Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7 Review
Panasonic has upgraded the 4-megapixel FX5, which we
reviewed earlier of this year (2004), with the Lumix DMC-FX7. These two cameras
share many features like a Leica 3x optical zoom lens that is stabilized
with Panasonic's MEGA O.I.S system, but the FX7 adds 5-megapixels of
resolution, a larger 2.5-inch color LCD, and a focus-assist lamp to aid in
low light situations.
Ergonomics are average. Controls are well placed, and the menu system was easy to navigate. Although its 2.5-inch LCD was a mixed bag. It seems Panasonic sacrificed the optical viewfinder to accommodate this massive display. Luckily the viewfinder is quite usable outdoors in bight light, although it would benefit from a non-reflective coating. However, when shooting in low-ambient lighting it does not "gain up", which makes it very difficult to frame your subject in these conditions.
The Leica DC-VARIO ELMARIT 3x optical zoom lens offers flexibility in composing your shots with its 35-105mm (35mm equivalent) focal range. The 35mm wide-angle focal length provides a field of view sufficient for most indoor group portraits and outdoor landscapes shots. Its 105mm telephoto extreme enables you to bring distant subjects closer, and the MEGA O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilization) helps reduce the occurrence of camera shake at longer focal lengths and slower shutter speeds. A 3x digital zoom feature is also included, but I would recommend not using it, instead crop your photos in an image editor when necessary.
Shooting performance was good. From power up to first image captured measured about 3.5 seconds. Shutter lag measured 1/10 of a second when pre- focused and 4/10 of a second including autofocus. Shooting in single exposure mode, it averaged approx. 1.5 seconds between frames without the use of the flash and about 2.2 seconds with the flash. The FX7 offers three Burst mode settings to choose from (Low-speed, High-speed, No-limit.) Using the Low-speed setting, I was able to capture 4 frames in about 2.2 seconds. High-speed captured 4 frames in approx. 1.8 seconds. No-limit mode allows you to continuously capture frames at about 2fps and is limited only by available memory. Our tests were done using a Sandisk Ultra II 512MB SD card, shooting in "Normal" mode, size/quality set at 2560x1920/Fine, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The overall image quality when using 2560/Fine mode was good. The majority or our outdoor test shots were sharp and properly exposed, although colors were at bit on the cool side. We noticed an average amount of noise in high/low contrast areas, especially at ISO 400, as well as typical amounts of CA (Chromatic aberration) present around extreme highlights. You can see this by taking a look at our sample photos page. Portraits of individuals were well exposed and skin tones look very natural. Indoors it performs well. It has no problems focusing in low ambient lighting thanks to its focus-assist lamp. This is a key feature on digicams these days, and we are happy to see many manufactures adding them to their cameras. When shooting indoors, its flexible zoom range and flash should be sufficient for most indoor situations, although it would benefit from a stronger flash. However, it does "throttle down" when using Macro mode, which ensures it will not over-expose the subject.
Bottom line - Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FX7 is a nice little digital package. This is a point-n-shoot that can be used by any member of the family. Its Simple mode will be great for the kids, and when Mom or Dad are ready, they can simply rotate the mode dial to "Normal" mode or choose one of the 9 creative scene modes. With a street price of around $500, its a bit expensive. For the price I would consider taking a look at Casio's 5-megapixel Exilim EX-Z55 at about $50 less or Sony's 5-megapixel CyberShot P100 which can be had for about $100 less.
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