A sleek, attractive compact with a 10x optical zoom lens
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7 is part of the 2012 range of compact cameras, combining a 10x optical zoom with a 14MP sensor as well as the ability to record HD movies. With a slender body this new compact looks the part, offering an impressive aesthetic and feature set.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7 Review – Features
There’s plenty to admire from a technical perspective within the Panasonic DMC-SZ7. The 14MP MOS sensor can shoot at up to ISO 3200 without needing to reduce resolution, and is capable of shooting up to 10fps at full quality. Using the continuous AF mode does affect this somewhat, knocking the burst rate down to 5fps, but having such a high constant rate is still an achievement.
The autofocus has been quoted taking 0.1 seconds to achieve sharpness, which has been dubbed ‘Lightspeed AF’. Although difficult to test to ascertain whether the 0.1 second claim is accurate, the focus speed at the wide angle of the lens is extremely rapid. Further down the focal range reduces this somewhat, but general the time taken to find sharpness is very quick.
The lens ranges from 25-250mm, which gives an extremely useful level of scope for landscape, macro and action photography. The latter genre has been especially aided by the appearance of the Mega Optical Image Stabilizer, although there’s no method of adjusting the shutter speed or aperture.
Although Panasonic’s recent propensity for installing touchscreens in the majority of their cameras doesn’t quite filter through to the SZ7, a 3inch LCD screen does. The resolution is a disappointing 460k, which is half that of a number of models available at a similar price. Although plenty can be seen the viewing angle is quite shallow, tending to bleach out light sources when tilted.
Recording full HD movies can be performed in 1080p, although the sensor records at 25 frames per second which can be altered to 50 frames in progressive scan after recording or left in the native format. Both zoom and constant AF are available when recording, as is the option to switch between AVCHD and MP4 recording formats, with the former being preferable for display on a television.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7 Review – Design
The slim, matte shell of the SZ7 is something of feature in itself, as the aesthetics are extremely pleasing. The rear is a touch more plasticy, not quite having the metallic effect of the front, but still maintains the general design aesthetic. The controls are relatively small, mostly due to the size of the LCD. On top of the camera only the zoom, movie record, shutter release and stereo microphone remain making the entire body relatively clutter-free.
The one downside of removing so many controls is an over-reliance on menus, which can lead to hunting through screens for a specific feature. The Panasonic SZ7 combats this by having the menu split into parts, with the functions more useful to everyday use within the Quick menu and others in the main menu. This allows for faster access to ISO and white balance, while the likes of memory card formatting remain more hidden away.
The optical zoom is reasonably sluggish, but fairly simple to control with the rocker switch. The majority of the controls are small due to the physical size of the camera, but none are particularly hard to use or locate. The separation of the menus is only mildly annoying on occasion, and after a few usages becomes second nature.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7 Review – Image Quality
In terms of image quality the SZ7 does a fairly decent job of dealing with the noise the camera generates. From images both indoors and outdoors, at fairly low ISO settings, it’s clear viewing the images close up that plenty of post-processing has been performed. The end result loses some edge sharpness, a touch of tonal range, but viewed at a normal level the results are acceptable.
In the correct situations the white balance can add some much-needed punch to the image quality. The Panasonic DMC-SZ7 was helpful on occasion for this, but more often than not let the mid-tones dominate the image. As a result the images are balanced, not hugely favouring a single tone.
An amount of fringing can be seen at the top end of the magnification, and edge sharpness suffers somewhat, but having a 10x optical zoom in such a small body doesn’t make this entirely unexpected. No barrel distortion was immediately apparent either, and the focus speed was rapid and fairly accurate, with the shot-to-shot rate being particularly impressive.
Although the feature set does help as much as hinder the performance of the SZ7, the end result is decent enough to use it as a holiday compact.