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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 10/03/06
Rating: Recommended!
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Introduction: Announced on the 23rd of January 06, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 is a new 6 megapixel digital camera with a Leica 12x optical zoom lens with built in "Mega Optical Image Stabilisation". The cameras 12x optical zoom lens is equivelant to 36 - 432mm in 35mm film terms. The Panasonic Lumix FZ7 is available from around £290, this makes it average value for money for a 6 megapixel ultra zoom digital camera. The camera is enclosed in a sturdy silver or black plastic body with rubberised hand grip. The Lumix FZ7 records 4:3 aspect ratio VGA and 16:9 aspect ratio 848 x 480 pixel videos at 30fps with sound. The camera is fairly compact for an ultra zoom camera, although larger than the FZ3 - the body measures: 112.5 x 72.2 x 79.0 mm (without protruding parts), and weighs approx. 310g.

Panasonic have this to say about the camera:

"Panasonic is introducing the incoming LUMIX model 6.0-megapixel DMCFZ7 with MEGA O.I.S., Optical Image Stabilizer that compensates the hand-shake, incorporating a 12x optical zoom (equivalent to 36mm to 432mm on a 35mm film camera) LEICA DC lens. Differing from the FZ30 with manual focus ring and manual zoom ring, which was already released and highly evaluated by prosumers, the FZ7 is more compact and easy to carry while preserving the same powerful zoom capability and manual controllability.

It is the heir to the 5.0-megapixel DMCFZ5, but enhanced its excellence not only with the total number of pixels but also with other innovative technical improvements such as incorporation of joystick which allows easy manual control on focusing in addition to the manual exposure setting. The 1.8-Inch LCD monitor for FZ5 has become large as 2.5-Inch for FZ7 gaining much brightness even in the low-lit situations thanks to the pixel-mixed readout method performed at the CCD"

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Olympus EVOLT E-500 DSLR)


Front - Camera off. Lens cap on. Focus assist lamp on right, next to the microphone holes.


Camera on, Lens extented.


Back - 2.5" screen, flash popup button, diopter correction, electronic viewfinder (EVF), speaker, EVF/LCD switch, on/off switch, 4-way joypag, display button, 4-way controller, middle menu / set button, delete button.


Top: Flash, mode dial, AF/MF button, Image stabilisation button, zoom control, and shutter release.


Bottom - battery / memory compartment, metal tripod mount, Sandisk Ultra II memory card shown.


Left Side. Strap loop, USB/AV out, DC in.


Lens strap loop. Rubber handgrip, pop-up flash.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.


Size comparison.


Size comparison - compared to Olympus SP-500UZ.


Size comparison, compared to the Olympus SP-500UZ.

Specifications / Features:

  • 6 Megapixel CCD sensor
  • Leica 12x optical zoom lens - Wide: F2.8 - F8, Tele: F3.3 - F8 - f=6-72mm (35mm Equiv.: 36-432mm)
  • 2.5" screen, 114k pixels
  • 0.33inch Color EVF (114K Pixels),
  • ISO Auto/80/100/200/400 High Sensitivity Mode: Auto / 800 / 1600
  • Macro: 5cm away from the front of lens
  • TIFF mode, Manual controls
  • Manual Shutter: 60-1/2000sec.
  • MEGA O.I.S. (Mode1 / Mode2)

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Li-ion Battery Pack (7.2V, 710mAh)
  • Battery charger
  • 16mb SD Memory Card
  • USB Cable
  • Video Cable
  • CD-ROM
  • Lens cap
  • Lens cap strap
  • Lens hood
  • Lens hood adapter
  • Strap
  • 127 page manual

Average box contents - a bigger memory card would have been nice.

Battery usage: Panasonic rate the battery life as 320 pictures (CIPA Standard) / 340 pictures (with EVF). Battery life seemed good, I managed to take over 240 pictures before the battery ran out. This is good, but not as good as the 500-shot battery life Fuji F10 for example.

Menu Options / Modes: The camera mode is selected using the top dial. This allows the choice of: Play, Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Manual, Macro, Movie, Scene mode, Simple mode.

Photo mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown below, right:

Photo mode Photo menu

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown above, left) The screen resolution with 114000 pixels is average, and can appear slightly pixellated. The screen is slightly over saturated when compared to viewing the photos on your computer. The screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read.

Photo menu options: White balance (custom), ISO, Aspect ratio, Picture size, Quality, Audio recording, Metering mode, AF mode, Continuous AF, AF assist lamp, Digital Zoom, Colour effect (Off, Cool, Warm, Black and White, Sepia), Picture Adjust (Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation, Noise reduction), Flip Anim, Conversion.

Optical Viewfinder: The electronic viewfinder (EVF) has a diopter corrector. It is about average size for a compact digital camera.

Setup Menu Scenes

Set-up menu options: Clock set, Monitor brightness, Travel date, Play on LCD, Power Save, Auto review, MF assist mode, Beep, Shutter, Volume, No. Reset, Reset, USB mode, Highlight, Video out, TV aspect, MF m/ft, Scene menu, Language.

Scenes: Portrait, Soft skin, Scenery, Sports, Night portrait, Night scenery, Panning, Food, Party, Candle light, Fireworks, Starry night, Baby1, Baby2, Snow, High sensitivity (allows the use of ISO800 or ISO1600). Pressing right will show a page explaining the scene mode.

Playback (Review) mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right, below:

Playback mode Playback menu

Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is fairly quick. The zoom is very quick and allows you to zoom upto 16x. There were numerous different playback views: Calendar view by date, thumbs - showing 9, or 25 thumbnails, and normal views with various amounts of information shown on screen.

Playback menu options: Slideshow, Favorite, Rotate display, Rotate, DPOF Print, Protect, Audio Dub, Resize, Trimming, Aspect Conv, Format.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number of pictures will fit on the 16mb SD memory card provided:

Image Size: Number of Photos Stored / Quality
Ratio
TIFF
Fine
Standard
4.5mp
16:9
0
5
11
2mp
2
12
25
5mp
3:2
0
4
10
2.5mp
1
9
18
6mp
4:3
0
4
8
4mp
1
6
13
3mp
1
8
16
2mp
2
13
27
1mp
3
21
40
VGA
13
68
112

As shown in the table above, you can fit a very small number of photos on the provided memory card. There is a very good choice of image sizes and aspect ratios, and inclusion of TIFF image mode means you can ensure no image quality is lost before any further editing occurs.

A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 256mb memory card, and preferably a 512mb memory card, or larger, especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. Listed below are links to SD memory cards that will work with the Panasonic Lumix FZ7:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 256mb: £7.76, 512mb: £12.93, 1gb (1000mb): £27.99, 2gb (2000mb): £57.23.
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera is fairly quick to switch on and take photos, being ready in around two seconds. Focusing seemed fairly quick. The playback mode is also fairly quick. The camera shutter response seemed almost instant when pre-focused (around 0.1 second reponse) - and shot to shot time was quick, with a delay of around 1.5 seconds between shots without flash. The flash recharge time was equally quick - with a delay of around 1.5 seconds between shows. The cameras menus seemed quick. High speed continuous shooting is very quick, at roughly 3fps for upto 7 shots at the highest resolution.

Ease of use: The camera is very easy to use, especially in the Program / Simple mode or the scene modes, even though the camera has a lot of options. The controls on the back of the camera are quite straightforward - the menus are responsive and easy to read and navigate. The menus are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly. The modes are easy to access, quick and simple, mainly thanks to the large screen (most options are easily accessible by use of the ok button and the direction arrows) which makes it easier to use.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc.) The layout / postitioning of the buttons and controls help make this camera easy to use, as the most commonly used features are exactly where they should be, for example the mode dial is where your thumb rests, and the zoom control is where your index finger rests surrounding the shutter release. The buttons are fairly easy to use, and they are in a good position. There seem to be a lot of buttons but this allows easy access to the essential functions and features while you're composing your shot. The buttons feel okay, however the shutter release seems as though it is too low down occasionnally making it difficult to press.   I thought the camera felt good ergonomically, with an excellent size rubber hand grip. Despite the camera being plastic, the camera feels like a solid, robust and well built camera.

Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Panasonic Lumix FZ7 Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower (ISO100) Group photo (ISO100)

Inside: The camera has very good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - there is no red-eye in the photo. It has a decent flash, and copes well with group photos, and on AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was kept quite low in these photos. The camera did a good job at focusing even in low-light. Colour is richly saturated.

Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels, and manual ISO settings (ISO: 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600) (note that to enable access to the higher iso settings, you need to enter the High Sensitivity Scene Mode.) - below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 6 megapixel, 10x optical zoom lens Olympus SP-500UZ.

ISO Noise Test Photo - Flash off unless otherwise stated. Panasonic Lumix FZ7 on the left, Olympus SP-500 UZ on the right. The colour difference is due to the Olympus SP-500 doing a better job with the automatic white balance.

Panasonic Lumix FZ7 Olympus SP-500UZ
ISO80 - Actual Pixels ISO80 - Actual Pixels
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels
 
ISO800 - Actual Pixels
NA
 
ISO1600 - Actual Pixels
NA

Noise is higher than average at every ISO setting with the Panasonic Lumix FZ7, so it's best sticking with ISO80 or ISO100 for the best results. If you are likely to resize photos for the internet or print small 6"x4" photos then going upto ISO200 may be useful. The high ISO modes, ISO800 and ISO1600 produce noise free images, but detail is so blurred as to make the images look very poor. Noise is much higher on the FZ7 than on the Olympus SP-500 upto ISO400, where noise levels appear quite similar, the FZ7's noise is much more blotchy - whereas the SP-500's noise seems much more fine grained and consistant.

Personally I would say that ISO80 - ISO100 is useable on the FZ7, whereas ISO80 - ISO200 is useable on the SP-500, with ISO200 on the FZ7 being borderline / unacceptable, and ISO400 on the SP-500 being borderline / unacceptable. The FZ7 makes up for this (slightly) by including image stabilisation meaning you should be able to use ISO100 and still get a good shot despite the lower shutter speeds. If only the SP-500 had image stabilisation, then you would have the best of both worlds, relatively low noise, and image stabilisation, see the Konica Minolta Dynax Maxxum 5D for an example!

Outside:

Liverpool Shops (ISO80) Heather in Park (ISO80)

Outside, the camera has saturated, but accurate colour, with little noise - some was noticable in the shadow areas. There was good detail and images were quite sharp. Noise seemed low for ISO80 photos (apart from in dark shadow areas).

Zoom: The Leica 12x optical zoom lens provides an excellent zoom range - without the requirement for digital zoom. Digital zoom simply degrades image quality and better results can often be obtained using software. I've included examples to show what is possible. The Panasonic has optical image stabilisation which is especially useful when using the lens at full telephoto zoom or in darker conditions.

Wide angle 3x optical zoom 12x optical zoom

Exposure / Metering on the photos of the clock tower seems good, despite the overly grey weather, with the dark areas of the photo not too dark, and the bright areas of the photo still visible.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens is quiet, making little noise. The shutter sound is very quiet. There is a very large number of steps between wide angle and telephoto zoom - at least 36!

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing can be seen in some photos, and appears slightly higher than average, for example in the Red Berries photo, and the photo of the tree. It was not seen in most normal photos.

Macro:

Macro Timex Watch Actual Pixels (ISO100)

The macro mode is very good. Using custom white balance you are able to get a better macro photo (I used auto white balance for this) - colour and detail is good, and there appears to be fairly low noise at ISO100. The macro mode allows you to get about 5cm away from the subject.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality is very good, the images have very good colour, with good contrast and excellent detail, although with high noise eespecially in dark areas in at higher ISOs. Images are quite sharp straight from the camera - sharpness can be altered in camera. Purple fringing was slightly higher than averager, although nothing too serious. The camera did a good job focusing even in low light thanks to the flash assist. I did not notice vignetting in photos, nor did I notice barrel or pincushion distortion. There is a very good range of image sizes, including 16:9 / 3:2 aspect ratios, and a good choice of compression options (including TIFF). Auto white balance and metering seemed to be good. The camera gives very good control over image quality - allowing you to change the saturation, contrast sharpness, and amount of noise reduction. (8/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is one of the smaller ultra-zooms available, and fits in large pockets. The camera is stylish available in black or silver with a rubber hand grip. The camera has a good, but low resolution, 2.5" screen. The electronic viewfinder with diopter corrector is useful in bright sunlight. The camera feels well built, and is comfortable to hold. The camera is easy to use, the menu system is easy to use and there is a good layout of buttons and controls, with the majority on the outside of the camera giving quick access to the most commonly used options and features (rather than hidden in menus). The camera speed is good, with a good switch on time, quick focusing time, excellent shutter response, good flash recharge time, fairly quick playback mode, quick menus, and very fast continuous shooting. The camera has a large range of features, such as 16:9 aspect ratio photos and video, custom white balance, image stabilisation, and numerous scene modes. (9/10)

Value for Money: The Panasonic Lumix FZ7, at around £290, is average value for money in a competitive market, with similar ultra zoom digital cameras with image stabilisation available for slightly less money, for example the 6mp Konica Minolta Dimage Z6 is around £229, the 5mp Sony Cybershot DSC-H1 is around £250, the 5mp Canon Powershot S2 IS is around £280, and the 5mp Kodak Easyshare P850 is around £260. Ultra zoom digital cameras without image stabilisation (a dying breed?) can be had for even less, for example the 6mp Olympus SP-500UZ (link to review) is around £200, the 6mp Nikon Coolpix S4 is around £240, and the 5mp Fujifilm FinePix S5600 (link to review) is around £200. (7/10)

See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: This is a very good digital camera, a definite improvement over the older Panasonic FZ series digital cameras - with a 6 megapixel sensor, a high quality Leica 12x optical zoom lens, and a 2.5" screen - albeit with a low resolution. The camera has a very good wide aspect ratio video mode. The camera produces very good images with good colour, detail and sharpness straight from camera - unfortunately noise is high, and purple fringing is higher than average. I've had the FZ3, an earlier 3 megapixel version, and been immensely happy with it, I suspect I would be very happy with the FZ7 if I were to upgrade. With the FZ7 (and FZ3) it is necessary to learn to live with the lower ISO settings to avoid noise, something that shouldn't be a problem as the rest of the camera is so well thought out and put together. The FZ7 is fast and easy to use with scene modes or full manual controls to suit every level of experience.

Panasonic Lumix FZ7 Rating: Recommended! (8/10)
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What I like:

  • Very good image quality
  • Sharp Leica 12x optical zoom lens
  • Image stabilisation
  • Large 2.5" screen
  • Joypad allows you to easily and quickly change options (aperture / shutter etc)
  • Large rubber handgrip
  • High-resolution / 16:9 video modes
  • High speed continuous shooting (3fps)
  • Very good macro mode
  • Low red-eye

What I don't like:

  • Low-resolution screen (114k pixels)
  • Larger than the FZ5 / FZ3 (although not much)
  • High noise / high noise reduction at ISO200+ can cause images to look overly processed and like a watercolor painting
  • Slightly higher than average purple fringing

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 Sample Photo Gallery

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