I recently received the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH7 to test. Since it's that time of the summer again, I carried the svelte little FH7 to the Kentucky State Fair, took it out to shoot late summer flowers and brought it with me to an outdoor concert. After just over a week with the camera I have some initial impressions of its capabilities and usability to share, but first let's take a closer look at the camera.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH7 is an elegant looking and rather stylish auto exposure only 16 megapixel compact point-and-shoot that's about the size of a smartphone. The new FH7 is a slightly updated version of the Lumix FH5 with a marginally larger LCD screen, and it's available in black, silver, and pink.
Though it is actually a tiny bit larger than its predecessor, the FH7 is an ultra-compact and easily pocketable point-and-shoot. The FH7 features a 3.0-inch (230,000 dot) Smart Touch LCD Screen that permits users to enable Touch Auto Focus (AF), Touch Zoom, Touch Shutter and Intelligent Scene Selector modes by simply touching the screen. The FH7 only has three dedicated controls: the on/off switch, the shutter button, and the zoom toggle - everything else is managed via the touch screen.
The FH7 mounts a Leica badged f/3.1-6.5 28-112mm (equivalent) 4x zoom. 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 tiny bit slower than the f/2.8 maximum aperture typically found on cameras of this type, but the FH7's zoom does include Panasonic's Mega Optical Image Stabilization, a feature not always found on cameras with 4x zooms. The FH7 also incorporates the new "Sonic Speed AF" system (first seen on the upscale GF3) which Panasonic claims is up to 45% faster than previous AF systems. If all that isn't enough, the FH7 records HD video at 1280 x 720p at 24 fps.
The Lumix FH7 also features a suite of esoteric image modification options (Beauty Retouch) which permit users to clear skin texture, whiten teeth, and enhance eye-shadow and lip color. The FH7 provides instant gratification for the always connected crowd via the LUMIX Image Uploader, which can instantly (when connected to an internet ready device) share just captured images or video clips via Facebook and YouTube.
In use the FH7 is a very quick little camera with no discernible shutter lag and essentially instantaneous AF lock (in good light). The FH7 was designed to be used in point-and-shoot mode and Panasonic's iAuto mode is the very best intelligent Auto 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 full time, this little camera will deliver consistently superior images even if you don't know the difference between an aperture and a bunch of asparagus.
If you are a more ambitious photographer the FH7 will leave you wanting more. I got used to the FH7's touch screen pretty quickly, but I never developed any real affection for it. I recently tested Panasonic's upscale Lumix GF3 and I liked its touch screen and menu system - they are much more responsive and useful than the FH7's. The FH7 clearly wasn't designed for photographers who demand a little personal input into the exposure process. The FH7's menu system isn't intuitive and it isn't particularly logical either. If you want to access the exposure compensation mode (to easily and quickly lighten or darken your image incrementally) you'll find that option buried fairly deeply.
Here's the bottom line - the FH7 works beautifully as a point-and-shoot. It is small enough to carry it with you all the time, Panasonic's iAuto mode is absolutely the best auto mode in the business and the FH7's AF system is noticeably faster than average. We'll cover the FH7 in more detail in our upcoming full review.