Top positive review
6 people found this helpful
Very good for the price and size
on 1 July 2014
My first thought, on taking the XS3 out of its remarkably small box, was that it looked like a small plastic toy. It almost doesn't look real, more like a Chinese Christmas-cracker present with a fake Lumix logo on it. And does it really need that big plastic ring around the lens that cheapens the look and feel of the camera? But I have checked it carefully all round, and tried it out, and it does seem to be a real camera that actually works.
This is a tiny, very light, truly shirt-pocket camera that costs little more than £60. It is not going to be hand-crafted from aluminium ingots, or perform like a DSLR, or anything else to write home about. But for the size and price it is remarkably good. It powers up very quickly, it finds focus quickly - ideal for those 'grab' shots - and even has AF Assist for low light. I find the menus a little confusing as there are 'menu' and 'quick menu' and they do different things at different times. It's easy to confuse 'Play' and 'Display', the latter being given a rather too valuable space on the main dial, and you can arrive in roughly the same place from different directions - but that's probably me having to adapt from a Leica C-Lux 2. And whilst the Leica was infinitely better built, the tiny XS3 actually works faster and no less well. You can set the shooting display to give a live histogram, and combined with direct access to exposure compensation (+/-EV) this makes it fairy easy to allow for difficult subjects.
It's the first time I've had a 'panorama' function and with a little care this works well, like a cine camera with instant stitching. It works well in all four directions, but if you move too quickly the result will be blurred, and if you move too slowly the camera times out before you've gone as far as you want. Exposure is fixed as you move, so if your scene varies significantly in brightness, it's best to start at the bright end to avoid overexposure, and recover the shadows later in Photoshop or similar. Avoid subjects too close to the camera as they won't stitch properly - but that's a limitation of physics not the camera.
Looking at the photos on a proper monitor we can see that the camera struggles with exposure sometimes, and dynamic range is an issue - though the camera has an 'Auto Retouch' feature that, whilst it doesn't recover highlights, does a decent job with shadows. It would be nice if this could be enabled at the time of shooting, like Nikon's D-Lighting (ie slight HDR). Colour outdoors on a sunny day is a little on the blue side, but for anything decent I'd put it through Photoshop anyway, and exposure issues can be sorted out properly then. Midtones lighten well with noise not being noticeable in real-life viewing.
Ergonomically I think the buttons on the back could have been a little bigger, and I prefer to have the wide/tele control on the top plate rather than the back - but that may be a limitation of a camera body that's only 18mm thick. The battery door underneath has a tiny hinge that looks as if it could easily be broken. But as I said before, this is a cheap camera. Small niggles aside, it punches its weight very well. Having tested this camera fairly thoroughly over two weeks, I'm upgrading this from 4 to 5 stars.