Design and features
The SZ7 is shaped like a pretty standard compact camera, apart from the ever-so-slight bulge on the top panel. It's there to house the optical zoom, which at 10x optical is relatively impressive for a camera of this size, weight and particularly price range.
Like earlier Lumix cameras, Panasonic has equipped the SZ7 with 20x "intelligent zoom". It's a specific way of augmenting the image that delivers a better result in relation to sharpness and detail than digital zoom would. Also the SZ7 comes with a 25mm wide-angle Leica lens, with a maximum aperture range of f/3.1-5.9.
A visual demonstration of just how close the 10x optical zoom can get you.
The top panel also houses a stereo microphone above the lens barrel, power switch, zoom rocker and shutter button, as well as an instant-on record button.
At the rear is a pretty standard 3-inch LCD screen, as well as the regular array of control buttons. A small switch at the back can change the shooting mode from regular photo-taking to playback, though, like other Panasonic cameras which employ this method, it does take a while to train yourself out of hitting the shutter button to get back into photo mode.
The SZ7 has a number of in-camera options to change the frame around the image. This one is the film strip border.
Panasonic packs a pretty standard set of shooting controls inside the SZ7. From the main Mode button, you can access an intelligent auto mode, normal picture (or program mode), miniature effect, scene mode or 3D photo. On top of these shooting modes, the SZ7 also comes with four colour modes: standard, "happy" for saturating the colour palette, black-and-white and sepia. There's an in-camera HDR and a handheld night shot mode too.
The SZ7 has the option to record in AVCHD or MP4 formats at either 1920x1080 or 1280x720. Connectivity at the side is through a mini HDMI-out port and a proprietary mini-USB plug. The SZ7 can also charge directly through its USB cable, rather than taking the battery out and plugging it into mains power with an adapter.
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Start-up to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
Panasonic Lumix SZ7
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H70
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Continuous shooting speed (in frames per second)
Panasonic Lumix SZ7
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H70
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The new 14-megapixel MOS sensor affords the SZ7 slightly faster-than-average shooting speeds, at least for a compact camera. However, while there are numerous burst modes ranging from 2, 5 or 10 frames per second, we weren't able to get the camera to achieve its stated 10fps shooting speed — just four full-resolution frames in quick succession before stopping to process them.
Panasonic rates the battery for 220 shots.
For the most part, the SZ7 delivers good photos for a camera of its price range and size. The real reason for investing in this model is to get the extensive 10x zoom in such a small, pocketable chassis. Colours from the SZ7's photos are pleasing on default levels, without being over-saturated. The minimum focusing distance of the SZ7 is pretty good, which lets photographers take decent macro photos. There's also a macro zoom mode that can take a photo using the camera's digital zoom, though it is not as effective as using the plain macro function.
The SZ7 can take a pretty decent macro photo. As you can see from the 100 per cent crop (inset), the camera copes well with resolving detail in macro photos, even if there is some over-processing. The flash fired for this shot.
Images are reasonably clean up to ISO 200, though noise and over-processing does tend to become an issue as the sensitivity climbs. Naturally, being such a wide lens, it does exhibit quite a lot of barrel distortion at the widest end. Like most compact cameras, the flash on the SZ7 does tend to fall off slightly towards the sides of the frame. That said, the flash is still reasonably powerful and can decently illuminate a completely dark, small-sized room without any issue. In bright situations, the SZ7 has a tendency to overexpose and blow-out highlights; there's an i.Exposure mode provided in the camera to help compensate.
In bright, outdoor situations, the low resolution of the screen really becomes apparent. The off-axis viewing angles are also poor, meaning that you need to be directly facing front-on to the screen in order to make out the composition of your photo.
Can you see what's on the screen from this angle? Nope? That makes two of us.
Video quality is good for a camera of this class, with a reasonably clear image and, to its credit, the SZ7 can use the full length of the optical zoom while filming. Audio is clear thanks to the stereo microphone, and the wind-cut feature works well.
Exposure: 1/60, f/3.1, ISO 100 (flash fired)
Exposure: 1/80, f/4.6, ISO 200
Exposure: 1/500, f/4.2, ISO 100
Exposure: 1/160, f/5.8, ISO 500
The Panasonic SZ7 is a slimline compact camera with a very useful 10x optical zoom lens. However, it has still been built to a price, as demonstrated by its average screen. Still, anyone wanting an incredibly slim camera with a long lens and good HD video recording should be happy with the SZ7.