Conclusion - Pros
- Excellent resolution & sharp results
- Good, natural color and excellent exposure
- Superb 12x optical zoom
- Effective image stabilization
- Small and light, but well built
- Comprehensive range of controls
- Very fast operation
- Very fast (and accurate) focus using 'High Speed' option
- Well designed menu system
- Nice handling and improved controls
- Easy to use
- Bright, clear, large LCD screen
- Usable EVF
- Good burst mode and fast card writing
- Autofocus illuminator and generally excellent low light focus
- Powerful flash
- Excellent battery life
- Huge improvement in video performance
- Superb value for money
Conclusion - Cons
- Higher than average Noise at ISO 80
- Strong color noise at ISO 200+
- Mild Chromatic aberration and corner softness in macro mode
- Mild vignetting at widest zoom setting / widest aperture
- New LCD is bright, but resolution is lower
- Occasional focus hunting at long end of zoom in low light
- Macro mode pointless - why not a macro button?
- High sensitivity mode results next to useless
Over the last few years we've been spoilt - cameras have seen huge leaps in capabilities from one generation to the next, whilst at the same time prices have steadily been falling. I think it's safe to say that for the time being we've got to accept that these 'great leaps forward' are fewer and farther between, and the best we can expect from new models is tweaks and minor face lifts. In this context the FZ7 is a welcome upgrade to an already excellent camera - it offers everything that made the FZ5 so great, and adds a few features, better manual control (via the new joystick) and a refined design. And of course you still get a very reliable image stabilization system and a superb, fast 12x Leica-designed lens.
That said I can't help being slightly disappointed by the lack of significant (let's be honest - any) improvements in image quality (though highlight clipping is less of a problem than it was with the FZ5). Noise is - if anything - worse (though the extra megapixel means that the difference is pretty much indistinguishable in prints), and though there is more resolution it doesn't show in real world shots, where the noise reduction system smears very fine low-contrast detail (such as foliage and hair) at all but the lowest ISO setting. The new High Sensitivity mode is useful for getting a shot where all else has failed, but to be honest, from a photographic point of view it's pretty much unusable.
But let's put this into perspective; the FZ7 is better - and cheaper - than the camera it replaces. Sure, there's no measurable improvement in image quality, but there wasn't a huge amount to complain about before. Compared to many competing 'super zoom' models the FZ7 is fast, well-designed, reliable and very enjoyable to use, and of the 1000 or so shots I took in the course of this review only a tiny minority (maybe 10 shots or so) suffered from any serious issues (missed focus, camera shake, bad exposure and so on) - a remarkably consistent performance, and an unusually high hit rate.
The FZ5 was a camera that stood out in a very crowded market by virtue of an excellent lens, comprehensive set of photographic controls and fast, reliable operation. And most of the issues we did have - poor movie mode, fiddly manual exposure control, lack of external ISO control and poor low-light screen visibility have been addressed pretty convincingly in the FZ7.
Unfortunately, no matter how good the camera we can't let the noise issue pass; like the LX1 reviewed late last year the FZ7 exhibits an unacceptable level of noise at all ISO settings, most especially at ISO 200+. For this reason - and this reason alone - the FZ7 misses out on a Highly Recommended; let's hope Panasonic has a better sensor up its sleeve for the next generation of this otherwise superb camera. As for you - have a look at the samples gallery and decide for yourself if the noise in real-world shots is acceptable; I'd happily buy the FZ7 myself, but I wouldn't use it at over ISO 100.