The Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 or DMC-TZ10 in other parts of the world, is a camera that packs in a lot of features into a very small package.
The highlights include:
Understand those are the highlights, the list of what this camera can do is much longer and includes aperture and shutter priority as well as full manual and a lot of "scene" settings. If those aren't enough to satisfy your needs you can even set three custom modes drawing from many of the camera's available features to get just what you want out of this camera.
Lots of telephoto power
One of the features that first drew my interest to this camera is the 12X optical zoom which means this camera goes from the equivalent(35mm film format) of a 25mm wide angle lens to a 300mm telephoto lens.
A 300mm telephoto lens is fairly respectable for most needs, but by taking advantage of the camera's Intelligent Resolution and selecting iZoom your 300mm becomes nearly a 400mm lens.
The manual for the camera says "the zoom ratio can be increased to about 1.3 with almost no deterioration of picture quality". From my experience with this camera and studying the photographs it made, I'd have to agree.
To get an idea of just how powerful this little camera is with its basic 300mm lens check out the photo at the top of the page that I took at Busch stadium in St. Louis. That's the Angel's Erick Aybar swinging and throwing his bat(note the space between his hands and the bat) in a game earlier this season with the Cardinals.
Now to put this in perspective check out the photo just above that'll give you an idea of where I was seated in the upper deck of the stadium when I made the photo at home plate.
Another special feature of the ZS7 is its built-in GPS. This feature when activated receives information from satellites to pinpoint the location of the camera when a picture is taken and record it in the picture file's meta data. Below is a screen shot using Panasonic's supplied software, This information can be seen when you review photos in the camera or with Panasonic's supplied software, PHOTOfunStudio on your computer.
Above is an example of the information from one of my shots at the Cardinals game at Busch Stadium using PHOTOfunStudio. What it gives is the country, state, city, landmark information if it can be found in the database, latitude, and longitude. That's pretty neat to have.
Working with the camera I've discovered that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. For instance it knew that while we were visiting Aunt Sarah we were in Hanley Hills, MO and when we were at Cousin Missy's home we were in Glendale, MO.
However, when we got to downtown Chicago it appeared to have problems telling where we were. The shots I took inside the Billy Goat Tavern located under the Wrigley building were tagged with as the "Carbide and Carbon" building several blocks away. The information for shots I made outside and at the top of the Willis Tower(Sears Tower to many of us) also were identified again as the "Carbide and Carbon" building at least seven city blocks away and in the other direction.
When I returned from my trip I sat down and reread the information packed with the camera and also found the "Operating instructions for advanced features" that was on the supplied CD.
I learned from the supplied information that indeed there may be problems indoors, near high-voltage power lines, underground or underwater, in tunnels, in forests, near 1.5 GHz mobile phones, etc, and near buildings or valleys. These pretty much covered the situations I ran into in downtown Chicago.
Putting this all together with my experiences explains what happened when I used the camera's GPS.
When we were visiting with relatives we were in one place and the camera had time to figure out where we were to the small city level we were visiting.
When we were in downtown Chicago the camera was encountering interference from high-voltage power sources, tall buildings, being underground and the like. I also was turning the camera on and off to preserve the battery as well as to close the lens when I put it in my pocket which meant that it was relying on old information and was probably taking longer to refresh the GPS information than it took me to make a shot as we moved along after I turned it back on.
The camera also has a database of over 500,000 landmarks from around the world last updated in February, 2010. From the location information the camera looks up to see if there is a landmark within a reasonable distance of the captured location.
I think the idea of a database of landmarks is an interesting concept, but I'm not sure if in practice it always offered useful information. For instance my wife and I stopped at a rest stop along I-80 overlooking Donner Lake on our way out of California. The camera tagged this location as something called the "WESTERN AMERICA SKISPORT MUSEUM" which I've never heard of, I think I'd like to have known I was near "Donner Lake", but that wasn't what had come up on my photos.
In some cases you do have the option to select a different landmark location if there are others near by. You also have the option to skip recording place names and landmarks and simply record latitude and longitude.
The camera's display uses five icons for the camera's GPS status. They range from "Location name information exists (information from the last 5 minutes)" to "Positioning failed(no location name information)". In between these two messages are three others that tell you that the information is between 5 and 60 minutes old, 60-120 minutes and over 120 minutes old.
The 5 minutes comes from the fact that the camera tries to refresh its location every 5 minutes after the camera is turned on. If you turn off the camera to say preserve the battery while you're walking around, the camera then refreshes every 15 minutes and it may take several minutes to update the location after you turn the camera back on.
Note that even after the camera is turned off, unless you've gone to the GPS menu and selected "airplane" or "off" the camera will keep trying to refresh information every 15 minutes. It will quit doing this in the following situations, if it's been unable to update itself in 2 hours or if the camera hasn't been turned on in 3 hours or if the battery is low. Otherwise, it continues to update and use battery power even when you think the camera has been turned off.
The ZS7 like most small cameras allows for motion picture recording, but in addition to JPG quality recordings it also includes the AVCHD format for higher quality movies. The camera even records in stereo sound.
It works with the mode control in any position other than the Clipboard mode by simply pressing the red movie button on the back of the camera. The camera then records your movie until the button is again pressed. During recording the camera can use the zoom feature of the lens which works a bit slower than during still photography.
I found the results to be good, but at long focal lengths you might experience more motion than you might want.
Shooting and Controls for almost any situation
The ZS7 is packed with shooting options. From the Recording Mode(top of the camera and pictured at the right) dial you can select Intelligent Auto(the camera makes all the settings automatically), Program AE(your settings), Aperture-Priority(you set the lens opening), Shutter-Priority(you set the shutter speed), Manual Exposure(you set the lens opening and the shutter speed), Custom(select menu items to suit your needs), My Scene Mode(set your two favorite scene modes from the available group), Scene Mode(select a mode to fit the scene), Clipboard(photos as memos or notes).
Truth is some where in the built in shooting modes and controls you should be able to find almost exactly what you want to fit your shooting needs.
One of the additions to this camera from previous models is Manual Mode. In fact this is one of the first options I tried after getting the camera.
I found myself going to a local school board meeting. In my newspaper photographer days I had done this a lot. Every year or so I was sent to make shots of the board members as file photos for later usage. In the days I did it I usually shot Kodak Tri-X(ISO 400) black and white film. I also made the shots with available light(no distracting flash). So I was intrigued with the idea of seeing if this little camera could match what I used to do the "hard way".
I took a seat towards the front of the audience seats, about 20 feet away from the board members. I first tried to do it on auto and found that it didn't quite get what I wanted. I then tried using the manual controls.
To do this you set the recording mode dial to "M" for manual. When you do this the "manual exposure assit", which is a bar that goes from -2 to 0 to +2 in 1/3 stop increments. The exposure should be "correct" when the indicator is at "0". You then depress the little "exposure" button on the back of the camera and the "aperture/shutter" values become active.
To change the aperture you use the left/right cursors to adjust the aperture and the up/down cursors to change the shutter speeds. You can set the shutter speed up to 60 seconds using the manual mode.
If you want to check the exposure, pressing the shutter release half way down will bring the "Manual exposure assit" back up.
Then you make your exposure. Check the results and make further adjustments until you get the results you want.
If there is a flaw in the implementation of the manual mode, it's that the display doesn't show the changes that you're trying to make as you adjust the aperture and the shutter.
Custom modes is probably one of the most powerful features of this camera. It's also probably going to be one of the least understood and utilized except by advanced photographers who are very particular about how they make photos using this camera or realize that they can save time by presetting a custom mode to match how they like to make photos.
The custom mode lets the photographer set their own set of adjustments and then save them in one of three custom selections.
My approach was to start in Program mode and make the changes I wanted. For instance if you need a long telephoto(more than 300mm) you can reduce the file size and trade it for focal length. An 8meg file will give you the equivalent of a 367mm lens. A 5meg will give you 470mm. Now if you also turn on the camera's iZoom feature you get 487mm and 622mm respectively.
Instead of constantly adjusting your settings to fit your needs, you can take set Custom 1 to be the 8meg settings and Custom 2 to be the 5meg settings.
Doing this makes the camera quicker to use plus it stores your favorite set of settings for easy access in the future.
This camera really is designed for folks who like to travel. Besides recording where you've been with the built in GPS, the camera also allows you from the Travel Mode menu to set a travel calendar that will keep track of your photos on a calendar by simply putting in your departure and return dates. This feature can be useful when you're showing photos during your trip by letting you look for them on particular dates.
When you review your photos you can move the zoom switch to the left to see 12 photos at once, move left again and you can see 30 photos, move it left again and you enter the calendar mode. You can also label your photos from your trip so that they will be grouped together.
The Panasonic DMC-ZS7 / DMC-TZ10 is another great camera in this Lumix series.
Is it for everyone? Maybe not. This camera has many features that will invigorate advanced photographers who take the time to read and understand their use, but many users will just see a mode dial with too many choices and options.
The amazing thing though is just how much camera comes at a very reasonable price. The value to the user will come with just a little bit of studying and experimenting with all the available features.