Small enough to slip inside a jean pocket, the Lumix SZ7 employs a 1/2.3inch sensor with an effective output of 14.3-megapixels alongside a 10x Leica-made optical zoom that provides the 35mm focal equivalent of 25-250mm and offers a maximum albeit non user-controllable aperture of f/3.1 at 25mm rising to f/5.9 at 250mm.
As with all 1.2.3inch compacts, the default aspect for shooting is 4:3, however it’s also possible to shoot at 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1. However, given that these all require the camera to take a crop from the 4:3 sensor they do all come at the price of a reduced overall resolution. To be honest though, this isn’t something that should worry anyone for whom the primary destination for images captured with the SZ7 is Facebook and suchlike.
Sensitivity ranges from ISO 100 to 3200, with an expanded setting of ISO 6400 available as a ‘High Sensitivity’ Scene mode option. Images taken at this setting can only be captured at a maximum resolution of 3MP.
Given that the SZ7 is aimed primarily at non-enthusiasts looking for a flexible, relatively well featured and yet easy-to-use ultracompact it comes as little surprise to find that the choice of exposure modes is kept to the bare minimum, with all options being of the fully automatic variety. Still, you do get Panasonic’s iAuto (intelligent Auto) mode, which has proved to be ever more reliable in recent years and in all kinds of tricky lighting conditions too.
There’s also a Normal Picture mode that, while still fully automatic, does give you manual control over ISO, White Balance, AF Mode and Continuous shooting speed; essentially a Program mode by any other name.
Supplementing the two ‘regular’ shooting modes is a Miniature Effect digital filter mode that automatically gives your images a miniature model look by applying a fake tilt-shift effect and boosting saturation levels at the processing stage. Anyone who’s ever browsed Flickr in recent months will instantly know how popular this particular effect is at the moment.
Scene modes run to 16 individual options with regular suspects such as Portrait and Landscape, ably supported by less obvious, but no less useful options such as Glass Through (which minimises reflections with when shooting through windows) and the aforementioned High Sensitivity option that expands the ISO range.
One rather useful and fun shooting mode tucked away within the Scene mode sub-menu (and which is surely worthy of more direct access via the main top-level Exposure mode menu) is the Panorama Mode. This basically allows you to create a 360-degree panorama with a single shutter-button press simply by panning the camera in a predetermined direction. Last but not least is a 3D shooting mode, although you'll need a 3D capable viewer to see your images in all three dimensions as the SZ7's 3in, 460k-dot screen is strictly two-dimensional.
Movie enthusiasts are well catered for with the ability to record 1080/50p Full HD video with stereo sound, with further options to record 720p HD and VGA quality movies too. Movies can be encoded as either AVCHD for the highest quality or as MP4 files for maximum PC compatibility.
Despite offering the extended reach of a 10x optical zoom, the SZ7 remains an easily pocketable little camera, so you’ll never have to leave it behind. There’s no finger grip and the dimpled thumb rest is fairly minimal, but given the whole camera weighs less than 135 grams it’s easy to use one-handed while maintaining a fairly firm grip.
Physical buttons are kept to a minimum and neatly laid out for easy use. It’s not a particularly complicated camera to operate, with all of the buttons clearly marked and offering direct access to the camera’s limited functions. The number of settings that are available to change will depend entirely on the exposure mode you’re using the camera in (very few in iAuto, more in Normal Picture), but in both instances a simple press of the Q.Menu button will call up an intuitive menu where you can do so. Should you want to make more in-depth adjustments then the main Menu/Set button in the middle of the D-pad calls up the full camera menu.