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Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7 (Black) review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7 (Black)

For its price, the 14-megapixel Lumix SZ7 and its 10x zoom lens are capable of turning out some nice pictures.

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Senior Editor / Reviews

Joshua Goldman is a senior editor for CNET Reviews, covering laptops and the occasional action cam or drone and related accessories. He has been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software since 2000.

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For such a small camera, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7 has a lot going for it.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7 (Black)
8.0

Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7 (Black)

The Good

The <b>Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7</b> delivers fast shooting performance and very good photo and movie quality in a slim package with a wide, long lens.

The Bad

The SZ7's battery life could be better, and its pictures probably won't thrill pixel peepers.

The Bottom Line

A speedy little camera with a long lens, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7 performs beyond its tiny price tag.

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.

Picture quality
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.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7 sample pictures

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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.

Shooting performance
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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Design and features
The DMC-SZ7 looks like a shrunken, slimmed-down version of its longer-zoom linemates, the ZS19 and ZS20. Despite being just less than an inch thick, the SZ7 still has plenty of zoom range, going from an ultrawide-angle 25mm to 250mm. Plus, the camera is so lightweight, you can easily slip it in a pocket and not feel weighed down.

Key specs Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7
Price (MSRP) $179.99
Dimensions (WHD) 3.9 inches by 2.4 inches by 0.9 inch
Weight (with battery and media) 4.8 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 14 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch high-sensitivity MOS
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch LCD, 460K dots/none
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 10x, f3.1-5.9, 25-250mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/AVCHD (.MTS), H.264 AAC (.MP4)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,320x3,240 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 at 60fps (AVCHD interlaced; 17Mbps), 1,920x1,080 at 30fps (MP4 progressive; 20Mbps)
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, 220 shots
Battery charged in camera Yes, via USB connected to computer or wall adapter (included)
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC
Bundled software PhotofunStudio 8 Advanced Edition (Windows)

Controls are relatively easy to master. About the most frustrating part is the use of switches for power and going from shooting to playback. If you're used to buttons for these things, it can take some time to adjust, especially if you're the type to look at your shots right after you take them.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Panasonic fit a 3-inch high-res LCD on back while leaving plenty of room for its controls. The LCD gets reasonably bright, though even at its max brightness you may struggle to see it in direct sunlight. It does have a high-angle setting, however, so if you're shooting above your head it won't completely wash out.

The DMC-SZ7's battery and SD card slot are squeezed into a small compartment on the bottom with a locking door. Battery life is somewhat short if you do more than take some snapshots in auto. Using the zoom lens a lot, burst shooting, or capturing long movie clips will empty your charge quickly. If you're considering the SZ7 for going out and shooting for the day, you'll want to pick up a second battery. The battery is charged in-camera via USB so you may want to get an external charger, too, or plan ahead.

General shooting options Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto,100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Incandescent, Custom
Recording modes Intelligent Auto, Normal (program AE), 3D Photo, Scene, Miniature Effect
Focus modes Face Detection AF, 1-point AF, 23-point AF, Spot AF, AF Tracking
Macro 2 inches (Wide); 4.9 feet (Tele)
Metering modes Multi
Color effects Standard, Black & White, Sepia, Vivid, Happy (only in iA mode)
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 4 shots

The SZ7 is light on shooting options, but if you're mostly concerned with its fully automatic performance, its Intelligent Auto (iA) performs well. If you like a little more control, there is a Normal mode that lets you select things like ISO and white balance, as well as turn on and off Panasonic's Intelligent technologies for improving contrast, sharpness, and other things.

Sarah Tew/CNET

There are also 15 scene modes that include the usual suspects like Portrait, Scenery, and Food, but Panasonic's added new pan-and-shoot Panorama Shot and a multiexposure Handheld Night Shot that takes a few pictures rapidly in a row and then combines them into one to reduce motion blur and noise. The downsides are that it only works well if your subject is stationary, and the white balance is a bit too warm indoors.

Worth noting, too, is that Panasonic lets you turn on both Handheld Night Shot and a multiexposure HDR mode for its Intelligent Auto mode. That way if it detects low-light conditions or a backlit subject when in iA, it can use those options instead of you having to switch to them manually.

There are a couple other extras available, like Miniature Effect and Panorama Shot modes, but if you're looking for a camera to leave in auto, the SZ7 handles most shooting conditions well.

Conclusion: Recommended
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7 is great little pocket camera. Even at its original price of $180 it was a good deal, but now that it can be found for less than $150, it's a steal. That's mostly because of its fast shooting performance and its small size and long lens. Its battery life could be better and it has some limitations when it comes to photo quality, but if most of your photos are ending up online and you don't need to make prints larger than the occasional 8x10, it's a solid choice for the money.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7 (Black)
8.0

Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7 (Black)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 9Image quality 7