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DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: November 1, 2004
Last Updated: February 4, 2008
While it may look like just another compact metal camera, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7 ($499) has an exciting feature hidden from view. That feature is an optical image stabilizer, just like their big ultra zoom cameras. If you're like me, you've probably taken your share of blurry indoor shots. While the stabilizer can't eliminate this problem, it will let you take sharp photos at shutter speeds that would be unusable on other cameras. In addition to this feature, the FX7 also has a 5 Megapixel CCD, huge LCD display, AF-assist lamp, and super-fast performance.
The camera is available in black and silver bodies.
The ultra-compact field is very crowded these days. How does the FX7 compare against the competition? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The DMC-FX7 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
Panasonic includes a 16MB Secure Digital (SD) memory card with the camera. That holds a grand total of 5 photos at the highest quality setting, so consider a larger card "a must". I'd recommend a 256MB card as a good place to start. While the camera can use MultiMedia (MMC) cards, I would recommend against it. The FX7 does take advantage of high speed memory cards: you'll notice the improvement mostly in burst mode, but it helps with overall camera performance as well.
The DMC-FX7 uses a different battery than the big ultra zoom models (not surprisingly). The CGA-S004, as it is called, packs just 2.6 Wh of energy into its compact plastic shell. That translates to 120 photos per charge using the new CIPA battery life standard, which is below average for a camera in this class.
Proprietary batteries are par for the course on ultra compact cameras like this, so I'm not going to complain about them. You should certainly buy a spare, though, but be prepared to shell out around $50 for one (a third party version is available for about $30).
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. It takes about two hours to fully charge the battery.
There's a built-in lens cover on the FX7 so there are no messy lens caps to worry about. As you can see, this is one small camera!
The only accessory I could find for the DMC-FX7 was an AC adapter for about $50.
Panasonic includes ArcSoft's Camera Suite with the DMC-FX7. 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.
Panasonic's manuals leave much to be desired. Much like the manual that came with your VCR or DVD player, there's tons of fine print and bullet points, and finding what you're looking for can be difficult.
Look and Feel
The Lumix DMC-FX7 is a slim and compact, all-metal camera. It's quite stylish and it looks good up against the Canon Digital ELPHs. It's easy to hold with one hand, and the controls are easy-to-reach (though a bit cluttered).
Now, let's take a look how the FX7 compares in size and weight to other cameras in this class:
While it's not the smallest or lightest camera in the group, the FX7 is still very compact.
Okay, enough numbers, let's start our tour of the camera now!
The FX7 has an F2.8-5.0, 3X optical zoom Leica lens. This lens has a focal range of 5.8 - 17.4 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 105 mm. The lens is not threaded.
The FX7 proves that little cameras can have image stabilizers too. If you're tired of blurry photos (especially indoors), the FX7 can help. Sensors in the FX7 detect camera movement, and an element in the lens is shifted to compensate. 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.
Here's an example:
Both photos were taken at 1/3.2 seconds. The one on the left was taken without image stabilization, while the one on the right was taken with Mode 2 stabilization (more on that later).
To the upper-left of the lens is the FX7's built-in flash. The flash has a decent working range of 0.3 - 4.0 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 2.2 m at telephoto. You cannot attach an external flash to this camera.
On the opposite side of the picture is the AF-assist lamp, which doubles as the self-timer lamp. The AF-assist lamp helps the FX7 focus in low light conditions and is always a welcome feature.
The other "big" feature on the FX7 can be found on the back of the camera. That is, of course, the large 2.5" LCD display. While it's large in terms of size, it's not big on resolution, with just 114,000 pixels. While I noticed the low resolution while viewing images on the screen, it didn't particularly bother me. In low light, I found the LCD to be a little hard to see. While it "gains up" a bit, things were still pretty dark in my opinion. The "power LCD" function didn't really help matters, either. Keep this in mind if you do a lot of shooting in dim conditions.
In case you didn't notice, the FX7 does not have an optical viewfinder. This is one of those personal decisions that you have to make when buying a digital camera. The lack of a viewfinder bothers me, but it may not bother you.
Just to the right of that huge LCD is the four-way controller. This is used for opening and navigating the menu system, as well as:
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 this 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. 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).
Below the four-way controller are two buttons. The one on the left toggles the LCD and what is shown on it on and off. Holding this button down boosts the LCD brightness which comes in handy when shooting outdoors. The other button activates the FX7's burst mode and is also used to delete photos in playback mode.
Speaking of burst mode, there are three of them on the FX7. In high speed mode the camera takes four shots at 3 frames/second. In low speed mode the frame rate drops to 2 frames/second with the total number of shots remaining at four. An infinite recording option will keep shooting at 2 frames/second until the memory card is full. Here's one of those places where a high speed SD card is advisable.
Up on top of the FX7 you'll find the speaker, microphone, power switch, shutter release button with the zoom controller around it, mode dial, and a button for the image stabilizer. Thankfully only a few of those require further discussion. Before I do that, let me point out that the speaker is only for operational sounds. You cannot hear the audio track in a movie you've recorded.
The first thing to mention here is the zoom controller. This moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 1.8 seconds. I counted ten steps throughout the zoom range.
The next item over is the mode dial. I'm not thrilled with its placement, as I found it easy to accidentally bump with your thumb, throwing the camera into a different mode. The items on the mode dial include:
The last item up here is a button for adjusting the image stabilization feature. When the "mode 1" setting is used, the stabilizer is always running, which helps you compose your photo. Mode 2 only activates the stabilizer when the picture is actually taken, which actually does a better job of eliminating camera shake. You can also turn the whole thing off, which is advisable under certain situations, such as when the camera is on a tripod.
Nothing to see here!
On this side of the camera you'll find the FX7's I/O ports, which are protected by a plastic cover. These ports include USB + A/V out (one port for both) as well as DC-in (for optional AC adapter).
The final stop on our tour is the bottom of the FX7. Here you'll find the battery compartment, memory card slot, and metal tripod mount (barely seen in this picture). The battery/memory card slots are covered by a very flimsy plastic door.
You should be able to open that plastic door while the camera is on a tripod.
The included CGA-S004A battery is shown at right.
Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7
It takes about two seconds for the FX7 to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures.
There's a live histogram!
Autofocus speeds were good, with the camera locking focus in about 0.4 seconds in most cases. Even when the camera had to "hunt" a bit to lock focus, it didn't take very long. Low light focusing was good, thanks to the FX7's AF-assist lamp.
Shutter lag was low, even at slower shutter speeds where it often occurs.
Shot-to-shot speed is excellent, with a delay of a little over a second before you can take another shot, assuming the post-shot review feature is turned off.
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 FX7:
Yes, you DO need a larger memory card right away! The FX7 does not support the RAW or TIFF image formats.
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 FX7. 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:
If you want access to the full menu you'll have to use one of the other shooting modes. In those modes you'll get to use the attractive new menu system that I also saw on the FZ-series models. The full menu includes the following options:
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 DMC-FX7 did a fine job with our macro test. Our test subject is quite smooth, with no noise or grain to be found. Colors are accurate and saturated.
You can get as close to the subject as 5 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at the telephoto end on the FX7.
The only way to take really long exposures like this one (4 secs) is to use the Night Scenery mode. This allows for exposures as long as 8 seconds. In the regular shooting mode, the camera will not go any slower than 1 second, which isn't enough for this photo. In Night Scenery mode, the ISO is locked at 100, so noise levels are a bit higher than they would be at ISO 80.
Back to the picture at hand. The FX7 took in plenty of light, as you can see. The photo does look a little over-processed to me, but it should be fine when downsized or printed. Purple fringing was not an issue.
I got full-on demon redeye on the DMC-FX7, which isn't surprising considering how close the lens and flash are to each other. While your mileage may vary, I expect that you'll have a problem too. Redeye can be cleaned up fairly well in software these days.
There's mild barrel distortion at the wide-end of the FX7's lens. I see a bit of vignetting (dark corners) as well, but this was not an issue in my real world photos.
Overall, image quality on the FX7 was very good. Images were sharp, well-exposed, and low in terms of noise and purple fringing. Colors could've been more saturated in my opinion, and thankfully there's a vivid color option on the camera if you agree with my assessment. I didn't see any "funny stuff" like blurry corners, either.
Please don't just take my word for it -- have a look at our gallery and decide if the FX7's photos meet your expectations! I encourage you to print the photos, as well.
While decent, the FX7's movie mode isn't really anything to get excited about. You can record video at 320 x 240 at either 10 or 30 frames/second until the memory card is full. Sound is recorded as well.
The included 16MB memory card can hold just 25 seconds of video at the 30 fps setting. For the sake of comparison, a 256MB SD card will allow you to take a movie 8 minutes long.
As is usually the case, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming. The image stabilizer functions in movie mode, which is certainly helpful.
Movies are saved in QuickTime format. A capture of the first frame of the movie is saved as JPEG along with the movie.
Here's a brief sample movie for you. I apologize for the wind noise.
Click to play movie (5.7 MB, 320 x 240, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't play it? Download QuickTime.
The DMC-FX7 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. The camera is also 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 FX7.
You can also rotate, resize, and crop your photos in playback mode.
One other feature that I appreciate is the 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.
Photo playback speed varies a bit, depending on the speed of your SD card. It can range from instant on an "ultra" card to about 0.5 second on a regular one.
How Does it Compare?
There's a lot to like about the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7. It's small and stylish, it takes great photos, it's fast, it has a HUGE LCD display, and last but certainly not least, it has image stabilization! Let's start with the last thing on that list. Image stabilizers are typically found on big ultra zoom cameras, and it's great to see this feature trickle down to a compact camera. While it won't work miracles, the stabilizer will allow you to take photos at slower shutter speeds than you could otherwise. In this very review I have a sharp photo taken a 1/3 second without a tripod -- try that on a regular camera!
There's plenty more to talk about. The FX7 takes great photos -- maybe a little dull in the color department but that's easy to fix if it bothers you. Camera performance is quite good, and gets even better with a high speed SD card. The FX7's AF-assist lamp makes low light focusing a breeze. This is pretty much a point-and-shoot camera, though it does have manual white balance. Long exposures are also available by using the Night Scenery mode. The FX7 has a huge 2.5" LCD, though the resolution isn't very high and low light visibility isn't great. Like the FZ-series models I just tested, the continuous shooting modes on the FX7 are impressive. Lastly, the camera is nice and small, rivaling the latest Digital ELPHs in terms of size and weight.
There are a couple of things that I didn't like about the FX7, and I mentioned a few of them above. Other things include the lack of an optical viewfinder, major redeye in flash shots, below average battery life, and a so-so movie mode. Despite all that, I recommend the DMC-FX7 as a great compact camera whose image stabilizers gives you a lot more flexibility than the competition.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other ultra compact cameras worth considering include the Canon PowerShot SD300 Digital ELPH, Casio Exilim EX-Z55, Fuji FinePix F450, Konica Minolta DiMAGE X50 and G600, Nikon Coolpix 5200, Olympus AZ-2 Zoom and Stylus Verve, Pentax Optio S5i, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T1.
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DMC-FX7 and its competitors before you buy!
Want to see how the photo quality turned on? Check out our photo gallery!
Want a second opinion?
You'll find another review at Steve's Digicams.
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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