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2010.01.27

The compact ultra-zoom category was launched by Panasonic almsot 4 years ago with the introduction of the Lumix DMC-TZ1 which featured a 10X optical zoom lens, equivalent to 35-350mm, in a body 1.6″ thick.  As adding more zoom to small form-factor digital cameras unsurprisingly proved to be a popular, the competition joined in and it did not take long before almost every manufacturer had at least one compact ultra-zoom in their line-ups. Panasonic did not stand still though and added more versatility to their compact ultra-zooms by introducing the first such digital camera with a wide-angle lens, the Lumix DMC-TZ3.

Soon after, it was Canon with the Powershot SX-series that brought unprecented flexibility in this category with the additional of full manual controls, something that Canon’s digital cameras have done well for quite a while. When the SX200 was introduced, Canon produced the only wide-angle compact ultra-zoom with full manual controls.

This week Panasonic launched their response to the SX200 in the form of the Lumix DMC-ZS7 and ZS5, bringing full manual controls to the ZS-series along with ultra-wide-angle optical zoom lenses starting at 25mm and reaching 300mm for a total of 12X optical zoom. These two rather similar digital cameras are now the most-specified in their class.

The main features of these two new Panasonic models are a 12 megapixels sensor behind a stabilized 12X optical zoom lens in bodies 1.3″ thick. Both cameras feature a maximum ISO of 1600 and 720p HD video recording capability. They also support SD, SDHC and SDXC memory cards and run on different proprietary lithium-ion batteries.

Differences between the ZS7 and ZS5 are mostly internal other than the LCD. On the ZS7 it measures 3″ and has 460K pixels while on the ZS5 it measures 2.7″ and has 230K pixels. The ZS7 uniquely features a built-in GPS with preset location for famous landmarks in 73 countries. The HD video codec is different too with the ZS7 using AVHCD and the ZS7 using M-JPEG. The internal processor is different too, apparently providing better performance and faster autofocus on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7.

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