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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ10 / ZS7 Gordon Laing, March 2010
   
 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ10 / ZS7 verdict

Panasonic's Lumix DMC-TZ10 / ZS7 continues to be one of the most flexible and convenient compact cameras on the market. Like its predecessor, it may not be the slimmest model around, but once again considering the sheer optical zoom range packed within, it seems churlish to complain – and besides, you'll still manage to squeeze it into most pockets. This is the key selling point of the TZ series: the flexibility of a big optical zoom with the convenience of a compact body.

It's certainly a compelling proposition, and one which Panasonic has further enhanced with full Manual control over exposures, improved stabilisation and a built-in GPS to record the position on your photos along with local time. Cleverly the GPS capability on the TZ10 / ZS7 isn't just limited to recording co-ordinates either, as Panasonic's included a database of countries, towns and over half a million landmarks which are displayed on-screen. So rather than simply stating your current location as, say, 45 degrees, 1 minute and 34 seconds South and 168 degrees, 38 minutes and 59 seconds East, the TZ10 / ZS7 will cross-reference them and more usefully say 'Skyline Chalet, Queenstown, New Zealand' instead. And even if it doesn't have a landmark to display, the camera will identify the country and town, while of course always recording the raw co-ordinates in the image header.

The presence of GPS in a camera, especially a compact, inevitably raises concerns over battery life, but Panasonic's done a sensible implementation which minimises search-times while managing power consumption. The default GPS mode actually continues to search every five minutes even when the camera's off in order to quickly display an updated location when you switch back on again, but it's clever enough to stop looking when you're obviously out of range or retired for the day, or simply when the battery life is getting low.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ10 / ZS7

This approach really does improve response times, with the camera generally locking-onto a nearby new location in ten to 20 seconds rather than the minute or two it would normally take from cold. Any implementation of GPS inevitably has an impact on battery life, but in our tests we still managed to get a good two or three days of general photography and filming with positioning per charge. But if you prefer, you can choose the Flight mode which only searches while the camera's switched on, or simply deactivate the GPS altogether. For full details, see the GPS section in our review.

Manual exposure controls are the next big new feature on the TZ10 / ZS7, and we probably have Canon's PowerShot SX200 IS to thank for that. When this came out as a rival to the TZ7 / ZS3 in 2009, manual exposure controls were a key selling point over the Panasonic – not any more they're not.

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Like Canon's pocket super-zoom, the latest Panasonic now offers Aperture and Shutter Priority and full Manual modes, with benefits to each. Manual allows you to grossly over or under expose the photo way beyond the +/2 EV of exposure compensation offered in any of the (semi) automatic modes for special effects, and you can even dial-in shutter speeds as long as 60 seconds. Shutter Priority allows you to choose slow exposures to deliberately blur action for the feeling of speed (see tutorial), while Aperture Priority lets you select the f-number which best-avoids diffraction, thereby delivering the ultimate sharpness (see our sharpness results page).

What Aperture Priority won't let you do though is achieve a very small depth-of-field for portraits with blurred backgrounds. You can certainly open the aperture up, but the inherent depth-of-field is already so great on most compacts that you simply won't be enjoying the very blurred effect available to DSLRs. You can see two examples in our Sample Images Gallery showing the minimum depth-of-field available in two typical situations. This isn't a fault of the TZ10 / ZS7 though – it applies to all traditional compacts.

The third headline improvement is the switch from Mega OIS to Power OIS, which Panasonic claims will deliver around double the compensation against wobbles – and you know what, it really works. Like the Lumix FZ35 / FZ38 before it, we measured around four stops of compensation with the TZ10 / ZS7, which is double its predecessor. It's an impressive performance and makes handholding with the lens fully zoomed-in a practical option.

The two megapixel boost in resolution is an unnecessary but inevitable move, although noise levels are roughly the same as its predecessor and rival compacts. So like most small-sensor models the best results are had below 200 ISO, or 400 at a push, and if you’re really looking, you’ll see a fine smattering of noise and slightly rough edges even at the lowest sensitivities. See our High ISO Noise results for a full report.

So our top-rated compact has got even better, but like many new cameras, the question is whether you really need the new features. The earlier TZ7 / ZS3 features the exact same 12x optical zoom in much the same body, with an identical 3in / 460k screen, and the same HD video recording capabilities. It's essentially the same camera, only without GPS and manual exposures, and with slightly less effective stabilisation. Oh, and the small matter of costing comfortably less at the time of writing.

If you don't need GPS or the other new features, you could bag yourself a bargain with the TZ7 / ZS3, and remember the difference in price might buy you a handheld GPS with which you could geo-tag your images later, while including altitude details lacking from the TZ10 / ZS7 (see tutorial); you may even have an existing GPS you could use with it.

Then there's the competition. Panasonic may have had the pocket super-zoom market to itself for a while, but last year Canon pitched-in, and this year it also has models from Sony and Nikon to contend with. So before our final verdict, how does the latest Panasonic travel-zoom compare?

 

Compared to Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ7 / ZS3

 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ7 / ZS3
 
 

The Lumix TZ10 / ZS7 replaces last year's TZ7 / ZS3 although both cameras share a great deal in common. Both feature the same 12x 25-300mm equivalent zoom packed into essentially the same body. Both sport 720p HD video recording in the choice of AVCHD or Motion JPEG formats, along with 3in / 460k screens, HDMI ports and support for multiple aspect ratios without compromising the angle-of-view.

In its favour, the new TZ10 / ZS7 features built-in GPS capabilities, manual exposure modes, enhanced Intelligent Auto, improved Power OIS stabilisation, support for SDXC cards and two extra Megapixels; autofocus issues while zooming and filming also seem to have been resolved. An unnecessary boost in resolution aside they're a combination of useful and fun enhancements, with GPS in particular appealing to the camera's core audience of travellers.

But the important core capabilities remain present on the older model with the same lens, body, screen, video and connectivity. Certainly if you don't want or need GPS or the other enhancements, then the older model remains a great choice, and in several respects one that's superior to the newer TZ8 / ZS5 below. And remember if you don't mind geo-tagging images later, you can embed data taken from a handheld GPS with any camera.

The question as always comes down to pricing. When stocks of an older model become scarce, its price can be similar or even more expensive than the newer version. But while stocks remain high of an older model it can enjoy discounting, which in the case of the TZ7 / ZS3 would make it a bargain. Remember it may not have the frills of the 2010 model, but it was still our favourite compact of 2009, so any reduction in price is not to be sniffed at. Keep an eye on prices here and see our Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ7 / ZS3 review and HD video tour for more details.

 

Compared to Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 / ZS5

 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 / ZS5
 
 

Like its predecessor, the TZ10 / ZS7 was launched alongside a cut-down version available at a lower price. The TZ8 / ZS5 features the same 12x 25-300mm equivalent zoom with Power OIS stabilisation packed into the same pocketable body. Both share the same sensor resolution with adjustable aspect ratios. Both also offer the same shooting modes with full PASM options along with the enhanced Intelligent Auto mode with Intelligent resolution. So far so similar, but there are of course a number of key differences.

The cheaper TZ8 / ZS5 is lacking the GPS capability of its pricier sibling, and is equipped with a slightly smaller and less detailed 2.7in / 230k screen (3in / 460k on the TZ10 / ZS7). There's also no AVCHD movie mode (nor the one-touch record button) on the TZ8 / ZS5, although it still offers the Motion JPEG modes, including the HD option at 720p. So you can still film in HD, but only to a maximum file size of 2GB which limits you to about 8 minutes per clip. There's also no HDMI port. On the upside though, battery life is improved to around 340 shots per charge.

If you can live without HD movies which last longer than 8 minutes, GPS capabilities, an HDMI output and a large, detailed screen, then the TZ8 / ZS5 is well worth considering. It gives you the compelling lens range and compact body of the TZ10 / ZS7 without its extra frills at a more affordable price. Do also compare closely against the earlier TZ7 / ZS3 though which may not have GPS or manual controls, but does feature the same 12x lens, alongside AVCHD movies, a 3in / 460k screen and HDMI port - if the price is right on the TZ7 / ZS3, it's arguably the better bet.



Compared to Canon PowerShot SX210 IS

 
Canon PowerShot SX210 IS
 
 
Canon's PowerShot SX210 IS will be one of the biggest rivals for the TZ10 / ZS7, with both cameras featuring super-zoom ranges, HD video, HDMI ports, scene detection, full manual, SDXC compatibility and 3in screens packed-into pocketable bodies. Look a little closer though and some key differences emerge.

Most obviously are their respective zoom ranges. Panasonic has stuck with the same 12x range as its predecessor for the TZ10 / ZS7, while Canon has slightly boosted its range from 12x to 14x. Panasonic's still starts wider though with an equivalent range of 25-300mm, while Canon's starts at 28mm and ends at 392mm. So The TZ10 / ZS7 zooms wider, but the SX210 IS zooms comfortably closer. Which you'll prefer is entirely personal.

Both cameras sport 3in screens, but again with important differences. The SX210 IS features a wider 16:9 shaped screen which is a perfect match for its HD video, although the compromise is photos taken in the best quality mode will only occupy a smaller area with vertical stripes running down either side. It's also important to note the Panasonic screen is more detailed with 460k dots to the Canon's 230k. But those who regularly shoot HD video will love the shape of the Canon screen.

A key feature missing from the Canon compared to its rival super-zooms from Panasonic and Sony is built-in GPS. Again this may not bother you personally, but it's notable by its absence against the competition.

Finally in terms of resolution, the Canon features 14.1 effective Megapixels to the Panasonic's 12.1, although this won't make a huge difference in terms of real-life recorded detail. It's important to remember though the Panasonic can maintain its angle of view and minimise pixel loss when shooting in wider aspect ratios, whereas the Canon simply crops. This is an important consideration when shooting 16:9 stills with the Canon to fill its screen, as they will be vertically cropped.

Canon may have boosted its resolution, zoom range and fitted a widescreen monitor, but some will be disappointed not to find GPS on the new model. But none of the current compact super-zooms can get as close to distant subjects as the new Canon, and none can fill their screens with HD video. If these are important to you, the SX210 IS could be the model for you. See our Canon PowerShot SX210 IS review for more details.



Compared to Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5

 
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5
 
 

Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-HX5 is set to be another big rival for the TZ10 / ZS7, with both cameras packing super-zoom ranges, HD video, 3in screens and GPS capabilities into a pocketable body. Delve into the specifications though and significant differences emerge.

In its favour, the HX5 boasts higher resolution movies in the 1080i format, much faster shooting at 10fps in the full resolution (albeit only for ten images), in-camera HDR (albeit with only two images), wireless sharing of photos with TransferJet, a compass (driven by the GPS), and Sony's innovative sweep panorama which can automatically stitch together multiple images in-camera taken in a single pan. The HX5 also records altitude data which is absent from its rival.

In its favour, the Lumix TZ10 / ZS7 features a slightly longer 12x zoom to the Sony's 10x range (25-300mm vs 25-250mm), a more detailed screen (460k vs 230k), full PASM modes (the Sony offers P and M, but not Aperture and Shutter Priority), location name and landmark details on-screen (driven by the GPS and a built-in database), quicker acquisition of nearby new locations in the default mode, support for SDXC cards (although at least the Sony HX5 now works with SDHC alongside Memory Stick), multiple aspect ratios without compromising the angle-of-view, and two extra Megapixels (although in our tests they recorded roughly similar degrees of real-life detail).

The 1080i video coupled with 10fps burst shooting gives the HX5 two key advantages over the Panasonic, and while it may not display the name of locations on-screen, it does record altitude and compass data. Depending on your requirements, these could outweigh the TZ10 / ZS7's benefits. See our Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5 review for more details.

 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ10 / ZS7 final verdict

Panasonic may no longer have the compact super-zoom market to itself, but the latest Lumix TZ10 / ZS7 remains a highly compelling camera that’s likely to sell by the bucket-load. It takes the already excellent Lumix TZ7 / ZS3 with its 12x zoom, 720p video, 3in / 460k screen and multiple aspect recording, and enhances it with GPS capabilities, manual exposure options and an enhanced Intelligent Auto mode, along with two extra Megapixels.

There's very little this camera won't do, and once you've seen your location popup on the screen, it's hard not to be won over. But you are paying for all this new technology and if you don't need the GPS, manual controls or improved stabilisation, the earlier TZ7 / ZS3 could be a bargain waiting to be snapped-up – and again remember you can geo-tag the images from any camera using software later if you carry a handheld GPS with you, while also enjoying altitude details annoyingly absent on the TZ10 / ZS7.

But while the price difference between a TZ10 / ZS7 and its predecessor might buy you a half-decent handheld GPS, that's missing the point of Panasonic's latest travel-zoom. The key point here is you're getting the GPS functionality built-in. You don't need to carry around a separate GPS unit or worry about geo-tagging later on. It all happens automatically in-camera, and crucially is made much more fun and useful by tying-in with an internal database to display place names.

Convenience is what the TZ series is all about, and the latest model takes it to a new level. GPS is the natural partner for a camera designed to go everywhere with you, and Panasonic's first implementation here is sensible, effective and fun. Sure the older TZ7 / ZS3 may offer the same core features at a lower price (while stocks last), but if you like the idea of a camera which also knows its location, you'll be happy to spend the extra. We look forward to fully testing its rivals in the near future, but in the meantime, Panasonic's 2010 pocket super-zoom is a confident and compelling upgrade to its best-seller.

NEW - Check out the camera in practice in our HD video demonstration!



Good points
12x zoom with 25mm wide angle.
HD movies and choice of formats.
Built-in GPS with landmarks database.
Good-looking 3in / 460k screen.
Manual exposure controls.

Bad points
No altitude or compass details from GPS.
Landmark database not upgradeable.
Pressing shutter won't exit playback. Need to switch.



Scores

(relative to 2010 compacts)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

18 / 20
16 / 20
17 / 20
19 / 20
17 / 20

87%


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