We use a standardized test to compare the color performance of all the cameras we review. The process involves photographing an industry-standard GretagMacbeth color target at all manual ISO settings, and running the images through Imatest software to measure color accuracy. In the chart below, the outer square represents the colors produced by the FZ7, while the vertical rectangle in the center is the ideal tone. The inner square is the ideal, corrected for luminance by Imatest.
The FZ7 over-saturated colors considerably. Perfectly accurate saturation is 100%, and the FZ7 hit 120%. This is a big boost, even among compact cameras, which are typically biased toward bright colors. The camera particularly boosted reds, oranges and pinks, a common trait of snapshot-oriented cameras, because the boost makes for appealing, if not accurate, 'skin tones.'
The mean color error in the FZ7's image is 9.56. Again, this is a high number, but it is in the direction that many users will like – toward rosy cheeks and lurid red sunsets. The drawback to all this brilliant but inaccurate color is that the images become hard to edit. It's easy to boost the colors of an accurate shot, but very hard to correct the colors of an over-saturated image.
**Still Life Scene
**Below is a shot of our still life scene captured with the Panasonic DMC-FZ7.
Click on the image above to view a full resolution version.](https://www.reviewed.com/cameras/viewer.php?picture=FZ7-StillLife-LG.jpg)
Resolution / Sharpness*(4.87)*
The FZ7's 6-megapixel sensor and Vario-Elmarit lens should be able to deliver sharp images. We tested the resolution of the optical system by photographing a resolution chart and running the images through Imatest software. Imatest reports results in line widths per picture height – the number of alternating black-and-white lines the camera could theoretically show clearly. Imatest not only indicates how many lines the camera could show, but also how much sharpening the camera's digital image processor has done.
Click on the above chart to view a full res version](https://www.reviewed.com/cameras/viewer.php?picture=FZ7-ResCH-LG.jpg )
The FZ7 delivered scores of 1912 lw/ph horizontally and 1497 vertically. These are very good numbers for a compact super-zoom. The FZ7 over-sharpens by 21.3% horizontally and 9.87% vertically. This amount of sharpening is typical of compact cameras, though the FZ7 is unusual in how different the horizontal and vertical figures are. The drawback of this amount of sharpening in camera is that it limits the amount of post-processing possible – a sharpened image starts to show odd "halo" effects and other problems when it is re-sharpened.
Noise – Auto ISO*(1.72)*
When we tested noise in the auto ISO setting, the FZ7 delivered results comparable to ISO 150 on the camera. The test was done in very bright lighting, so we expected results closer to ISO 80 – the setting we would have manually set when photographing in that light. This resulted in excess noise for the lighting setup and led to the low overall score.
**Noise – Manual ISO ***(3.87)*
The FZ7 has manual ISO settings of 80, 100, 200 and 400. We measured noise at each available ISO setting. Though we found that its noise performance does not deteriorate enormously as the ISO setting rises, it is higher than typical throughout the range.
The graph above shows that ISO 80 and 100 are very similar, and the biggest jump is between 100 and 200. The jump from 200 to 400 is just slightly smaller.
Low Light Performance*(7.0)*
To test the Panasonic FZ7’s low light performance, we took a series of exposures at various light levels. Cameras are tested at 60, 30, 15, and 5 lux, to approximate typical low light conditions. 60 lux is similar to a moderately lit bedroom, while 30 lux is about the same amount of illumination as a 40 watt lightbulb. 15 and 5 lux are near darkness and force the camera to prolong exposures to achieve proper tonal levels. Images for our low light test are captured with the flash off, set to the camera’s highest manual ISO setting.
The FZ7 has better noise control in long exposures than many competing cameras. You can see the noise graph below is actually pretty flat. This illustrates the consistency maintained by the camera as exposures are increased.
The main low light tests were performed with the camera in manual mode, which allows ISO settings of up to 400. We also ran our tests with the FZ7 in Low Light mode, which allows ISO settings of up to 1600, but does not allow manual exposure or white balance control. At ISO 800, both noise and color accuracy took a turn for the worse. A big part of the problem is the very poor performance of auto white balance in low light.
Dynamic Range*(6.25) *
We have begun testing dynamic range using Imatest software, the same program we use for color, resolution and noise testing. In a darkened room, we photograph a backlit film step chart, which shows a row of rectangles that range from fairly transparent to very dark. The chart shows more than 13 stops of exposure, which is a wider range than conventional cameras can capture. Imatest measures how much of the range the camera can show, at various levels of quality. Note that this test sets up an ideal situation for measuring dynamic range, so users shouldn't expect to achieve the same dynamic range in real-life shooting. The data should be used as a guide to gauge the camera's relative performance.
As you can see in the graph above, the FZ7 displayed essentially the same dynamic range at ISO 80 and 100 – ISO 100 looked 0.1 stop better than ISO 80 at low quality, and 80 looked 0.01 stop better at high quality. It's unlikely that those differences amount to useful data. What's clear is that the FZ7 loses a bit more than a stop of dynamic range for each stop increase in ISO, and that there is a significant difference between 100 and 200. In more advanced cameras, it's common to see 200 more like the quality of 100, with the significant drop delayed until 400.
The FZ7 touts ISO settings of 800 and 1600, but they are available only in High Sensitivity (an automatic scene mode).
Speed / Timing
Start-up to First Shot*(6.4)*
The FZ7 has to extend its lens when it starts up, so it is by no means a speed demon when it comes to awakening. Our best time from flipping the switch to capturing an image was 3.6 seconds.
Shot to Shot Time*(9.69)*
The FZ7 has three burst modes: High, Low and Continuous. We tested all of them with a 32MB SanDisk SD card, shooting at full resolution JEPG Fine files. In High, the FZ7 took 7 shots in 2.12 seconds, for an average 3.3 frames per second – better than the 3 fps the manual promises. In Low, we got 7 shots in 2.91 seconds, for about 2.4 frames per second. After shooting 7 images in Low or High, it takes the FZ7 about 14 seconds to finish writing the images to memory. Continuous is supposed to allow continuous shooting until the memory is full. It did this, in a way, but not how we expected. The first 8 frames went off at better than 2.5 frames per second, but then the speed dropped to about 1 frame every 2 seconds. We had expected, and would have preferred, a slower rate that was steady throughout the length of the burst.
Shutter to Shot Time*(8.06)*
Shutter to shot speed has been improving on compact cameras overall. When we held the shutter release halfway down, until the FZ7 set the focus, pressing the shutter yielded a virtually immediate response. The fastest we can measure is a 0.01 of a second delay, so we’d have to say that this is the lag time. Shutter delay won't be a problem if the camera is pre-focused. The FZ7 is much slower, however, when time for autofocus is included. When the camera had to focus, our fastest time was 0.47 seconds.
The Panasonic DMC-FZ7 is a sleek SLR-like compact camera, with a thick grip for the right hand and a fat lens barrel opposite. It's available in black or silver (metallic-flake) finishes.
Viewed from the front, the lens assembly is on the right. When the camera is turned off, the lens retracts completely inside the stationary part of the barrel, and when the FZ7 is on, it sticks out about an inch and a half. The moving part is lightly built and rattles a little, so it is not strong enough to hold auxiliary lenses or even a lens shade securely, both of which are ironically available. They fit on a tube which screws into the end of the stationary outer barrel. The tube and a petal-shaped lens shade come with the FZ7.
Panasonic has kept the FZ7's face more or less plain and very much like the other cameras in their Lumix line. There is the trademark script "L" in the lower right, a LUMIX logo on the viewfinder/flash hump, and, in very small type between the grip and the hump, "Panasonic DMC-FZ-7." Two small holes for the microphone and a small round window for the AF assist light and the self-timer lamp are in the upper right.
The right-hand grip is covered in a leather-textured rubber. On our silver sample, it's gray. The grip has an indent for the user's middle finger, and it is comfortable to hold, even though it's small.
The FZ7's 2.5-inch LCD takes up most of the space on the camera's back. The electronic viewfinder is above the LCD. The diopter control is on the left side of the viewfinder, and the button that flips up the flash is to the left of that. The 10 holes that make up the speaker grille are on the right side of the viewfinder. Below and to the right of that is a button that switches the display between the viewfinder and the LCD. Still further right is the power switch, which is small, and slides back and forth.
There's a joystick below the power switch, and to the right of that, there is a dimpled area and a ridge that form a thumb rest.
The four-way controller is toward the bottom edge of the right side. It's made up of four separate directional buttons, plus a center Set/Menu button. There are two more buttons on the edge of the controller, one at 8 o'clock and one at 11 o'clock. The upper one changes the display information and the lower one controls the burst/single-shot mode. The top button on the controller itself activates exposure compensation, the right button controls the flash mode, the bottom one brings up the last image shot in review mode and the left button activates the self-timer.
A wide, chrome strap lug is at the top of the left side of the FZ7. The chrome is a pleasant departure from the typical plain stamped metal lugs on many competing cameras. A door at the bottom of the left side covers a jack for external power, a USB port, and an A/V output for television. The door is flimsy and doesn't have a solid latch.
The right side of the FZ7 has a chrome strap lug as well. It's high and toward the back of the camera, which is probably the best spot for it, but on a camera this small, it could get in the way of the user’s grip. The rest of the right side is fairly plain. The rubber grip wraps around from the front, but stops about two-thirds of the way back. The front and back shells of the camera meet there, but the rubber doesn't jump across that seam. That's too bad, as the user would have a more secure grip if the back corner weren't plain hard plastic.
At the top of the grip and in a place that’s comfortable to reach is the FZ7's shutter release. It is round and gently convex, recessed deep in a ring that activates the zoom lens in shooting mode, and image magnification in playback. Also on the right side of the top is a button that activates the FZ7's optical image stabilization and another that switches the camera between auto and manual focus. The mode dial is closer to the viewfinder/flash hump. It sets the camera to simple mode, various exposure modes, movie mode, playback mode and scene mode.
The flash pops up directly above the lens. Pop-up flashes are naturally more delicate than a fixed flash, but the FZ7's flash is robust. It swings up on a simple pivot and, rather than being supported by two thin arms, rides up on a wide, curved cowling above the entire viewfinder assembly.
While the FZ7's tripod socket is not directly under the lens, which is the most useful spot for it, it is metal and near the middle of the camera, so it should not cause too much hardship. The battery and SD memory card share a door on the underside of the FZ7. The door opens when the user presses and slides it simultaneously. We would rather see dedicated latches on compartments like these, since they don't loosen up with use as much as this type of friction fitting does.
The FZ7's electronic viewfinder window is small and has low-resolution at 114,000 pixels. The small window dictates that the view won't be magnified by much, so the view is not good enough to use with the FZ7's manual focus function, and it's not as good for playback as the LCD. It may be more useful than the LCD in bright sun, but we don't expect many users to prefer it otherwise. Logic suggests that it uses less power than the LCD.
LCD Screen (6.5)
The FZ7's LCD screen is 2.5 inches, which is typically a very useful size. Unfortunately, it has only 114,000 pixels and this poor resolution is a limitation for focusing and reviewing images. We also found the angle of view limited when the LCD is in normal mode. Panasonic has tried to compensate for the poor angle of view by adding an overhead mode, which boosts the brightness of the LCD so much that it's completely washed out when viewed straight on. It is, however, remarkably clear when viewed from below. The LCD has a regular boost mode, which brightens it for use on a sunny day at the beach, or in other bright circumstances.
The FZ7's flash pops up directly above the lens, which is ideal for horizontal shots: the subjects' shadows will fall directly behind them, and be hidden. Panasonic says it can shoot light out to 6 meters, or 19.65 feet, at wide angle and 5.4 meters, or 17.7 feet, at telephoto. Our test shots look a little underexposed at that range, but they are still usable. We noted significant light falloff in the wide angle flash shots. The corners of the image are darker than the center. That's not a big problem for snapshots of people, but could be distracting in shots of artwork or rooms, or anything requiring even lighting. The pop-up mechanism is solidly built and swings from a single axis, which should be more durable than the more complex slide-and-pivot arrangements on some other cameras.
The flash can fire at shutter speeds throughout the camera's regular range of 1 to 1/2000 of a second, and the FZ7 offers flash exposure compensation of up to 2 stops above or below the metered output. It can be set in 1/3-stop increments.
The DC Vario-Elmarit 6-72mm zoom is a Leica-approved optic lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 at wide angle and f /3.3 at telephoto. It's a big advantage that the lens only loses about half a stop of speed throughout the zoom range; it means that the FZ7 will have better low light capabilities than cameras with slower lenses. That benefits focusing as well as exposure, because the through-the-lens focusing sensor has more light to work with. The lens has an angle of view equivalent to a 36-432mm lens on a 35mm camera, for an impressive 12x range.
Long zooms typically show two problems: color fringing and barrel distortion. The Vario-Elmarit lens has better than average color correction, and does not show fringing at wide angle or telephoto. At wide angle, the lens showed significant barrel distortion, curving straight lines along the edges of the frame. The effect is noticeable in typical snapshots users might take with the FZ7. The distortion issue does not extend to the other focal lengths.
Model Design / Appearance*(8.0)*
The FZ7 falls into the "SLR-like" category, with a big grip for the right hand, a viewfinder hump, and a large lens barrel on a wide, shallow camera body. It is much smaller, however, than a real DSLR and sleeker than most of the other competing ultra-zoom models. The FZ7 is primarily thick plastic, and it feels and looks that way. We have the shiny "silver" version, and worry that the finish may scuff or scratch. The body of the FZ7 feels solid in the hands – a little squeeze doesn't elicit creaks and groans. However, we noticed that the lens rattles a little when we shake the camera. We didn't shake the camera very hard, so that was an unfortunate surprise.
The shell of the FZ7 is made up of several pieces of plastic, that don't fit together as well as they could. Some seams fit tightly and some have gaps wide enough to slip paper into. That's likely to allow dust inside the camera, and makes our sample look a bit shoddy.
Size / Portability*(6.5)*
The FZ7 is a mere 4.43 x 2.84 x 3.11 inches when shut off, and weighs 0.68 pounds (around 10.9 oz.). Though we've seen comparably small cameras with long zooms, it's worth remarking that a 35mm setup with the same focal range would weigh many pounds and require a camera bag large enough to hold a cocker spaniel. The FZ7's class of cameras allows users to take a much wider range of photos very casually, without the heavy toting.
The FZ7's poor seals against dust and dirt affect its portability, though. We strongly recommend keeping the FZ7 in a bag or case to protect it from dirt and moisture.
For a small camera, the FZ7 handles very nicely. The texture of the handgrip promotes a secure hold for the right hand, and the non-focusing part of the lens barrel offers a good grip for the left hand. The lens accounts for most of the FZ7's weight, so added support from the left hand will make most users' shoot steadier anyway. The FZ7 is set up for a shoulder strap. Some of us felt that this camera was just barely heavy enough to require a neck strap over a wrist strap, and that the neck strap could ultimately be a nuisance on camera this small. Others felt that the neck strap was fine.
Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size*(7.5)*
The FZ7's buttons are spread apart enough so that even users with large hands will be able to hit them confidently. Joysticks are gaining popularity on digital cameras, and the FZ7's implementation shows how much sense that makes. The joystick allows quick navigation in the functions it controls, including ISO, white balance, file size and quality. Better yet, Panasonic added the joystick and left the four-way controller, so that the FZ7 has the advantages of this control as well.
The FZ7's shutter release has a short range of travel – it doesn't take much movement to activate the autofocus and exposure metering. It takes even less movement for a picture to be taken. That might speed up the camera's response time a little, but we expect that some users will fire the shutter accidentally when they only want to adjust focus.
The FZ7's menus cover Record, Setup and Playback options, with separate menus for Simple mode and Scene mode selection. The menus appear in a large, clear, sanserif font in black against a white background. The active entry appears on a yellow background, and the heading appears on red, green or blue.
Most items are well placed, with the more commonly used items high in the list, and more obscure ones lower down. The menus each have a few screens worth of entries. We like to see the card format option in the Setup menu, which is accessible in both shooting and playback mode on the FZ7 and many other cameras. Unfortunately for us, it's the last item in the Playback menu. Apparently, if list order is anything to go by, Panasonic would rather users "delete all" images through the Playback interface than format their SD cards. We prefer formatting because we swap cards between various brands of cameras, and the delete function doesn't clear away extraneous folders.
The "Simple" setting on the mode dial indicates a nearly complete automatic mode. The regular menu options are hidden, and a bare minimum show up as follows:
A separate menu comes up in Playback mode.
Ease of Use*(7.0)*
The FZ7's controls are accessible and well implemented. The joystick's functions aren't marked, but given how many there are in shooting mode – ISO, White Balance, Size and Quality – printing them on the camera body probably wasn't practical. The other controls are well marked, and we expect that it won't take long for users to become confident with the FZ7's controls.
We found the special brightness controls for the LCD helpful. They don't make up entirely for its low resolution and narrow angle of view, but implementing them on a better LCD could make for a really useful option.
On the downside, the FZ7's manual is awful. It's poorly organized. The example images are printed very small with a coarse halftone screen, so it's hard to see what they're supposed to illustrate. The edition that we have wasn't completely proofread, and many metric measurements lack the English equivalents – our version says that the camera weights "310 g / 0 oz."
The FZ7 offers a "Simple" mode that takes over just about everything: ISO, white balance, exposure, focus mode, metering and so on. The controls left to the user are picture size, whether the image pops up on the display for review, the beep noise and the date/time setting. Since the flash does not pop up automatically, the user has control of that, but otherwise in Simple mode it's point, zoom and shoot.
The FZ7 shoots movies in either standard 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratios. In widescreen or normal, it can shoot 30 frames per second for smooth motion, or 10 frames per second for choppy, jerky motion. In 4:3, it shoots in 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 resolutions. The 640 x 480 resolution approximates standard video and looks pretty good; the 320 x 240, on the other hand, looks pretty rough. In 16:9 the FZ7 shoots only in 848 x 480 resolution (not High Definition) but comparable to regular television.
Sound quality is a common video limitation on still cameras, and the FZ7 has the typical associated problems. Our video had a fair amount of hiss, and the sounds we made as we panned the camera were pretty distracting. The FZ7 records mono sound and the lens cannot zoom while the camera is shooting video.
Drive / Burst Mode*(7.0)*
The FZ7 offers three multi-shot modes. They are High, Low and Continuous. High is rated to deliver 3 frames per second, for up to 7 frames at maximum resolution. Low should deliver 2 frames per second for 7 frames. Continuous should keep shooting until the memory card is full, and should come close to 2 frames per second as well. Check out our Speed Timing section to see how the FZ7 actually performed.
Seven-frame bursts are an advance over the 3-frame bursts that have been common in compact cameras – in spontaneous portrait shooting, a set of 7 images will offer a range of shots that many users will find more helpful.
The FZ7 offers a flexible interface for reviewing images on the LCD or viewfinder. It offers single-image views, or 9 or 25-image thumbnail displays. The zoom lever magnifies images up to 16x, but not with a smooth zoom; it jumps from 1x to 2x, 4x, 8x or 16x.
Custom Image Presets*(8.0)*
The FZ7 has 15 presets for specific types of shots. In general, they set the camera controls the way an experienced photographer would to get specific effects. Some of them are pretty minor variations on others – Portrait and Soft Skin aren't all that distinct, for instance. Others are for shots that casual users will rarely take: the Starry Night mode is for exposures up to a minute long, which really won't be useful anyplace where there is enough light to see the camera's controls.
Most users who need presets could probably get away with Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Snow and Candle Light. Fireworks, Panning and Panorama could be fun for those who give them a try, but on the whole, the FZ7's presets don't set the camera apart from its competition. The FZ7's menu promises information about each setting, but the text is vague, and not very helpful.
**Manual Control Options
**The FZ7 offers manual control of exposure, ISO, white balance (including fine-tuning) and focus. That's a robust selection of controls for the user who wants to experiment. The joystick makes the manual controls quick to access, as well.
The FZ7 has four focusing patterns, plus the choice of continuous or one-shot focusing. The four patterns are: 1 point, 3 point, 9 point and spot. One point focusing also offers an option for high speed focusing, but we didn't notice a big difference between high speed and normal. "Spot" focuses on a smaller area than the 1 point area.
The FZ7's autofocus was accurate. Though it's no quicker than other super zooms, it "hunts" less when shooting telephoto in low light, probably because of the lens's relatively bright aperture.
The FZ7 improves on the manual focus facility of its predecessor, the FZ5. The FZ7 offers two styles of image magnification, both of which work better than the previous camera. The first shows a magnified spot in a small rectangle at the center of the frame. The outside edge remains un-enlarged, allowing users to compose the image more accurately. The second magnification style uses the whole viewing area to show a larger magnified area. The user loses the indicators for how the whole image is framed, but gains a more flexible focusing area. Either way, the magnified image is of a higher quality than it was on the previous camera – it makes the FZ7 good enough so users can focus carefully, which wasn't true of last year's camera.
The joystick controls focus, and that's an improvement as well. We didn't notice backlash or overshooting in the focus control.
The FZ7 has three metering patterns. Integrative takes several discrete readings in various areas of the frame, and then compares them to establish an exposure setting. Integrative settings tend to identify and deal with backlighting and other tough lighting. While they don't necessarily get the perfect setting, they are reliable in that they consistently produce a usable one. They are often used in automated modes, as integrative is on the FZ7.
Spot mode reads a small area at the center of the frame, and is particularly useful for manual exposures. Center-weighted reads the whole frame at once, but weighs the center of the frame more heavily than the corners. Again, manual shooters sometimes prefer this. The three modes are on nearly every digital camera with manual controls, and they typically work just fine. They work fine on the FZ7 as well, which is good, but it doesn’t equal a particular advantage over other cameras.
The FZ7 offers full manual control plus aperture priority, in which the user chooses the aperture and the camera sets the shutter speed; and shutter priority, in which the user sets the shutter speed and the camera sets the aperture. There is also a program mode, in which the camera sets both aperture and shutter speed, but the user has the option of biasing the camera in favor of wider or smaller apertures.
The FZ7 also provides exposure compensation, allowing the user to lighten or darken images up to 2 stops in 1/3-stop increments.
The FZ7 offers 4 white balance presets: Daylight, Cloudy, Halogen and Flash. Interestingly, there are no presets for fluorescent lighting, perhaps a concession to the fact that fluorescent tubes vary wildly and change significantly as they age. The FZ7 can save two custom settings, which can be set conveniently, and it has an Auto mode which we found reliable in mixed lighting around the office.
The most appealing feature of the white balance control is white balance adjustment, a fine-tuning function that can shift the color balance toward red or blue from any setting except auto. That's a feature more common in DSLRs than compacts, and a very useful one in many settings.
The FZ7's ISO range runs from 80 to 100, 200 and 400 in all but one shooting mode. It's quick and easy to set ISO via the joystick. In High Sensitivity mode, the FZ7 adds ISO 800 and 1600. The results we got at 800 and 1600 around the office are very noisy – much less appealing than the high ISO results from some Fujifilm compacts. We don't suggest anyone buy the FZ7 with the plan of shooting extensively at high ISOs.
The FZ7 has a basic shutter speed range of 8 to 1/2000 seconds for shutter priority, aperture priority and program modes. This is also set with the joystick. In manual mode, the long range extends to 60 seconds. Fireworks mode sets a fixed exposure of several seconds, and Starry Sky allows exposures of 15, 30 or 60 seconds, while most other scene modes keep the exposures to shorter than a second.
The joystick also controls the FZ7’s aperture. The FZ7's Vario-Elmarit lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.8 at the wide end and f/3.3 at the telephoto extreme. Many 10x and 12x zooms lose more than half a stop over their range, but FZ7 users will have an advantage shooting in low light or with flash at the telephoto setting. The aperture closes down in 1/3 stop increments to a minimum aperture of f/8 throughout the zoom range.
Picture Quality / Size Options*(8.25)*
The FZ7 records images in three different aspect ratios, and in several sizes at each ratio. Aspect ratios define whether the image is shaped more like a square, or more wide or tall. Larger sizes are needed to make good quality large prints, while smaller sizes are easier to email and store.
In the 4:3 format, the FZ7 makes files in the following sizes: 2816 x 2112, 2304 x 1728, 2048 x 1536, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960 and 640 x 480. In 3:2 format the FZ7 makes files at resolutions of 2816 x 1880 and 2048 x 1360. In 16:9 the files can be 2816 x 1583 or 1920x1080. Note that the 3:2 files and 16:9 files have the same horizontal measure as 4:3 formats, but smaller vertical measures. The FZ7 simply crops its maximum sizes to make the wider formats.
The FZ7 can record images at three levels of quality in these various sizes. The best quality images are TIFFs, which retain all the digital information that the imaging system records. Fine JPEGs lose data as they are compressed, but are still good enough to print from, while Standard JPEGs are more compressed and may not print well enough to suit many users' needs. Fine JPEGs take up much less room in memory than TIFFs, and Standard JPEGs are even smaller than Fine ones.
Picture Effects Mode*(7.0)*
The FZ7 can be set to shoot black and white or sepia-tone images as well as color ones. It offers Cool and Warm effects for color pictures. The effects might be fun in casual use, but converting color images to black and white or sepia on a computer after the shot offers many more options than in-camera settings like these. Users who want to hone their black and white skills ought to experiment with post-processing, rather than in-camera settings.
The FZ7 comes with ArcSoft PhotoImpression, PhotoBase and Panorama Maker. The software allows organizing, editing, printing and emailing images, as well as stitching images together to create panoramas. PhotoImpression has options for making albums and other kinds of presentations as well. The editing functions are pretty limited – Adobe PhotoShop CS and Photoshop Elements are certainly more flexible and powerful.
Jacks, Ports, Plugs*(6.0) *
The FZ7 has a port for an external power supply, as well as a jack for either USB 2.0 or analog audio/video out.
Direct Print Options*(5.0)*
The FZ7 can handle printing independent of a computer via DPOF and PictBridge. It can save print orders on its SD card in DPOF format, or print directly to PictBridge printers via the USB port. The user can select images to print, set the number of copies, and choose whether to add the date to the print. The FZ7 can also set the print size or add borders, and set multi-image pages, with compatible printers.
There's a 7.2 volt lithium-ion battery in the FZ7. You can easily pop it out of the camera and slide it into the included charger. The arrangement worked fine for all our testing. Our general experience is that custom lithium packs such as this one last longer than AA cells – even NiMH rechargeables – in competing cameras.
The FZ7 accepts SD cards, the most popular memory format for compact digital cameras. SD cards are an excellent technology; they're reliable and cheaper than the competing formats.
The FZ7 does not have any internal memory. Some competing cameras do, generally enough to store a few favorite images for slide shows.
Other Features*(3.5) *
Flipbook setting - When the FZ7 is set to flipbook, it will combine the series of images shot into a movie. It's an easy way to dabble with animation, and just the sort of extra that makes a compact camera more fun – not more practical or powerful, just more fun.
Poorly organized and designed manual - The FZ7 manual we received will probably get another round of proofreading before the camera is shipped in volume. At least we sure hope so. Critical information is missing – where measurements in inches and ounces belong, there are zeroes. Worse, it's hard to find the information that is in the book. The example photos are reproduced so small and at such poor resolution, that the reader can only guess at what they are supposed to show. The pages are jammed with text and graphics, and both the index and the table of contents are sloppy. Strictly speaking, it is a noteworthy feature; it’s just not noteworthy for good reasons.
Self-Timer - The Panasonic FZ7 has a self-timer that delays the shot by either 2 or 10 seconds. Users may find the self-timer helpful when they want to take pictures of themselves, or when they're taking long exposures and they want vibrations to die down before the exposure is made.
At a manufacturer's list price of $349.95, the FZ7 looks like a better value than comparable cameras. Its limitations, such as image noise in particular, won't break the deal for some users. We did find the fit and finish disappointing. The plastic parts that make up the shell of the camera are thick and sturdy, but they don't meet perfectly, so there are gaps and ridges where the camera was designed to be smooth. While some cameras at least aspire to look like jewelry, the FZ7 has a low-end aesthetic.
Its range of manual controls and their ease of use should be particularly appealing to users who want to begin experimenting with controls. Newbie photographers who are content with the image quality could learn a lot by experimenting with the FZ7.
Panasonic Lumix FZ5 - The 5 megapixel FZ5 debuted at just under $500, while the FZ7,a 6 megapixel camera, hits the market at $400. The two cameras share the same lens and general size and shape, but other than that, nearly everything about the FZ7 tops the FZ5 – the FZ7 has a 2.5-inch LCD, not a 1.8-inch; the FZ7 has a joystick, which the FZ5 lacks; the FZ7 has a reasonable manual focus option, while the FZ5 has none at all. The FZ5 allows the user to set a Kelvin white balance, and the FZ7 does not – apparently, Panasonic felt the 2 custom white balance settings on the FZ7 would be more useful.
Canon PowerShot S2 IS - The Canon PowerShot S2 IS lists for nearly $500 and is a 5 megapixel camera, so it delivers less resolution that the FZ7 for more money. Given their similar lenses (both are pretty fast 12x zooms, even at the telephoto end) it's hard to figure where the Canon's advantage lies. The S2 has more white balance presets, but it lacks the FZ7's fine-tuning option, and the S2 has only one preset, while the FZ7 has two. The S2's LCD is smaller, at 1.8 inches, but it does pivot out from the camera. The S2 also records sound in stereo and zooms in movie mode, but the stereo mic catches the zoom motor noise very faithfully, limiting the zoom's usefulness. The S2's quality control allows the user to save files in three levels of JPEG compression, but it has no uncompressed format like the FZ7's TIFF. We can see how the S2's advantages add up to a more expensive camera, but they seem only marginally useful. It's also worth noting that the S2 relies on AA batteries, which don't last as long as custom lithium-ion cells used in the FZ7.
Sony Cyber-shot H1 - The Sony Cyber-shot H1 is about a year old, so it might be fairer to compare it with the FZ5. It's also a 5 megapixel, 12x zoom that was introduced at about $500. Still, the H1 scored better for color accuracy and image noise than the competing Panasonic and Canon cameras. We liked its ease of use, speed and image quality. In video mode, we liked its sound quality, but oddly, it requires the more expensive "Pro" style of memory stick to record video at a full 30 frames per second. Like the FZ7, it does not allow zooming during video clips.
Nikon Coolpix S4 - The Nikon Coolpix S4 is a 6 megapixel 10x zoom that was recently introduced at just under $400. Unlike the FZ7, the S4 has a stripped-down feel – it has less manual control
than the competition, no image stabilization, a poor LCD and noisy images. Its advantages are its quick, accurate autofocus, its solid construction and (maybe for some) its quirky design. The S4 has a face detection mode and onscreen guides to aid in composition, two features most useful to absolute beginners. Unlike the FZ7, the S4 is definitely designed for beginners, and clearly not for users who need manual controls.
Who It’s For
Point-and-Shooters — For point-and-shooters with a penchant for long telephoto shots, the FZ7 should be a serious candidate. The Simple option is very simple, and the scene modes ought to work just fine for them as well.
Budget Consumers — Does anyone really need to have 12x and 6 megapixels on the cheap? Probably not. But just in case, the FZ7 is a cheap way to get the job done.
Gadget Freaks —There is some fun stuff on the FZ7 worth mentioning for these folks. It has good image stabilization. It makes "flipbook" animations. Its manual focus works pretty well. Still, it doesn't have the fit and finish, or tiny size, to be a fashion accessory the way some little cameras do, and it’s missing the cutting-edge features of the hulking top-end DSLRs. Is there a mid-range gadget market?
Manual Control Freaks — With a complete range of easily accessible manual controls, the FZ7 deserves a nod from low-end manual control freaks. The only problem is, manual control and image quality obsessions usually overlap, and the FZ7 does not deliver top-notch quality.
Pros / Serious Hobbyists — The FZ7 would never be a pro's primary camera, but lots of serious photographers have a "fun" camera, and the FZ7's controls might appeal to this group.
The FZ7 should attract a loyal following. It's easy and fun to use. It's versatile, and cheap for what you get. In our experience, no one does image stabilization better on compact cameras than Panasonic up to this point, and we give the company credit for its work on the technology. We also really like the lens. Not only does it have a nice range, but it maintains a wide aperture throughout that range. The FZ7 is a very useful camera and is easily transportable.
We wish it handled image noise better, however. The noise at ISO 400 is a problem, but at 800 and 1600, it makes the images strange and ugly. It's apparent why they are available only in a scene mode – they really aren't all that useful.
Still, users who will shoot mainly at ISO 80, 100, or even 200 will get a great deal out of the Lumix FZ7.
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Patrick Singleton is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.See all of Patrick Singleton's reviews
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