Hands On Review: Panasonic ZS-7

Last week, the Panasonic folks invited me over for some personal fondling time with their cameras. The ZS-7 stood out the most to me because of the feature set and the types of cameras that the readers of this blog usually use (even more so than the TS2.) Though it isn’t the LX3, it is still quite an advanced camera, quite a beauty and loaded with all sorts of bells and whistles. More on this all after the jump.

Author’s Note: Please note that I handled a pre-production model of the camera. Because of this, I couldn’t put an SD card in there to get sample images. Additionally, my experiences with it may not be the same as yours.

New Technical Features

The Intelligent Zoom feature uses the intelligent resolution feature to give the cameras a bit of a boost in zoom without loosing image quality through digital means. It’s essentially a special type of digital zoom. I’ve seen prints with Intelligent Zoom and for the consumer market, I approve of this feature.

Yes, I never thought I would say that either about digital zoom.

This all works because of what Intelligent Resolution can do and how it works. In digital zoom, one usually sees lots of jagged lines and lots of detail missing. Somehow or another, the processing fixes this all. When seeing it, I thought that perhaps it will just add image noise to get the areas more detailed. However, this isn’t what it does at all.

It digitally corrects almost any error that you may find. It’s really quite fascinating and for consumer uses I’ll take it. I’m not too confident yet about it for professional uses as I need to see it in action more and I did see pre-production models.

The GPS mode was also explained to us. The GPS coordinates as recorded in the camera’s EXIF data so that when one uploads them to their computer the programs can sort the photos by location.

Tech Specs at a Glance

– 12.1MP (1/2.33 inch CCD sensor)

– 12x Optical Zoom (16x with Intelligent Zoom)

– 2.3fps

– 720p (this gets confusing. The specs say)

“1280×720 pixels,
NTSC Mode: NTSC model: 60p(CCD output is 30p) / PAL model: 50p(CCD output is 25p)
(AVCHD Lite, GSH, SH: 17Mbps / GH, H:13Mbps / GL, L:9Mbps )
/ 30fps (Motion JPEG)”

– Shoots JPEGs

The Camera

The ZS-7 feels good in your hands. It is compact, feels like the LX3 a bit, gives you the feeling that it will serve you well when you need it. It is extremely pocketable. The back has a large 3 inch LCD screen. Something that is a tad bit new to me is the Exposure button. This will be great for users that switch the camera into manual mode.

When the lens is extended the camera is still pretty compact. What is really nice is the little grip on the front to help with the ergonomics. It almost (but not quite) feels like a miniature Micro Four Thirds camera if they put a fixed lens on it.

The top of the camera is a bit curious. You’ve got that nice GPS bump on top that clearly shows that the camera has GPS in it. But the interesting part is the placement of the stereo microphones. This is similar to what camcorders do: place them on the top. Therefore sound from the camera holder gets picked up most easily. However, sound from a subject may not be stellar.

Now don’t quote me on this though, because perhaps it could work well. That conclusion came from my experience with video recording. I’d personally prefer the microphones placed towards the front.

The switch could possibly be problematic as well when zooming, but chances are that most people will be totally satisfactory with it.

The ZS-7 has two ports. Users can connect Mini HDMI or USB 2.0 to the camera. They are placed on the side of the camera where the grip is.

The display system looks to be the same that is standard on many Panasonic cameras. The interface is clean and the system is not confusing at all. To be fair though, one of my students totally did not know how to navigate the system on his LX2 until I taught him how to. He needed some really elementary schooling in the camera world.

In Use

The Panasonic ZS-7 seemed to have trouble focusing when I tried taking pictures. To be fair, I had to crank my 5D Mk II up to a high ISO as well when we were in the conference room. Additionally, I handled a pre-production model. I also zoomed in quite a bit, making the F stop close up. At its widest, this camera is F3.3

The flash seems very powerful on the camera, a bit too powerful for my liking but it will satisfy the needs and wants of most consumers and enthusiasts. Additionally, it will look great in the outdoors.

When I was shooting without the flash on, I really was pushing the limits of the Power OIS system. I still got slightly blurry shots. Once again though, I do have shaky hands and much prefer to be able to hold the camera up to my eyes to achieve better stability. However, the OIS worked loads better than it did on other point and shoots I’ve used. It should do very well for the father using it during his vacation or the teen trying to take cute pictures of her cats.

The reps even recommend that for low-light shooting you’re much better off with a larger sensor camera. There is no backlit sensor of any sort in this camera. That doesn’t mean that the images look bad though. I didn’t see very much visable noise on them through the camera’s screen, and I’m trained to usually see things like that being a DSLR user.

There seems to be two different types of GPS capabilities as seen in the picture but I didn’t get a chance to ask about it as I had limited time with the camera. It makes me curious as to how one would use it with Eye-Fi cards.