Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 Review
The Lumix DMC-FZ7 is the latest affordable "super-zoom" model from Panasonic as of 2/2006.
Offering all of the features we have come to love with this series, like its Leica 12x
optical zoom lens, MEGA O.I.S. image stabilization system, large 2.5-inch LCD, color EVF
and 6-megapixel imager. All of which is wrapped up in a stylish and compact SLR body
style. This camera can either be used as a fully automatic point-n-shoot, with its Simple
exposure mode or a photographic tool with the more advanced modes like Aperture priority,
Shutter priority and Full manual.
The most "fun" feature of the FZ7 has to be the high-quality 12x Leica Vario-Elmarit zoom lens, with a focal length coverage of 35-420mm in 35mm equivalence. With such an abundant zoom range, you'll be able to capture pleasing landscapes and group portraits at its 35mm wide angle extreme, while bringing distant subjects (sporting events, wildlife or your son's soccer game) up close and in your face with the 420mm telephoto end. This remarkable lens is also fast, with a wide angle aperture of f/2.8 and f/3.3 at telephoto, which enhances your ability to capture sharp images in marginal lighting conditions. I noticed an average amount of barrel distortion at full wide angle and slight pincushioning at full telephoto. Chromatic aberrations (also known as purple fringing) were surprisingly scarce around objects with extreme highlights; this is a all too common issue with long focal length cameras, but not with the FZ7.
Usually, the longer the focal length of a lens, the more likely it is that you will see traces of camera shake (blurring of the subject due to camera movement.) Non-stabilized lenses with high power telephoto capabilities require the use a tripod or a faster shutter speed to overcome this issue; the rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed no slower than the reciprocal of the lens focal length, 1/400 of a second when using a 400mm lens for example. Depending on the lighting conditions, a high ISO setting might be required to use a fast shutter speed, compromising image quality (noise) to avoid blur. However, this is not the case with the FZ7. Its MEGA O.I.S. stabilization system reduces the effect of camera shake and allows you to capture images using slower than normal shutter speeds. In fact, I was able to capture relatively sharp hand-held images at shutter speeds as low as 1/25 of a second; see for yourself by taking a look at our samples page.
Like its predecessors, the FZ7 is a well-designed digicam. The large handgrip gives it good secure feeling in your hand and the controls are well-placed and easy to reach with your fingertips. The menu system is logically organized, allowing for quick and easy navigating and changes to camera settings. The FZ7, like many super-zoom digicams, features both a large (2.5-inch) color LCD and a high-quality color EVF (Electronic ViewFinder.) EVFs are just tiny LCDs (this one is 0.33-inches) that are located in the eyepiece and magnified for easy viewing. This particular EVF showed very good color rendition and there's a diopter adjustment to match your eyesight. EVFs have many advantages over optical viewfinders, providing an accurate viewfinder image, a wealth of overlay exposure information, and the ability to play back images. However there are some drawbacks as well, like a delayed live image (not the case with the FZ7) and the freezing issue when using the burst capture mode.
Both the LCD and EVF worked well in a variety of lighting conditions. When shooting outdoors, the LCD was bright enough to be usable on sunny days, and the EVF's eyepiece is deep enough to help block out the harsh sun on the brightest of days. Indoors in low- ambient lighting the viewfinders do not "gain up", but I was still able to frame the subject in most cases, mainly due to its very sensitive metering system. In completely dark conditions the AF-assist will focus properly within its working range of up to about ten feet but you can't really see what you're aiming at as the viewfinder is totally dark.
Shooting performance was very robust for a camera in this class. It took only 2.2 seconds to power up and capture the first image; pretty amazing when you consider it has to boot up and extend that 12x lens. Shutter lag, the time between depressing the shutter release to actually capturing the image, was almost instantaneous when pre-focused and only 3/10 of a second including autofocus. In single frame mode, the shot to shot delay averaged only 1.2 seconds without use of the flash and between 1.6 and 2.5 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance and battery life. This model also features a "High-speed" AF mode. Using it I saw shutter lag with autofocus drop to about 1/10 of a second and the shot to shot delay averaged only 1 second between frames, giving you the ability to capture shots at 1 frame per second.
The FZ7 offers three burst (continuous) capture modes to choose from: High speed captured at a rate of about 4fps, while Low speed was at about 3fps. Both High and Low speed modes captured 7 images before filling the FZ7's buffer, and it took about 1 second before the next burst could be taken. No limit mode allows you to continuously capture images at about 3 frames per second, and is limited only by memory card capacity. Both the LCD and EVF viewfinders "froze" during continuous image capture, briefly displaying the last captured image rather than the live image. Because the FZ7 has no optical viewfinder, this behavior will limit your ability to follow a moving subject while shooting in burst mode. Our tests were done using a Sandisk Extreme III 1GB SD card, Program exposure mode, Large/Fine quality, preview off, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
Power is supplied by a proprietary 7.2v 710 mAh lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack. Battery life was surprisingly good, especially considering that you always have either the EVF or LCD turned on when using the camera. Panasonic also includes their small DE-993 rapid AC charger. This charger will fully replenish a depleted battery pack in 90 minutes or less. During our testing, we were able to capture about 175 images and conclude many of our other tests before the battery was exhausted. As with all cameras that use a proprietary battery, we recommend that you purchase at least one extra battery pack; there's nothing more disappointing than missing a photo opt due to a dead battery. These packs are charged outside of the camera so it's easy to charge one and use another.
Image quality was very good for a 6-megapixel consumer model. Outdoors it captures beautiful images that are sharp, show good overall exposure and pleasing color saturation. Noise levels are below normal at lower ISO speeds, becoming more noticeable as the ISO is raised above 100. When you zoom in 100% on an ISO 200 or 400 image, you can see plenty of imager noise. However, even our ISO 400 available light M&M man sample looks good when viewed on the screen (my 19" LCD monitor is set at 1024x768), and I was able to create a nice 8x10-inch uncropped print. Only the professionally trained eye would "see" the image noise. I feel that the usefulness of the higher ISO overweighs the noise issue, especially when most people only print 4x6" size prints.
I was also pleased with its indoor performance. The built-in popup flash has a powerful range (by consumer digicam standards) of approx. 19 feet at wide angle and ISO auto, dropping to 9 feet at ISO 80. I found it helped produce very pleasing indoor portraits, that showed natural skin tones and good flash exposure. It can by no means illuminate large open rooms like dance floors, gymnasiums, etc. But, your typical at home, office, or classroom images will be sure to put a smile on your face. Like other "FZ" series models, the FZ7 features impressive Macro capabilities. Using this focus mode, you can achieve sharp focus on subjects as close as 2 inches from the lens. And it does an excellent job of "squelching" the flash to ensure the subject is not overexposed.
For those times when a picture just won't capture that special moment, you can opt to use the VGA sized (640x480) movie mode. These movies are recorded with sound, and you can choose either 30 or 10 frames per second. There is also a smaller QVGA (320x240) resolution that is great when wanting to conserve precious space on your memory card or when sending clips to family members and friends via email; just be sure they have some sort of high-speed Internet. Our 640x480 30fps sample was good with average compression noise present, and the continuous AF mode did a good job of keeping up with moving subjects.
Bottom line - I was very happy with the FZ7. It is a robust performer that captures beautiful 6-megapixel images, possesses a generous 12x zoom range, and let's not forget it can be easily used by every person in your household. With 6-megapixels, you can create stunning prints up to 13x19-inches. We feel the FZ7 will make an excellent choice for any consumer in the market for an affordable "super-zoom" model. With an MSRP of under $400 dollars, it offers a great "bang for your buck" and is sure to be a very popular model this year.
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