It's hard work following in the footsteps of an incredibly successful camera. In the case of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ7, it succeeds the Lumix DMC-TZ15, which struck a chord in the hearts of travellers everywhere looking for a compact camera with an extended zoom reach.
Alongside the TZ7 sits the TZ6, a slightly scaled back version of the camera we're reviewing here. The TZ6 does away with HD video recording in AVCHD Lite format, as well as a couple of other features you'll find on the TZ7 model.
From the outset we can tell that Panasonic hasn't wanted to trifle with a winning formula as the TZ7 (at least stylistically) shares a lot in common with the TZ15. It has the same shaped body and lens barrel that slightly protrudes from the front as the TZ15, but a sleek and slimline metal grip on the right-hand side rather than the chunky plastic.
At the back, controls are similar to what we've seen before except for the addition of an instant-on movie record button. You can't miss this one as it's big and red. The rest of the buttons are a glossy silver, which are great for aesthetes but in practical use you might find yourself squinting in bright light to determine what each of them does.
For the most part the TZ7 offers incremental updates to what we found on the TZ15. The zoom has been slightly increased to 12x optical and the megapixel count now sits at 10.1. The lovely 3-inch LCD screen remains the same with 460,000 dots. The most significant change is high-definition video recording in Panasonic's AVCHD Lite format rather than MOV, which featured on the TZ15. HDMI out is included on the side and a stereo microphone on the top of the camera.
The Leica lens is now a strikingly wide 25mm (rather than 28mm on the TZ15) with a maximum aperture of f/3.3 and you can push ISO up to 6400 in the settings. But in terms of settings, you won't get much at all — shooting modes are for point-and-clickers only, with automatic, intelligent auto or scene modes being your options. Manual controls are a big omission from the TZ7, and we don't see why such a fully featured (and fully priced) camera doesn't have a bit of extra oomph in this department.
Performance and image quality
Thanks to its size you don't really expect much speed and agility from this camera. Fortunately, it proves you wrong in most respects, being relatively quick at starting up in 1.5 seconds. Extending the zoom from one extreme to the other takes a good three seconds though.