Tuesday, January 18, 2011

# 4: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS 7 12.1 MP Digital Camera with 12 x optical image stabilized Zoom and 3.0-inch LCD (black)

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357 of 360 people found the following review helpful: 5.0 out of 5 stars Almost Perfect 4.9 stars!, May 17, 2010 This review is from: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 12.1 MP Digital Camera with 12x Optical Image Stabilized Zoom and 3.0-Inch LCD (Black) (Electronics) 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 TZ1 (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)

Haven't tried uploading video yet.

DO purchase an extra Panasonic Battery DMW-BCG 10PP. Make sure it has the PP (It won't work without it) Also you'll need a SD Card. It's not necessary to go to the Class 6 cards unless you are shooting HD video. A SDHC 4GB card will hold 700+ photos at full MP.For most people this will be more than adequate. I carry two cards in case one goes south. You can always find them on sale for under $20. I also like the Caselogic TBC-302 Ultra Compact Camera Case for under $8.

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1,183 of 1,209 people found the following review helpful: 5.0 out of 5 stars Very Good Photos with Great Video, March 18, 2010 I've got my 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 ZS7 camera looks and feels as good as it's predecessor 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 TZ5 and not so striking bright as on 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 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 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 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 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... Read more ?

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353 of 361 people found the following review helpful: 3.0 out of 5 stars Perfect Camera for the Field Biologist? Read Below., July 12, 2010 I thought this camera would be the perfect camera for the field biologist (ornithologist in my case) for several reasons:

1) Compact, really doesn't make sense to be lugging an SLR into remote locations on foot if amazing photography isn't your primary goal.
2) Megazoom, Leica lens
3) High quality 720p video (with zoom and stereo sound)
4) Built-in geotagging capability

What separated this camera from my other considerations? The built-in geotagging capability. Why does this camera get 3 stars rather than 4? The built-in GPS. Field biologists beware: It will not lock-on in a forest; the canopy is too much of an obstruction. I should have known this was no Garmin receiver...oh well.

As for the rest of the camera. First let me say that I am coming from the Fuji Film F30, one of the finest compacts at its release in many's eyes. I have experience with dSLR but won't hold a compact to their picture quality standard. I've mated this camera to a class 10 8GB SD card with 30 mb/s write speed capability.

1. Battery life and charging: Battery life is acceptable, but downright terrible in comparison to the F30. I recommend a second or third battery, especially if you are taking this into the field. The fact you can't charge it without removing the battery is an oversight by Panasonic, although it isn't a deal breaker for me as it is for some. I consider it a minor inconvenience.
2. Picture-quality: *7/27 update* I've taken some great outdoor photos with this thing; it's very capable you just need to explore all its settings and give it a tripod so it can use low ISOs in low light situations* Inconsistent at times, pretty average to slightly above average all-around which is a disappointment for a compact at this price point. All the technology that goes into intelligent auto often leaves me thinking the camera is "thinking too hard" -- the camera is capable of very nice photos but consistently struggles in intelligent auto when lighting or subject are just a tad tricky. So essentially pictures are too hit or miss. But when the ZS7 nails the photo and can use a low ISO, I think it's well above average for a compact. Still, the low-light performance is not great. I'm shocked when the camera needs to go to ISO 800 in shady outdoor conditions to achieve 1/30s shutter speed...what the heck?! ISO 800 is just about the limit with a small sensor 12.1 MP camera before noise is obvious. I consider this an outdoor camera only now, especially coupled to such an anemic flash. The 6.1 MP CCD and metering in the 4 year-old Fuji F30 clearly takes superior pictures...
3. GPS (see above)
4. *7/27 Update*: After lot of heavy use, I still find the Macro mode auto-focus terrible, even if a flower is 80% of the frame, it seems to love to focus on the ground or whatever the lower surface is if its within a few inches of the subject.
MACRO-mode autofocus (preliminary) and autofocus in general: Although I haven't had much time to use it, I was surprised how much trouble the autofocus was having taking a easy picture of a flower with macro mode enabled. I tried all of the autofocus settings (spot, average, 11 spot, etc etc) and still wasn't impressed. Autofocus has come to several "interesting conclusions" as to what the subject of my picture is as well.
5. Burst mode limited to 3 pictures if you are shooting the high-quality picture size, and there definitely is pretty long lag between them.

1. The zoom lens. Very nice. Nearly silent (I can't hear it, but the speakers do pick it up in video mode) and powerful with little image deterioration.
2. The large screen is of very high quality.
3. Nice video, quick write times with this powerful card. Good audio.
4. FULL FEATURED and logically laid out. Overall, navigating the plethora of menus and options is intuitive. I have not had problems with accidentally pressing the dedicated record button or accidentally switching to playback from image capture mode. The quick menu with dedicated button is especially nice. I have to say, some of the features are overboard and don't work that well, like face recognition.
5. Manual control, shutter priority, and aperture priority modes.

I also want to clear up something I believe I read in a review here. In airplane mode, the GPS does not use battery when the camera is off, at least AFAIK and as far as the detailed manual (which IS available online if you are persistent) indicates. Airplane mode means the camera will attempt to lock on only when the camera is first turned on.

A 1-star review also claims that the GPS reverts to "ON" whenever you turn the camera on. This is not true; if you select GPS OFF, it will remain off.

I have also not noticed any shutter lag. I'm not sure if that reviewer meant lag between pictures, which could be a function of the memory card used.

Also, please note that there is a firmware update for this camera. I purchased mine 2 weeks ago and it came with the outdated v1.0 firmware. Update (v. 1.1) and installation instructions are available on the product page at Panasonic's website.
11/27/10 Update:
How do I feel now that even more time has passed?
a. I feel I was a little harsh in calling the battery life "terrible." It's adequate for most people I'm sure. Even with the GPS on continuously, one battery will last a full day. If you are going on an extended (2+ days) outdoors trip without access to charging, I still think you'll want an extra battery or two.
b. Photo quality: Still feel the same. More hit or miss than I'd like; average to slightly above average photo quality overall, which would be okay if it were an average compact camera in pricing (it was $300 when I bought it). Still feel that macro mode autofocus is poor.
c. Video quality: Actually not as good as I initially thought. This really won't substitute for a video camera unless you're in a pinch.
d. Zoom is still very impressive! GPS still needs open sky above. Still 3 stars overall: Not bad, but I think you can probably do better nowadays.

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