"Good compromise between features, size, quality & cost."3.5 starson by Jonathan-S
Pros: Flexible shooting options, quality zoom, GPS, good battery life (even with GPS), compact size for 12x zoom.
Cons: Flash seems a little weak, some zoomed-in pictures show blurry edges, menus are not intuitive, AVCHD video format not iPhoto compatible (but does work with iMovie). GPS doesn't work in or near China.
Summary: I got this camera to take travel pictures on hikes around the world, replacing a Canon SX200is, also a 12x super-zoom compact. As shown from my pros and cons above, I like the ZS7's size and feature set when compared to the Canon, but don't like the low-light pictures and image quality beyond 12x.
The primary reason I chose this camera was the GPS and it works beautifully. On hikes in the local mountains, it acquires signal quickly and affects battery life minimally. When displayed in iPhoto or Smugmug, the geo-tags are precise. The clock can be set to automatically adjust using the GPS, a nice feature for travelers. One issue I'm concerned about is Panasonic claims the GPS won't work in China or neighboring areas (owing to Chinese prohibitions on foreigners engaging in "mapping" within their borders), and I'm planing a trip to Nepal. Panasonic say there is no work-around.
Image quality is good overall, with true colors and sharp resolution up to 12x zoom. Panasonic claim that the camera's optical really goes to 16x because of some excess sensor real estate, but I found images do show some artifacting above 12x. While in zoom, the camera focus can take a couple of seconds, especially when focusing on distant objects. There is some annoying shutter lag in general, which is even more noticeable when using the underpowered flash. Start-up time is fairly quick though.
Movie quality is good, with several format options. The AVCHD format, which Panasonic recommend for HDTV viewing, is not compatible with Macs' iPhoto software, but it will load to iMovie. An MPEG video option is also available, which does work in iPhoto, and is HD. The only downside is the geo-tagging does not work with that format. The ZS7 has a dedicated movie button located on the back of the camera. I found the button to be small and difficult to press without shaking the camera.
The ZS7's automatic mode does a good job sensing what the user wants and is great for on-the-fly shots where there is no time to micro-manage. I caught a great closeup of a jumping frog while outside, and some nice images of my kids hugging their grandma after opening Christmas gifts; spontaneous moments where an amateur like me can't quickly adjust settings for the perfect picture. When there is time, however, the flexibility of the shooting modes yields some nice results. It seems as though there is a setting for everything, from taking pictures of food, to softening the skin in portraits, to taking pictures out an airplane window. The manual shutter and aperture settings are there, and relatively easy to adjust. I got some nice images of a flowing creek showing blurred motion and a cool closeup of a wildflower with a blurred background using the manual adjustments.
While it's a no-brainer to use the automatic mode, choosing the appropriate scene mode and running through the menus for such features as stabilization, naming your pet or face identification, GPS features, etcetera, is less than intuitive. There are so many scene modes that it can get a little confusing as to what they all do. You will have to read the electronic manual.