Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 Review
Look and Feel
The Lumix DMC-ZS7 looks a whole lot like its predecessor (the ZS3), with just a few cosmetic changes. The main differences are the addition of the GPS receiver on the top of the camera, a new "exposure" button on the back, and the location swapping of the mode dial and shutter release button. Thus, if you've used the ZS3, you'll feel right at home here.
Build quality is fairly good. The ZS7 is made mostly of metal, with the only weak spots being the plastic doors that cover the I/O ports and battery/memory card compartment (especially the latter). While the camera is easy to hold and operate with one hand, I found that my right thumb sits right on the exposure and "up" buttons, so you need to be careful.
Images courtesy of Panasonic USA
Gone are the days when a camera came in just silver or black. Now you've gotta have at least three or four colors to be taken seriously, and you can pick up the ZS7 in silver, black, red, and blue (other colors may be available in your country).
Now, let's see how the DMC-ZS7 compares to similar cameras in terms of size and weight. Do note that the standards for measuring the weight of a camera changed in the last few months: it used to be just the body only, and now it's the body plus the battery and memory card. Since not all camera manufacturers are using these standards yet, comparing the weights of the various cameras isn't terribly accurate at the moment.
The DMC-ZS7 is one of the larger cameras in the group. It's the same size as both the ZS3 that came before it, as well as its cheaper sibling, the DMC-ZS5. While not an ultra-thin camera, I found that it's easy to carry around in a pocket.
Alright, let's begin our tour of the DMC-ZS7 now, shall we?
The DMC-ZS7 has the same F3.3-4.9, 12X optical zoom Leica lens as its predecessor (at least in terms of specs -- the lens-shift image stabilization system is new). The focal range of the lens is 4.1 - 49.2 mm, which is equivalent to a extremely versatile 25 - 300 mm. Since the sensor in the ZS7 actually has 14.5 million total pixels, you are able to enjoy the same focal range regardless of the aspect ratio you use. Thus, the wide end of the lens is 25 mm at 4:3, 16:9, or 3:2. The lens is not threaded (not that I'd expect it to be), so conversion lenses are not supported.
The ZS7 uses Panasonic's new "Power OIS" image stabilization system, which they say is twice as effective at reducing the effect of camera shake (especially the type that is caused by pressing the shutter release button) as the "MEGA OIS" system found on the ZS3. The system works in the same way as before: sensors inside the camera detect the tiny movements of your hands that can blur your photos. The ZS7 then shifts one of its lens elements to compensate for this motion, which gives you a much higher chance of obtaining a sharp photo. Keep in mind that image stabilization systems can't work miracles. They can't freeze a moving subject, and you're still not going to be able to take a handheld, 3 second exposure.
Want to see the Power OIS system in action? Have a look at these:
Image stabilization off
Image stabilization on
I took both of the photos above at the very slow shutter speed of 1/4 second. As you can see, the Power OIS system did a great job of producing a sharp photo. While the image stabilization system is available in movie mode, there's no way to turn it off (at least that I can find), so I can't show you a comparison movie like I normally do.
To the upper-left of the lens is the ZS7's built-in flash, which is the unchanged since the ZS3. This flash is quite powerful, with a working range of 0.6 - 5.3 m at wide-angle, and 1.0 - 3.6 m at telephoto, though that's at Auto ISO, which can lead to noisy images if the sensitivity gets high enough. You cannot attach an external flash to the DMC-ZS7.
The last thing to see on the front of the camera is its AF-assist lamp, located at the top-right of the photo. The camera uses the lamp as a focusing aid in low light situations, and it also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer.
You can't miss the main event on the back of the DSC-ZS7, as its 3-inch LCD display takes up most of the real estate. While the basic specs of this screen are the same as that of the DMC-ZS3, Panasonic has added an anti-reflective coating to improve outdoor visibility (which was already very good). The screen has double the resolution of most LCDs in this class, with 460,000 pixels and, as you'd expect, everything is very sharp. The screen brightness can adjust itself automatically, when comes in very handy when you're outdoors. As I mentioned, outdoor visibility is very good, and the screen "gains up" nicely in low light situations, as well.
Keeping with the tradition of the TZ/ZS series of cameras, the DMC-ZS7 lacks an optical viewfinder. Same goes with the other cameras in this class.
Now let's talk about all those buttons located to the right of the LCD. The one at the top-right is the switch for moving the ZS7 between record and playback mode. Under that you have buttons for exposure and movie recording. In the manual shooting modes, you press the Exposure button to adjust the aperture and/or shutter speed. What drove me a bit nuts about this button is that you can't press the Menu/Set button (center of the four-way controller) to select the value you've chosen -- you have to press Exposure again. The movie button is fairly self-explanatory: press it once to start recording a video, and again to stop. The camera has no dedicated movie mode, so this is always how you'll need to do it.
Under those is the four-way controller, used for menu navigation, reviewing photos, and also:
- Up - Exposure compensation + Auto bracketing + Multi-aspect + White balance fine-tuning
- Down - Macro (Off, AF macro, macro zoom) + AF tracking
- Left - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 secs)
- Right - Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, slow sync w/redeye reduction, flash off)
- Center - Menu + Set
Lots to talk about before the tour continues. Pressing "up" on the four-way controller lets you adjust the exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV), bracket for exposure (the camera takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure), shoot at different aspect ratios (the camera produces photos at 4:3, 16:9, and 3:2), and fine-tune white balance (more on that later).
I'll get to the macro options later in the review, but I should tell you if you're using the AF tracking focus mode, pressing "down" on the four-way controller will lock onto a subject and follow them as they move around the frame.
Pressing the center button in the controller opens up the main menu system, which I'll cover in detail later in the review.
Underneath the four-way controller are two more buttons. The Display button toggles the information shown on the LCD, while the Quick Menu opens up, well, the Quick Menu (it also deletes photos in playback mode). The Quick Menu gives you easy access to the following options:
- GPS mode
- Burst mode
- AF mode
- White balance
- ISO sensitivity
- Intelligent Exposure
- Picture size
- Video quality
- LCD mode
Since those options are all found in the main menu, I'll talk about those later as well!
Now onto the top of the camera, where the first thing to mention is the speaker located at the left side of the photo. Next to that is the GPS receiver, and I'll be giving you plenty of information about that feature a little later. Continuing to the right, we find the ZS7's stereo microphones, which record audio using the Dolby Digital Stereo Creator system.
Next up is the mode dial, which has moved more toward the center of the camera compared to the DMC-ZS3. The mode dial also has a lot more options than it did on the ZS3, including the manual controls that enthusiasts have been asking for a long time. Here's what you'll find on the mode dial, and what each option does:
The big news here is the addition of manual exposure controls. You can manually set the aperture, shutter speed, or both. A couple of notes, though: the smallest aperture on the ZS7 is F6.3 -- most compact cameras go up to F8.0. There's no Program Shift feature, nor is there a Bulb mode, which allows for very long exposures.
Don't want to bother with manual controls? Then flip into Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode, which handles virtually everything for you. Here's everything that's now included in Intelligent Auto mode:
- Image stabilization (Power OIS)
- Auto scene selection
- Face detection and recognition
- AF tracking
- Auto ISO control w/motion detection
- Intelligent Exposure (brightens shadows)
- Intelligent Resolution / Zoom - new to the ZS7
I will explain most of those when we reach the menu section of the review in a little bit. I do want to quickly mention the Auto Scene Selection feature in Intelligent Auto mode, though. The camera will automatically select one of the following scenes: portrait, baby, scenery, night portrait, night scenery, macro, and sunset. The camera is even smart enough to detect when the camera is on a tripod, and I believe it disables the image stabilizer in those cases (which is desirable).
|Plenty of scene modes to choose from here, and this is just the first page of them||You can press Display to get a description of each scene mode|
Rather pick a scene mode yourself? There are plenty to choose from, with these being the highlights:
- Transform: Slim or "stretch" your subject, while removing blemishes from their skin (oh my)
- Panorama assist: Helps you line up photos side-by-side for later stitching into a single panoramic image
- Baby/Pet: Records the age of your child or pet along with your photo
- High sensitivity: Lowers the resolution to 3M or less and sets the ISO to between 1600 and 6400 in order to get a blur-free photo in low light
- Hi-speed burst: Allows for continuous shooting at up to 10 frames/second; resolution is lowered to 3M or less; ISO range is 200 - 1600 in speed priority (10 fps) mode and ISO 500 - 800 in image priority (7 fps) mode; a full resolution burst mode (discussed later) is also available
- Flash burst: Camera can take up to 5 flash photos in rapid succession, though (again) resolution is lowered to 3M or less and ISO can be boosted as high as 3200
- Pin hole, film grain: Panasonic's version of Olympus' Art Filters
- High dynamic mode: see below
- Photo frame: add a virtual frame around your photos
- Underwater: for use with the optional waterproof case
Many of those scene modes shoot at both a lower resolution and a high sensitivity. The combination of the two produces images that can be quite low on detail, and not usable for much. My advice is to avoid these modes unless you know that you'll be downsizing the photos for web viewing, or making small prints.
|Program mode, default settings||Program mode, standard Intelligent Exposure||High dynamic mode, standard||High dynamic mode, art|
The high dynamic mode is new to the DMC-ZS7. It attempts to simulate high dynamic range (HDR) photos, though I think it's a digital effect, rather than a series of photos at different exposures combined into a single image. You can select from standard dynamic range enhancement, an "art" mode with exaggerated color, or a black and white mode. As you can see above, the feature does improve dynamic range, though 1) the ISO is fixed at 400, which reduces the amount of detail in the photo and 2) you can accomplish the same thing as the standard mode at a lower ISO by using Intelligent Exposure (as shown above).
Getting back to tour, the next item of note is the shutter release button, which has the zoom controller wrapped around it. The zoom controller has two speeds, and when it's at full speed it moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in under 3 seconds. I counted something like 37 steps in the camera's 12X zoom range -- very nice. I also like how the camera displays the available focus range on the LCD when you're adjusting the zoom.
The last thing to see on the top of the camera is the power switch.
Nothing to see on this side of the DMC-ZS7. The lens is at the wide-angle position here.
On the opposite side, you'll find the camera's I/O ports, which are under a plastic cover of average quality. The port on the top is a mini-HDMI port (cable not included), while the one on the bottom handles both USB and composite video output. If you're wondering where the optional AC adapter goes, you feed the power cable through a hole in the battery compartment door.
The lens is at the full telephoto position in this photo.
On the bottom of the DMC-ZS7 you'll find its metal tripod mount (not visible here) and battery/memory card compartment. The plastic door over this compartment is quite flimsy, though it does have a locking mechanism. As you can probably imagine, you will not be able to access this compartment while the camera is on a tripod.
The included DMW-BCG10 lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.