Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7
Panasonic's new Lumix not only has it all, but its price brings it into range for even casual photographers.
February 28, 2006
Digital camera makers are constantly one-upping each other, either by adding features or lowering cost. Only occasionally do those two variables intersect. But Panasonic's DMC-FZ7 puts an array of high end features in a lightweight camera for less than $400. With a 12x zoom lens carrying the venerable Leica name, 6-megapixel resolution, a 2.5" LCD and an optical viewer this camera is tough to put down.
I unboxed the FZ7 and was surprised at its light weight. I was expecting the extended zoom range to add weight to the camera, but the 35mm equivalent of a 36mm to 432mm zoom doesn't bulk up the camera at all. The camera has an additional trick available at some resolution levels that extends the optical zoom range to 17.5x. This is truly an amazing range that let me get close to wildlife and sporting events without injury. The camera supports an additional 4x digital zoom. But -- as with any digital zoom -- you're probably better off shooting at maximum optical zoom and cropping in your computer to get the shot you want.
Taking pictures at nearly any focal length past 100mm, or at slow shutter speeds is sure to introduce motion blur. But the FZ7 as well as Panasonic's entire line of Lumix cameras, includes its MEGA Image Stabilization system that uses a gyroscope to adjust for camera movement. I was able to take shots at the maximum zoom in bright sunlight, and still get sharp images.
The FZ7's image quality is very good. The combination of a high quality lens and 6-megapixel resolution make for photos that can be enlarged to at least 11 x 14 prints, and display wonderfully on a web page or video slide show. Newer cameras may offer higher resolution sensors, but even 10-megapixel images are likely to be indistinguishable under normal use conditions.
Like most modern digicams, the FZ7 has a selection of scene-specific presets for exposure and lighting conditions. A dial at the top of the camera provides quick access to automatic and manual exposure, macro, and video modes. If you need something more specific for shooting sports, food pictures, party setting, or even fireworks, turning the dial to the SCN setting brings up an easy to navigate menu on the LCD showing all 16 available settings. The native format of the CCD image sensor is the standard 4:3 ratio, but you can change it to either 3:2 or 16:9 aspect ratios if you are shooting for specific display destinations. Since these settings only result in limiting the use of the full image sensor, you may do better to simply use the full 4:3 format and crop your shots in the computer.
The FZ7 picture size, which relates to the final quality of the image, can be set at one of six settings, ranging from full quality 6-megapixel to the smallest size of .3-megapixel. At the same time, you can select either low- or high-quality JPG files. For the very highest quality images, the camera can be set to save TIF format files, which result in image files as large as 15MB each.
I found the placement of the controls logical and all within easy finger-reach. There are even dedicated buttons to turn image stabilization on and off, and to switch between automatic and manual focus. Boot time, which includes initial focus, was less than 3 seconds, and shutter lag after auto-focus was almost non-existent.
I took some shots using a tripod, only to find that accessing both the battery and memory card requires removing the camera from tripod head. The camera comes with a lens shade, which may be necessary for some shooting situations, but using it makes the camera feel bulky even if it doesn't add any appreciable weight.
The LCD is bright and easy to see in almost every lighting condition. For those times when you want your eye to the camera, the optical viewfinder is available at the touch of a button.
If you don't mind carrying a full sized camera (one you can't realistically put in a pocket), the FZ7 is a great choice. It's $400 price tag puts it within competitive range of most point-and-shoot digicams with less zoom range and far fewer features.
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