Choosing between digital cameras can be tough, but when it comes to deciding
between higher-end compact megazoom options, performance is essential.
While it may have been released last year, there's still more than enough appeal
with the 2010 Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7, which brings clarity along extras like manual/semi-manual operation and touted
GPS labeling. Its a real contender for those on the hunt for last year’s best at
today's bargain prices, especially for those seeking a camera with few
compromises on delivering the biggest bang for the buck.
Like most megazoom cameras the DMC-ZS7's size may be a little tight for most pockets with
its hefty dimensions of 4.1” x 2.4” x 1.3” (WHD),
all of which weighs in at just 7.6 ounces. The word 'ample' can describe the appearance.
Adjusters include a zoom ring (with shutter button), power switch, and
predominant picture mode dial with a convenient ‘iA’ (intelligent Auto) for
optimum settings; with a unique 'Clipboard' mode for quick
reference pictures are found on top. Most of the standard buttons like navigation (exposure, flash, macro, self-timer), display/Q.Menu, recording,
and shoot/playback switch are found on the back, along with a 460k dot
resolution 3-inch LCD screen. It might seem daunting at first but the controls are pretty straightforward when
actually using this camera.
Power is supplied by a wall-rechargeable lithium-ion type
battery that can provide up to 4 hours (in our tests) of activity and utilizes SDXC memory cards, the latter you’ll have
to get on your own.
The user interface of the ZS7 is
extensive but easy enough to navigate, with adjustments for still-shooting and video quality all grouped in individual yellow tabs,
conveniently laid out in
large text and icons. Most of these aides are further streamlined thanks to Panasonic’s Q.Menu,
provides quick access to settings such as ISO (film speed/sensitivity in
autofocus, and white balance all with one unified button - a more efficient approach than diving into the
regular menus all the time.
Performance isn't lacking and the camera is easily capable
of producing great snapshots with the
default settings on. We were able to take photos that were sharp in detail and appropriate
in color - and this was before we toyed around with the 28 available scene modes
with two configurable memory slots of presets used most often called MySCN. The
excellent picture quality does come with a price, however, as most photos taken in either
dynamically-lit or darker areas tended to be subject to compromised color and
noise grain, as well as a shutter that has a leisurely pace when it comes to prompt
Fortunately, this 12.1 megapixel (with 14 megapixel sensor) camera does a good
job in keeping what you want in the frame, with face recognition and AF tracking
enabled the ZS7 dutifully prioritizes a target and keeps it in focus. Or if
getting in close works better the 12x zoom lens holds a of detail except when using the extended optical zoom
which can turn everything into a huge blur, but most
people will do fine without the additional focal aides.
Video was standard for high-definition
material, which can be recorded up to 720p (1280x720) in resolution, and most of
the aforementioned abilities (zoom/AF tracking) are available here as well. Image
stabilization and a wind-cut filter for audio is coupled with Motion JPEG or
AVCHD Lite support, with three selectable quality
settings (9Mbps (L), 13Mbps (H), 17Mbps (SH)). Output for HDTV is possible with
an Mini-HDMI cable (not included) and viewable in 1080i, or through any PC with
proprietary USB/AV cables and included PHOTOfunSTUDIO 5.1 software; if AVCHD is
your thing then having this program or equivalent is pretty much necessary, just
make sure you don't lose any of the accessories under any circumstances.
One of the bigger feats of the ZS7 is the ability to attach geographical data
with its built-in GPS function. When turned on any pictures or videos taken are labeled
by designated landmarks, and it takes roughly a minute for the internal receiver to lock on
to your general
location. Certainly a nifty addition to have available, but unless you’re an
active traveler or feel the need to do a little exploration having GPS isn’t
exactly enthralling for everyday use. Furthermore, it may end up
more a novelty as any AVCHD Lite files that are encoded with GPS data aren't compatible
devices that would normally accept the format, which is far convenient if you plan
on showing off where you've been to friends and family.
With performance and a healthy catalog of features to match Panasonic's
DMC-ZS7 is a great megazoom digital camera once you get
acquainted with all its expansive niceties and quirks. Easy to navigate menus
and extensive features and setting options mean that your photos and videos will
look their best, although issues like photo quality between different lighting
environment and a largely ceremonial GPS mode will probably limit its appeal
with the up-to-the minute geek-chic crowd. Regardless,
seasoned but budget-minded photographers will learn to appreciate the capable Lumix,
especially now that its price is beginning to come down and reach more desirable
(i.e. .buyable) levels. We found units as low as $199, which is a great price
for the camera, even if it is last year's