This review is based upon my time shooting with my brother's Panasonic ZS7 pocket superzoom camera. I had about a week of time with this jewel of a camera and was impressed. This camera is also known as the TZ10 in Europe and Asia.
The ZS7 is a highly versatile pocket camera with 14.5 megapixel resolution and a versatile Leica designed 12x zoom with an equivalent focal length range of 25mm wideangle to 300mm Telephoto. There are many pocket superzooms with longer zoom ranges there are none that provide a better or sharper lens.
While the lens is built by Panasonic it is designed by Leica and they have input into the quality control and assembly processes for the lens. The lens incorporates Panasonic's optical image stabilization (as opposed to sensor shift stabilization on most pocket cameras). This is a more expensive but more elegant solution to image stabilization and does an excellent job throughout the entire zoom range including at extreme telephoto.
The Panasonic ZS7 with its Leica designed lens provides excellent overall image quality from wide angle to Telephoto. Chromatic aberration and lens distortion are quite minimal. Panasonic utilizes algorithms internally to correct for aberrations or distortions that are not corrected optically. Chromatic aberration (color fringing around edges) was almost completed negated by the cameras internal image processing. Likewise lens distortion was barely noticeable at all focal lengths.
I encountered no significant lens flare except in a few cases of backlit or 90 degree side lit subjects and even then it was not overly disruptive. Distortion at max wide angle and max telephoto are minimal. At high ISO's Panasonic uses a rather aggressive noise reduction method that can result in significant loss of fine detail though it does reduce the appearance of noise.
In Program, Aperture, Shutter and Manual modes you can increase or decrease default CONTRAST, SHARPNESS, SATURATION and NOISE REDUCTION to adjust for personal taste via the menus. I personally preferred to lower the noise reduction as much as possible since I like to maintain the maximum available detail and then do further noise reduction on the computer where less detail is lost. I find that the settings for color, saturation, sharpness, are overall pleasing and left them at their defaults as I do any further enhancements on the computer. Some users may prefer to reduce or increase them and have the ability to do so. For casual users who don't want to do further processing on the computer, you may want to increase saturation and sharpness slightly.
About the SENSOR
The Panasonic ZS7 uses the same 1/2.33 size sensor that is common for most pocket cameras these days. It has a base ISO sensor range from 80-1600. There is an enhanced ISO range from 1600 to 6400, but the image degradation at these higher settings is significant, and really is only suitable as a last resort to get some kind of image.
At speeds below ISO 400 the sensor performs admirably and 800 and 1600 are usable though with increasing loss of quality. One feature worth mentioning is iISO or Intelligent ISO. This modes checks the picture for motion, and will increase the ISO speed to enable a faster shutter speed to stop motion. Panasonic provides a nice touch in that you can set a Maximum ISO of 400, 800 or 1600 so that iISO never goes above the speed you set. This is helpful if you want to preserve maximum image quality while allowing the camera to adjust settings.
HIGH SPEED SHOOTING
The Panasonic ZS7 like much of its competition can shoot as fast as 10 frames per second. However unlike most of the competition, depending on the resolution set (a 6X or faster SD card is recommended) for the image it can shoot anywhere from 15 to 100 frames without stopping. Many pocket superzooms will shoot at the same or higher speeds but will only do so for about 1 second. The ZS7 provides a lot more flexibility for sports and action shooting.
The Panasonic ZS7 provides some of the most versatile controls of any pocket superzoom with a full range of automatic and manual controls, plus 2 user programmable special scene settings.
AUTOMATIC SCENE DETECTION will read the scene the camera is pointed at and attempt to recognize one of the following scenarios: People, babies, landscapes night scenes, close-ups (macro), sunsets. When none of the above or found, Automatic Scene Detection will look for motion to prevent blurring.
Additional SCENE settings which can be set through the menu or as part of 2 user programmable settings are Portrait, Soft Skin, Transform, Self Portrait, Panorama Assist, Sports, Baby, Pet, High Sens (high ISO mode), Hi Speed Burst, Pin Hole, High Dynamic, Photo Frame, Underwater, food, party and candle light. Many of these can also be used with video.
Panasonic provides a very detailed manual on disk, that explains all of the scenes in detail and what the camera is doing for those users who want to know all the ins and outs.
The Panasonic ZS7 provides a full range of manual controls that will delight advanced photographers and professionals. These include program mode with program shift, shutter preferred, aperture preferred, full manual, and 2 user programmable settings where you can make use of preset scenes or create your own. You can always manually set the ISO to any setting you desire for special effects or difficult situations.
The built in flash has several modes as well including AUTO which determines if the flash is needed or not. AUTO RED EYE which attempts to judge if pre-flash is needed to reduce red eye, FORCED FLASH where the flash is always used on every shot, FORCED RED EYE reduction, SLOW SYNC that uses the flash with a longer shutter speed to capture more background detail and of course FORCE FLASH OFF so the camera never flashes. Flash will also work with many of the scene modes. From my limited use, the flash seems to be effective out to about 12-15 feet or farther if the ISO is set higher.
The video mode is limited to a maximum of 720P (1025x720 pixels) in HD format. Smaller formats are also available. Video can make use of many of the default SCENE settings as well. Pretty much a basic video setup suitable for home movies or vacations without a lot of bells or whistles.
The Panasonic ZS7 is also equipped with a GPS receiver that allows you to automatically geotag images as you shoot them which is very useful if you upload images to sites like Flickr that can then automatically map them to the location the photos was taken. Geo-tagging is also helpful if you can't remember where a specific photo was taken. You can take the latitude and longitude information form the image EXIF file (which stores all the lens, shutter, aperture and other information at time of shooting) and then drop them into Google maps or similar mapping programs to get the exact location. In addition, panasonic has built in a database of major "points of interest" so the camera can be used to help find other interesting places to photograph. This database is not all inclusive but is still useful and can help discover interesting areas in your near proximity.
The Panasonic ZS7 is a versatile, high quality camera with a very high quality 12X zoom lens, that is suitable for anyone from a point and shoot automatically casual user to photographic enthusiasts and professionals. It has recently been replaced by the new Panasonic ZS10 which expands several features, a larger touch screen LCD and a longer 16X zoom.
Even with my limited time using the Panasonic ZS7 I recommend it whole heartedly. I have posted a small gallery of photos I took with the Panasonic ZS7 on Flicker: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lightweaver2/sets/72157625598123672/
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Amount Paid (US$): 399
This Camera is a Good Choice if You Want Something... Solid Enough for a Professional