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DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: March 7, 2006
Last Updated: February 5, 2008
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 ($399) is the replacement for last year's popular DMC-FZ5. The changes on the FZ7 aren't terribly dramatic, though all are welcome. Here's a detailed comparison between the FZ5 and FZ7, plus the compact DMC-TZ1 and the high-end DMC-FZ30:
One thing that hasn't changed is the excellent optical image stabilization system, which is found on all of Panasonic's cameras.
The FZ5 was one of my favorite ultra zoom cameras of last year. Will the FZ7 win that title for 2006? Find out now in our review!
Since they are so similar, I will be reusing portions of the DMC-FZ5 review here.
What's in the Box?
The DMC-FZ7 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
Panasonic has never been one to include a decent-sized memory card with their cameras, and the DMC-FZ7 is no exception. You'll find a 16MB Secure Digital (SD) card in the box, which holds just four photos at the highest JPEG quality setting. That means that you'll want to buy a memory card along with the camera (which raises the initial cost of the camera), and I'd suggest a 512MB card as a good starter size. While the FZ7 can use both SD and MultiMedia (MMC) cards, I'd recommend sticking with the former. The camera takes advantage of high speed SD cards, so I'd spend the extra bucks on one of those if I were you (60X or higher is best).
The FZ7 uses the same CGR-S006 lithium-ion battery as the DMC-FZ30. This battery packs 5.1 Wh of energy, which is about average. Here's how that translates into battery life:
The usual caveats about proprietary batteries used by the DMC-FZ7 apply here. For one, an extra battery will set you back $50 (third party options are available for less). Secondly, if you're ever in a jam, you can't just pop in some alkaline batteries to get you through the day like you could on an AA-based camera. Thankfully there are a decent amount of AA-based ultra zooms out here -- the FZ7 just isn't one of them.
When it's time to charge the battery, just snap it into the included charger. The charger plugs right into the wall -- no power cord is needed (though this may not be the case outside of the USA). It takes just over two hours to fully charge the CGR-S006 battery.
Panasonic includes a lens cap with a retaining strap with the camera to help protect that big lens!
Something else you'll find in the box is a big plastic lens hood, which comes in handy when you're shooting outdoors. The lens hood is actually comprised of two parts: an adapter and the hood itself. The adapter also accepts 52 mm filters, and Panasonic offers a few (see below).
Panasonic offers more accessories for the FZ7 than they did for the FZ5, and I've compiled them all into this handy chart:
It's worth mentioning that Panasonic's accessories tend to be rather difficult to find and buy.
PhotoImpression 5 for Mac OS X
Panasonic includes ArcSoft's camera suite with the FZ-series cameras. This includes PhotoImpression 5, PhotoBase, and Panorama Maker for Mac and Windows. PhotoImpression (shown above) lets you view, enhance, and share images. The interface is unique and easy-to-use, and the whole product is well designed. PhotoBase is a less impressive product that you can use for organizing and performing basic edits on your photos. Panorama Maker will stitch together several shots into one big photo.
Lumix Simple Viewer for Windows
Windows users get two additional products on the software CD. Lumix Simple Viewer (shown above) does just what it sounds like: it imports and views photos. You can't do any editing -- just rotation, printing, and e-mailing.
PhotoFunStudio for Windows
For slightly more complex tasks there's PhotoFunStudio (which is, again, for Windows only). This can do all the things Simple Viewer can do, with a few more bells and whistles like batch processing.
I've never been a fan of Panasonic's product manuals, whether they're for a camera, television, or DVD player. They're just not user friendly. Expect the same here.
Look and Feel
The Lumix DMC-FZ7 has received a bit of a face lift when compared to the FZ4 and FZ5 models which it replaces. As you'll see, the most notable changes are on the back, with a larger LCD, new "joystick" controller, and a relocated electronic viewfinder.
The FZ7 is a midsize ultra zoom, especially when compared to its big brother, the FZ30. It's fairly easy to hold, though a larger right hand grip would've been nice. The important controls are all easy to reach, and the new joystick controller is a nice addition.
|Images courtesy of Panasonic|
The FZ7 comes in silver and black, and by now you've probably figured out which one I had. One thing I don't like about the black body is how it shows scratches easily. Your fingernails can leave marks on it, but thankfully they wipe right off.
Anyhow, now let's take a look at how the FZ7 compares to other cameras in its class:
The FZ7 is roughly the same size of the FZ5 which it replaces, though it's put on some weight. It's right in the middle of the pack in terms of size. If you're looking for a really small ultra zoom, Panasonic just released the new DMC-TZ1, which I'll hopefully review in the near future.
Okay, let's begin our tour of the FZ7 now!
The DMC-FZ7 has the same F2.8-3.3, 12X optical zoom lens as its predecessor. The focal range of the lens is 6 - 72 mm, which is equivalent to 36 - 432 mm. While the lens itself is not threaded, you can attach 52 mm filters by using the included lens hood adapter, and 55 mm filters and lenses with the optional conversion lens adapter.
The FZ7 has the same optical image stabilizer as the other cameras in the series. Here are two examples of why you want this feature. Ever taken a indoor photo without flash, only to be disappointed when its blurry? Or what about when you're taking a picture near the telephoto end of the lens and the photo is blurry, despite a fast shutter speed? The OIS system can help.
Sensors in the camera detect this motion and an element in the lens is shifted to compensate for the shake. This lets you use shutter speeds 3-4 stops slower than what you can use on an unstabilized camera. For example, a 1/30 sec shutter speed will result in a blurry photos for most people (unless you have hands of stone), but with image stabilization you'll most likely get a nice, sharp photo. In actuality you can shoot even slower, as this sample illustrates:
OIS on (mode 2), 1/5 sec
OIS off, 1/5 sec
No Photoshop tricks here -- those are real photos. If you need more evidence, check out this movie, which is taken with and without OIS. One thing to remember is that image stabilizers don't work miracles. They can't compensate for blurring caused by a moving subject, and they're not going to let you take night shots (like the one in this review) without a tripod.
Directly above the lens is the FZ7's pop-up flash. The flash on the FZ7 has been improved since the FZ5, with even more power. The working range of the flash is 0.3 - 6.0 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 5.4 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO), which is excellent. You cannot attach an external flash to the FZ7.
To the upper-right of the lens are the microphone and AF-assist lamp, with the latter doubling as the self-timer lamp. The AF-assist lamp helps the camera focus in low light situations.
The most notable changes to the DMC-FZ7 can be found on the back of the camera. The biggest one (no pun intended) is the new, larger LCD. While the FZ5's screen was just 1.8 inches, the one here is a whopping 2.5 inches! Unfortunately the resolution isn't great, with just 114,000 pixels (16,000 less than the little screen on the FZ5), and you can definitely notice when you're viewing images on the LCD. Outdoor visibility is good (especially if you turn on the Power LCD feature), and low light viewing is excellent (unlike on the FZ5).
Like all ultra zoom cameras, the FZ7 uses an electronic viewfinder, or EVF. What's nice about EVFs is that they show you 100% of the frame (no parallax error here), and they show the same menus and screens as the main LCD. The downside is that they're nowhere near as sharp as a real optical viewfinder.
The EVF hasn't changed since the FZ5, with its 114k pixel resolution. Like the LCD, images aren't as sharp as I would've liked. Low light visibility was similar to that of the LCD, thankfully. A diopter correction knob located on the left side of the viewfinder helps you focus what's on the screen.
Just to the left of the EVF is the release for the pop-up flash. Jumping to the other side we find the speaker, EVF/LCD button (which switches between the two), and the power switch.
Below the power switch is the new joystick controller, which you'll use for adjusting manual settings like shutter speed, aperture, and focus. Below that is the Display button, which toggles what is shown on the LCD, and also turns out two of the FZ7's "LCD modes". Those modes include Power LCD, which brightens the screen for outdoor viewing, and the new High Angle feature, which makes it easier to see the screen when the camera is held above your head. Although the second feature sounds like a gimmick, it really works.
Next, we find the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation, and also for:
I want to talk about those options that appear when you press the "up" button on the four-way controller. Backlight compensation is something you can toggle on and off while in "simple mode" -- use it if your subject has a bright light source behind them. Exposure compensation is the usual -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments like on every camera. Flash exposure compensation lets you adjust the flash strength using the same range. Auto bracketing takes three shots in a row with each shot having a different exposure. You can choose from ±0.3EV, ±0.6EV or ±1.0EV increments. White balance fine-tuning lets you adjust the preset or custom WB that you've selected in the red or blue direction, with a total range of ±10 (in 1-step increments).
The last thing to see on the back of the FZ7 is the Burst mode / Delete photo button. This activates the camera's excellent continuous shooting modes, of which there are three: low speed, high speed, and infinite. In low speed mode I was able to take seven JPEG images at the highest quality setting at 2 frames/second. In high speed mode, I could still take seven photos, but this time the frame rate was a snappy 2.9 frames/second. The infinite mode, which requires a high speed memory card, will let you keep shooting at 2.1 frames/second until the memory card is full. While I've seen better, the LCD and EVF keep up fairly well while shooting in any of these modes.
The items on the top of the camera are more-or-less the same as they were on the DMC-FZ5. Let's start with the mode dial, which has the following options:
I want to comment on a few things before we go any further. First, please note that you can access the macro focus range in A/S/M mode, so you don't need to use the macro option on the mode dial.
Second, let's talk about some of those new scene modes. The starry sky mode is just like the "bulb mode" found on other some other cameras. In this mode you can select shutter speeds of 15, 30 or 60 seconds -- just remember to use a tripod. Since we haven't exactly had star gazing weather lately, I was unable to actually test this feature. The "baby" mode has been enhanced a bit since the last time I reviewed a Panasonic camera. First, you can now store the birthdays of two babies in the camera, instead of just one. Second, you can tell the camera not to save the baby's age along with the photo, though you might as well just use another shooting mode if that's the case.
The high sensitivity mode is new to Panasonic's 2006 lineup. In this mode, the camera opens up the two highest ISO settings, 800 and 1600 (an auto mode is also available). Of course, with those high ISOs comes noise, as these sample photos illustrate (example one, two). Even at 4 x 6 inches, the print quality of photos taken in this mode left much to be desired.
To the right of the mode dial are buttons for selecting the OIS (optical image stabilization) and focus modes. OIS Mode 1 activates the system as soon as you halfway press the shutter release button, which helps you frame the shot without any camera shake. OIS Mode 2 doesn't activate the system until the photo is actually taken, which makes it a bit harder to compose your shot, but the stabilization is actually more effective this way. If you wish, you can also turn off the OIS system entirely, which you might want to know if you have the camera on a tripod.
Manual focus is one of the new features on the FZ7, and you activate it with that AF/MF button. When MF is turned on you'll use the joystick for setting the focus distance. A guide showing the current focus distance is shown on the right side of the LCD/EVF, and the center of the frame is enlarged so you can ensure proper focus.
On this side of the FZ7 you'll find the I/O ports for USB + A/V out (one port for both) as well as DC-in (for optional AC adapter). The ports are covered by a fairly sturdy plastic door. The FZ7 supports USB 2.0 Full Speed, which is the "slow" (and undesirable) version of USB 2.0.
Nothing to see over here! This is the lens at the full telephoto position, by the way.
We end our tour with a look at the bottom of the camera. Here you'll find the metal tripod mount (hidden in this pic) and the battery and memory card slots. Those last two items are covered by a sturdy plastic door. Do note that you won't be able to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod, for obvious reasons.
Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7
It takes about 2.2 seconds for the DMC-FZ7 to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures. That's a bit faster than the FZ5.
There's a live histogram in record mode
Autofocus speeds on the FZ7 range from fast to screaming fast. If you use the "normal" AF modes, focusing times are typically around 0.2 - 0.4 seconds. Turn on either of the two high speed AF modes, and look out: focus times are halved. The FZ7 is one of the fastest focusing non-SLR cameras out there. (I'll explain the "catch" about the high speed modes later.) Low light focusing was very good, thanks to the camera's AF-assist lamp.
I did not find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes occurs.
Shot-to-shot speeds were excellent. When shooting in the JPEG modes, expect a delay of around 1 second between shots. If you're using TIFF, expect the camera to be locked up for 3-4 seconds before you can take another picture (this is with a high speed SD card, so it may be longer with slow cards).
There is no easy way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you must use the Review feature first.
Now, here's a look at the resolution and quality choices on the FZ7:
See why I said that you should buy a larger memory card?
I should add that there are some additional resolutions not listed in that chart. They include two 3:2 ratio sizes (2816 x 1880 and 2048 x 1360) as well as two 16:9 sizes (2816 x 1584, 1920 x 1080).
As you can see, the FZ7 supports the TIFF image format. This is uncompressed image data that is as close to perfect as you'll get out of the camera (as there's no RAW mode).
The camera saves images with a name of PXXXYYYY.JPG, where X = 100-999 and Y = 0001 = 9999. The camera will maintain the file numbering, even as you erase and switch memory cards.
There are two menu systems on the FZ7. One is used only in "simple mode" and it's quite stripped down. The other is the menu you're used to seeing on the other FZ-series cameras. Here's a quick look at the simple menu:
And that's it!
In the other shooting modes you'll get a more normal-looking menu. Panasonic's given this menu a bit of a facelift, and I like what I see. Here's a look at the options you'll find in this menu:
When you change the picture size you activate a feature called extended optical zoom. This boosts the total zoom range (to as high as 17.6X) by using a smaller area of the CCD sensor. The lower the resolution, the higher the zoom can go. For a technical explanation of how this feature works, check out my review of the DMC-FZ30. It's also worth mentioning that you can achieve the same result by using Photoshop or another image editor.
I also told you about the high speed AF modes, but now I want to mention the "catch" that comes with them. In the two high speed modes, the LCD freezes very briefly while the camera is focusing. If you don't like the freeze, you'll have to use the regular AF modes, which are still pretty snappy themselves.
The flip animation feature lets you take up to 100 shots in a row and then throw them together into a 320 x 240 movie up to 20 seconds long. You can choose from a frame rate of 5 or 10 frames/second. This feature can be used for making "stop motion" animation.
There's also a setup menu, which is accessed from the record or playback menu. The items here include:
Well that's enough menus for one day, so let's move on now to our photo tests!
The FZ7 did a great job with our macro test subject. The subject is tack sharp (maybe a little too much so), and colors are accurate for the most part (the cloak is a little orange).
You can get as close to your subject as 5 cm at wide-angle and 1 m at the telephoto end in macro mode. To get even closer, pick up the optional close-up lens that I mentioned earlier. While the wide-angle focus distance remains the same, the telephoto distance drops to 33 cm.
The FZ7 turned in one of the best night shots that I've seen in some time. Like with the macro shot, everything's nice and sharp here. The camera took in plenty of light, thanks to the manual shutter speed control. Purple fringing levels were low, and noise was well controlled.
Added 3/16/06: Now, let's see how the DMC-FZ7 performs at higher ISO sensitivities. Two things to know before we go on, though. First, the pictures below were NOT taken on the same night as the one above. Second, since I cannot use the high ISO settings in the manual shooting modes, I was unable to go above ISO 400. And with that, the ISO test:
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
The ISO 80 and 100 crops look about the same. At ISO 200, the noise levels pick up rapidly, and details start looking like they've painted instead of photographs. The effect is even worse at ISO 400, and I don't think noise reduction software is going to bring back those missing details. I should also point out the color shift at ISO 200... there's a greenish cast.
The redeye test is about the same as it was on the FZ5. That is, there's some redeye, but it's not horrlble. Your results may vary, of course.
There's moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the FZ7's lens. I also spotted some softness in the corners, though it didn't appear to be a problem in my real world photos. Vignetting (dark corners) wasn't a problem for me, either.
Overall, the image quality on the DMC-FZ7 is very good. Photos were well-exposed, with accurate color, low purple fringing levels, and pleasing sharpness. My one complaint is about noise: there's a bit too much of it, even at ISO 80. At ISO 200, details started to look more like watercolor paintings, and the effect becomes quite pronounced at higher sensitivities. If you're shooting at lower ISOs and keeping print sizes at 8.5 x 11 inches or below, the noise should not be an issue. If you'll be using the high ISO settings, or making large prints, the noise on the FZ7 may be bothersome.
Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our extensive photo gallery, printing the photos if you like, and then decide if the FZ7's photo quality meets your expectations.
The FZ7's movie mode has thankfully been upgraded since the FZ5. There are two high resolutions to choose from: there's a "normal" 640 x 480 setting, and a widescreen (16:9) 848 x 480 setting as well. Regardless of what resolution you choose, you can keep recording at 30 frames/second until the memory card is full. Sound is recorded as well.
The included 16MB memory card holds just five seconds of video at the highest quality setting (woohoo!), so you'll want a larger card for longer movies. A 1GB card holds about 11 minutes worth. You can also lengthen your recording times by lowering the frame rate to 10 fps, but the movies will be so choppy at that point that it's not worth it.
As is usually the case, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming. The image stabilizer functions in movie mode, as you'd expect.
Movies are saved in QuickTime format, using the M-JPEG codec. A capture of the first frame of the movie is saved as JPEG along with the video clip.
Here's a not-so-exciting sample movie for you:
Click to play movie (13 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't play it? Download QuickTime.
The DMC-FZ7 has a pretty standard playback mode. Basic playback options include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode, audio captions (10 seconds), and zoom and scroll. As you'd expect in the year 2006, the camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.
The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom in as much as 16X (in 2X increments) into your photo, and then scroll around. This feature is well-implemented on the FZ7.
You can also rotate, resize, and crop your photos in playback mode. You can also tag photos as favorites, and the slideshow and photo deletion feature take advantage of that.
|That's a lot of thumbnails||Calendar view|
The thumbnail view can show up to 25 photos per screen, which is pretty crazy. There's also a handy calendar view available.
One feature that I always appreciate is the FZ7's ability to delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all.
By default, the camera doesn't give you a lot of information about your photos. But press the display button and you'll see plenty of info, including a histogram.
The FZ7 moves through photos quickly, with a delay of just under a second between images.
How Does it Compare?
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 takes a very good ultra zoom camera (in the FZ5) and makes it even better. The new features, which include a larger LCD with better low light visibility, a more powerful flash, manual focus, and a new and improved movie mode, make the FZ7 one of the best cameras in its class.
The Lumix DMC-FZ7 is a midsize ultra zoom camera, and it comes in both silver and black. While the black looks more professional, it does show scratches and marks easily. The camera is easy to hold and operate, with minimal "button clutter". The LCD has gone up in size from 1.8 to 2.5 inches since the FZ5, though the resolution has actually gone down. One of the FZ5's weak points was its poor low light visibility, and thankfully that is no longer a problem on the FZ7. I especially liked the "High Angle mode", which allows you to easily see the LCD while the camera is held above your head.
While the larger LCD is nice, the "biggest" features on the FZ7 are actually its lens and optical image stabilization system. The 12X zoom lens has a focal range of 36 - 432 mm, and that can be expanded through the use of optional conversion lenses. Since camera shake can be a big problem on cameras like these, the FZ7 also features Panasonic's "Mega OIS" image stabilization system. The OIS system lets you use slower shutter speeds than you could on an unstabilized camera, and this comes in handy both at the wide and telephoto ends of the lens.
The FZ7 is loaded with features. You'll get full manual controls, plus many automatic modes for the beginner. The newest manual control is for focus, and it works well (though a manual focus ring would've been nice). You'll also find controls for white balance (including fine tuning), shutter speed, and aperture. For those who just want point-and-shoot, there are numerous auto and scene modes. The most interesting of the new scene modes is the high sensitivity mode, and I was disappointed with it: photos were just too noisy. The FZ7's movie mode has finally grown up, allowing for recording at both 640 x 480 and 848 x 480 (widescreen) at 30 frames/second.
Camera performance is first-rate, just as it was on the FZ5. The FZ7 starts up quickly, focuses very quickly, and takes pictures without noticeable lag. Low light focusing was very good, as well. The FZ7's three burst modes are excellent, assuming that you're using a high speed SD card. Battery life was above average.
Photo quality was very good for the most part, with noise being the FZ7's weak spot. The camera took well-exposed pictures, with accurate color and good sharpness. Panasonic has been good at minimizing purple fringing in their recent cameras, and the FZ7 is no exception. The otherwise nice photo quality is marred by above average noise levels, especially at higher ISO sensitivities. Even at ISO 200, images look more like watercolor paintings than photographs, and the high sensitivity mode doesn't produce anything usable (at ISO 800-1600). Redeye was a bit of a problem, as well.
There are two other negatives that I wanted to mention. As was the case with the FZ5, you cannot swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod, which can get annoying. And finally, the included 16MB memory card is something of a joke -- it's far too small for a 6 Megapixel camera.
Despite a few flaws (most notably noise in images), the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 is a very likable ultra zoom camera, and one that I can recommend. It combines high quality optics, image stabilization, manual features, and performance, without breaking the bank. The noise issue might only be a problem for those who will be shooting at high ISOs or making very large prints. For everyone else, this is a very capable ultra zoom that should be on your shopping list.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other ultra zoom cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot S3 IS, Fuji FinePix S9000, Kodak EasyShare P850 and Z612, Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z6, Nikon Coolpix 8800, Olympus SP-500 Ultra Zoom, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 and DMC-TZ1 (the FZ7's big and little brothers) and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H2. All of those cameras have image stabilizers except for the FinePix S9000 and the SP-500UZ.
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DMC-FZ7 and its competitors before you buy!
Want to see how the photo quality turned on? Check out our extra large photo gallery!
Want a second opinion?
Read more reviews at Steve's Digicams and Digital Photography Review.
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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