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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 with included lens hood

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

 

USER'S EXPERIENCE

Friday, March 31, 2006 - Here's what I receive in the box:

  • Panasonic FZ7 (Silver body)
  • 16MB SD memory card
  • Shoulder Strap
  • Lens cap and Lens Hood (with included Adapter)
  • Rechargeable Li-ion Battery and Battery Charger
  • Interface Cables: A/V, USB
  • English and French Instruction Manuals: Operating Instructions
  • Software CDs: Digital Camera 2.4 (ArcSoft PhotoImpression 5, ArcSoft Panorama Maker 3, ArcSoft PhotoBase 4.5, Lumix Simple Viewer 1.1E, Panasonic PHOTOfunSTUDIO -viewer- 1.1E, USB Driver 1.0)

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 is targeted to beginner and serious photographers desiring a long zoom digital camera that gives great results. The Panasonic FZ7 easily fits the bill and remains a fun camera to use.

I loved the Panasonic FZ5 when I reviewed it last September and I was curious as to what improvements went into the Panasonic FZ7. I am not disappointed: in a body just slightly wider than the FZ5, the Panasonic FZ7 remains very intuitive and user-friendly.

Startup is improved at slightly more than 2 sec., which is pretty fast for a long zoom lens. It also still has one of the quickest AF we've seen in a consumer digital camera, and no practical shutter lag. Shot-to-shot times in bright daylight are about 1 sec.

Improvements I like: the extra large 2.5-in. LCD monitor (though regretably at lower resolution), Program Shift, a SET button, Manual Focus, and a Joystick that greatly adds to the usability factor. I also like the 60 sec. shutter speed in Manual Mode.

Other improvements: 6MP, much better Movie 848x480 @ 30fps, LCD gain-up, ability to accept conversion lenses, better battery @ 320 shots/charge. USB 2.0 remains at regular full-speed.

High Sensitivity

One feature I was very interested in was the new High Sensitivity ISO 800 and 1600 scene mode.

Image Stabilization helps reduce camera shake caused by the photographer, but to stop subject movement (e.g. a child running), only a fast enough shutter speed (say, 1/125s) will do.

However, indoors and in low-light situations, there is usually not enough light for the camera to use a fast shutter speed. A slow shutter speed cannot freeze movement and so a blurred picture usually results.

To be able to use a fast enough shutter speed, you can either use the onboard flash (or a bright external light source) or use a higher ISO.

The latter is what the 'High Sensitivity' scene mode does: boost the ISO to a high 800 and 1600.

How good is it?

According to Panasonic, this high sensitivity mode "is made possible by the pixel-mixed readout method of the new CCD." I haven't seen any technical explanation what that really means, but it does not really matter. Bottom line is our sample images have lost quite a bit of detail, and look very noisy and blurry.

In retrospect, we should not be too surprised by that result. So far, small image sensors cannot produce clean low noise images at such high ISOs -- in spite of what the friendly marketing guys would like us to believe.


MENU & SETUP RECOMMENDATIONS

In setting up your Panasonic FZ7, I recommend the following settings:

- AF MODE is set to 1-AREA (HIGH SPEED). At this setting, autofocus is lightning fast!

- At ISO 80, the camera delivers the lowest noise and best image quality..

- PLAY ON LCD is set to ON so that when you switch to Playback or Review mode, the images will always show on the LCD monitor even if you are currently using the EVF.

- HIGHLIGHT is set to ON so the potentially overexposed bright areas will blink when the image is viewed in Review mode. Some users are put off by this extremely useful feature, so turn it OFF if it bothers you.

- MF ASSIST is set to MF1 so only the center area (where the AF is focusing on) is magnified when using manual focus. Some users may prefer MF2, which magnifies the whole screen.

- SCENE MENU is set to OFF. When you rotate the Mode Dial to SCN, you are immediately in the selected scene mode; press MENU to select a different scene mode. When set to AUTO, the Scene Menu will always display when you rotate the Mode Dial to SCN.

- Image Stabilizer is set to MODE 2. If your camera is on a tripod, turn image stabilization OFF; select MODE1 if you like to see the stabilizing effect live; the most effective image stabilization is obtained using MODE2, when image stabilization is engaged at the time of recording the image.

For Canada, Panasonic has provided both the English and French printed versions of the Operating Instructions. We don't say that often, but we find them very good. Though the type is small as in most other manuals we've seen, the manual is logically organized, with lots of white space, and finding anything using either the Table of Contents or Index is both quick and easy. Explanations are clearly illustrated with appropriate drawings. You won't need to go to the manual often but this camera is fully featured that we recommend that you take some time to familiarize yourself with all the features; you might find an easy way to achieve what you are trying to accomplish.

The zoom on the Panasonic FZ7 is an example for others to follow. There are about 46 intermediate steps from wide-angle to telephoto, thus allowing precise framing. Most cameras give you at most a dozen or less.

To transfer images from the camera to my PC running Windows XP, all I have to do is simply connect the USB cable from the camera (turned off) to the PC. I then turn the Mode Dial to Playback, turn on the camera and the camera is immediately recognized as an external drive. Then it is simply a matter of drag-and-drop in Windows Explorer.

LUMIX Simple Viewer

LUMIX Simple Viewer

Or, use the LUMIX Simple Viewer to transfer and index the images. The LUMIX Simple Viewer is used by default to transfer, view and print images; that's about all you can do with it.

Besides the LUMIX Simple Viewer, Panasonic also includes the following applications on the CD to transfer and view your images:

- PHOTOfunSTUDIO -viewer-
- Arcsoft PhotoBase 4.5
- Arcsoft PhotoImpression 5

That's a lot of viewers!!!

Panasonic PHOTOfunSTUDIO -viewer-

Panasonic PHOTOfunSTUDIO -viewer-

The PHOTOfunSTUDIO -viewer- allows you to transfer, view and print, plus perform basic functions such as resize, rotate, email, create a wallpaper, convert format.

Arcsoft Photobase 4.5

Arcsoft Photobase 4.5

Arcsoft PhotoBase 4.5 allows you to do the same things as PHOTOfunSTUDIO -viewer- but a bit better.

Arcsoft PhotoImpression 5

Arcsoft PhotoImpression 5

And, finally, Arcsoft PhotoImpression 5 does eveything above, plus basic editing functions such as Red Eye Removal, Brightness/Contrast, Color Adjust, Blur/Sharpen, plus create a photo album or calendar. Arcsoft PhotoImpression 5 is unfortunately so much slower than the other apps.

Note that one major shortcoming of the Arcsoft applications is that they do not default back to wherever you left off last. You have to painfully browse to the directory you last used to save your pictures.

Note that LUMIX Simple Viewer and PHOTOfunSTUDIO do not show all important EXIF info: e.g. they do not show the focal length used!?!? I have to launch one of the Arcsoft application to find the EXIF info I need.

Once all the images have been transferred, I click the drive icon on my task bar and wait for the signal that it is now OK to unplug the cable at both end.

Multi Delete All Delete

You can perform Multi Delete and select which pictures to delete. In the above example, I have selected picture 1 and 5 (marked with a trash can symbol) to be deleted.

To erase all pictures from the memory card, I put the camera in Playback (or Review) Mode, then press the Delete button twice - ALL DELETE - Yes. This is a much better implementation than in many digital cameras where you have to go into the MENU and scroll down and look for the Delete All function. Another example of a user-friendly design on the Panasonic FZ7.

Or, if you need to ensure all images are completely wiped out on the memory card, simply reformat everytime. Formatting a 1GB card takes a surprisingly very short time, only a few seconds, so it might only be a "Quick Format."

One last feature I will mention is Manual mode. The Panasonic FZ7, as in a few other digital cameras, provides "Manual Exposure Assistance." How this works is that when you half-press the shutter release button, a scale ranging from -2EV to +2EV displays with a yellow/orange indicator pointing to either 0 (indicates correct exposure), a +ve number (indicates overexposure), or a -ve number (indicates underexposure). What you want to do is to align that indicator to point to 0. Use the Joystick to change the shutter speed and/or the aperture until you have correct exposure. It's that easy! It's an approximation but this makes using manual exposure a snap.

Improvement Recommendations:

- Noise: noise is higher than average at ISO 80. If you plan to use the FZ7 mostly for bright landscapes, you won't find it objectionable. Most digital cameras competing in this category have practically no (or extremely low) noise at their lowest ISO setting.

- LCD is extra large at 2.5-in. but resolution has been reduced. Competitors are providing much higher resolution -- sometimes enough to judge image sharpness.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 continues to be a best value for money and one of my very favourite. In a compact, light and solidly built body, it includes all the features desirable in a digital camera and throws in a couple that are hard to find in many other digital cameras: an effective image stabilization (the real type) and an accurate High Speed AF. All of this wrapped in an interface that is now even more intuitive to use.

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