By October 3, 2008

Camcorder group test (Part 2) Panasonic SDR-S7 review

Panasonic SDR-S7 Review

Like everything else these days, personal video cameras or camcorders are getting smaller and more convenient to use. We’ve gone from wallet-busting shoulder mounted behemoths of the late 80’s using tape to compact handheld devices that fit in your pocket and which can be had for less than £200. The Panasonic SDR-S7 is a typical example of the new breed of camcorders that have made “home movies” so much more accessible for all of us by being low cost and convenient.


The Panasonic SDR-S7 camcorder


What’s in the box?

  • SDR-S7 video camera
  • USB lead
  • AV cable
  • Strap
  • Printed manual
  • Software CD
  • Mains charger


Panasonic SDR-S7 unboxing video



I’m going to break with convention and avoid describing all the controls in detail as, by their nature, video cameras have a significant number of buttons, controls, menus and doo-dahs to operate them. However, controls have sensibly been kept to a minimum and this is undoubtedly a good thing when I watch how many people struggle with a normal digicam. Suffice to say, ease of use has been designed into the device and I found it remarkably easy to get to grips with without having to refer to the manual. This is a good test of any device and the Panasonic passes with distinction. I’m sure my mum could operate it!

s7_controls s7_lens s7_connectors

The main control is a rotary switch that selects two operating modes for either motion picture recording, motion picture playback, still picture recording or still picture playback. To the left and above this switch is a menu select, auto-mode select, manual mode/auto-manual focus select and a 5-way cursor keypad for menu selection. On the top of the body there’s zoom-in/out controls and to the front on the right hand side next to the lens there’s a switch that opens or closes the lens cover (there’s no separate lens cover to be lost here – good thinking).
To the rear of the camera body behind a flap there’s a power jack, AV-out jack and USB socket for direct connection to a pc. Next to this is a dual function switch that either activates the camera shutter or starts/stops video filming. Now I realise that might sound fairly complicated, but in reality it’s not and in everyday use there’s only the rotary on/off mode select switch, the shutter release and the zoom controls to bother yourself about.

Panasonic SDR-S7 Specification:

  • Battery: Li-ion VW-VBJ10, 3.6v/1000mAh
  • Video resolution: Standard Definition
  • Sensor size: 1/6" CCD 800k Pixels
  • Video Recording Format: SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card,
  • USB Connection: Yes
  • Optical Zoom Factor: 10x
  • Digital Zoom: 10x – 700x
  • Image Stabiliser: Yes
  • LCD Screen Size: 2.7", 123k pixels
  • Built-In Flash: No
  • MPEG movie mode: MPEG-1 layer 2
  • Photo mode: Yes
  • Photo mode resolution: 640×480 (jpeg)
  • Media card: SDHC Card or SD Card,
  • Sound: Stereo
  • Manual exposure: Yes
  • Manual white balance: Yes
  • Backlight compensation: Yes
  • Built-in light: No
  • Shutter speed: 1/25th 1/8000 sec (video), 1/25th -1/500 sec (stills)
  • Minimum light (Lux): 2 Lux (Colour Night View)
  • Accessory shoe: No
  • Analogue input: No
  • External microphone socket: No
  • Dimensions (WxHxD) mm: 41.0 x 59.0 x 102.0 mm
  • Weight: 165g (camera only)


  • Simple
  • Compact
  • Robust
  • Uses SD cards
  • Easy to use


  • Screen attracts dust and fingerprints
  • Feels a bit cheap
  • No conventional viewfinder


The Panasonic is an extremely compact device – in the hand with the screen closed it’s little bigger than many current mobile phones.

It’s easy to use and pretty much foolproof. Fold the screen out, power it on by using the rotary mode switch, selecting either video or still camera mode and, depending whether or not you use it at eye-level or waist-level, start filming by pressing the record button on the rear of the camera or the right side. The whole process takes less than 5 seconds with a very impressive start-up time. This reduces the chances of missing film-worthy action and helps to ensure you can capture those entertaining moments. The only potential gotcha here is forgetting to open the manual lens cover. I am sure we’ve all done that before!

There’s a manual focus mode and manual exposure mode that gives more control over the shooting options available, but to be honest that sort of defeats the object of this kind of camera. Its forte is quick operation and convenience so, the best thing to do is leave it in auto, leave the lens cover open, point it at your subject and get on with filming. It’s worth pointing out at this stage that if you are after high-quality footage then you should look beyond this unit. Resolution is 704 x 576 and, depending upon the recording mode used (there’s three levels of compression) you can expect to get between 50 minutes and 3.25hrs of footage on a 4GB SDHC card.

For a budget model the Panasonic copes quite well in low light levels which, is just as well because there is no built-in light. There was some discernible noise, but by the time it’s been mangled by YouTube or other online services it wouldn’t be noticeable.

Shooting with the camera at eye-level is not as natural or convenient as it would be with a more traditional kind using an optical or conventional viewfinder. In fact, I found using it in this manner resulted in wrist strain. However, it excels at waist level filming, which is a good technique to use if you want to remain fairly discrete. I can imagine this camcorder is ideal for parties and it’s the sort of device that I’d like strapped to the side of my motorcycle for a bit of fun.

The 10x optical zoom is fairly modest by camcorder standards – I didn’t investigate the digital zoom as this inevitably destroys image quality and, as a photographer, I am very fussy about that. The limited zoom isn’t an issue though because it encourages the user to get in closer which, almost always results in far better and more personal footage.

As a camera things are not so rosy. The resolution is very low at 640 x 480 making images look grainy and dull so, I would only ever use it in an emergency. There is no built-in flash so, it would only be usable in good light and therefore it’s no better than a very basic phone camera. In fact, you are probably better off using a camera phone. This might sound a bit harsh, but to be fair to Panasonic it’s not intended to be a still camera.

Battery life seemed to be adequate with about 1 – 1.25 hrs use being possible depending upon how much zooming in-out I did and what compression mode was used. It might not seem much, but it’s about par for most DV video cameras and enough considering its intended use.


Panasonic SDR-S7 battery and memory card


You can download a sample video – taken straight from the SDR-S7 memory card with this link.



There’s much to like in a package like this. It’s compact, easy to use, convenient and fairly robust. At a push it can also double as a camera. At around £190 plus the cost of a high capacity SDHC card, the price is now within reach of many of us without causing the credit card to freak out. If you’re serious about filming then like most consumer devices you really should look elsewhere, but if you’re looking for something to publish to YouTube, your blog or for capturing little clips for family entertainment then there’s not much wrong with the Panasonic. I can’t see many of us being too dissatisfied with it and I’d be happy with one of these for casual everyday use.

Join me again soon for the next camera in the Camcorder Group Test or head over and look at Part 1 to see which cameras we are including or take a look at my Toshiba Camileo H10 review or Sanyo Xacti HD700 review.


Review by: Nigel

Posted in: Reviews

About the Author:

More than 20 years in the IT industry. Blogging with a passion and thirst for new technology since 2005.
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