At only 1.3-inches thick, it's pretty great that Panasonic was able to pack in a 12x optical zoom to its new 10.1-megapixel Lumix DMC-ZS3 and DMC-ZS1 cameras. The lens is wide angle to boot at 25mm. But a bigger draw for some will be the 720p video recording abilities in AVCHD Lite. (This, and the rugged TS1 will be the first cameras to be stamped with that branding--a format Panasonic jointly developed with Sony.)
The new cameras replace the TZ-series megazoom camera that featured a 28mm lens with 10x optical zoom. The ZS1 has a lot in common with its line mate, but the ZS3 gets more of Panasonic's new technologies, such as its facial recognition system, which allows you to register frequently snapped faces with names so that the camera will properly expose and focus on who's important. It has 26 scene modes for photos and 17 scene modes for video.
Also, the camera is driven by dual image processors to manage the load of HD recording and its HDMI output. There was no mention if the 12x zoom works while shooting video (my money is on "yes" though), but it does support the use of Panasonic's Mega O.I.S. optical image stabilization.
The ZS3 will sell for $399.95 and comes in red, blue, black, and silver. The ZS1 (available in black and silver) is $100 cheaper at $299.95, but loses the AVCHD Lite, drops down to a 230,000-dot, 2.7-inch LCD (from a 3.0-inch LCD with 460,000 dots on the ZS3), and doesn't have the face recognition system. Look for them in April.