photos of people and animals -- the kind of subjects least likely to show JPEG effects from any camera.
   The Lumix did well under low-light conditions. In a flash hater, so I turned off the flash after taking a couple of test photos indoors. They were OK, but I feel that flash nearly always degrades photos because of the way it hides real-life shadows.
   I bought a couple of 8 GB SD memory cards rated at Class 6, the highest memory speed, so I could take sample HD videos. Each card stored more than an hour of HD video, in 15-to-17-minute chunks. (Many Windows PCs can't handle more than 2 GB in a single file, so the Lumix is intentionally crippled in this area. Mac users get no respect.) The resulting HD video played perfectly on both my Windows PCs and Macs.
   You can take regular video, too extending your recording time. Be sure to use high-speed SD cards for all video.
   Most of the automatic features worked well, but you can turn all of them off if you want. There's no way to focus manually, although you can aim at part of the scene, hold the shutter button down half way to lock in the focus and exposure, then shift the aim to another view. (Nearly all cameras have this feature. If you've never tried it, you're missing out on a great little touch.)
   The rechargeable battery gave me 200 to 300 shots. An 8 GB memory card held nearly 1,000 photos at their highest quality setting. That should be more than enough for the family reunion.