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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7

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Enthusiasts who crave high-end features will appreciate the DMC-FZ7's manual exposure controls, with shutter speeds ranging from 8 seconds to 1/2,000 second or 60 seconds to 1/2,000 second in full manual mode. Colour-bias tweaking is available for all but auto white balance; contrast, sharpness, and saturation adjustments as well as multiple metering modes are also available.

In addition to JPEG and TIFF (raw is unavailable), the DMC-FZ7 offers three different aspect ratios, 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9, which are also available in the camera's movie mode. The 16:9 movies have a resolution of 848x480, rather than a letterboxed VGA. Because each aspect ratio uses different portions of the CCD, file sizes (resolution) and optical zoom range differ for each.

With a bevy of scene modes (including the new Starry Sky with long exposure shutter speeds of 15, 30, and 60 seconds) and a Simple mode with minimal menu options, beginners who want the benefits of a megazoom and OIS should feel comfortable using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7, too.

Slightly more responsive than its already peppy predecessor, the DMC-FZ5, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 generally delivers the goods. Start-up time to first shot takes about 2.8 seconds, with time between shots measuring 1.5 seconds with and without flash for JPEGs and remains a respectable 7.7 seconds when shooting TIFF.

The camera shines in all three of its burst modes (high, low, and unlimited), delivering between 1.3fps and 3.1fps, depending upon the mode. Shutter lag is minimal in bright light, although it's slightly more noticeable in dim light, even with the camera's AF assist lamp.

Still, the DMC-FZ7 does a good job of locking focus in dimly lit conditions, and at the same time, the LCD gains up to deliver a bright view in low light. Although the low-resolution LCD shows some ghosting in low light due to a slow refresh rate, it's bright and clear when shooting indoors and out. It also offers both extrabright and High Angle settings; the latter makes it easier to view the monitor at an angle. The EVF is also low resolution and, while sufficient for composing when necessary, is a less attractive choice for viewing than the LCD.

Shooting speed in seconds  
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Time to first shot  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Konica Minolta Dimage Z6
Sony Cyber Shot DSC-H1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ4
Kodak EasyShare P850
Canon PowerShot S2 IS
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7

Continuous-shooting speed in frames per second  
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Typical continuous-shooting speed   
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ4
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7

Image quality
Overall, our test shots look quite good, with even exposures and accurate colours. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7's lens produces reasonably sharp images throughout the focal range, though the left side tends to be a little softer than the rest. Throughout the range, we also noticed blue edges stemming from blooming in the blue channel and occasional purple fringing along high-contrast areas.

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Even as low as ISO 80, you can see how noise degrades details, such as the text on the tape measure.

New for the DMC-FZ7, Panasonic introduces high-sensitivity mode, which adds ISO 800 and ISO 1,600 to the camera's range. Unfortunately, noise is noticeable as low as ISO 80 -- bad enough to obscure small details -- and, not surprisingly, becomes worse at higher sensitivities. Photos are pretty much unusable at ISO 800 and ISO 1,600.

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