Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7
- Sharp pictures, Lots of features
- Poor colour representation, Fickle lighting response
A bit of a let down compared to Panasonic's earlier models. If they could fix the camera's colour response they'd have a winner on their hands, but as it stands this mode isn't quite up to the high Panasonic standard.
Price$ 769.00 (AUD)
To employ an already grossly overused cliche, size does matter. Being that you already know this is a camera review and that the site is family friendly, we can only be talking in relation to zoom (we know a few of you are closing the review in disappointment at this point). Recently we've had a rush of 10X zoom models through the office, so when Panasonic's latest advanced camera offering, the FZ7 waltzed into the office and trumped them all with its massive 12X lens, we couldn't help but take notice. Panasonic has generally provided some very competent advanced models, and whilst the FZ7 takes a decent stab at it, it falls down in a few key areas.
But first, a few of the good things; the FZ7 is packed with a nice set of features. It has three continuous shot modes that operate from 1.8 to 3 frames per second, perfect for all of those unpredictable moments. Shutter speed extends all the way from 1/2000th of a second to 60 seconds, and whilst a bulb mode would have been nice, 60 seconds is really all most people will need. White balance and focus can both be adjusted manually and there are 16 pre-set shooting modes for the slightly less confident photographer. We also loved the little exposure meter that appears when you are taking a shot, indicating whether or not your settings are correct for that particular lighting. The closer to zero, the more balanced the shot.
However despite our attempts to make full use of this feature, we struggled, because the FZ7 is one of the most fickle cameras we've seen recently. Under lighting conditions which normally work perfectly, we were receiving constant Imatest (our photo testing software) errors. It took several hours to get our photographs looking normal, and that required the use of a higher ISO setting than normal. This was the key problem with this model, and something you must keep in mind when purchasing.
When we did finally get Imatest operating properly with this model it revealed a second flaw, probably linked to the first; colour reproduction. No matter how hard we tried, the best colour score we could get was 16.8. Considering most good models fall in the range between 5 and 8, with 12 being a poor result, the FZ7 really struggled here. You can see it in the test shots, a lot of the leaves don't look particularly natural, and our block shades were horribly askew. As stated, this probably has something to do with the camera's fickle nature. In perfect conditions it may score a little better, but we tried over 50 different configurations and failed to improve on it.
This is really unfortunate as the rest of the camera's qualities were more than above par. It received a robust 1387 score for sharpness, which is above average for a six megapixel point and shoot and will be enough to take shots at least up to A4 and perhaps even larger. Imatest revealed a small amount of oversharpening, roughly 9%, but we felt it had no noticeable impact on the pictures, which came out vibrant and full of detail. Image noise, which was a big problem on the FZ7s predecessor, was a little more controlled here. It scored .95%, which is a decent if not exceptional score. Most scores under 1% will not have a significant impact on the quality of your shots. We did however notice a little purple fringing rear its ugly head in our outdoors shots, so be careful to keep your exposure settings under control in those circumstances.
Speed wise, the FZ7 is an average performer. Shutter speed clocks in at roughly .09 of a second whilst the unit takes about three seconds to power up (on account of the extra large lens). Shot to shot time was a little disappointing at 2.5 seconds, but the infinite continuous shot mode mentioned earlier does help rectify this somewhat.
Panasonic has stuck with their standard design on this model and it is a bit of a mixed bag. It sports a hefty structure that almost feels suited to a full D-SLR, with a jutting side grip and a massive lens. The wide yet squat body means many of the controls are also a little difficult to access. Compared to the taller yet thinner models, it is a little uncomfortable to operate as everything feels crammed together. That said, the rubberized grip is a nice touch, and it has just enough weight behind it to feel solid, without requiring an Olympic weightlifter to get it off the ground.
Battery life was a little improved from previous Panasonic models. We managed over 400 shots this time on a single charge of the included lithium ion battery. It isn't the best model we've looked at in this regard, but 400 shots is more than adequate, and the use of a lithium battery rather than AAs will save you money in the long run.
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