Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ7
Compact super-zoom with HD video
Review Panasonic’s DMC-TZ7 has been around for a while now, although the company maintains it in its current range. It's not surprising, because it’s one of the few compact super-zooms on the market that includes HD recording – its closest rival is Canon’s PowerShot SX200 IS.
Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-TZ7
The DMC-TZ7 is what you might call a travel-cam or a holiday-cam. It’s a digital compact with an extended zoom, in this case, a 12x optical zoom in the shape of a 4.1-49.2mm f/3.3-4.9 Leica DC Vario-Elmar lens, offering the equivalent range of 25-300mm on a 35mm camera. The PowerShot SX200 IS has a longer telephoto offering – equivalent to 28-336mm- but we think the DMC-TZ7’s wide angle lens will prove more useful for most photographers.
It also has a 1/2.33-inch CCD comprised of 12.7 megapixels, but only offers 10.1 effective megapixels. The reason is that the DMC-TZ7 offers three aspect ratios – 4:3, 3:2 and 16:9, and it uses the additional pixels to leave the angle of view unchanged, whatever aspect ratio you are shooting in. There’s even a multi-aspect mode that lets you shoot the same image in three different aspect ratios with just a single press of the shutter.
The DMC-TZ7’s HD recording has a choice of recording formats. There’s AVCHD Lite, a format developed by Panasonic and Sony, and Motion JPEG, but why the choice? Well, leaving aside Panasonic’s desire to promote its own HD format, it leaves you with the choice of capacity over convenience. AVCHD Lite is a more efficient codec than MJPEG: a 20 second 720p recording requires a file size of around 75MB for MJPEG compared with 43MB for AVCHD Lite.
The snag is that, not many media players or video editing packages are compatible with AVCHD Lite’s .MTS file format, whereas MJPEG is widely supported. The DMC-TZ7 comes bundled with PhotofunStudio software that will playback AVCHD clips and even includes some basic editing tools. In terms of HD performance, both MJPEG and AVCHD Lite offer 720p resolution at 30fps, although Motion JPEG also includes options for WVGA, VGA and QVGA resolutions.
Stereo mics are a nice touch, but the soundfield separation isn't great
AVCHD is fixed at 720p, although you can toggle between 9, 13 and 17Mbps bit rate settings. MJPEG clips are limited to a 2GB maximum file size, while AVCHD is unlimited. In practice though, you are limited to 15 minutes maximum recording time, to ensure that the DMC-TZ7 doesn’t fall foul of EU camcorder tariffs.
Pushing the envelope
I bought this here in Taipei, Taiwan (called the ZS-3 out here) a few days ago after a week of looking at several dozen models. I am absolutely delighted with it, especially the stand-out 25mm wide-angle, 12 x optical zoom and the video.
Panasonic really seem to be pushing the envelope with compact and consumer digital cameras - my previous camera was the FZ-18, an 18x optical zoom and a superlative all-round camera - and my two main gripes about it (not being able to zoom during recording and the bulk of the device) are not issues with this camera. The downside of shifting to this camera is a loss of many manual controls and the latest firmware (1.2) stopping the use of non-Panasonic batteries. However, the scene controls should be okay for a non-expert like myself and I'm sure more advanced users would still appreciate the trade-off in having a take-anywhere 12x digital camera for those occasions when they want to leave their kit at home.
I didn't notice a problem with the mode selector being bumped as the reviewer mentioned. The case that came with my pack should mean that this won't be an issue for me. My one gripe is that the flash seems a little weak, especially compared to the FZ-18 and I couldn't find any control to increase its power (having the manual in Chinese also doesn't help).
The video function is absolutely excellent. As the author notes, it is a slow zoom but many digital cameras in this compact class either don't have zooming video or the lens motor can be heard in the recording - as far as I can make out, the zoom is silent (I read on dpreview that the firmware v1.1 fixed a slight motor noise issue). The 25mm wide-angle capability is not something common to consumer camcorders, being something more available on professional devices. I was able to take a close-up video of a bird rearing its adolescent offspring outside my flat and then zoomed out to see the whole tree. There's a wind-cut mike optin that I haven't had the chance to try yet. The anti-shake is pretty useful and makes the whole thing look a bit more professional.
As the reviewer notes, there isn't a viewfinder, but it's not particularly common in cameras of this class and especially in this camera - I don't think they could have crammed much more in the body - the lens is quite big relative to the rest of the device and the body is about 10% bigger than a 20-cigarette carton.
The ZS-1 (not sure of the alternative model name in Europe) is similar to this device but it's meant to be eighty or so quid cheaper and lacks some of the video functions. If you want video, go for this one.
In summary, this gives me practically everything I want of a pocketable camera for all occasions. I'm really starting to appreciate Panasonic as the main innovator in consumer DCs - never would have thought it a few years ago. Here's hoping that their next innovation will be a physically larger sensor in the same small body and at the same price-point.
Given that Panasonic have changed their firmware to force you to use their own batteries, I'd be surprised if they gave write access to the firmware.
From someone who'll replace his Panasonic camera by a different make when it wears out.
EU camcorder tariff restricting recording time - idiotic - so circumvent with open source firmware
What a shame the single recording length of the camera is limited by the threat of Eurocrats slapping a camcoder tariff - i.e. increasing the cost.
I can't find enough derogatory words to blast them with, but here's a few: idiotic, stupid, futile, dinosaurs, fools...
Won't they realise that there is an inevitable convergence between digital stills cameras and camcorders into the same product? They both use lenses and CCDs. If you can get great stills why not great video with the same lenses. Cuts costs, simplified market, better more flexible lenses.
All I can suggest is that Panasonic go down the route of Canon (with CHDK, the Canon Hacker's Development Kit) - and partially open source the firmware to allow user customisation
Surely this would provide a loophole to circumvent the EU, if the mod was user originated?