It might look like your standard common-or-garden point and shoot, but the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ7 is actually a powerful hybrid camera, combining a 10-megapixel big zoom compact with an HD camcorder. Yep, that’s right: this can capture 720p pictures with stereo sound.
It even features optical zoom during video capture, making it a cut above the usual point and shoot movie capture modes, and video controls are reasonably handy too. You don’t need to switch from still to shoot a movie clip - you simply hit the dedicated record button on the rear of the camera.
HD movies use the AVCHD Lite format and run at 30fps. They look superbly sharp and stable, whether viewed on the TZ7’s crystal clear screen on blown up on an HDTV, although getting them onto a non-Panasonic telly in full 720p quality might prove tricky unless you shell out extra for an HDMI adapter cable.
Fantastic zoom range
What about still shooting? Well, the Leica lens is a real peach, delivering a huge 12x zoom range (equivalent to 25-300mm on a 35mm camera) and keeping things sharp across its entirety. It can also be used to take fantastic close-up macros at its widest, and will focus with the subject almost touching the lens.
Finished JPEGs display no sign of purple fringing and just a hint of distortion at the wide end. Colours are blazingly bright, particularly reds and greens.
If you delve in to pixel-peep you’ll see signs of compression and artefacts, plus noise at ISO 200 and above, but there’s nothing we’d classify as poor about these images. We do prefer the quality of the Panasonic DMC-LX3 (which also offers manual controls), but that’s slightly pricier and offers less zoom range (24-60mm 35mm equivalent).
Solid build quality
The TZ7’s build quality is impressively solid, while the camera itself is just about dinky enough to qualify as a full-on compact. You’ll be able to stick it in your trouser pocket, in other words (unless you’re an uber-hipster in spray-on skinny jeans, in which case you probably have a manbag anyway).
The 3-inch screen is finely detailed and remains visible in all but the brightest sunlight, while the controls are, for the most part, well placed. Things aren’t perfect though: we’d prefer a slightly chunkier shutter button with more travel, and the selector dial is loose and easy to job by mistake.
Steep price tag
Lastly, we should touch on the TZ7’s price tag. It’s pretty steep - you could buy an entry-level DSLR for the same money - and a lot of people will hesitate to spend so much on a compact with no manual controls. That said, the camera is brand new at the time of writing and we’d expect the price tag to fall before long.
All in all Panasonic has done a fantastic job with the Lumix DMC-TZ7. If you’re looking for a strong all-round point and shoot that also offers pin-sharp video capture then this definitely fits the bill.