For such a small camera, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7 has a lot going for it.
The ultracompact point-and-shoot weighs about the same as a smartphone, but has a 10x zoom lens and a 14-megapixel MOS sensor that supports full HD movie capture at 60i in AVCHD (it'll shoot MP4, too), and it shoots fast thanks in part to Panasonic's latest autofocus system, which keeps shutter lag very low.
All of that, very good photo and video results, and a reasonably low price make it a nice choice as a grab-and-go camera for automatic snapshots.
However, you probably won't want to go without a fully charged battery, and, while I liked its photo quality overall, it might not meet everyone's needs and expectations.
Depending on what your plans are for its photos, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7's shots are either very good to excellent or unusable. If you're looking to use its 14-megapixel resolution to enlarge pictures to full size and heavily crop in, don't buy this camera (or most other point-and-shoots). Things just don't look great when viewed at 100 percent.
However, those viewing on a screen at less than 100 percent or making prints up to 8.5x11, which is probably the majority of buyers, will be really happy with the results.
Looking at its pictures closely, you'll see subjects are somewhat soft and noisy even at the camera's lowest ISO sensitivities where things should be their sharpest. As you go up in ISO, such as when you're shooting in low light, you'll pick up more noise, particularly yellow blotches. Panasonic's JPEG processing has gotten much better at these higher ISOs, making them usable. Things definitely get worse at ISO 1600 and above, however, so you'll want to avoid using them whenever possible. Also, subjects generally look soft above ISO 200; if it's something you're sensitive to, you can always sharpen somewhat with editing software. (You can read more about picture quality in the slideshow above.)
Video quality is very good, with limited ghosting on fast-moving subjects. Judder, too, is minimal when panning the camera. Basically all the pluses and minuses of the camera's photo quality are true for movies as well. That includes blown-out highlights in bright scenes.
Note: We recently updated our testing methodology to gauge slightly more real-world performance, so the results aren't necessarily comparable with previous testing. Until we're finished refining our procedures we will not be posting comparative performance charts.
Probably the biggest reason to get the SZ7 is its shooting performance. About the only thing it does somewhat slowly is power up; from off to first shot takes about 2.1 seconds. After that it's very fast at 0.7 second from shot to shot. Using the flash drives the shot-to-shot time up to 2.5 seconds, but that's still very good for this category.
Shutter lag -- the time from pressing the shutter release to capture without prefocusing -- is just 0.3 second in good lighting. In low-light conditions it goes up to 0.5 second and zooming in under the same conditions will extend the lag to just less than 1 second. For this class of camera at its price, these are excellent times.
The SZ7 is also excellent for burst shooting. Panasonic claims it can shoot in four-shot bursts at 10 frames per second at full resolution, and it basically hit that in my tests, reaching 9.7fps. However, that's with focus and exposure set at the first shot. What sets the SZ7 apart from similar cameras is that it can capture at 5fps with autofocus; most competing models don't even offer that as an option, and if they do, they aren't nearly this fast.