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Panasonic DMC-FS7: Specification
- Zoom: 4x optical
- Resolution: 10.1Mp
- Sensor size: 1/2.5in
- Sensor type: CCD
- Max. image size: 3648x2736 (4:3, 10Mp), 3648x2432 (3:2, 9Mp)
- File type: JPEG
- Sensitivity: ISO80-1600 (1600-6400 High sensitivity)
- Storage: SD, SDHC, internal
- Focus types: Normal, macro, quick AF, face detection
- Normal focusing: 50cm-infinity
- Close focusing: 5cm
- Metering types: Face, multi (9 point), one point
- Exposure compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3 step increments
- Shutter speed: 8sec-1/2000sec (max. 60sec in Starry Sky mode)
- Flash: Built in
- Monitor: 2.7in TFT LCD
- Interface: USB2.0
- Power: ID-security Li-Ion
- Size: 97.0x54.4x21.7mm
- Weight: 139g (inc. card and battery)
The front is reminiscent of the earlier Panasonic digital compacts such as the FX1 with its mild vintage design and brushed metal casing.
A shiny chassis wraps around the top, sides and bottom providing a modern twist to the design. On the top, the power switch, shutter release and zoom are now joined by a new dedicated iA (intelligent auto) button.
The back has more to it and the minimalist approach seen on the top seems to peter out as a mass of buttons and switches await you. A small switch sits just above the thumbpad for flicking between playback and recording. Below the pad is a mode button which replaces a command dial and gives access to changing the mode of the camera between intelligent auto, normal auto, scenes, favourite and video modes. A small display tells you how to select the desired setting.
Intelligent auto is designed to take the work out of photography even more so than a standard auto mode. It automatically sets up intelligent scene detection, image stabiliser, intelligent ISO, face detection and back light compensation. If you're new to photography then this is the best mode to get into at the beginning as the camera will analyse the image and set the camera up into the appropriate scene mode for what you're taking a picture of. For example, if you take a photograph of a person, the camera will automatically set itself into intelligent portrait mode, initiate face detection and add back light compensation if necessary.
Manufacturers are constantly under pressure to offer consumers all the features that everyone else offers but with something different to set them out from everyone else. That's why companies such as Panasonic and Casio offer dozens of modes in the scene menu and the FS7 is no different. The usual suspects are there such as portrait, sports, landscape, night, beach and snow modes but it also offers variations to these prime modes such as soft skin, fireworks and transform along with completely new options such as film grain, aerial photography and sunset modes.
These can prove quite interesting and if the colours they provide aren't quite to your taste, in auto mode you can choose from a number of colour styles such as natural, warm, vivid, cool, sepia, or black & white. These are useful in the right context but can mostly be a hindrance.
All cameras are set to 4:3 aspect ratio as standard. You can change this in the menu system and is advisable if you like to print images out. 4:3 is a little more square than 3:2 so some cropping may occur. 16:9 is also available if you like to view your images on a widescreen TV.
One thing I'm particularly pleased about is when the camera is flipped over, a metal tripod bush is revealed. I should be ashamed that I'm so concerned over this issue but it's a part of the camera that has a rough life and plastic ones simply don't measure up. It's great to see Panasonic are using their initiative and adding a metal bush to their cameras.
Panasonic DMC-FS7: Build and handling
A metal construction ensures jolts and knocks won't adversely affect the camera. I've always liked the build quality and styling of Panasonic cameras. Even the budget models feel more solid than other cameras.
One thing I don't like is the screen on the back or, more appropriately, how the screen juts out from the back of the camera as though it's on a platform. I don't have huge hands, I'd say they're medium sized, but whenever I tried to press the left button for the self timer, I was getting my nail caught on the screen. The gap between the two is way too small. But that's the problem if we carry on along this current trend of wanting everything smaller. Something will have to give and if we all want huge screens, large sensors, long zooms and small cameras, the maths simply don't work.
The menu is easy to navigate and will chop and change depending on the setting that you're currently in. If you find you have trouble viewing the screen or if you've got the camera at a high angle to photograph over peoples heads, it can be lightened in the Q-menu which is Panasonic's quick access menu. Depending on your current camera manufacturer, these will have different names such as "function" on Canon.
Panasonic DMC-FS7: Performance
Panasonic record a shutter lag of around 0.07sec which is slightly under the average. In my tests, the results varied from 0.08sec to as much as 0.20sec. It's likely that manufacturer trials are done by computer and my tests are done by myself so my own reaction time has to be taken into account. It's worth noting that even 0.20sec is a worthy reaction time to get most candid shots.
There are two continuous shooting modes and the first one is very fast, firing off three images in under a second. It then has to stop and download the images from the buffer to the memory card which takes around five seconds before you can start taking pictures again. If this was continuous for ten seconds, it would've got another image in the second giving a total of forty in ten seconds. For a compact, 4fps is a great performance and it's such a shame that the camera can't manage more than three images at a time.
If you need more images taken at once, you can opt for the unlimited version of continuous shooting which managed 13 images in ten seconds giving an average of around 1.3fps. This is still a decent result and I'm really impressed with the performance test so far.
The fastest camera in the world isn't worth its salt if the image quality isn't up to scratch. Colour rendition isn't too bad from the FS7 although I have seen better. Brighter colours such as yellow are punchier than primary blue or red.
Mono tones look balanced and the earth colours are rich. Orange is a bit dull and the skin tone could be a little more pink. I can see slight colour in the pastels down the side of blue, orange and brown which is good.
There are two portrait modes that are any good, three including a transform tool which widens or thins out the image and looks awful or four if you include self portrait. Despite the obvious noise reduction seen at full magnification, portrait mode gives a warm image with decent skin tones and good detail in the hair. Shadows are filled in which will be the Venus engine working the dynamic range.
Portrait mode has good skin tone, a warm cast and good detail.
Adding flash fills the shadows, adds catchlights while retaining the warmth.
Soft skin mode smoothes out problem areas of the skin and removes blemishes.
There's nice detail in the rest of the image from the lettering on the balance beam to the grass in the forground. I used the manual version of the optical image stabiliser because it seemed to get sharper results than the auto version. Why this should be, I have no idea.
This is from the line of Panasonic compacts that are designed to do everything for you. The focus and metering options available to you are minimal to avoid you having to think. You can only choose from normal, macro, quick AF and face detection with other, more creative modes such as selective focus points taking a back burner.
Metering is also bereft of manual modes and only face, multi and one point metering is available. However, one point is Panasonic's cock-eyed way of saying spot metering as principally, it does the same thing.
Panasonic DMC-FS7: Noise test
I'm always amazed at results from Panasonic compacts in the noise test. The low ISO results always look so nice until you zoom into full magnification and all the noise or noise reduction is shown. The FS7 is no different and a pixellated image stands before me. There is detail in the petals, though and this is what gets me the most.
Unfortunately, this doesn't last long. Detail and noise invasion starts mildly at a low setting of ISO200. The small sensor is starting to show its problems with colour invasion getting more aggressive and by ISO800 all detail is lost in the petals.
In fact, it's a good job that sensitivity is stopped at ISO1600 because the noise is terrible at that setting. Starry Sky mode has the capability of pushing to ISO6400. Couple that with longer exposures creating more noise from the heat of neighbouring pixels and the image will be difficult to even see.
The ISO80 test.
The ISO1600 test.
Panasonic DMC-FS7: Verdict
Yet another nice little camera has emerged from the Panasonic design team and it's pretty obvious that they've clued up to being on a winner. I think the size of the sensor needs to be addressed because it's really messing up the cameras ability to work in low light situations.
If I was to get a small, neat compact for days out or holidays, I really would consider this camera because I would more than likely use flash for dark situations meaning the noise wouldn't be an issue.
Panasonic DMC-FS7: Plus points
Good build quality
Panasonic DMC-FS7: Minus points
Colours are a little flat
Photographer is losing more control
Lack of space on the back
Noise is terrible at low settings
The Panasonic DMC-FS7 will be available shortly. Take a look at the Panasonic website for more details: