Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 Review

 
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Panasonic DMC-FZ7 Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Slightly oversaturated color (especially reds and blues), very typical of consumer digital cameras. Generally good hue accuracy, though often a hint of a warm cast.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.

Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life. The Lumix DMC-FZ7 does get a little carried away with strong red and blue tones, although individual readers will have to judge for themselves from our test and "gallery" shots whether it's too much for their tastes or not. The FZ7 did fairly well with Caucasian skin tones under daylight lighting, but on our calibrated sRGB monitors they tended to look just slightly orange. (It's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.) Still, most consumers should find the DMC-FZ7's vibrant color appealing.

The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is. Here, the DMC-FZ7 pulled reds toward orange, blues toward violets, and overall had a tendency toward a slightly warm color balance. That said, the camera produced pleasing results under common yet tricky lighting, such as indoor incandescent lighting.

The bottom line on the FZ7's color is that most consumers will probably like the very bright, vibrant tones, but people preferring a more understated approach to color rendering may find it a bit overdone.

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Pretty good color with the Manual white balance setting, acceptable with Auto, about average exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance +1.0 EV Incandescent WB +1.0 EV
Manual White Balance +1.0 EV

Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was just a bit warm and reddish in Auto white balance mode, though still quite usable, and better than average among the cameras we've tested. We liked the results with the Manual setting the best, but an argument could certainly be made for the shot with Auto white balance being more faithful to the original scene. (The Incandescent setting resulted in a stronger warm cast.) The Lumix DMC-FZ7 required a +1.0 EV exposure compensation boost to get a good exposure, which is about average under this lighting. Overall color is pretty good, though skin tones are a bit orange and the blue flowers are quite purplish. (A very common outcome for this shot.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulb, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the US.

Outdoors, daylight
Good color balance, with very bright colors. Good overall exposure accuracy.

Auto White Balance, +0.7 EV Auto White Balance, Auto Exposure

Outdoor shots generally showed slightly better than average exposure accuracy, though with slightly blown out highlights under harsh lighting, even when using the camera's low contrast option. Shadow detail was also slightly limited, but not enough to cause real concern. The camera the same or slightly less exposure compensation than we're accustomed to seeing on consumer digital cameras.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
High resolution, 1,250 - 1,300 lines of strong detail.

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,250 lines per picture height vertically, 1,300 horizontally, with extinction at around 1,850. (Some slight color artifacts were also noticeable in the lower line frequencies.) Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail. Beware that while you might be able to make out what looks like distinct lines at numbers higher than those we've mentioned here, the camera is just doing its best to continue interpreting the lines. If you zoom in and follow them from the wider portions, you'll see the lines converge and reappear several times, so the lines you see at 1,600 and higher are really only artifacts generated by the camera's imaging system.

Strong detail to 1,300 lines horizontal Strong detail to 1,250 lines vertical

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Fairly sharp images, with average blurring of detail from noise suppression, and about-right sharpening.

Good definition of high-contrast elements. Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail in areas of subtle contrast, as in the darker parts of Marti's hair here.

The Lumix DMC-FZ7's images are pretty crisp overall, thanks to in-camera sharpening that's just about right. (Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.) High contrast subjects like the tree b ranches above show heightened contrast around the edges of details, but the effect isn't overpowering. There's even some edge enhancement in the highlighted strands of hair in the shot above right.

Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears. The crop above right shows this in the darkest areas, which show limited detail. (The FZ7 appears to be about average in this regard.)

ISO & Noise Performance
Moderate noise at the normal sensitivity settings, stronger noise pattern with brighter pixels at the higher settings. Higher than average image noise at high ISOs.

ISO 80 ISO 100
ISO 200 ISO 400

The Lumix DMC-FZ7's lower ISO settings produced moderate noise (somewhat higher than average, but not objectionable even in fairly large prints), with only slightly blurred detail in the dark areas. At ISO 200, image noise pixels become much brighter, though detail still looks pretty good. At ISO 400, noise is much higher, with more blurring as well. Noise at ISO 400 is one of the FZ7's weakest characteristics: Shots taken at ISO 400 in daylight still look fairly crisp when printed at 8x10 inches, but most users will likely find the colored mottling from the noise objectionable. Shooting indoors under incandescent light (something of a worst case for digicam noise levels), the FZ7's shots really aren't usable for prints larger than 5x7 inches.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with good overall detail, but rather high contrast and limited shadow detail. Pretty good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images under average city street lighting and slightly darker conditions.

+0.7 EV +1.0 EV +1.3 EV

Sunlight:
Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)

The Lumix DMC-FZ7 produced slightly high contrast in response to the harsh lighting here, though midtone detail was still pretty good. Shadow detail was slightly limited, with some noise suppression contributing to the loss of detail. You could arguably stick with the +0.7 EV exposure here, though I personally felt the overall shot was just a little too dim, despite brighter highlights with the +1.0 EV shot. (In "real life" though, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.)

1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
Low NR
ISO
80
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1 sec
f2.8
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1.6 sec
f2.8
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6 sec
f2.8
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8 sec
f2.8
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8 sec
f2.8
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8 sec
f2.8
ISO
100
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1 sec
f2.8
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1.6 sec
f2.8
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6 sec
f2.8
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8 sec
f2.8
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8 sec
f2.8
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8 sec
f2.8
ISO
200
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1/2 sec
f2.8
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1/1 sec
f2.8
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3.2 sec
f2.8
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6 sec
f2.8
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8 sec
f2.8
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8 sec
f2.8
ISO
400
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1/4 sec
f2.8
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1/2 sec
f2.8
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1.6 sec
f2.8
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3.2 sec
f2.8
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8 sec
f2.8
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8 sec
f2.8

Low light:
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 performed pretty well on the low-light test, capturing bright images at the lowest light level at the 400 ISO setting, although noise was quite high there. At the other ISO settings, images were bright and usable down to about 1/8 foot-candle, which is about 1/8 as bright as average city street lighting at night. Color balance was pretty good with the Auto white balance setting. The camera's autofocus system worked well also, as it was able to focus on the subject down to the 1/8 foot-candle light level unassisted, and down to the darkest light level with the AF assist enabled.

The FZ7 has three noise-reduction options available in its Record menu, we used the "Standard" setting for all our shots, but tried the "Low" option at the darkest light levels in the test above. The results in the "Low NR" column show a slight improvement in fine detail at the cost of a bit more noise, but the overall effect is slight.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.

Flash

Coverage and Range
Powerful flash at close range, though not a match for the camera's 12x optical zoom. Our standard shots required about average exposure compensation, coverage was pretty uniform.

36mm equivalent 432mm equivalent
Normal Flash +1.0 EV Slow-Sync Flash +1.3 EV

Flash coverage was slightly uneven at wide angle, but but much better than average. At full telephoto, the target was too far away for the flash to illuminate it. In the Indoor test, the DMC-FZ7's flash underexposed our subject just a little at its default setting, requiring a +1.0 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get good results. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced slightly brighter and more even results, though with a stronger pinkish-orange cast from the room lighting. In this mode, the best results were obtained with a +1.3 EV exposure compensation boost.

8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft
Click to see FZ7FL08.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.2
ISO 80
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1/30 sec
f3.2
ISO 80
Click to see FZ7FL10.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.3
ISO 80
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1/30 sec
f3.3
ISO 80
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1/30 sec
f3.3
ISO 80
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1/30 sec
f3.3
ISO 80
Click to see FZ7FL14.JPG
1/30 sec
f3.3
ISO 80

Flash power remained bright to about the 11 foot distance, diminishing slightly from there. The target is visible at 14 feet, but just a little dim. Better than average flash range overall.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality, great color, usable 13x19 inch prints. ISO 400 images are noisy with poor detail at 8x10, fine at 5x7 though.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5000 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)

The Panasonic FZ7 proved to have enough resolution to make slightly soft but entirely acceptable prints as large as 13x19 inches, and very crisp 8x10 inch ones. As usual, the real challenge for print quality comes at higher ISO settings, and here the FZ7 struggled a little. At ISO 400, its prints were noisy with poor detail at 8x10 inches. (Interestingly, high contrast details like fine branches against the sky were still very sharp, but the anti-noise processing made areas of subtle contrast very soft and mushy.) Colored blotches from the image noise were also quite evident. ISO 400 shots looked fine when printed at 5x7 inches though, and ISO 200 ones did fine as 8x10s.

Color from the Panasonic FZ7 was quite bright and vibrant when printed on the Canon i9900, actually not looking quite as overdone as when viewed on-screen. (It's possible that the i9900's own excellent color management may have been selectively toning things down a little.) Bottom line, bright, appealing color and excellent sharpness, but higher than average noise at ISO 400., we found that it had enough resolution to make very crisp 8x10 inch prints. At 11x14, its prints were a bit softer looking, but more than adequate for wall or table display. At high ISO, image noise levels are held in check, but at the cost of rather soft-looking images. ISO 200 photos look OK printed at 8x10 inches, but ISO 400 ones are marginal even at 5x7 inches, but look fine at 4x6. Color-wise, the Panasonic FZ7's images looked really great when printed on the i9900, with bright, vibrant color.

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 Photo Gallery.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

Panasonic DMC-FZ7

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