The size of the camera does mean that it’s nice and easy to handle. There is a small but comfortable handgrip on the front, and a textured thumb-grip area on the back which make it easy to hold securely, and despite the huge monitor screen the controls are well spaced out and there’s plenty of room to grip the camera without them getting in the way.
The monitor itself is superb. With a resolution of 460,000 dots it’s twice as sharp as most other compact camera screens, and has an exceptionally wide viewing angle in all directions. It also has automatic brightness control, and although it is a bit reflective and prone to glare, it is bright enough to see clearly in bright daylight.
Apart from the annoyingly loose main mode dial, which I’ve already mentioned, the TZ7’s controls are very good. The zoom control is particularly nice. It is smooth and non-stepped, and the control has a progressive action, so it zooms faster the more you turn it. The buttons are all metal and are solidly mounted, operating with a nice positive click.
The only problem is that the buttons of the D-pad have etched silver-on-silver labels, which are hard to see in poor light. The main power switch and the shooting/playback mode selector are small slider switches, and while this is a good idea for the power switch (it’s very unlikely to get switched on by accident), having a switch to select shooting or playback does mean that if you’re reviewing your pictures and suddenly see something you want to photograph you can’t just tap the shutter button to return to shooting mode; you have to slide the switch.
The TZ7 is designed to be relatively simple and easy to use, and lacks features such as manual exposure or focusing. However it still has a fairly wide range of user options, including multiple AF modes, three metering modes including spot metering, a limited range of colour options, three-shot burst and continuous shooting, ISO settings from 80 to 1600 and the usual range of white balance options.
It also has an unusual set of aspect ratio choices. In most other cameras, selecting 3:2 or 16:9 aspect ratio simply crops the image down from the 4:3-ratio full-screen sensor. However the TZ7 actually has a 12.7-megapixel sensor, so even the 10.1-megapixel 4:3 aspect ratio is cropped down. Selecting the wider aspect ratios uses a wider section of the sensor, so they actually cover a wider area than the 4:3 setting. This means that the widescreen formats are ideal for landscape photography.
The various settings are accessed via the conventional main menu, but can also be adjusted from the on-screen Quick Menu. As well as the full range of options the TZ7 also has Panasonic’s Intelligent Auto system, which sets exposure, ISO, image stabilisation, tracking AF, scene mode and face recognition automatically. I’m not usually a big fan of “idiot modes”, preferring more manual control, but I have to admit the Panasonic iAuto system does produce excellent results in nearly all situations.
Some of the 27 scene mode programs also have some interesting variations. The Baby and Pet programs have the option to include the subject’s name and age, and the age is automatically updated each year. There is a high-speed burst mode which can shoot at 10fps until the memory card is full, although it’s limited to a maximum of 3MP. Other interesting options include pin-hole camera and film grain simulations, a flash burst mode and an underwater mode for use with the optional DMW-MCTZ7 diving case, which is waterproof to a depth of 40m.