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You are hereHome > Digital Camera Reviews > Panasonic FZ7

Panasonic Digital Cameras

   


Panasonic FZ7 Review

Review Date: Apr 24, 2006

Category: Beginner to Serious Amateur

Panasonic FZ7

Photoxels Editor's Choice 2006 Award Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 wins DIWA Gold Award Panasonic FZ7 wins DIWA Platinum Award

HANDLING & FEEL

The Panasonic FZ7 has managed to keep to almost the same relatively compact dimensions (112.5 x 72.2 x 79 mm / 4.43× 2.84× 3.11 in.) and weight (310 g / 0.68 lb) of the Panasonic FZ5 while providing higher resolution and an extra large 2.5-in. LCD monitor. It is most comfortably carried slung over a shoulder or around the neck. It uses the Secure Digital (SD) memory card.

The camera rests naturally in the palm of your left hand, with the fingers of that hand wrapped securely around the lens barrel which juts out from the body at about 4 cm (1.5 in.). Your left hand will be the main support for the camera. When the camera is turned ON, the lens extends an extra 2.1 cm / 0.8 in. (W) and 2.4 cm / 0.9 in. (T). A molded handgrip is comfortable and provides for a secure grip.

Startup time is about 2 sec., shot to shot times about 1 sec., and there is no practical shutter lag. Autofocus is fast and precise.

STYLE
- Colours: silver or black
- Looks: the Black body looks much more professional
   
FEEL
- Good handgrip; shutter release button needs to be just a little bit further angled forward, but still very usable
- Controls are well positioned and spaced, and intuitive to use; on the small side for people with large fingers
   
DIMENSIONS & WEIGHT
- Medium Compact: carry using shoulder/neck strap
- Dimensions: 112.5 x 72.2 x 79 mm /
4.43× 2.84× 3.11 in.
- Weight: 310 g / 0.68 lb
- Takes 1 rechargeable Li-ion battery CGR-S006A 7.2V 710mAh (320 shots/charge)
   
SPEED OF OPERATION
- Startup with lens extending about 2.1 cm (0.8 in.) and LCD turning on in about 2 sec.
- Shot to shot time less than 1 sec.
- No practical shutter lag
   

Included in the box is a rechargeable Li-ion battery that can take about 320 shots with LCD on (CIPA standard) on a fresh charge and a Battery Charger DE-993B that will recharge a new battery in approx. 120 min. The Battery Charger is of the type that plugs directly into a wall electrical socket.

The Terminal compartment is on the left side of the camera (viewed from the back) which makes it convenient to connect the USB cable [don't you find it inconvenient when it is on the right side?].

The flash is powerful and can reach up to 6m on ISO Auto. You need to manually pop it up before it can be used -- the type I prefer. When closed, you won't be surprised by the flash suddenly popping up and firing when you don't want it to. Press a small button and it pops up; you can then use the RIGHT ARROW to select 4 flash options: Auto, Auto Red-eye reduction, Forced On, and Slow Sync Red-eye reduction. A fifth mode, Forced On Red-eye reduction, is available only in the PARTY and CANDLE LIGHT scene modes. To turn the flash off, simply close it.

Controls

Panasonic FZ7 top view

The top of the camera has the Shutter Release Button with the Zoom Lever around the collar, the Optical Image Stabilizer button, the AF/MF button, and the Mode Dial with usual PASM modes, plus Macro, Movie, SCN (Scene Mode), Simple (AUTO, represented by the Red Heart symbol), and Playback.

I believe the shutter release button could do with a further slight angular rotation toward the front. It also sits inside a "well" (the Zoom Lever collar) that probably functions effectively as a rest for your index finger IF you are prone to be "trigger-happy." I personally prefer my finger to be in direct contact with the shutter release button without any obstruction.

The Zoom Lever is a collar around the shutter release button and the Power switch is on the back of the camera. The Zoom lever has a short angle of motion. It only takes a quick 3 sec. to zoom all the way from wide-angle to 12x telephoto, and there are about 46 intermediate steps:

1x: 16 steps | 2x: 8 steps | 3x-7x: 3 steps each | 8x-9x: 2 steps each | 10x-12x: 1 step each

The "stepped" zoom makes for a very smooth transition from wide-angle to max. telephoto and allows incredibly precise framing especially at the wide-angle end of the zoom.

Press and hold the Image Stabilizer button down to bring up the 3 possible options: set it to OFF when putting the camera on a tripod; MODE1, if you want to see the effect of image stabilization at all times; MODE2, for the most effective stabilization, which takes place just before the image is taken. I use MODE2 most of the time. [Note that while on the FZ5, you select a mode by pressing the RIGHT arrow, on the FZ7, you press the SET button.]

Press the AF/MF button to toggle between Auto Focus and Manual Focus modes. In MF mode, the central portion of the screen (or the whole, depending on what you selected in SETUP) is enlarged and provides a pretty clear view of what you are focusing on. You push the new Joystick up and down to focus. It works quite well though it depends on your subject matter whether you'll be able to tell when it snaps into focus. In the example above, it was pretty easy to see the "G" snap into focus.

The Mode Dial is on top of the camera. Besides Auto, P, A, S, M, SCN and Movie, there are also 2 more settings on the dial: Playback and Macro.

Macro shouldn't really be on the Mode Dial button because it means you cannot select a shooting mode (Auto, P, A, S or Manual) when in Macro mode. Fortunately, it seems that Macro mode defaults to P, which is what most of us would use anyway. Ideally, Macro would be a separate button, or on the Arrow pad as seems to have become the standard on most digital cameras. Interestingly, you can move in as close as 5 cm in A, S and M modes, so don't really need a special Macro Mode after all.

The Mode Dial rotates easily, and you can use your thumb to do that while holding the camera. It clicks positively in place. I've not had any problem where the setting on the Mode Dial is inadvertently changed.

You can record movies with sound (until the memory card is full -- when using a super high-speed SD memory card) at either 848 x 480 or 640 x 480 or 320x240 pixels at 30fps or 10fps. You can preset optical zoom before any movie mode recording, but cannot zoom (optical or digital) during movie recording. Sound is always recorded. You cannot use MultiMediaCard (MMC).

Video Storage Capacity
16MB
1GB
16:9
848x480
30fps
5s
9m 44s
10fps
22s
29m 02s
VGA
640x480
30fps
6s
11m 21s
10fps
26s
33m 48s
QVGA
320x240
30fps
26s
33m 48s
10fps
1m 23s
1h 38m 13s

As you can see, you can't record too much on the supplied 16MB started SD memory card. We recommend a 1GB high-speed (at least 10MB/s) SD memory card.

Panasonic FZ7 back view

FUNCTIONS ACCESSIBLE BY CONTROL BUTTONS (clockwise starting from the Flash Open button)
- The pop-up flash is manually opened and will not automatically pop up when needed. Advanced photographers will welcome this implementation; beginners must remember to lift up the flash if they want to use it.
- Viewfinder Diopter Adjustment Dial on the left side of the EVF. The EVF itself juts out so it's easier to view without squashing your nose against the LCD. The Diopter Adjustment Dial works quite well.
- EVF/LCD button toggles between the EVF and LCD monitor.
- Power Off/On switch.
- Joystick used in Program Shift, to focus manually, and in A, S and M modes. Love it!
- DISPLAY/LCD MODE button. Press repeatedly to cycle thru Histogram, Out-of-Frame display, Recording Guide Line (Framing Guide), No display, Power LCD, High Angle.
-

Cursor buttons. UP ARROW (Exposure Compensation, Auto Bracket, Flash Compensation), RIGHT ARROW (Flash), DOWN ARROW (Review), LEFT ARROW(Self-timer 10s, 2s).

MENU SET button in the middle calls up the Menu; use cursor buttons to navigate the Menu screens; press MENU SET again to accepts a screen choice.

- Burst Mode/Delete button. In Shooting Mode, it acts as the Burst Mode button (High, Low, Continuous) and in Review/Playback Mode as the Delete button (Picture; press again to access Multi, All).
   
JOYSTICK
-

New control on Panasonic cameras.

-

Very intuitive to use. Can get confusing at times whether to use the Joystick or the Arrow keys. Still need to press MENU SET to accept a selection.

LCD MODE
- Press the DISPLAY / LCD MODE button for 1 sec.
- Power LCD: brightens the LCD monitor slightly, use in strong sunlight
- High Angle: brightens the LCD monitor to almost total white, use when holding the camera above your head (surprisingly it works)
- Is conveniently reset to normal LCD mode when camera is switched OFF
   
BURST MODE / DELETE
-

H: 3fps, max. 7 shots, exposure and WB fixed
L: 2fps, max. 7 shots, exposure and WB adjusted with each shot
Continuous: approx. 2fps, until card is full

- Cannot take burst mode in TIFF
- When flash is activated or STARRY SKY scene mode selected, only 1 picture can be taken
- Only 3 pictures when self-timer is used
- Burst mode is not cancelled when camera is switched OFF
- In Review and Playback mode, the button functions as a Delete button. Press once to delete picture currently displayed; press twice to permit Multi Delete and Delete All.
   
EXPOSURE COMPENSATION / AUTO BRACKET / WB FINE ADJUSTMENT / FLASH OUTPUT ADJUSTMENT / BACKLIGHT COMPENSATION
- Exposure compensation is accessed with the UP ARROW
- Once set, the Exposure Compensation Indicator conveniently stays displayed on screen until it is reset to "0"
- Range: -2 EV to +2 EV (13 steps in 1/3 EV increments)
- The screen brightness will increase or decrease to reflect the value you use
- Note: the exposure compensation value selected is retained even when the camera is turned off (so remember to reset to "0" after using it or the next time you turn the camera on, your shots may be over- or under-exposed.)
- Press UP ARROW repeatedly to cycle thru the other available options
   
SHUTTER SPEED RANGES
- P: 1 - 1/2,000 sec.
A, S: 8 - 1/2,000 sec.
M: 60 - 1/2000 sec.
Starry Sky Mode: 15, 30, 60 sec.
   

In Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority and Manual modes, on the FZ5 you needed to first press the Exposure button on the back of the camera to dial in a different aperture, shutter speed, or both; on the FZ7, you simply move the Joystick to do that. In Manual mode, an under/overexposure scale displays for about 10 sec. to indicate what exposure the current aperture/shutter speed settings will result in. This "Manual Exposure Assistance" is an invaluable approximation in obtaining correctly exposed pictures.

Speaking of exposure compensation, you access it by pressing the Up Arrow. Use the left and right arrow to dial in a negative or positive exposure compensation. To dismiss the exposure compensation menu, just half-press the shutter release button or take the picture. If you instead press the Up Arrow again, you are now in Auto Bracketing mode and can select from +/- 1/3EV, +/- 2/3EV or +/- 1EV. Press the Up Arrow again to set the Flash compensation. Note that Auto Bracketing remains in effect until you either set it back to OFF or turn off the camera.

At the bottom of the camera, the tripod mount thread is metal. There is a very nice Battery/Card door and the battery has a latch to keep it from accidentally falling. You won't be able to change battery or card when the camera is on a tripod.

The Panasonic FZ7 uses the Secure Digital (SD) memory card. It comes standard with a 16MB SD card that will record about 4 full-res images. A 1GB SD card will record about 334 full-res images. I recommed using as large a capacity SD card you can afford. Do not use the MultiMedia Card (MMC) since they are slower, will not record movies, and do not support some of the features available on the camera. The card is inserted into its slot at the bottom of the camera (same compartment where the battery goes) with its contact going in first and facing the rear of the camera. The diagram showing which way to insert the card and battery is not that clear, but fortunately there's only one way each will go in.

Panasonic FZ7 with included Lens Hood attached

The camera comes standard with a lens cap (and retaining string so you don't lose it), and a very useful lens hood to guard against flare and that adds even a better surface for your left hand to hold. The lenshood and adapter are attached differently than for the FZ5, and the procedure is much simpler:

First simply screw the adapter on. Then, turn the camera upside down and align the notch on the lens hood to the notch on the camera. You may need to loosen the screw on the lens hood to allow it to slide it well. Tighten the screw back to hold it in place. When you don't want to use the lens hood, simply loosen the screw, turn the lens hood around and tighten with the screw facing up. Attach the lens cap.

The lens cap will attach securely to the adapter with the lens hood on or off (or stored backward over the adapter).

A cool safety feature is that if you leave the lens cap on the lens barrel when you switch the camera ON, the camera lens extends, bumps into the lens cap, and won't extend the lens past it. This prevents damage to the sensitive lens mechanism. A warning message will display on the LCD monitor to remove the lens cap and press the RIGHT ARROW. Note that if you attach the adapter, the lens extends to just before it reaches the front of the adapter, which means it won't hit the lens cap and won't give you the above error message.

If you are going to use flash, you need to remove the lens hood or the flash light will cast the shadow of the lens hood on the bottom part of your pictures. Likewise, if you are going to need the AF-assist light, remove the lens hood. The AF-assist light is easily blocked by the thumb of your left hand (if your left hand is holding the lens barrel), so be aware of this when you need to use it.

LCD & Menus

There is an electronic viewfinder (EVF) which has now moved from the very left side on the FZ5 to the more traditional above the lens position. Since it is an EVF, all info that displays on the LCD monitor will also display on the viewfinder. Switch to the EVF to conserve a little, but not much, energy; according to Panasonic, the battery can then take about 340 shots on a fresh battery (CIPA standard).

The LCD and EVF (each at 114,000 pixels resolution) gain up slightly in low-light. The LCD has a fast enough refresh rate for a smooth display in good light, but is choppy in low light. The AF, on the other hand, is pretty accurate and fast, even in extreme low light.

Besides displaying a live Histogram or a framing grid, an interesting Out-of-Frame display provides a 2-in. image unemcumbered with any text and symbols: the latter are displayed outside of the image area.

Display with Info With Live Histogram
Display with Info With Live Histogram
Out-of-Frame Framing Grid Lines
Out-of-Frame Framing Grid Lines

Set HIGHLIGHT = ON Review Mode with Highlights
[Reload page to see highlights blink]

In Review (Not Playback) mode, if you have set Highlight ON [MENU - SETUP - HIGHLIGHT = ON], you will see the extremely bright areas blink (for about 10 sec.) to indicate possible areas of over-exposure in your image. Using the live histogram and highlights in tandem, you can achieve correct exposure in difficult lighting situations.

The menu structure is very easy to understand and use. For some of the options, the menu is transparent, and for others, it isn't, and can make reading those menu options a bit difficult. There are 3 RECord and 4 SETUP pages worth of menu settings.

MENU 1 of 3

- White Balance
- ISO Sensitivity
- Aspect Ratio
- Picture Size
- Image Quality

MENU 2 of 3

- Audio Recording
- Metering Mode
- AF Mode
- Continuous AF
- AF Assist Lamp

MENU 3 of 3

- Digital Zoom
- Color Effect
- Picture Adjustment
- Flip Animation
- Conversion

SETUP 1 of 4

- Clock Set
- Monitor Brightness
- Travel Date
- Create Folder
- Play On LCD
- Power Save

SETUP 2 of 4

- Auto Review
- MF Assist
- Beep
- Shutter
- Volume

SETUP 3 of 4

- No. Reset
- Reset
- USB Mode
- Highlight
- Video Out

SETUP 4 of 4

- TV Aspect
- MF
- Scene Menu
- Language

LANGUAGE 1 of 2

LANGUAGE 2 of 2

WB

- Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Halogen, Flash, White Set 1, White Set 2, Manual

ISO

- Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400

PICT. ADJ.

- Contrast, Sharpness, Saturation, Noise Reduction

CONVERSION

- Use when attaching optional tele conversion lens (1.7x more), wide conversion lens (0.7x wider) and close-up lens.
- Optional lens adapter DMW-LA2 is required.

SCENE MODE 1 of 5

- Portrait
- Soft Skin
- Scenery
- Sports

SCENE MODE 2 of 5

- Night Portrait
- Night Scenery
- Panning
- Food

SCENE MODE 3 of 5

- Party
- Candle Light
- Fireworks
- Starry Sky

SCENE MODE 4 of 5

- Baby 1
- Baby 2

SCENE MODE 5 of 5

- Snow
- High Sensitivity

EXPOSURE COMPENSATION

- -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV steps

IMAGE QUALITY

- TIFF
- Fine (Low Compression)
- Standard (High Compression)

PICT. SIZE

- 6M (2816x2112)
- 4M (2304x1729)
- 3M (2048x1536)
- 2M (1600x1200)
- 1M (1280x960)
- 0.3M (640x480)

MANUAL

Clockwise:
- M=Manual, Flash OFF, Image Stabilizer MODE 2, ISO 80, High-Speed Burst, 6M Image Size, Fine Image Quality, Battery Level Indicator, Space left for 334 images, Joystick indicator, Shutter Speed 1/40s, Aperture F2.8, Multiple Pattern metering mode, Power LCD activated

MOVIE PICT MODE

- 640x480 30fps
- 640x480 10fps
- 320x240 30fps
- 320x240 10fps

MOVIE

- 11m21s left to record

HISTOGRAM

- Histogram is displayed in Shooting and Playback mode
- In addition, Highlight can be set to blink in Review mode

Note: Some of the screens have been "blackened" to permit a clearer view of the settings.

The controls are well laid out at the back, and I am pleasantly surprised at how intuitive to use the Panasonic FZ7 succeeds to be. Definitely "designed by a photographer."

A couple of other nice features: the hinged plastic Terminal door opens up wide to allow unimpeded access [don't you hate fighting with a rubber flap?] to the AV OUT/DIGITAL (USB) socket and DC IN socket. Last, but not least, the tripod socket is metal, though not inline with the lens.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 is built for photography, with intuitive-to-use controls. You get the distinct impression that much thought went into its design for ease-of-use. It is fun to use this camera, and you feel confident that your images will consistently come out with very good quality. Throw in a very effective image stabilization and a High Speed (and accurate) AF function, and you have a long zoom digital camera that is a pleasure to use.

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