Home | Reviews | Q&A | Links | Gallery | Free Photo Hosting
Panasonic Lumix FX7 Digital Camera Review
Introduction: When I first read about the Panasonic Lumix FX7 (and FX2) I immediately thought WOW! These digital cameras are extremely compact, with a 3x Optical zoom, and a large TFT screen, but rather than being just like all the other compact 3x Optical zoom cameras - these ones have optical image stabilisation! - The FX7 is the bigger brother to the FX2, and is a 5MP digital camera with a 3x Optical zoom Leica lens (5.8 - 17.4mm 1:2.8 - 5.0 equivelant to 35 - 105mm on a 35mm camera), and "Mega Optical Image Stabilisation". The camera comes with a 16mb SD card and uses a very compact rechargable lithium-ion battery. The camera has a massive 2.5" colour screen that dominates the back of the camera. The camera takes SD memory, and records 320x240 videos at 30fps with sound. The camera is available from around £289 / $499, in Silver, Black, Blue and Bronze. The camera's size and weight: Dimensions: 94 x 50 x 24 mm (3.7 x 2.0 x 1.0 in) . Weight: 135 g (without batteries or recording media).

The camera offers good value for money - especially for a 5mp digital camera with a Leica lens and image stabilisation - the camera was first annouced in July 04.

Panasonic have this to say about the cameras:

"Panasonic is introducing the incoming LUMIX models 5.0-megapixel DMC-FX7 and 4.0-megapixel DMC-FX2, incorporating 3x optical zoom (equivalent to 35mm to 105mm on a 35mm film camera) and MEGA O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilizer). The DMC-FX5/FX1, the world’s first compact camera with MEGA O.I.S., have been developed thoroughly into the DMC-FX7/FX2. DMC-FX7 has achieved the conspicuous downsizing by approx. 33% ( 94.1 x 50.0 x 24.2 mm ) compared to FX5/FX1, while adopting the 2.5” large LCD monitor. DMC-FX2 is the same in size with 2.0” LCD monitor. Both models have enhanced their excellence not only with the compactness and total number of pixels, but also with a long list of technical improvements as in the image processing LSI and in the accuracy of O.I.S."

Full specifications and further details can be found on the Panasonic Site, and press release.

The Camera: It's VERY compact and made out of metal, with a rubbery blue coating -


Front - Camera off. Built in lens-cover - Flash, on the right is the focus-assist lamp.


Front - Camera on, lens extended.


Back - the huge 2.5" TFT, 4-way controller, menu button in the middle, display button and drive mode button.


Top - Microphone, On/off switch, wide/telephoto zoom, shutter release, Mega Optical Image Stabilisation (MOIS) button, and mode dial (currently on play)


Bottom, under the camera is the tripod mount which is under the lens. On the left is the battery / memory card compartment.


Left Side (from back) - nothing


On this side is the strap holder, and a small cover for the AV out / DC in.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm automatic, this camera is VERY compact!


There is no optical viewfinder, as the camera uses the large TFT screen.


Size comparison - it's also very thin!

Specifications / Features:

  • 5.0 million pixels (2560 x 1920)
  • 3x optical zoom Leica lens (35 - 105 equivalent)
  • Mega Optical Image Stabilisation (Mega OIS) system.
  • Compact metal body
  • 2.5" Colour TFT with 114,000 pixels
  • Venus Engine II
  • Macro mode: shooting from as close as 5cm
  • VGA 320/240 30fps movie recording function with sound (unlimited)
  • ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 80, 100, 200, and 400 equivalents
  • Scene modes / Simple mode
  • USB 2.0
  • 3fps mega burst mode.

Full Specifications can be found on the Panasonic Site.

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Battery pack
  • Battery carry case
  • Battery charger
  • Strap
  • 16 MB SD Memory Card
  • USB cable
  • Audio/video cable
  • Instruction manual
  • Warranty card

Average box contents - a larger memory card and a case would have been nice. (I managed to get a very cool free case with my camera, but I don't know if this is standard).

Features / Options: The camera mode is selected using the dial on the top/back of the camera:

The modes are: Play, Photo, Simple Mode, Macro, Scene, Video

The buttons on the back of the camera quickly give you access to: EV, Self-Timer, Flash, Rev (Reviews most recent image), Display, Shooting mode, and Menu. The button on the top of the camera gives you access to the Mega OIS modes.

In Photo mode the menu is different depending which mode you are in; they are accessed by pressing the MENU button. Rather than laboriously going through and listing all the menu options available and where they are located, I will simply list/explain the main options this camera has so that you are aware of the different features and options.

The menu system in Photo/Macro mode is split into three pages: White balance, Sensitivity, Picture size, Quality, Audio Rec, Af mode, Af assist lamp, Slow shutter, Digital zoom, Colour effect (off, cool, warm, b&w, sepia), Picture adjust (Natural, standard, vivid), Flip anim.

The menu system in Simple mode has one section: Picture mode, Auto Review, Beep, Clock set.

The menu system in Scene mode: Picture size, Quality, Audio Record, Af mode, AF assist lamp, Slow shutter, Digital zoom, Flip anim.

The menu system in Video mode: White balance, Motion rate, Af Mode, AF Assist lamp, Digital zoom.

There is also a setup menu split into 3 pages. Monitor brightness, Auto-Review, Power save, Economy, Beep, Clock set, No. Reset, Reset, USB mode, Video out, Scene menu, Language.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures / and the following number of images will fit in the 16mb provided memory: (an extra memory card is recommended if you intend to go on holiday or are going to be away from a computer for more than a day!)

Size: Number of Photos Stored / Quality / (Average file size)
  FINE STANDARD  
2560 x 1920 8 (2mb) 18 (1mb)  
2048 x 1536 13 (1.4mb) 28 (560kb)  
1600 x 1200 26 (950kb) 49 (350kb)  
1280 x 960 - (600kb) - (230kb)  
640 x 480 - (190kb) - (90kb)  
HDTV (1920 x 1080) 20 (840kb) 40 (400kb)  
Movie 320x240/15fps 26 seconds    

You can fit an average amount of images on the provided 16mb, depeding on the size and amount of compressions used - although a larger memory card is definitely recommended. There is a fairly good choice of image size and compression levels available, although no RAW or TIFF mode. The HDTV / Widescreen mode is quite neat.

Speed, ease of use: Very easy to use, simply switch the camera on, and start taking photos. The screen updates are very quick and smooth - which is very impressive, especially considering the size of the screen. The camera is fairly quick in use. The camera is a very good size, especially as it has image stabilisation. The menus are easy to pick up and use. There is no optical viewfinder, but this hasn't been a problem so far. The 2.5" screen is very big, and impressive. The continuous shooting mode seems very quick, eg 3fps burst mode - unfortunately it's not continuous, although there is a slower continuous mode.

Battery usage: Seems okay - I managed to get about 44 photos from the battery that came with the camera, Panasonic say you should be able to get around 120 from the included battery. Your mileage may vary but it's obviously important to either buy a second battery or make sure you always take your charger with you, as you can not simple replace the battery with AA batteries.


LCD display in photo mode: Shutter speed, Aperture (displayed when shutter is half-pressed), Flash, Mode, Picture size and compression, Live Histogram, 64 remaining pictures, battery life. Anti-shake on - this is shown by the hand on the left.

LCD display in photo mode: When the shutter is half pressed, the screen will display the shutter and aperture settings (as long as you are not in AUTO mode). The screen is clear, and updates very smoothly - the colours appear accurate. The screen shows how many remaining photos you can take with the available memory, it also shows the picture size and compression quality, the battery level (when low), current mode, plus other things - it's also possible to enable a live histogram by pressing the display button.

Playback mode: Pressing the display button will display additional information about the picture, eg size, compression, white-balance, ae, ISO, shutter speed, aperture size - you can also view the pictures histogram. Scrolling through the photos is fast. The zoom can be used up to 16.0x (!!), there are in between steps in multiples of 2, eg 2x, 4x, 8x, and 16x, this feature is quick.

Playback Menu lets you: Rotate, Protect, DPOF Print, Slide show, Audio dub, Resize, Trim, Format.

Image Quality: Here are some sample photos/video(s) taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, Movie to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Full size (and medium size) versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the gallery!

Inside:

The guys Dave and me Heather

Inside: The camera has quite a powerful flash. Red eye was not noticable on most photos. Great colours and details - excellent skin colour, and excellent true to life colours.

Noise: [A small paragraph about noise:] Noise generally is a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image - this can be seen in the series of photos below, where the text on the speaker becomes more and more blurry and illegible as the ISO level increases. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise.

The camera has 5 modes for ISO: Auto, 80, 100, 200 or 400. To choose the ISO setting, you need to take the camera out of AUTO mode - This photo was taken without flash, actual pixels shown below from area next to the speaker/frog:


Picture, Flash off. (The FX7 photos could not be taken using the flash due to the photos being over-exposed as the FX7 did not turn the flash power down enough)

ISO80 - 100% ISO100 - 100%
ISO200 - 100% ISO400 - 100%

Noise levels at ISO80/100, are quite low - which means you get quite smooth images. ISO200/400 still displays fairly acceptable noise levels.

Update 07/10/04 - Mega optical image stabilisation mode 2 is used in the photo below on the left, and on the right MegaOIS is switched off. Both photos were taken in macro mode, the camera automatically picked ISO200, 1/8 shutter speed - the flash was off.

Mega OIS on Mega OIS off
100% - Actual pixels 100% - Actual pixels

Outside:

Unisys building Super Lamb Banana Red-House (Liver birds in background)

Great natural looking colour, low noise, LOTS of detail - no signs of vignetting in the corners. Most pictures taken on the 'FINE' setting - this creates a 5mp image which is around 2mb in size - I didn't notice jpeg artifacts in the images. Images are a tiny bit soft and when sharpened look very crisp.

Zoom: This camera has a 3x Optical zoom - the camera has a built in 4x Digital zoom which can be switched on and off - the digital zoom basically takes a smaller area of the photo and enlarges it using software to blur the image so that it does not look pixellated. Generally it's best to avoid using digital zoom as it degrades the quality of the image. If you need to crop an area of your image, or enlarge an area, you can get better results using an image manipulation program on your computer. I've included examples below simply to show what these features do - and whilst the digital zoom looks acceptable at the size shown (the last photo), if you printed the images out or viewed the full size versions in the gallery you would easily notice the negative effect digital zoom has on image quality.

Wide-angle 3x Optical zoom Full 3x Optical + 4x Digital

The digital zoom is seperated from the optical zoom with a line - When using the digital zoom the magnification level doesn't numerically appear on screen.

When using the optical zoom, it's fairly quiet, and quick, it has about 9 steps between wide and telephoto. The amount of optical zoom is not displayed on screen numerically. Using full telephoto zoom does not cause any camera blur problems due to the Mega O.I.S system.

Image Quality issues: Chromatic Aberrations / Purple Fringing is a slight issue on this camera in some of the pictures - which is surprising considering the Leica / 3x Optical zoom lens - this is normally a problem on ultra zoom cameras.

Macro: When this camera is in macro mode, the lens is at full wide angle, and you can zoom in - you can also use the digital zoom - The camera can focus down to 5cm in macro mode.

Macro - Timex Watch Actual Pixels (100%)
Macro Mode- Minolta Dimage Z3 Actual Pixels (100%)

The macro mode is good, the Mega OIS helps a lot, as the first photo above was ISO200, shutter 1/20, and the lower photo was ISO100, shutter 1/15 - both photos hand held. The flash has a tendancy to wash out images when the subject is too close to the camera. Better results could be obtained with better lighting.

Movie: 320x240 - 30fps / 15fps (with 8khz / 8bps mono sound - the FX2 does not record sound with videos) - you can use the digital zoom with sound. The movie is recorded as a .MOV file. Length is only limited by the memory card size.


Screengrab - Download 320x240/30fps movie - Click here. (3.57mb MOV) (saved as Zip file)

The quality of the movie(s) is good/okay - 320x240 is a bit small compared to other digital cameras, 30fps is also good.

Conclusion

Image: Image quality is very good - the images have great colour, great detail (although they could do with a slight sharpen depending on your tastes), low noise, there is very little purple fringing, although it would be nice if there was a bit less. Image compression seems about right. The macro mode is good (a bit better than average). The flash did cause problems when the subject was too close. Auto white balance and metering seemed to be very good. The movie mode is good although a bit low-res compared to other cameras.

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is very compact, and very stylish, it has an excellent large 2.5" screen that has great, accurate colour, and updates very smoothly. The camera is easy to use, the menu systems easy to use. The 3x optical zoom and Mega Optical Image Stabilisation technology are VERY good, the Mega OIS lets you take photos that would previously have ended up blurry. Camera handling and design are very good. The camera is quick in use and has a quick and fairly quiet zoom. The camera may be a bit basic for some as it lacks shutter / aperture control etc, but for someone looking for a point and shoot camera this one is excellent.

Alternative compact 5mp digital cameras (Panasonic are the only company to put image stabilisation into this class of camera): Canon Digital IXUS 500, Sony Cyber-shot DSC T1, Sony Cyber-shot DSC P100 (Silver) / P120 (Black), Nikon Coolpix 5200, Olympus Camedia C 50 Zoom, HP PhotoSmart R707, Pentax Optio S5i, Pentax Optio S50, Konica Minolta Dimage G500/G530. Check amazon.co.uk / kelkoo.co.uk or amazon.com for the latest prices.

Summary: This extremely stylish 5mp ultra compact digital camera has a Leica 3x Optical zoom lens with Panasonic's Mega Optical Image Stabilisation (Mega O.I.S) technology, and a large 2.5" colour TFT screen. Its features are very impressive, the design, handling and speed of the camera are also impressive. Image quality is excellent, with great detail, great colours. The movie mode is slightly better than average recording 320 x 240, 30fps movies with sound. For around $499 / £289 online the camera offers good value for money. The camera is excellent, with Mega O.I.S, a Leica lens, and a massive 2.5" TFT screen, this camera is HIGHLY recommended!

Buy now from amazon.com for $499, or £289 in Black / Blue / Bronze from amazon.co.uk.

What I like:

  • Leica 3x Optical Zoom Lens
  • Mega Optical Image Stabilisation
  • Quick turn-on, continuous shots, focus etc
  • Good movie mode
  • Good macro mode
  • Extremely stylish and compact
  • Excellent 2.5" TFT screen
  • Excellent image quality - great colour and detail
  • Low noise

What I don't like:

  • Flash over-exposes images when subject is too close
  • Slight purple fringing
  • Battery life could be better

Remember to have a look at the full size (and medium size) versions of these photos in the gallery!