Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7

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The Good Lots of features to experiment with; manual, semimanual controls; built-in GPS.

The Bad Disappointing low-light photos.

The Bottom Line A very good, fully loaded compact megazoom, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 offers a lot of shooting flexibility and a built-in GPS.

7.8 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 7

Panasonic has proven before that it knows how to make a top-notch compact megazoom. The 2010 Lumix DMC-ZS7 builds on 2009's ZS3 by adding two features: manual and semimanual shooting modes and an integrated GPS receiver. Combine those with good HD video options, a 25mm-equivalent wide-angle lens with a 12x zoom, and a couple new image enhancements and you've got a flexible camera for those who don't always want to lug a digital SLR with them. Though its photos are sometimes less than stellar (particularly those taken above ISO 400), the ZS7 will no doubt make a lot of people happy.

Key specs Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7

The design of the ZS7 doesn't change much from its predecessor, the ZS3. Its weight and size are approximately the same, remaining remarkably compact for its features and wide-angle lens with 12x zoom. Though it's a tight fit in a pants pocket, the ZS7 easily fits in an average jacket pocket or small handbag. The body--available in black, silver, and red versions--has a nice, solid feel to it with a comfortable grip on the right side. The 3-inch LCD looks good and gets reasonably bright, though it gets reflective in direct sunlight so you may struggle occasionally to see what you're shooting. Lastly, though the sensor is 14 megapixels, the camera only uses 12 megapixels, making it possible to have three aspect ratios--16:9, 3:2, and 4:3--with the same angle of view across the entire zoom range of the lens.

Controls are straightforward despite the appearance that there's a lot going on. On top is the shooting mode dial, shutter release with zoom ring, and power switch. Moving to the back to the right of the LCD is a switch for changing between shooting and playback; an exposure button for accessing changes to shutter speed and aperture; a start/stop record button for movies; four navigation buttons for moving through menus and settings and toggling among the exposure compensation, flash, macro, and self-timer options; a Display button for changing the amount of setting information displayed on screen; and Panasonic's Q.Menu button that brings up a bar of commonly used settings like ISO, photo and movie resolutions, autofocus modes, and white balance. The main menu system is reached by pressing the Menu/Set button at the center of the four navigation buttons.

Menus by and large are easy to get through with individual tabs for still shooting, video, and general camera settings. However, there are a lot of options if you're in a mode other than automatic; it can take some getting used to.

One of the main attractions for the ZS7 is the built-in GPS. Using it is fairly simple, but unless you're really good at figuring out menus and understanding potentially obscure language, you'll want to read up on how to use everything in the full user manual (a PDF file on the bundled software disc) before you head out shooting. The main menu system has a Travel Mode tab with access to all of the GPS features. Once you've turned on the receiver you can have the camera retrieve the information for your current location. In tests this took anywhere from less than a minute to several minutes depending on how much open sky was above me. Once locked, the ZS7 can display country, state, city, and landmark information and continues to update itself every minute. You can then go into the GPS Area Select menus and pick the correct information for your location. For example, if you're standing in the middle of New York, it could quite possibly have a couple pages of landmarks to pick from. Also, you can choose to limit what area information is attached, in case you only want the name of the city for instance. The area information covers 173 countries or regions for all over the world and more than half a million landmarks in 73 countries or regions.

For everyday shooting, attaching GPS information is probably not that exciting. But, if you do a lot of traveling, hiking, or other activity where you might want to remember where you were, then it's a great feature to have. Longitude and latitude is seamlessly added to the EXIF data and, again, you can have the camera include country, city, state, and landmarks. The GPS will automatically update time, too, should you be traveling between different time zones.

There's an option to record AVCHD Lite movies with GPS data as well. However, the manual warns that because location information is being added, playback on an AVCHD compatible device is not possible. The location information can be viewed when videos are played back on a computer using the bundled PhotofunStudio software or directly from the camera. Unless you simply must have the information, you'll probably want to stick with the non-GPS AVCHD Lite format option.

One last thing regarding the GPS: once you've turned it on, the receiver stays on until you turn it off, 2 hours have passed since it's refreshed its position, or after 9 hours of the camera being off. So even if you shut off the camera, it'll continue to update its location every 15 minutes. This is fine if you're shooting for an extended period of time, but it'll eventually run down your battery. If you want the GPS to turn off when you shut the camera off, you must select the travel mode option from the camera's menu. This is all explained in the manual, but battery life is something to keep in mind with features like GPS.

General shooting options Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7

With the ZS3, there seemed to be a lot of outcry for manual shooting controls. Panasonic clears that up with the ZS7 adding manual and semimanual exposure modes. Turn to the one you want, press the Exposure button on back, and change the settings with the directional buttons. Shutter speeds go from 1 minute to 1/2,000 second and aperture ranges are f3.3-6.3 (Wide) and f4.9-6.3 (Tele). You also get Panasonic's Intelligent ISO for limiting the sensitivity to a maximum of ISO 400, 800, or 1,600 as well as the capability to set a minimum shutter speed from 1 second to 1/250. There are controls for sharpness, contrast, saturation, and noise reduction so you can fine-tune results to your liking. If you come up with a group of settings you like, there's a Custom slot on the Mode dial they can be stored under. There's no manual focus option, so you'll have to live with the multiple AF options.