After using this camera for a few weeks I am amending my rating and giving it 5 stars. This camera is truly incredible. The intelligent automatic is amazing---I only move it to manual for a few special situations. The only real complaint is that I occasionally inadvertently hit the video button. Otherwise it is simply amazing.
It handles difficult situations with grace. Sunset with sky and foreground properly exposed. Delivery room newborn with no flash and low ambient lighting. Black and white is fantastic. Couldn't be happier.
This is a great camera for a beginner---Point and shoot. Lots of control for advance photographers. I'm sorry to say I don't lug around a camera bag and tripod anymore. Just slip this in my purse.
I waited a long time to upgrade from the first generation Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1K
(complete with dangling lens cover & 5MP) Glad I did. The best improvements are the quick power-up and lack of a shutter delay for catching fast action. If you leave it in the completely automatic mode it does an impressive job---and if you need control there's plenty and then some. Lots of programs plus aperture and shutter priority or complete control.
Other notable improvements are in the macro end of things where capturing very fine close-ups are greatly improved---my TZ1 was always focusing on the background if I could get it to focus at all. This does an incredible job! Almost too much detail (if that's possible) Every speck on the petal of a flower is exposed. This camera is slightly smaller and has a larger display screen. Most of the functions and dials are similar and I find easy to use but that may be because they are familiar.
Flash is improved over the first generation.
The zoom on the original was 10X. 12X even better. I took incredible photos of bullfrogs 15 feet away. Unbelievable detail.
This camera isn't perfect and no camera will ever be. It would be nice to have a more powerful flash and nice if you could shoot in lower light with less noise without flash and it would be nice if it had a 20X optical zoom and a faster lens but for what it is its an incredible piece of engineering. AND don't forget the Leica lens which is just plain beautiful.
All cameras have limitations and this is no exception. However it will get you a great photo most of the time. The wide angle to long telephoto range is why I bought my first Lumix. This flexibility makes for great travel photos. I did side by side comparisons of a Sony, Canon, Nikon and the first Lumix in the store and then we printed them out on the spot. No comparison. No ghosting, better color correction, better macro. And I like the ergonomics. I always place the wrist band over my wrist and hold onto the camera with fingers and pad of thumb and it feels secure. Some of the ultra small cameras are almost too small for me. (Didn't compare to current models)
What is truly awful about this camera is that the manual is on a disk and covers this camera and its 2 predecessors making it a bit (if Not totally confusing at times). It also does not come with MAC compatible editing software which is really not a big deal for me. One person asked if it is MAC OSX 10.6.3 compatible and it is. The only problem I've encountered is in using Aperture (a MAC program)it doesn't want to import directly into a project that has other images from my other Lumix camera. Make a new project and problem is solved but irritating. (Manual software and downloading from card to MAC is compatible)
I've got my Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 today - the camera is just great! A superior Leica lens with a high-resolution sensor, advanced image processing, and plenty of sophisticated features in a small but very solid and stylish body.
- Solid metal body, stylish design, nice dark-blue color
- Very convenient one-hand grip, unusual for such a small pocket-size body
- Short startup time (1-1.5 sec), no shutter lag, fast auto focus
- A dedicated Movie-button for instant recording
- Big 3" colorful "juicy" display visible even in direct sunlight
- Intuitive menu plus very convenient Quick-menu with a dedicated button
- Excellent quality Leica lens: sharp and contrast in the entire zoom range
- Wide 25mm (35mm equiv.) is very convenient for indoors
- Huge 12x optical zoom (up to 300mm equiv.) in such a compact design
- Two-speed of zooming - fast/slow controlled by the lever
- Smooth and silent auto focus and optical image stabilization
- Best in the industry "iAuto" mode - you can really trust it!
- New "Intelligent Resolution" feature greatly improves the image quality
- Creative Aperture- and Shutter-priority and full Manual modes
- Three independent scenery modes including "High Dynamic" range scene
- New GPS feature for those who travel a lot
- Very good movie quality in 720p AVCHD mode looks like a full 1080 HD one
- High-quality stereo microphones
- Accepts SD/SDHC and new SDXC huge capacity memory cards
- A mechanical lever for switching between shooting and playback modes
- Some soft "sh-sh-sh" noise while zooming in and out (but no "clicks")
- I wish more sensitivity for low-light shooting
BUILD: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 camera looks and feels as good as it's predecessor Lumix DMC-ZS3. The design is almost as the same, just the power switch and the mode dial exchanged their places. One significant addition - a GPS mark on the top, right above the lens. The blue color is not that dark as on Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5K 9MP Digital Camera
and not so striking bright as on Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1
. A slight dent on the back with some prominence on the right side makes a very convenient grip to operate with one hand. A metal body looks pretty solid, however it is not that heavy.
PERFORMANCE: The new camera has a pretty good performance: the startup time is a little bit more than 1 sec and with almost zero shutter lag. Taking into account a new very quick "Sonic Speed" auto focus, which takes about 0.35-0.4 sec, you will be able to catch virtually every spur-of-the-moment photo. And a dedicated movie button allows starting video recording at any time without any preparation.
LENS: Leica lens is just excellent: unusually big for a so small body 12x zoom starting with the very convenient for indoors shooting 25mm up to telephoto 300mm (equiv.) plus a quick and precise auto focus (however might be somewhat slower in low-light), and good optical image stabilization in conjunction with the digital one which allows you to take sharp pictures in the entire zoom range and at the very low shutter speed around 1/8 and even 1/4. The auto-focusing and optical image stabilization work in absolute silence, and the only zooming produces some soft "sh-sh-sh" noise. Good news - without any start/stop clicks on the footage :).
DISPLAY: A large 3-inch high-resolution LCD monitor with 460K pixels has a very good contrast and saturation - the pictures look very "juicy". The brightness also is high enough to be seen even in a direct sun-light (just a bit darker) and in a wide angle of view. All that allows to share photos and videos immediately with other people.
MENU: For those who used the Panasonic P&S cameras before the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 menu looks very familiar, just some new items added. Also there is a Quick-Menu button which is very helpful for a quick access to the most frequently used settings. The new camera has such a luxury as the Aperture, Shutter speed, and Manual modes and there is a new Exposure button (next to the video one) which allows to set manually the aperture using the Left-Right buttons and the shutter speed with Up-Down buttons.
AUTO SETTINGS: The best in the industry Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode is getting better with each new model. Actually it's a whole bunch of sophisticated algorithms which help to take really nice pictures with minimum efforts. They are worth to be aware about so here is a brief list of most effective of them.
"Intelligent Scene Selector" - It quickly analyzes the light conditions as well as focusing results and selects either portrait, scenery, macro, night portrait or night scenery. It also displays a small icon of the chosen scene in the top left corner. The feature is extremely helpful when you need to shoot very fast on spur-of-the-moment.
"Intelligent ISO" - If camera detects that your subject is moving, it raises ISO and shutter speed to take shots without motion blur, otherwise it will try to keep the lowest possible ISO to reduce noise and to get nice clear pictures.
"Intelligent Exposure" - it's a kind of a small brother of the High Dynamic Range feature. If the camera sets the correct overall exposure but some areas happen to be too dark, this feature automatically increases the brightness of the dark areas to make the entire picture to look more balanced. It also pretty effective for the backlight conditions - instead of getting just a silhouette of your subject against the bright sky it makes the subject normally exposed but without washing out the nice blue sky.
"Face Detection" - is another great thing for taking good-quality pictures of people. It happened to me a number of times in the past that a presence in the frame of a more contrast element somewhere behind the person I'm taking picture of was making the camera to adjust focus at that unimportant distant object and therefore made the major person out-of-focus. The same way if there is a bright background behind the person then the camera will measure the luminance of that background while the person's image will be pretty much underexposed (dark). The Face Detection feature identifies the human faces and tells the camera to adjust focus and exposure for the faces first so the people on the picture will be looking well exposed, clear and sharp.
ADVANCED FEATURES: I guess the most interesting and advanced is a new "Intelligent Resolution" feature. Actually it combines a sophisticated noise reduction with a new picture enhancement algorithm. This feature automatically identifies the 3 type of the picture areas: outlines, detailed textures, and smooth gradation panes and provides an optimized handling for each of them separately. As a result the photo looks sharper at the edges and more clean in between. Many old P&S cameras had pretty fast picture quality degradation at the ISO around 300-400 and higher. The shots taken by Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 even at ISO 400 look pretty good on the small and even medium-size prints.
IMAGE QUALITY: Imagine on a sunny day you take an outdoors picture of a wall made of the new brown bricks with a $3000 DSLR and a small P&S camera from the distance about 6-8 feet. How could you recognize by which camera was taken a certain shot? The subject is plain so no Depth-of-Field is involved into comparison. However in this example the two characteristics will help to distinct the cameras: 1) The edges of bricks will be well outlined on DSLR shots and a kind of fuzzy on the P&S ones; 2) The new bricks do not have any structure on their sides, they are just plane and so exactly that way they will look on the DSLR shots, while on the P&S ones their sides will show more or less amount of noise. If you perform the same test for an evenly cut line of bushes (again DOF is not involved) you will see the same result plus the internal structure of each leaf will be more clear on the DSLR photos. So to make pictures taken with your P&S camera looking like the DSLR ones the P&S camera should make the outlines sharper, clean the noise on the plane or soft gradation areas, and slightly emphasize the internal structures, if any. That is exactly what the new "Intelligent Resolution" (IR) feature tries to do.
The "iAuto" mode in Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 is organized the way that you will have decent, good photos in virtually any situation right out-of-the-box. The several hundreds shots I took by now look good on my 24" display and so they will on the similar size prints. But if you look at them at 100% crop (magnification) then on many of them you might find some areas which do not look natural. If the IR-algorithm decides about a certain low-contrast part on your picture that it's a plane area then it will remove all the noise altogether with all the subtle details from that part of the picture. If you take a picture of a big tree with hundreds of branches (but without leaves) against a bright sky the IR-feature will treat it as a structured area and will slightly sharpen it to look clearer. But when you take a landscape picture with many distant trees in front and behind, those hundreds of crossing branches will create a low-contrast pattern which together with internal sensor's noise might look for IR-algorithm as just a noisy plain area and so it will obliterate all the details leaving only some average color in that part of the picture and so making it looking very unnatural. The thing is that unlike the previous models the noise reduction in Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 is pretty strong. I would not call it "aggressive" but it's really strong.
QUALITY IMPROVEMENTS: There is a way how to get the best out of this camera while shooting landscapes on sunny days. Here is a recipe for experienced amateurs:
- Switch the mode dial to the program "P" mode.
- Press the Menu button and select the lowest ISO 80 instead of "Auto" (this is the key-point! If there is no enough light to set that low ISO it will not work).
- Make sure you have the "Intelligent Resolution" feature on!
- Find on the 4th page of the shooting menu the item "PICT.ADJ." and press the right button to go inside. You will see the 4 pictures attributes:
- A default value for each of them is "0". Set "-1" for contrast (to reduce the clipping of highlights), "+1" for sharpness, leave the saturation unchanged, and most important set noise reduction to "-1" or even to its minimum "-2". Take this advice as a starting point and try to play with the SHARPNESS and NOISE REDUCTION settings and see what looks more appropriate for you, because some people prefer more sharpness while the others are more concern about noise visibility, so try different settings and choose which one looks better for you.
Those settings will allow you to take the most sharp and detailed pictures of landscapes, architecture, etc. if you like that. However you should be alert and check periodically the quality of pictures and if something is going wrong then switch immediately to "iAuto" mode. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7's intelligent auto-mode is very sophisticated and might take into account the parameters you're not even aware about. For example, if you apply the full zoom then the aperture drops to a small F/4.9 value giving much less light for the sensor and additionally at that huge focal length 300mm (equiv.) the impact of your shaking hands might be as so much that the optical image stabilization can not completely compensate it and so the camera will have to increase the shutter speed to have the picture un-blurred. In that tough scenario the only high ISO around 300-400 might satisfy all those conditions and the camera will normally set it in auto-mode. But if you keep shooting recklessly at ISO 80 without getting the feedback such kind of pictures might be spoiled in some way. So, use this recipe only if you know what you're doing.
Update: Having using Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 for a while I've identified the 3 major types of pictures depending what is most important for you on those shots: 1) The main part are the areas with soft gradations like human faces, petals of flowers on macro shots, etc; 2) Mixed content of plain areas and patterns with no central subject; 3) Landscapes with plenty of trees, branches and leaves or small flowers. The above proposed recipe is most effective for the last category - it will give you the sharpest pictures with no low-contrast areas smeared by the strong noise reduction and on the other hand the higher level of noise will be effectively hidden by the complex image structure. For the 2nd category it would be wiser to decrease noise reduction just to -1 (not -2) to make the noise less visible on some plain areas, and for the 1st category it seems better to keep the default neutral setting since to have less noise on the human's face is much more important than lack of minor details around. Anyway you'll still have the advantage of less noise at minimum ISO.
I did some comparative testing of Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 with my Nikon D90 to find out how much that new IR technology and the above mentioned recommendations could help to improve the overall picture quality. I've uploaded some pictures and put a link into my comments dated 04/24/2010 with the title "Compare to Nikon D90". Don't assume, just take a look - you might be a bit surprised :-)
LOW LIGHT: Recently I performed a brief comparative test of my P&S cameras: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 and Sony TX7. Shortly - their low-light performance (in normal mode) is very similar. The medium-size 8"x10" prints without much cropping look good up to ISO 400. At ISO 800 there is a noticeable drop of the image quality of both cameras and at 1600 the shots look decent only for 4"x6" prints. Generally the Sony TX7's shots look smoother because of more aggressive noise reduction while the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7's ones display slightly more details along with a little bit more noise. So it's the matter of taste to decide which shots look better. I would admit that at ISO 1600 while the Panasonic's shots became much more blurred because of the increased noise reduction strength, the Sony's shots became poured with much coarse noise which got even stronger at ISO 3200 making the pictures completely unusable. So neither of these cameras could be considered as great low-light performers.
In case when the shots become too dark because of big lack of light you can select the "HIGH SENS." (sensitivity) scene. The camera will automatically choose a high ISO in the range 1600 - 6400 and decrease resolution to 3MP (it was stated 3200-6400 but in some tests my camera set ISO 1600). It will not provide better quality but at least will allow to increase the picture's brightness.
NOTE! This camera is great outdoors, but if many of your pictures are indoors or in low-light environment then you'd better look for some other cameras like Panasonic LX5/LX3 or GF1, Canon S95/S90 or G12/G11, Fujifilm F80EXR, etc. which were designed especially for those conditions. The original model name of this camera is "TZ" which stands for "Travel Zoom" i.e. it was designed for travel outdoors, not for indoors.
DYNAMIC RANGE: means the difference between the most light and dark areas on the picture. If you're taking the shots of your friends on a sunny day with a bright blue sky above and some bushes with green leaves aside and those bushes happen to be in the shadow of a nearby building then the difference between brightness of the sky and the bushes will be thousands of times. On the shots taken by a camera with narrow dynamic range only one element - your friends might look good, but the sky will be completely washed out to white and the bushes will be almost black. For the cameras with a decent DR like Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 at least two elements of that picture will look good i.e. either your friends with a nice blue sky while the bushes will be very dark, or the friends and bushes good but the sky pretty much wiped out. The new Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 has the two solutions to help in such situations: the "Intelligent Exposure" feature and the "High Dynamic (range)" scene.
Although both solutions aim at the same goal they work in a different way and should be used in different situations. The "Intelligent Exposure" feature once it is activated via the main or quick menu puts its white icon to the lower left corner and starts constantly analyzing the picture. If the difference in brightness of some significant areas of the picture exceeds a certain threshold then the icon becomes yellow and that feature decreases the overall contrast of the picture. Since that threshold is very high that feature would be mostly useful on the bright sunny days. Its effectiveness is not that big but it still can be helpful and anyway it's better than nothing so you can have it turned on all the time. The "High Dynamic" scene should be used only in low light conditions because even in a bright sun it will unconditionally set ISO 400 (or even higher) and decrease the shutter speed. Such a high ISO will greatly increase the amount of noise and therefore will cause a more aggressive noise reduction which will actively obliterate small details. That scene provides much more effective dynamic range compression but at the cost of significantly decreased picture quality. If you're shooting in a low-light condition you have nothing to loose, but if you're taking pictures on a nice day with a plenty of sunshine the loss of quality might greatly disappoint you, so that scene should be used only for the low-light shooting.
MOVIE MODE: By now I tried only the advanced AVCHD movie mode - it looked very well. Apart from the processing the still images in this model Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 applied their new "Intelligent Resolution" feature to video recording as well and the result is just gorgeous! Because of that special processing personally its 720p HD looks even better than from my Sony TX7 with its full 1080 HD resolution.
So this new Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 camera is a very good device for taking nice still pictures and advanced video recording.