The FH7 was designed to be used in auto mode and Panasonic's iAuto mode is the very best smart Auto exposure mode I've used to date. Put the FH7 in iA mode and the camera will select the appropriate scene mode for the subject, detect and lock on any faces in the frame, balance contrast, sharpen the image, and reduce blur automatically. If you are a casual photographer and plan to use the FH7 in iAuto mode or movie mode full time this little camera will deliver consistently superior images and first rate HD video with essentially no effort on the part of the shooter.
In use the FH7 is a very quick little camera with no discernible (0.02 seconds) shutter lag and AF Acquisition times that are essentially (0.22 seconds) real time in good light.
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Sony Cyber-shot WX9||0.01|
|Nikon Coolpix S9100||0.01|
|Panasonic Lumix FH7||0.02|
|Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS||0.02|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Nikon Coolpix S9100||0.18|
|Panasonic Lumix FH7||0.22|
|Sony Cyber-shot WX9||0.25|
|Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS||0.36|
Nikon Coolpix S9100
Sony Cyber-shot WX9
Canon PowerShot ELPH 500 HS
Panasonic Lumix FH7
*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
The FH7's zoom includes Panasonic's Mega Optical Image Stabilization to help deliver sharply focused images, even at slower shutter speeds and in dim light, a feature not always found on cameras with 4x zooms. The FH7 incorporates the new "Sonic Speed AF" system (first seen on the upscale GF3) which Panasonic claims is up to 45% faster than previous Panasonic AF systems.
The FH7 features an eleven-point multi-area AF system and also includes a single-point focusing mode. The almost ubiquitous face detection function is present, but Panasonic ups the ante a bit by using the face detection AF information to simultaneously adjust both focus and exposure to properly capture subjects' faces.
According to Panasonic the FH7 is good for about 240 exposures on a fully charged NCA-YN101G 3.6V, 660mAh, 2.4wh Lithium-ion rechargeable battery, but based on my experiences with the camera that claim is a bit optimistic. I used the camera for two weeks and had to charge the battery three times. My FH7 image file contains about 80 photos and two short video clips. Even factoring in my seventy-five to eighty per cent deletion rate I didn't shoot anywhere near 750 images or three hours of video. The battery is charged via a flip plug wall unit and requires somewhere between two and three hours to fully charge the battery. The FH7 provides 84MB of on-board image storage and saves images to SD/SDHC/SDXC memory media.
In my camera reviews I often complain about digicam user's manuals. Today's cameras are the most feature rich in the history of photography, but some of those features are rarely or never used by the camera owners because most of them aren't explained in sufficient detail in the cursory "getting started" guides that accompany most new digital cameras to allow the camera's target audience to understand how to use them. Here's a piece of advice to the folks who write camera user's manuals - tailor the user's manual to the camera's target audience. If your target audience is beginners or casual photographers write the manual in user friendly non-technical terms and don't assume that everyone knows the basics.
The FH7's built-in multi mode flash provides an acceptable selection of artificial lighting options, including Auto, Auto/Red-eye Reduction, Slow Sync/Red-eye Reduction, Forced On, and Forced Off. Flash recycle time (with a fully charged battery) is between 4 and 5 seconds. Maximum flash range is 3.3 meters at the wide angle end of the zoom range and 1.6 meters at the telephoto end of the zoom range.
Camera manufacturers love to affix the name of an iconic German lens maker like Zeiss, Schneider, or Leica to their point-and-shoot zooms. Generally, these tiny super complex digicam zooms would score very poorly in direct competition with lenses actually manufactured by Zeiss, Schneider, or Leitz. The FH7's Lumix DC Vario-Elmar f/3.1-6.5 28-112mm (equivalent) Leica badged zoom (the lens is manufactured by Panasonic under license from Leitz) is surprisingly good - much closer to being worthy of the exalted optical heritage implied by the fancy name than most similarly endowed compacts.
When the camera is turned on the zoom extends automatically from the camera body. When the FH7 is powered down, the zoom retracts completely into the camera body. The f/3.1 maximum aperture is a bit slower than the f/2.8 maximum aperture typically found on cameras of this type. The FH7's f/3.1 maximum aperture is just barely fast enough for shooting indoors, but it is more than quick enough for outdoor shooting - at least in decent light. The FH7's 4x zoom runs from f/3.1 to f/9.0 at the wide angle end of the zoom range and from a rather dim f/6.5 to a truly dim f/20.0 at the telephoto end of the zoom range.
Center sharpness is pretty good overall, but at the wide-angle end of the zoom corners are slightly soft. I didn't notice any vignetting (dark corners) and both barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center) and pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in toward the center) seem very well corrected. Contrast is balanced (but a little flat) and colors are hue accurate. Chromatic aberration is remarkably well-controlled, but some very minor color fringing is present, especially in the color transition areas between dark foreground objects and bright backgrounds. Zooming is smooth, fairly quick, and relatively quiet, but the 4x zoom can't be used during video capture.
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