Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH7: Video and Image Quality

September 19, 2011 by Howard Creech Reads (1,860)
Editor's Rating

Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

    • Image/Video Quality
    • 8
    • Features
    • 8
    • Design / Ease of Use
    • 6
    • Performance
    • 7
    • Total Score:
    • 7.25
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Video Quality
The videos below that illustrate the FH7’s movie mode capabilities were shot in an old Woodlawn Avenue Coffee shop with only window light for illumination. I expected the videos to be dark and at least a bit grainy with some visible noise. In fact the HD video from the FH7 is surprisingly good – smooth and fluid with very good detail capture, accurate colors, and very little noise. My thanks to Kenny, our neighborhood latte artiste, for his kind assistance in the production of this video sample.

Image Quality
I expected the FH7’s tiny 16 megapixel CCD sensor to produce either very noisy images (noise rises exponentially as more pixels are crowded on to tiny sensors) or smooth, flat, over-corrected images with little or no fine detail from the noise reduction system. When I reviewed the first batch of images I’d shot with the FH7 on my monitor I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the FH7’s images were relatively noise-free and filled with the sort of fine detail that an over enthusiastic noise reduction system would have eliminated. Indoors the FH7’s images are noticeably better than most of its competition – due primarily to the FH7’s amazing noise management capabilities.

The FH7’s JPEG image files are clearly optimized for bold bright colors and slightly flat contrast. Images display very good resolution (sharpness), but default color interpolation is typical of modern consumer digicams. Most P&S digicams boost color saturation – reds are a bit too warm, blues are noticeably brighter than they are in real life and greens/yellows are overly vibrant. Veteran shooters call this “consumer color” because casual shooters (the demographic that buys the most digicams) like bright bold colors. The FH7’s image quality is noticeably better than most of the competing digicams in its price class.

The FH7 provides users with a decent selection of White Balance options, including Auto WB, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Incandescent, and White Set, but no fluorescent lighting option. The FH7’s Auto WB setting does a fine job across the board. The FH7’s Auto WB setting gets colors right even in dim indoor lighting. I didn’t try the camera under fluorescent lighting, so I can’t address how well the FH7 will manage the inherent greenish (cool white) or pinkish (warm white) color casts produced when shooting under fluorescent lighting.

Panasonic FH7 Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

The megapixel wars have arrived at the point of diminishing returns – crowding more pixels onto tiny sensors dependably results in higher levels of image degrading noise, fuzzy details, and lower contrast. Many manufacturers are turning down the heat and offering P&S digicams with resolution in the 10-12 megapixel range, but not Panasonic.

The FH7 provides a very impressive range of sensitivity options, including auto, intelligent ISO, and user-set options for ISO 100 to ISO 1600. ISO 100 and ISO 200 images are essentially indistinguishable. Both settings show over-saturated colors, slightly flat native contrast and very little noise. ISO 400 images were also very good, but with a tiny bit less pop.

Panasonic FH7 Sample Image
ISO 100
Panasonic FH7 Sample Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Panasonic FH7 Sample Image
ISO 200
Panasonic FH7 Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Panasonic FH7 Sample Image
ISO 400
Panasonic FH7 Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Panasonic FH7 Sample Image
ISO 800
Panasonic FH7 Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Panasonic FH7 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Panasonic FH7 Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop

At the ISO 800 setting, noise levels are noticeably higher and there’s a perceptible loss of fine detail. I didn’t shoot any ISO 1600 images, but I’m guessing they would be pretty noisy, totally lacking in fine detail, and very flat contrast. The FH7 features a high sensitivity Scene Mode which allows users to extend the sensitivity range from ISO 1600 to ISO 6400 – although I’m not sure why anyone would want to do that.

Additional Sample Images

Panasonic FH7 Sample Image Panasonic FH7 Sample Image
Panasonic FH7 Sample Image Panasonic FH7 Sample Image
Panasonic FH7 Sample Image Panasonic FH7 Sample Image

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