I can't really blame you for thinking that it looks suspicious. Of the last ten Panasonic digital cameras that I've reviewed only two have scored less than 9/10, and one has even scored the magic 10/10. It's not just digital cameras either; of the last 10 Panasonic camcorders we've reviewed only two have scored less than 8/10, and the same is true of Panasonic TVs as well.
It's got to the point where at least one reader has directly accused us of taking payments from Panasonic in exchange for high review scores, but the honest truth is that Panasonic keeps turning out high quality products, and our reviews (which are of course completely impartial) reflect this.
I can state with hand on heart that the most I've ever received from Panasonic is a couple of invitations to press launch events, along with hundreds of other journalists. I'm telling you all this because I'm about to add to the controversy with today's review; the new Lumix DMC-TZ7 is another seriously good camera from Panasonic, and so I'm afraid it's going to get another high score.
The TZ7 and its sister-model the TZ6 are the replacements for the highly successful TZ5 and TZ4, launched at about this time last year, but it's more than just a cosmetic upgrade of the previous model. The TZ7 is a completely new camera, with a new body, a new lens and some new features.
The list is impressive: it has a new compact 12x zoom image-stabilised Leica lens with a maximum aperture of f/3.3-f/4.9 and a focal length range equivalent to 25-300mm, an impressively sharp 3.0-inch 460,000 dot wide-view LCD monitor, a dual-processor Venus Engine HD, and most significantly is has 1280 x 720 pixel HD video recording with stereo sound and full optical zoom capability. It uses the advanced AVCHD Lite recording system, a video encoding format designed for solid-state camcorders. The TZ6 is very similar, but lacks the HD video mode and has a smaller 2.7-inch 230k monitor.
Like the previous models in the TZ range the TZ7 is large and solidly made. It measures 103.3 x 59.6 x 32.8mm and weighs 229g including battery and card. This is actually slightly slimmer and about 10g lighter than the TZ5, but it's still a big chunky camera. The body is all aluminium, finished in a semi-matt texture, and it is available in black, dark brown or the plain silver finish shown here.
The TZ series has always been sold as travel cameras, and the TZ7 is designed to survive a bit of rough treatment. The overall build quality is extremely good, and almost all the controls are robust and solidly mounted. However there is one exception, and it represents one of my few real complaints about the TZ7. The main mode dial on the top plate is very loose and has a very weak ratchet, and as a result it is easily turned accidentally and can end up between settings. Since the camera won't shoot unless the mode dial is correctly positioned this can cause annoying delays if you're trying to shoot quickly on the spur of the moment.