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, which provides quick access to settings such as ISO (film speed/sensitivity in laymen’s terms), resolution, 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 moments.
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 (1280×720) 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 with other 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 model.
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