In addition to the auto white balance mode the FZ7 offers four presets (daylight, cloudy, halogen and flash). There is no preset for fluorescent lights, but there is a manual white balance mode that allows you to point the camera at a white or gray card and create up to two custom settings.
In use - especially outdoors - the FZ7 delivers consistently accurate color. Under artificial lighting the results are more patchy. You'll need to use manual (custom) white balance under incandescent lighting, though the results from auto white balance under fluorescent lighting are good. When light levels drop (indoors at night) you'll get very orange results under tungsten lights unless you switch to manual WB.
Outdoor - Auto WB
|Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 3.0%, Blue -1.4%
|Incandescent - Halogen preset WB
Red 6.4%, Blue -10.3%
No real complaints here. The range is good (around 1 to 20 feet with auto ISO), and color and exposure very reliable. It's worth noting that the FZ7 will go all the way to ISO 400 in auto ISO mode when using flash, so noise can be an issue if the subject is more than about 10 feet away.
Good color, very slight under exposure
Good color, good exposure
Like the FZ5, the FZ7 has a dedicated macro mode (essentially a scene mode) with its own position on the mode dial. In macro mode you can't control apertures or shutter speeds (though AE compensation, white balance and ISO are still available). Fortunately you don't usually need to switch to macro mode - the closest focusing distance in all modes (except the fully automatic Program mode) is the same as in macro mode at most focal lengths, allowing you to get as close as 5cm at the wide end of the zoom, capturing an area around 4 x 3cm. To get really close with the long end of the zoom, however, you do need to switch to macro mode, which allows you to focus down to 1m (3.3 feet) at the full 12x (432mm equiv.) using a special 'Tele Macro' feature. It's an impressive macro performance that's let down slightly by the less than intuitive implementation. There is a little corner softness - and some fairly strong chromatic aberration when shooting macro at the wide end of the zoom.
Barrel and Pincushion Distortion
Given the huge (36-432mm equiv.) range, it is a tribute to the designers at Leica (who presumably had some say in the design of the lens) that distortion is kept fairly low. The 1.1% barrel distortion is just enough to be visible in wideangle shots, but not enough to be a problem, whilst there is virtually no measurable distortion once you start to move into the middle and long end of the zoom. If you open the full size images you'll see that there is a little corner softness at the wide end of the zoom, but this doesn't really effect 'real world' shot (unless you photograph a lot of flat things).
|Barrel distortion - 1.1% at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 36 mm
|Pincushion distortion - 0.2% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 432 mm
Specific Image Quality Issues
Like the FZ5 before it, on the 'camera' side the FZ7 is a remarkably reliable picture-taking tool. In our tests fewer than 1 in 100 shots could be classed as 'failures', with focus, exposure and white balance spot on in virtually every shot, in a wide range of shooting situations. The Venus engine does a superb job of removing purple fringes 99% of the time, and the image stabilization system (see below) means camera shake is a very rare occurrence. We were pleased to see that highlight clipping - one of the problems common to all 5MP cameras (including the FZ5) is less of an issue with the FZ7.
Of course there are some minor problems (or 'serious issues' if you're a real nit-picker), though nothing that will seriously mar real-world shots or standard sized prints. Shots at the wide end of the zoom show some corner softness at F2.8, and some show very mild vignetting. As noted above, macro mode (at the wide end of the zoom) can produce some chromatic aberration.
But the main problem is noise - and noise reduction, which at ISO 100 and above can smear low contrast detail (such as foliage or hair) - though this is hardly a problem unique to the FZ7, and there are many much worse offenders. High ISO shots are simply noisy (see elsewhere in the review).
The MEGA O.I.S image Stabilization system used on the FZ7 (and most other recent Panasonic models) works, and it works well. There are two modes: Mode 1 (IS on all the time) and Mode 2 (IS is activated at the moment the exposure is made). Mode 1 makes framing easier - the IS system steadies the preview image. Mode 2, which minimizes the amount of movement needed by waiting until the actual moment you press the shutter, is claimed to be more effective, but to be honest after using several FZ models over the last couple of years I don't think it's as simple as that. Certainly mode 2 seems to be more effective in 'normal' situations (where the shutter speed is around 3 stops too slow for the focal length), but there are occasions when mode 1 works better - perhaps because it seems easier to hold the camera steady when the display isn't jiggering around. That all said, there doesn't seem to be a hard-and-fast rule; sometimes both modes are equally effective, sometimes one works better than the other (though overall mode 2 is the best). In all cases I'd recommend shooting several frames if your shutter speed is really low - that way you've got a much better chance of success.
But one thing is for certain; image stabilization works when it comes to avoiding camera shake; I certainly found the 3 or 4 shutter speed steps gain claimed by Panasonic to be justified - and was able to shoot at 432mm equiv. at speeds as low as 1/30th second successfully. Impressive stuff. The 100% crops below show the effectiveness of the IS system - especially in Mode 2 - when shooting at 420mm equiv. at speeds as low as 1/10th second.