Despite the size of its lens the TZ7 starts up in well under two seconds, although it does take nearly three seconds to shut down again. In single-shot mode at the highest quality setting it has a shot-to-shot cycle time of comfortably under two seconds, which is pretty quick, however in continuous shooting mode it can manage 1.8 frames a second, which is very fast. It also has a three-shot burst option which is even faster.
The autofocus system is very good. It focuses quickly and accurately in almost any lighting condition at all, including pitch darkness thanks to a good bright AF lamp with a range of around three metres. Even at the long end of the zoom range the AF hardly ever hunts around, and focuses in under a second. Only at full zoom in very low light does it stumble, but even then at least it lets you know quickly that it can't focus.
The HD movie mode is superb, arguably the best I've seen on a compact camera so far. Sound and picture quality rival the performance of a dedicated camcorder, and the progressive zoom action means you can do some nice slow zoom effects. Unfortunately clips are limited to 15 minutes, but this is not a major handicap. Unless you've got a video viewer that has the appropriate codecs you'll need to use the supplied software to view your movies on a computer, but the TZ7 also has a HDMI output socket, so you can plug it into your HD TV.
The flash ahs been upgraded from the TZ5, and now has a maximum range of an impressive 5.3m at wide-angle. The only slight area of concern is the battery, which is a smaller 895mAh li-ion unit, but this is still larger than most compact camera batteries, and Panasonic claims 300 shots on a full charge, a figure which I have no reason to doubt.
Image quality too is outstanding. Colours are rich and vibrant, exposure is nearly always perfect, and the lens is, as we've come to expect from the Leica brand name, superb. It does suffer from slight barrel distortion at the 25mm wide-angle end, but it is pin-sharp from corner to corner, with no chromatic aberration, and the level of recorded fine detail right across the frame is excellent, surpassing most 12MP cameras. At the highest quality setting the average file size is around 5.5MB, which is pretty decent for a 10MP camera, showing very low compression.
Image noise is also very well handled, considering that this is actually a 12.7MP 1/2.33-inch sensor, although I can't help but wonder how much better it could be if only Panasonic would switch to a larger sensor format. It produces superb image quality at 80 and 100 ISO, and while there is some noise visible at 400 ISO the images are at least printable, with accurate colour and good detail. However image quality does deteriorate at 800 ISO, and the 1600 ISO maximum setting is best avoided.
Panasonic has done it again with the TZ7, producing a well-designed and exceptionally versatile camera ideal for travel, but also well suited to just about any type of general snapshot photography. Build quality, design, performance and image quality are all excellent, it has a useful range of easy-to-use features, and of course it also has a superb HD video option with stereo sound.