So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TZ7 digital camera
Panasonic's LUMIX DMC-TZ7 digital camera is small, but it has a huge zoom and plenty of useful features
- 300mm zoom lens (35mm equivalent), excellent face recognition and tracking, intelligent ISO, takes clear photos, 27 scene modes
- Awkward placement of the shutter button, very loose mode dial
Apart from a couple of design quirks, we think the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TZ7 digital camera is almost the perfect point-and-shoot. It's easy to use, has a wide-angle lens with a huge zoom, produces good colours and clear images, and it can double as a capable video camera. We definitely recommend it.
Price$ 769.00 (AUD)
The Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TZ7 digital camera is a pocket powerhouse for the frequent traveller who wants to shoot high quality still images as well as above average videos. If it wasn't for a couple of design quirks, it would be a five star camera.
The TZ in the camera's name stands for travel zoom, and you'd never know by just looking at it that it has a massive 12x zoom lens made by Leica. It can capture photos at a wide angle of 25mm, or it can get you nice and close to your subject at its maximum zoom of 300mm (35mm equivalent). The lens barrel is concealed within the camera body and it sticks out only when you switch it on. At the maximum zoom, it still sticks out only 3cm. The camera body itself is approximately 10cm wide, 2.8cm thick and 6cm high. It doesn't have a viewfinder, but it does have a 3in LCD screen that you can use to frame and playback your shots.
It's a 10-megapixel compact camera with a native 4:3 aspect ratio, and it has built-in image stabilisation. It also has fancy features such as an intelligent auto mode (which adjusts luminance and exposure to allow you to take photos in almost any type of lighting situation) and an intelligent ISO mode (which lets you limit the ISO level that is used for low-light shots). You also get comprehensive focusing functions that allow you to select from spot, centre and average weighted modes, all the way to face recognition and tracking modes.
Though it lacks automatic shutter functions when it recognises a face or a smile (such as the smile shutter in the Olympus Mju Tough 6000, for example) the face recognition mode in the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TZ7 is the best we've seen in any camera to date. It picks up faces easily regardless of how big or small they are in the frame and you can save faces in the camera's memory, so that the camera will display the person's name next to their face as you are taking the photo. When you play them back on the LCD screen, the camera will tell you who is in the photo. Call it a novelty, or a neat party trick, but it's still a great feature that works well to keep priority faces in focus; and it could come in handy when you're travelling overseas and meeting new people. What better way to remember people's names than on the screen of your digital camera?
The focus tracking on this camera also works very well. You can pick a moving object, and as long as it doesn't veer off too far into the distance or towards the edge of the frame, the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TZ7 will keep it in focus as it moves. It works well for pets while they frolic in a yard, and basically for any moving object within a defined space. It's not overly useful for tracking cars and other forms of transport, for example.
Because the lens is so wide, you would expect to see a lot of distortion at its widest angle, but the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TZ7 produces lines that are for the most part straight. You still get distortion, but it's not clearly evident. The quality of our test images was excellent and we were particularly impressed by the lack of chromatic aberration in photos with highly contrasting colours. Colours were also vibrant and the LUMIX DMC-TZ7 performed capably in very sunny conditions — highlights were only slightly overexposed.
Noise was handled very well in low-light conditions, with only slight discolouration and speckling showing up at ISO 800. Because the LUMIX DMC-TZ7 is largely automatic, it will select the shutter, aperture and ISO values itself (you can change the ISO speed in normal mode). If your scene is too dark, it will bump up the ISO speed. However, you can use Intelligent ISO mode to limit the ISO value that is used. It's a very handy feature for a point-and-shoot camera such as this one, as it means a high ISO value won't ruin your low-light shots. In the same way, you can limit the shutter speed so that the camera does not use an overly low value. This needs to be done though the main menu in normal mode.
The shooting modes of the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TZ7 include intelligent auto mode, normal mode and scene mode. Scene mode is particularly useful if you want to be creative as it houses two of our favourite filters: film grain and pin hole. Film grain will shoot black and white photos with slight graininess, while pin hole will add vignetting to the corners of your pictures. Both filters work like a charm and produce good looking images.
You can also select from more typical scene modes such as portrait and landscape, as well as more advanced ones such as starry night, which let you select a shutter speed as slow as 60sec for night photography. In fact, scene mode has a setting for almost every situation, so it's worth consulting it before you shoot. There is also an underwater mode, but don't take that as meaning the LUMIX DMC-TZ7 is waterproof — it's not!
Overall, the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TZ7 is easy to use; it has a logical menu system and control button layout, but there are so many features and scenes to play with it can be a little intimidating the first time you venture into the menu. The only thing we don't like about the layout of the camera is the position of the shutter button on the inside of the mode dial. Because it's not to the right of the mode dial on the edge of the camera, your trigger finger has to travel over the mode dial, and this can sometimes lead to accidental mode changes. It doesn't help that the mode dial is quite loose to begin with, and therefore too easy to change.
If you want to shoot video with this compact camera, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the results. It will shoot at 1280x720 pixels and the results are smooth and vibrant. There wasn't much tearing evident in our videos and it also did a great job in low light. The only drawback is that you have to use the supplied converter to change the videos from the AVCHD Lite codec into something you can edit.
As you can see there is a lot to the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-TZ7, and apart from a couple of design quirks, we think it's almost the perfect point-and-shoot. It's easy to use, has a wide angle lens with a huge zoom, produces good colours and clear images, and it can double as a capable video camera. We definitely recommend it.
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