It wasn't that long ago that "superzoom" - or "ultrazoom," if you prefer - digital compacts hovered in the vicinity of the 10x optical zoom multiplication factor that defined the starting point for the class. Now that lens envelope has been pushed to 30x for the biggest zooms available, and who knows where it might end. Into this market niche comes the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 with a seemingly modest 12x optical zoom.
The ZS7 features a 12.1 megapixel sensor, a Venus Engine HD II processor, face detection technology and the ability to record shooting location data on both still images and video via a built-in GPS receiver. There's stereo sound, a 3.0-inch LCD monitor and the usual bevy of automatic and special scene shooting modes as well as full manual controls. The 12x optical zoom, which spans the 25 to 300mm focal range (35mm film equivalent), is a Leica DC Vario-Elmar lens. The focal range starts nicely wide and progresses through the 85 to 135mm range that makes nice portrait shots before winding up at a moderately long telephoto. Here's what it looks like in the real world:
Every Panasonic digital camera I've reviewed with a Leica DC Vario-Elmar on board has invariably been a strong performer on lens-specific issues, so that bodes well for the ZS7. Nominal ISO sensitivity is 80 to 1600, with a high sensitivity shooting mode in the scene menu that can range from 1600 to 6400 ISO at dramatically reduced resolution (3 megapixels or less). The camera has about 15MB of internal memory and can make use of SD/SDHC/SDXC memory media. Panasonic includes a battery charger, battery pack and case, AV and USB cables, hand strap and CD-ROM software with each camera.
With other companies apparently heading for the large end of the zoom spectrum, does Panasonic know what it's doing by releasing a new camera near the entry level for the class? Read on to find out.
BUILD AND DESIGN
While superzooms that carry 15x lenses and up seem to gravitate to the mini DSLR look, those holding in the 10x to 14x range are pretty much cut from the "large deck of cards" template that characterizes the ZS7. It's slightly larger overall than a typical 5x compact, but still eminently shirt-pocket-portable. The body is metal and seems well-built, with a fit and finish in line with the competition in this class.
Ergonomics and Controls
The body is rectangular with gently rounded edges and a subtle ridge along the right front in the area of the shutter button and zoom control to help provide better grip. Controls are clearly marked and the layout is simple. The thumb of the shooting hand will overlay some controls on the camera back, but they are either recessed into the body or require such a definite push to activate that inadvertent activations are unlikely.
Menus and Modes
There are four major menus: record, motion picture, travel mode and setup. As you might imagine, travel mode is concerned with setting GPS and date/time/location information for encoding photos or video with constantly updating information from the GPS. The record menu includes settings for most image quality issues, including the camera's color palette. The "color effect" sub-menu offers five color options that apply to both still and video images: standard, black & white (B&W), sepia, warm and cool. Here are examples of each setting.
Shooting modes are typical automatic and scene options, along with full manual exposure controls.
Here are the standard and "happy" color schemes available when shooting the Intelligent Auto mode.
iA Happy mode
The 3.0-inch LCD monitor has about 460,000 dot composition and is adjustable for two levels of brightness. The monitor can be difficult to use in bright outdoor conditions. Coverage is about 100%. There is no viewfinder.
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