Panasonic has revealed a new addition to its LUMIX family of cameras, the DMC-ZR3 slim compact digital. The successor to the ZR1, optical zoom has been boosted to eight times, the addition of AVCHD Lite video should extend recording time, the pixel count now stands at 14 megapixels and it supports the new SDXC card format.

On the outside, nothing much has changed. Panasonic's new LUMIX DMC-ZR3 (ZX3 in Europe) looks almost the same as the highly regarded DMC-ZR1 (ZX1 in Europe) released last year. The new model keeps the same "ultra wide angle" eight times optical zoom (equivalent to 25-200mm on a 35mm camera) using a high performance LEICA DC VARIO-ELMAR lens found on its predecessor but there's now some new Intelligent Zoom functionality that extends the camera's zoom ratio by 1.3.

It's a little lighter too, at 137g minus the Li-ion battery but is otherwise the same 98 x 55 x 26 mm (3.85 x 2.15 x 1.02 in) compact pocket-size. New to the ZR3 has support for the SD extended capacity (SDXC) format, as well as SD and SDHC of course. The pixel count on the 1/2.33in Type CCD sensor has been increased from 12.1 to 14.1 megapixels and the ZR3 now offers 720p AVCHD Lite video which doubles the recording time over conventional Motion JPEG. Users can also divide the video into two sections to shorten or delete the unwanted half in-camera, on the spot and there's even a function to cut out background wind noise from the audio track.

The steady evolution of the Intelligent Auto system continues in the ZR3. Not only does the camera offer face recognition, AF tracking, intelligent ISO control and scene selection and Intelligent Exposure but the company has also thrown Intelligent Resolution, a new "Happy Mode" optimization feature and optical image stabilization (Power OIS) into the mix. Power OIS, as seen on the ZR1, "greatly improves the quality of shots taken at night or indoors where a flash cannot be used, or where the photographer doesn't want to use a flash because it would spoil the mood".

There's also an ambient light sensor which automatically chooses one of 11 brightness levels to give the best possible viewing experience on the 230,000-dot high resolution 2.7 inch LCD display, in all lighting conditions. A shutter release time lag of approximately 0.005 seconds and fast startup should ensure any spur of the moment photo opportunities are not missed.

The compact will come in a choice of silver, black, red or blue and includes PHOTOfunSTUDIO 5.0 HD Edition software for off-camera editing. There's no word on pricing at this time but it's already featured on the UK site, with a March release schedule.

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