Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ7 review
1/2.33in 14.0-megapixel sensor, 10.0x zoom (25-250mm equivalent), 133g
The SZ7 looks like a typical ultra-compact camera, but Panasonic has somehow managed to cram a 10x zoom lens into its 21mm deep shell. This is a stunning achievement. Canon goes even further with the Ixus 500 HS, which measures 19mm and has a 12x zoom lens, but it uses a cropped sensor design to achieve this feat. There are no such compromises with the SZ7, which has an extremely flexible 25-250mm (equivalent) lens, focusing light onto a 14-megapixel, 1/2.3in back-illuminated CMOS sensor.
It's disappointing that the company feels compelled to claim a 20x Intelligent Zoom – this looks to us like plain old digital zoom, which magnifies without adding any extra detail. Annoyingly, it can't be turned off in Intelligent Auto mode, so we had to zoom carefully to avoid going into this part of the zoom range.
The SZ7 can't match the stunning good looks of the Ixus, but it's still a reasonably handsome camera and its metal shell seems built to last. The screen is a big let-down, though, suffering from severely washed out colours when viewed slightly from above. We tend to hold compact cameras with our elbows to our sides to help hold it steady, and from this position the screen looked awful.
We also noticed an odd, echo-like smearing of colours when recording videos. This wasn't a problem with the screen, though – the recorded videos were smeared too. It was only visible in highly specific circumstances, with low light, fast motion and sharp, high-contrast subjects. As such, it wasn't a big issue in practice, but it's disconcerting nonetheless.
Otherwise, the SZ7's videos were excellent, with crisp, smooth details and a high quality stereo soundtrack. They're recorded in AVCHD or MP4 format at 1080p for up to 30 minutes per clip. The zoom motor was barely detectable on the soundtrack and the autofocus motor was completely silent.