Star Rating: 4.5
About the Camera
If you're in the market for a massive 12x zoom, you really only have two choices: the DMC-FZ7 or the Canon S2 IS (the S3 SI will also have a 12x zoom, but you can't get it until May of 2006).
With a zoom this powerful, optical image stabilization is a necessity: this reduces the effect of camera shake on your photos when you're holding the camera in your hands. The Mega OIS build into the FZ7 does the job remarkably well.
While the DMC-FZ7 has the size and weight of a compact camera, it packs in enough advanced features to keep a digital SLR enthusiast (like myself) completely happy.
The 12x image-stabilized zoom is the standout feature of this camera. A 12x zoom offers you a huge range of photographic opportunities, from broad landscapes to wildlife closeups.
The camera packs 6.0 megapixels into its sensor, great for 8x10 prints and superb for anything smaller than that. The optimized image processor inside the FZ7 helps the camera simultaneously process an image, save it to the SD memory card and display it on the LCD.
What does this really mean? The camera is responsive: autofocus is fast and accurate, and there's no camera delay when you press the shutter button to take a photo.
DrawbacksThere are only two, but one was a real problem for me. The first issue is that the camera doesn't have an LCD that flips out from the camera body. This means that shots from high and low vantage points have to be taken "blind" with the DMC-FZ7.
The second drawback is photos taken with the DMC-FZ7 include a lot of grainy noise at high ISO settings. While the promotional material for the camera touts its ability to take photos in low-light conditions (which it certainly can), realize that these photos won't look as clean and clear as those taken at lower ISOs.
Look and Feel
In a word: exceptional.
While the DMC-FZ7 is a compact digital camera, it doesn't feel that way once you hold it. The grip is surprisingly comfortable, and the shutter release button is right where you want it to be.
The zoom is easy to control with your index finger, and zooms in and out at a measured pace so that you can compose your photos precisely.
The camera is light, and while it won't fit into the pocket of your shirt, it's easy to throw it over your shoulder and head out the door.
Even though the LCD on the back doesn't flip out from the camera body, it makes up for this lack in sheer size: at 2.5 inches it is large enough to review your photos, and works well when showing off pictures to friends.
I am used to the fast response times of digital SLR cameras, and was pleasantly surprised by the Panasonic DMC-FZ7. Focusing was instantaneous except in the most challenging low-light conditions. There is little delay between the time you press the shutter and when the camera takes the shot, great news for action photographers.
There is almost no limit to the photo opportunities with a 12x zoom. I was able to take photos of scenic vistas and closeups of birds in flight all on the same hike.
Even though the image-stabilized zoom and fast response time are the big reasons to take a first look at this camera, it's the smaller features that really won me over.
The LCD display modes include a grid setting (to help keep those horizons level) and a real-time histogram that helps you see when photos are correctly exposed.
There are photo modes galore that optimize the camera settings for a wide variety of conditions. Personal favorites include snow, babies, fireworks and party.
The manual focus is like nothing I've ever seen: the camera creates a zoomed-in frame on the LCD so that you can clearly see when the subject is in focus. Finally, manual focus on a compact digital that really works.
The most common menu settings are easy to access with a directional joystick on the back of the camera. Whether you want to adjust ISO or image quality, it's easy to do with a flick of the thumb.
The Panasonic DMC-LZ7 is a great choice for the indecisive: no matter what the subject of your photo, the LZ7 has a setting that will help you get the shot.
It's a great camera for people with kids, since the fast response time means that you don't miss fleeting moments.
It's easy to carry around everywhere you go, and yet still comfortable enough to use for an entire day of photography.
The "extra" features on the camera help with photographic composition and ensure photos that aren't poorly exposed.
While the LCD doesn't flip out from the camera body, this is only a drawback for photographers who enjoy taking shots at odd angles.
Chris Roberts purchased his first digital SLR camera 3 years ago, and hasn't looked back. He continues to learn and write about new and emerging digital SLRs to this day with the Digital SLR Guide. He is also a co-host of the Carnival of Cameras.