The Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ7 offers the same still image resolution as the incredible Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ6, but throws in a bigger screen and an HD movie mode, which shoots in the ultra-efficient AVCHD format. At around £280, the TZ7 is about £60 more than the TZ6, so is it worth the extra?
We raved about the TZ6's lens quality, versatility and build quality, and the TZ7 is essentially the same camera. It's compact -- for a superzoom – and nicely finished with great controls. The Q menu -- short for quick -- is especially handy, calling up a set of drop-down menus at the top of the screen for quickly adjusting the ISO, picture and movie size, white balance, aspect ratio and more.
There are some key differences between the TZ6 and TZ7, though. Namely, round the back, there's a 76mm (3-inch) LCD with 460,000 pixels. That's double the resolution offered by most of the TZ7's rivals and a useful step up from the TZ6, too.
Less obvious is the change in the sensor. Like the TZ6, the TZ7 shoots 10-megapixel stills, but it actually uses a 12-megapixel sensor to accommodate the widescreen HD movie mode. Maybe the sensor has made a difference or maybe Panasonic has tweaked the image processing, but the TZ7's results look sharper than the TZ6's snaps. When you combine that with the excellent lens, low distortion and lack of chromatic aberration, you've got one of the best-performing compacts on the market -- and that's even without the movie mode.
Panasonic is pitching the TZ7 as a 'hybrid' camera: one that can shoot both high-quality stills and movies. It does a pretty good job. The movie definition is good -- only available in 1,280x720-pixel resolution, though, not 1080p HD -- and the 12x zoom makes it as versatile as a pocket camcorder, with the added bonus of that 25mm-equivalent super-wideangle lens.
You also get to record stereo sound, and the super-efficient AVCHD format means you should be able to squeeze nearly double the footage on to your SD cards as regular MPEG-4 -- quite a factor when you make the switch from standard-definition movies to HD.
Let's not get too worked up, though. The movie mode is good, but sluggish. For some reason, the zoom slows down to a crawl, the focus changes with the zoom setting and the TZ7's AF takes an age to catch up. You can shoot great movie clips with this camera, but you'll either need to plan them carefully or do some crafty editing later.
While the AVCHD format does give you much better image compression, it's less straightforward than MPEG-4. You need AVCHD-compatible editors and playback devices, and it's not just as simple as dragging across a movie file from your memory card and double-clicking it to play it. The good news is that you can swap to motion JPEG format, even if it does make the files fatter.
If you only want stills, get the TZ6. You'll pay less, too. If you fancy HD movies on your superzoom, get the TZ7. Both are brilliant cameras, so it just depends on what you want to do. You could be picky about the slow zooming and AF in movie mode, but this isn't a pro camcorder, it's a hybrid -- and a really good one.