Odd isn’t it? That I would choose to review a camera that came out almost two years ago?! Panasonic has since released the ZS-8 and I think something newer in fact. I hear there is one now with a touch-screen. Unless it’s an iPhone, I’m extremely “touchy” about touch-screens. I would hate to have a touch-screen point-and-shoot. Let’s give a brief overview of what this camera features, for those of you who don’t remember it.
The Panasonic Lumix ZS-7 (aka TZ-10 in Europe, which is actually the model here) is a 12MP digital point-and-shoot with a beautiful 3″ screen, 12x zoom (25-300mm equivalent) and is equipped with an SDXC card slot, image-stabilization, and on-board GPS, which is very nice to have (though drains the battery pretty fast). I believe this model was one of the first point-and-shoots to have a GPS… now many of them do. It’s lens is not only a lovely 12x zoom lens, but it’s Leica, so yo u know the quality is good, and though the aperture is only f/3.3 at the wide end, it’s f/4.9 at the long end, which for a 300mm zoom is pretty impressive. I would think by looking at this, and guessing, that it’s f/2.8-f/6.3, but not so.
As is standard with the Panasonic Lumix line, there are plenty of easy-to-use buttons and menus and everything is very intuitive. I love the one-touch movie record button, which will start recording with whatever settings you have the camera in currently, and will record 720p HD movies at 30 fps, with other lower-quality options available as well. I prefer to switch the movie-recording format from the default as I think the MOV is better, but then again I know very little about video, so please do your own research there.
I would like to start off by saying what I DISLIKE about the camera… so we can get that out of the way. If you don’t feel like reading this whole review, I’ll tell you this: It’s a great camera for, what is now, a great price. I would take this camera over the newer 16x touch-screen version for almost twice as much any day!
- No RAW option and it oversharpens the JPEGs (biggest dislike!)
- f/3.3 at the wide end is a bit slow
- small point-and-shoot sensor
- battery drains fast with the GPS enabled
- saves a low-quality JPEG of the first image of a movie before every movie file on the card
Now for the LIKES:
- 12x zoom makes it extremely versatile!
- f/4.9 on the long end is impressive when you’re talking about a 300mm equivalent
- great battery life (when the GPS is OFF)
- easy-to-use menus and a good amount of buttons, though not cluttered
- manual exposure options
- though not really small, it can still fit in your pocket with relative ease
- nice build-quality and looks sexy!
- one-touch recording and rather good video quality with two codec options
As you can see above, it’s a very standard looking camera, with a big screen that takes up the entire left two-thirds of the back. I have a hard screen protector stuck to the back so I don’t have to worry about damaging the screen. I always recommended this when I used to work at a camera store. It’s good advice and NOT just an excuse to upsell.
The camera features a toggle switch between shooting and playing. I like this because it’s a tactile switch that you can feel and see also, versus a “Play” button you push and have to push again or half-press the shutter to get back. You’ll see the one-touch record button just under the shoot/play switch, and the exposure button is next to it. In manual mode, that is one of your exposure settings (aperture or shutter speed) and in the other modes, it’s exposure compensation. Underneath those buttons is your standard 5-way button pad. The center is the menu and each direction is a quick-control for various things (flash, timer etc…) as on most point-and-shoots. Underneath is a display button that cycles through two or four levels of what is displayed on the screen, and the trash button for deleting images.
The control dial at the top is well placed and features several modes. The iA mode (Intelligent Auto I believe it stands for) is the “manufacturers recommended automatic recording mode.” Each manufacturer calls theirs a different thing. This is what one would normally leave the camera in when unsure of the correct settings. You have limited customizing options with this mode, though you can toggle the flash OFF and “auto on” which is nice. Usually with Auto Mode you don’t have flash options.
The following mode is P (Program) which is basically Auto but with the ability to change quite a bit of settings like ISO, flash, exposure compensation etc… Next we have Aperture (A) and Shutter (S) Priority modes. With these modes, you set the aperture, or shutter speed, and it sets the rest of the settings to make the best exposure. Aperture Priority should be used when you want to focus on something close and have a blurred background, or if you want to force everything in focus. Shutter Priority would be used for making water silky, like with waterfalls, or if you want to freeze action best as possible. Otherwise, these two modes don’t get used much.
Next you have Manual (you choose all the settings) as well as a CUST (custom) setting that can be set in the menu (up to three custom modes actually!) MS1 & MS2 are basically “scene modes” but are two that you’re able to store in those buttons. It’s almost like having two addition CUST buttons. They jump to the last setting you used when that dial setting was last used. SCN is “scene” mode, which brings up a bunch of options like “Food” “Fireworks” “Snow” “Party” “Self-Portrait” etc… Keep in mind that these modes basically just optimize things like shutter speed, ISO, picture styles (more on that later) and things like that. If you know what settings you need for your photo, just dial them in yourself. If you’re truly unsure, these Scene Modes might help. For example: the “Starry Sky” setting says in it’s info “For taking pictures of extremely dark subjects like a sky with many stars. Please be sure to always use a tripod.” To translate, this means it will use the lowest possible ISO and shutter speed to make a clean image with no blur. But, in order to use a low ISO & shutter speed with no blur, you’ll need the camera extremely steady, hence the tripod or setting it on something else sturdy.
Finally, the clipboard icon will force the photos to be recorded to the internal memory, rather than the memory card.
The front of the camera is shown here, as in the first image, though the camera is shown here turned on, with the shoot mode toggled.
This image above is the camera in a felt bag with a draw string that I normally keep it in. I’m not sure where this bag came from, but it’s useful for the camera. I also recommend the Lowepro Tahoe 10 pouch, which is great for most point-and-shoots. Keep in mind the ZS-7 is a tad larger that most, so make sure you try it in the pouch you’re purchasing first to make sure it fits. It just BARELY fits in the Tahoe 10, and it’s best if you don’t have the wrist-strap on the camera when using that pouch. I highly recommend the Lowepro Tahoe 10 pouch for a smaller camera though, as it’s a very nice little pouch.
What made me choose this camera you ask? Well first of all, this camera was for my girlfriend. I had handed down to her my Canon Rebel T1i w/18-135mm & 50mm f/1.8 which she used happily for quite a while. However, both her and I do a lot of traveling, and she’s not quite the “photog” I am. She takes great photos and enjoys doing so, but would rather have something small she can throw in her pocket or bag than something large with multiple lenses she needs to cushion heavily and protect. She asked for a camera that was small but took nice photos and being the great boyfriend I am, well… I just had to give her something good! I researched a bit online for a while, and decided that since we both travel, a GPS-enabled camera was a good one. Coincidentally, a couple from the UK vacationing on Waikiki Beach, where I was working at the time, showed me the camera. I immediately knew THIS is what I wanted to get my girlfriend (THANKS SO MUCH UK-COUPLE!). I did a lot of research on it, and, other than the price, couldn’t find a reason not to buy it for her. It was expensive, but I ended up getting her the camera and she couldn’t have been happier!
Now that my girlfriend and I having been living together in the same location for more than seven months, we’ve been able to SHARE the camera and use it very 50/50 because I don’t always want to bring my Canon 7D and all my lenses everywhere. I am writing this review, two years after it’s press release, to say that the Panasonic ZS-7 is still a great camera.
After researching just now, specifically for this blog post, it seems the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 is the newest kid on the block. The link will take you to DPReview’s info on the camera, which is a great place for press-releases, specs, reviews etc… At only $300, this newer version comes with a longer Leica lens (16x zoom and 1mm wider too!), 14MP, 1080p movie mode, 3D Mode and high-speed burst at full-resolution. It “features” touch-screen controls but personally, granted without trying it, I would see this as a hinderance. When buying a camera, I always recommend going to your local camera store and trying it out. I tend to buy a lot of things from Best Buy (since I have a Best Buy Card) but usually it’s not a great place to try out cameras, as they often don’t have batteries in them and the people there know very little about the cameras and aren’t photographers themselves. Support your local camera store and buy from them, or at least have them show you the camera. If you really know what you like and don’t need to try it out, or already have, BHPhotoVideo.com has the largest collection of photography gear, great customer service, and even better prices! I buy 90% of my photography gear from B&H!
Whatever you decide, get SOMETHING and get out and get shooting! Another tip: If you’re curious about a point-and-shoot’s quality, or a quality of a lens you’re looking at buying, go to Flickr and do a search for it. Flickr is full of non-professional photogs or casual shooters and so it’s a great way to get a rough idea of what photos look like with some cameras or lenses. Be sure to read the EXIF data if available and any other pertinent information on how the image was shot! Also, looking at people’s Fine Art pages will give you an idea. Some are done with extremely expensive equipment, but many aren’t! Have fun!!!
Here are a few photos taken with the Lumix ZS-7, and clicking below will take you to my Zenfolio gallery of many ZS-7 images.
Clicking on the above image will bring up a full-resolution, unedited copy of the image (4000×3000 pixels).
Here’s our cat, Chico. Click for full-resolution image.
Here’s an old warehouse in the Old Port area of Montreal, Quebec. This image is not right off the camera. It’s a single JPEG heavily edited in Photoshop CS5 & Lightroom 3 for vibrance, clarity/texture, noise-reduction etc… It’s good to note, however, that even though the Lumi ZS-7 does not shoot RAW, I was still able to do a decent amount with this JPEG. RAW, of course, would have been ideal for this sort of photo.
Image of a Lady Gaga concert from our seats in the Bell Centre, Montreal, Quebec. This image is right off the camera, and clicking on it will bring up the full-resolution original, to give you an idea of the quality in these dark concert conditions.
Here’s a shot my girlfriend took of some fireworks this summer at La Ronde in Montreal. This photo was taken from our balcony. I’m not sure what settings were used for the photo, but there was no editing done to this after the shot. Click for the full image.