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Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 (DMC-TZ10)
12.1MP | 25-300mm (12X) ZOOM | $315/£253

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5 (DMC-TZ8)
12.1MP | 25-300mm (12X) ZOOM | $238/£199

The ZS5 and ZS7 are the latest in Panasonic's venerable 'Travel Zoom' line which gave its name to this entire class of camera. Their key specifications are close, but not identical. Although the lenses and sensors are the same (which is why you'll only see one photographic test for both) there are some significant differences between the two, not least of which is built-in GPS (the ZS7 has it, the ZS5 does not); they also have different LCD screens and different video specifications. Here, we've listed the key features that both models share as bullet points, and in the table beneath this list is a detailed comparison of their differences.

  • 12.1 effective Megapixels
  • 25-300mm equiv lens with Mega O.I.S. optical stabilization
  • Optical Image Stabilizer
  • ISO sensitivity up to 1600 (at full resolution)
  • 'Intelligent Auto' mode
  • 'Intelligent Resolution' mode
  • Face Detection and AF Tracking
  • Dynamic Range enhancer (iExposure)
 


Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS5


Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7
Movie Mode

• 1280x720p 30fps (Quicktime Motion JPEG)
• 848 x 480 pixels, 30 fps (Motion JPEG)
• 320 x 240 pixels, 30 fps (Motion JPEG)
• 640 x 480 pixels, 30fps (Motion JPEG)

• 1280x720p 30fps (Motion JPEG)
• 1280x720p 30fps (AVCHD Lite)
• 1280x720p 30fps (AVCHD Lite with GPS)
• 848 x 480 pixels, 30 fps (Motion JPEG)
• 320 x 240 pixels, 30 fps (Motion JPEG)
• 640 x 480 pixels, 30fps (Motion JPEG)

Movie duration 15 minutes 29 minutes, 59 seconds
LCD 2.7in, 230k dots 3.0in, 460k dots, with anti-reflective coating
Built-in GPS No Yes
Connections • AV
• USB 2.0
• AV
• USB 2.0
• HDMI
• Viera Link
Face Detection • Still capture only • Still and movie capture
Intelligent Resolution • Still capture only • Still and movie capture
Scene modes in movie capture • No • Yes (18 in total)
Battery life (CIPA standard) • 340 images • 300 images

Click here to view the original ZS5 news story and full specification (opens in new window)

Click here to view the original ZS7 news story and full specification (opens in new window)

Overview

Panasonic hasn't changed the basic ingredients of the ZS series (ZS is the North American designation, the range is known as TZ everywhere else) much since its introduction. The ZS5 and ZS7 are, like their predecessors, solid and pleasantly weighty metal-bodied cameras with a good selection of exterior control points, complemented by a reasonably clear menu system.

One of the only things that really sets these cameras apart from their peers ergonomically is a mechanical slider switch to select between shooting and playback modes. This sort of switch was fairly common in the not too distant past, but these days, almost all cameras - compacts and DSLRs - can be returned to shooting mode at the half-press of the shutter button, regardless of what you happen to be doing at that time. If you're in playback mode with the ZS5 and ZS7, however, you can press the shutter down as hard as you like - you have to physically move the switch back to the red camera icon to take a shot. Fortunately, this switch lies directly where your thumb naturally falls when the camera is held with your right hand, so it is easy - and soon becomes instinctive - to switch back and forth between shooting and playback.

Other than that, both of these cameras are fairly standard for their type in terms of ergonomics. Although both are very feature-rich, the variety of advanced features on offer are made fairly easy to access and navigate by the addition of a neat 'Q menu' button, which provides fast access to the most often-changed settings, such as AF mode and ISO. Exposure modes are set using a physical dial on the camera's topplate, and - impressively for compact models, both of these cameras offer the traditional SLR quartet of PASM. Naturally, aperture control isn't anything like as complete in these cameras as it would be in models with larger sensors, but even at the lens' maximum telephoto extension, you still have a choice of 3 aperture settings, which isn't bad compared to some of the models we're looking at in this test.

Both of these ZS models feature the same lens, which focuses light onto the same sensor. The zoom range is therefore the same too, at a useful 25-300mm (equivalent) which is one of the most versatile of any of the cameras on test. The lens is optically stabilized, using Panasonic's established Mega O.I.S. system. Images are composed and reviewed on LCD screens, which is usual for this class of cameras, but the ZS7 offers a significantly better screen, with a higher resolution (460k dots compared to 230k dots on the back of the ZS5) slightly larger area (3.0in compared to 2.7in) and an anti-reflective layer to aid visibility in bright lighting conditions. In normal use the difference between the screens on these models isn't all that great, but the extra resolution especially, of the 3in LCD on the ZS7 is useful when establishing critical focus. In bright sunlight the extra contrast of the ZS7 LCD makes it much more useful than the ZS5 screen, which is very difficult to use in bright conditions.

Key Features

This view shows the topplate of the ZS7, but the ZS5 is identical except for the omission of the GPS bulge and stereo microphone grille. The 12x zoom is controlled using a toggle switch around the shutter release, and the exposure mode dial now sits about 2/3 of the way along the topplate, rather than on the extreme right, as it did with the previous generation ZS series.
This photo shows the ZS7 with the zoom at full extension. The lens doesn't extend all that far, which helps to keep the camera relatively discreet. The ZS5 is identical.
At the back we find the usual Panasonic array of buttons. A four-way controller is used for navigation and in shooting mode gives access to exposure compensation, flash, focus and self-timer settings.

Below are the Display button and the Quick menu button that gives you access to the most often changed shooting settings.

Compared to the last generation of ZS cameras the top layout has been slightly changed on the new models. The mode dial is now back where it was originally on the first TZ model, the TZ1 - about two thirds of the way along the top-plate, towards the shutter release.
Fitting a 12x zoom into cameras this small is quite a feat, but there are compromises, the most obvious of which being a relatively slow aperture range, of between f3.3 - 4.9.
Pressing its dedicated button brings up the Quick Menu that allows direct access to many of the key shooting settings (exactly which settings those are depends on how automated the selected shooting mode is).
As well as a range of 'color effects' it is also possible to adjust image quality using sliders for contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction.

Image quality and performance

As we would expect, being the latest in a well-established line, the ZS5 and ZS7 are fairly streamlined machines. We had some concerns in earlier ZS models about operational speed, but neither of these two models feel frustratingly slow, as do some of the other cameras in this group. The ZS7 starts up in approximately 1.8 seconds, and it takes roughly one second from switching to playback mode before an image appears on the LCD. Shot to shot time is around 2.5 seconds, but as always, this includes AF acquisition. Where the ZS5 and ZS7 slow down is in playback mode. Navigating through images isn't as fast as we'd like, and it takes roughly half a second to go from one picture to the next. If you keep pressing the navigation buttons faster than this, the screen will continue to show the last image until you stop clicking, at which point (after a brief pause) it will catch up and change.

Zooming into images in playback mode is quick enough, but once the view is magnified, scrolling around a picture is painfully slow. At 16x magnification (which represents approximately an 'actual pixels' view) it takes almost 13 seconds to scroll from one edge of an image to the other. This is three times slower than the Olympus Stylus 9010, one of the cheapest cameras in this group. Although this might not sound like a major issue, if you're the sort of person that tends to check critical focus on your images (and it won't surprise you to learn that we fall into this category) it can soon become very annoying.

Another disappointment came when we took the ZS5 out to shoot at night, where it refused to give anything like an accurate exposure. Eventually we had to dial in +1EV of exposure compensation to achieve a near-match with the output from other cameras. In more 'normal' lighting conditions, however, the Panasonics do very well indeed, and in our low-light flash tests, the balance of flash with ambient light is amongst the best of the group. Detail resolution is very good, and exposure and white balance are accurate, giving pleasant, neutral results. In good light, at low ISO settings, the Panasonic pair give amongst the best image quality of all the cameras in this test, and certainly good enough for a letter sized or slightly larger print. Optical quality from their 25-300mm (equivalent) lenses is excellent too, and images show no noticeable distortion (probably thanks in part to in-camera correction) and barely noticeable fringing. Sharpness remains high throughout the zoom range, too, only dropping off slightly at the extreme telephoto end of the lens.

The ZS7 is one of three cameras in this group with a built-in GPS receiver, and features arguably the most advanced GPS implementation. Although it does need prompting on occasion to 'lock on' to a GPS signal, we found that when correctly set up, the ZS7 is very reliable. Set to 'landmarks' (perhaps the most useful setting when traveling) the ZS7 was consistently able to accurately display the nearest point of interest to our position, both on the LCD screen and of course the metadata of the file/s. Battery life suffers when GPS is turned on though, making a spare battery advisable, if not essential, for extended shooting sessions. Even when GPS is turned off, the ZS7 gives relatively poor battery life in average use, sometimes as low as 150-200 images per charge when the LCD is switched to its brightest setting.

The ZS5 and ZS7 are refinements of a fairly well-established basic design, and both make excellent companions on days out, and vacations. Their 25-300mm lenses are amongst the most versatile here, with effective optical stabilization, and image quality from both cameras is very high at the most commonly used ISO settings. High ISO image quality isn't wonderful though, and we had exposure problems in low ambient light. In the all-important flash tests, however, both cameras do very well.

Summary

As far as image quality is concerned, the ZS5 and ZS7 turn in excellent results overall, and output from both cameras is towards the top end of the models in this test in terms of detail reproduction and optical sharpness. Things fall apart a bit towards the higher end of the ISO range though, and images taken at ISO 1600 don't compare well to the best performers in this test, either in terms of detail, color accuracy or exposure.

As mature products, the ZS5 and ZS7 presented us with very few surprises, and both of them give excellent performance overall. Despite the impressive breadth of their feature sets, one of the most appealing things about both cameras is that they are very reliable. If you're not feeling too adventurous, just switch the dial to 'iAuto' and you'll probably be perfectly happy with the results that you get in virtually any situation. If we had to choose between the two, and money were no object, we'd opt for the ZS7 for its built-in GPS and higher quality LCD screen.

  • We like: Good image quality in both stills and video (ZS5), intuitive user interface, decent high ISO output (for smaller prints), 25mm wide-angle, relatively fast lens at the long end (F4.9)

  • We don't like: ZS5's LCD is very hard to see in bright light, mechanical shooting / playback switch takes some getting used to, unpredictable exposures in very low light, slow display / zooming / panning of images in playback mode.
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