Externally the FZ7 is bears a close family resemblance to its predecessors, the FZ3 and FZ4/FZ5, though it's a lot curvier and a little larger. That said, as with the FZ5, the first thing you notice is how small it is - especially compared to big brother the FZ30. Some of the external controls have been moved - partly to make way for the larger (2.5-inch) LCD, partly because of the welcome addition of the joystick (first seen on the LX1), which offers quick access to important features not covered by other buttons (as well as controlling the FZ7's new manual focus option).

Side by side

Next to the FZ5 the FZ7 looks a little bigger (because it is), and a whole lot prettier. The lens, from what we can tell, is exactly the same as on the previous model.

In your hand

The small size doesn't harm the FZ7's handling one bit. Quite the opposite in fact; the camera feels stable, safe and solid, and operation of the main controls (zoom and shutter release) is very easy. The excellent handling - along with the image stabilization - means the FZ7 feels perfectly safe to use with one hand. It is very well balanced and not too heavy (though inevitably you'll get less camera shake if you support the right side of the camera with your 'spare' hand).

Body elements

The FZ7 is powered by a Lithium Ion pack that sits beside the SD card slot under a sturdy spring-hinged cover. The battery pack has a retaining clip, so there is no chance of it falling out when changing cards. The battery is slightly larger (and has a slightly higher capacity) than the FZ5, which pushes the battery life up slightly (to 320 shots, CIPA standard; 340 if you use the EVF rather than the LCD screen).
Images are stored on SD or MMC cards - a rather measly 16MB SD is supplied to get you started.
The new screen is a lot bigger (2.5-inches to the FZ5's 1.8), and is very bright - much more so in low light than the FZ5. On the downside the resolution is actually lower (114,000 pixels), which is a pity. It's nicer to use, though, and has a special mode that allows you to see it from an acute angle when the camera is held above your head.
The 114K pixel electronic viewfinder (EVF) appears to be identical to the one on the FZ5 (though it has moved to the center, above the LCD), and is bright and clear enough for use in most situations (and again appears to be better in low light than the FZ5).
The pop-up flash is activated manually by a small button on the rear of the camera. It sits a little higher than the FZ5's, and is (according to the specification we've seen) a touch more powerful too.
Of course the big selling point of the FZ7 is that huge zoom. The Leica-designed 12x (36-432mm equiv. F2.8-3-3) optic appears to be identical to the lens on the FZ5.
Again the lens extends when the camera is powered up.
Another sturdy hinged flap (on the right hand side of the camera viewed from the back) covers the USB connector and DC input. The connector is USB 2.0 compatible, but only at 'Full Speed' (which is USB 2.0-speak for slow old USB 1.1 - 12Mbits/ sec). The same port is used (with a different cable) for audio/video output.
The shutter release sits at the front of the grip. The zoom lever is a ring around the shutter release. The zoom motor isn't stepless, but it is darned near - unlike some superzooms, which leap from one zoom position to the next in huge steps.
The main mode dial - also on the top of the camera - gives fast access to the main exposure modes. The heart symbol is the now-ubiquitous Panasonic 'simple' mode, which features fewer options and large, friendly on-screen symbols. Note that macro has its own mode - you cannot change exposure (save for AE compensation) when shooting in macro mode.
New for the FZ7 is a 'joystick' control that allows fast, easy access to settings such as ISO, image size & quality and white balance. This is a welcome change, and - like the addition of manual focus - one FZ5 users will welcome.
The four-way controller seen on the FZ5 is now a set of directional buttons, and the menu button has moved to the center.