In addition to the auto white balance mode the FX7 offers only three presets (daylight, cloudy, and incandescent). 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 a custom setting.
In use - especially when light levels are good - the FX7 delivers consistently accurate color. Under artificial lighting the results are considerably better than much of the competition - as long as it's bright enough. When light levels drop (indoors at night) you'll get very orange results unless you switch to manual WB. One nice touch (also seen on the FZ series) is a white balance 'fine tune' function (for the presets or manual WB mode), which allows you to dial in more red or blue using a sliding scale.
Outdoor - Auto WB
|Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red -0.3%, Blue -0.6%
|Incandescent - Auto WB
Red -0.0%, Blue 0.5%
No real complaints here. The range is acceptable (around 1 to 13 feet with auto ISO), and color and exposure very reliable. We did get some blown out results when shooting too close, though these were rare. The positioning of the flash so near to the lens means red-eye is fairly common unless you use the red-eye reduction system.
|Skin tone Excellent color,
very slight underexposure
|Color chart Excellent color and exposure|
The FX7 has a dedicated macro mode, accessed via the main mode dial. The macro mode works throughout the zoom range, but - as is usual on this type of camera - only gets really close when used at the widest setting. There is inevitably some distortion when you get really close, but it is nowhere near as bad as many similar models.
Barrel and Pincushion Distortion
Nothing to complain about here - there is a small amount (0.7%) of measurable barrel distortion at the wide end of the zoom, though nothing you'd see in real-world pictures, and a lot better than many ultra compacts. There is no measurable distortion at the telephoto end of the zoom. Excellent.
|Barrel distortion - 0.7 % at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 35 mm
|Pincushion distortion - 0.0% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 105 mm
Here for visual comparison are four identical shots taken at 50, 100, 200 and 400 ISO settings in our studio. The noise levels at ISO 80 and 100 are, inevitably, very similar (though the lower setting is very slightly cleaner), but luminance noise does increase noticeably at ISO 200 and the FX7 has to use some pretty heavy noise reduction at ISO 400, and even this can't hide the grainy appearance (and the introduction of some color noise in pale green and blue areas). To be fair to Panasonic, the noise at ISO 400 is no worse than most competitor models, and is actually a lot lower than many. As with most cameras using a small 5MP sensor you will want to avoid using ISO 400 unless you really have to.
|ISO 80 100% crop
0.4 sec, F4.7
ISO 100 100% crop
|ISO 200 100% crop
1/6 sec, F4.7
|ISO 400 100% crop
1/13 sec, F4.7
Specific image quality issues
Of course all ultra-compact cameras such as this are going to present some kind of compromise when it comes to image quality. The question is how much of a compromise are we prepared to accept in image quality terms to get a camera that is truly pocket-sized?
With the FX7 I'm happy to say the answer is not a lot; exposure, sharpness, color and focus are all excellent and are unlikely to disappoint the target audience. We did find a few minor problems worth noting - occasional mild color casts in bright outdoor situations, the usual blown highlights in very contrasty scenes and visible noise at ISO 400, but none are really serious enough to cause concern. The nice thing about having 5 million pixels (which is more than you really need for standard sized prints) is that noise, fringing and minor shaprness issues simply won't show in your prints. All-in-all a very encouraging performance, and one that makes the FX7 an ideal pocket camera for someone looking for reliable snapshots with the minimum of fuss.
One of Panasonic's claims for the Venus II engine is that it all but eliminates purple fringing, and it's no hollow claim; you have to search through a lot of pictures - and at high magnifications - before you find any really noticeable fringing. There is some barely visible chromatic aberration (CA) at the edges of very bright areas, but it doesn't appear in many shots and simply isn't visible in prints under 8x10 inches.
|100% crop||105 mm equiv., F5|
Burnt out highlights
The curse of small, high resolution sensors, lack of dynamic range means that the FX7 - in common with most 5MP cameras - struggles to capture the full range of tones in very bright, very contrasty scenes. Coupled with the rather high default contrast setting this means you often lose highlight detail. On the plus side the FX7 seems less prone to burnt out highlights than many other similar cameras, but it is an issue to be aware of all the same.
|100% crop||35 mm equiv., F2.8|
The MEGA O.I.S image stabilization system used on the FX7 (and many other recent Panasonic models) works, though I would say it is less effective here than in the FZ models, though this is undoubtedly in part due to the size and body design of the FX7. 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 (in the same way as, for example, the Canon S1 IS), but is less than 100% effective when it comes to actually taking the pictures. Mode 2, which minimizes the amount of movement needed by waiting until the actual moment you press the shutter is supposed to be more effective.
In our extensive testing of the FX7 we found that - unlike the FZ3 and FZ20 - the difference between the two modes is less pronounced and less predictable.
Overall Mode 2 is still the most effective, allowing handheld shots at the wide end of the zoom down to around 1/6th of a second (if you're fairly steady-handed). But there were times when Mode 1 seemed to work better (specifically with extreme shake; long exposures or when using 105mm the long end of the zoom). In either case the IS has demonstrable benefits even in such a small camera and even at the wide end of the zoom, but there are limits to what it can do. Our advice when the shutter speeds falls below about 1/15 sec would be to take a few shots - at least one of them will be sharp enough to be a 'keeper'.
|IS off||IS mode 1||IS mode 2|
|1/3 sec, 105mm equiv.|
|IS off||IS mode 1||IS mode 2|
|1/13 sec, 35mm equiv.|