Operation and controls

Like its predecessor, the FZ7 packs a wealth of features and functions into its compact body, offering everything from point-and-shoot scene modes to advanced manual photographic controls. The new joystick means that everything you need for everyday shooting gets its own external control, and of course you now get manual focus too. The challenge for designers of such sophisticated cameras is to minimize the inevitable complexity of operation resulting from offering so many options and controls. The good news is that the guys at Panasonic have learnt many lessons over the last few years, and - though you need a few days to truly master it - the FZ7 is surprisingly easy to use - and if you are a total novice there's even a friendly 'Simple' mode with fewer controls and simplified displays.

Rear of camera

All the camera's controls are placed to the right of, the new, larger 2.5-inch LCD screen.To the left of the newly-centered electronic viewfinder is the pop-up flash button, to the right the viewfinder/LCD toggle and the main power switch. Below this, to the right of the screen are the new joystick (which does away with the need for the FZ5's 'Exposure' button) and Display button (changes the amount and presentation of on-screen information. Next down is the four-way controller, now with a central 'menu / set' button. In record mode three of the four arrow keys have a single function; Quick Review (look at the last image saved), flash mode and self-timer. The top (up) arrow cycles through AE-Compensation, Flash Exposure Compensation, AE Bracketing and (if you are not using Auto White Balance) Panasonic's nifty White Balance Adjustment (a 20-step slider from more red to more blue). At the bottom is a final button used to delete images in playback mode (or in Quick Review) and to change drive mode when shooting.

Top of camera

The top of the camera shows the slight redesign of the grip since the FZ5 - it's a smidgeon larger (and there's more finger room by the lens barrel. Also new is an AF/MF button (where the drive button was on the FZ5).

Display and menus

No major changes here (though the menus have had a slight facelift) - and why would there be when the existing system worked so well? Of course FZ5 users will welcome the quick access to stuff like ISO offered by the new joystick, and the inclusion of a useable manual focus mode.

The most basic preview screen in record mode is completely free of any overlays or icons. You can also, by pressing the Display button, get a simple grid to aid framing. Half-press the shutter release and the camera will calculate exposure (AE) and focus (AF) indicating the AF area used and the aperture/shutter speed chosen. You'll also get a warning if camera shake is a danger.
If you want all the information, but like to see your preview without all the clutter, choose the 'out of frame' mode - designed to mimic a professional SLR viewfinder. One more press of the display button gives you the full monty; full shooting information, plus a live histogram. The joystick now controls apertures and shutter speeds (and program shift) in manual and semi-automatic modes.
The biggest and most welcome change to the interface is this 'quick menu' - activated by pressing the joystick. This gives fast access to white balance, ISO, shooting size and image quality. Pressing the 'up' arrow repeatedly cycles through Exposure compensation, Flash level, White Balance adjustment and AE Bracketing. The left/right arrows change the actual settings.
Manual focus - with an option to magnify the central area - is also controlled by the joystick. The four-page record menu covers options such as white Balance, sensitivity, picture size/quality, metering and focus modes and image adjustments. It's roughly the same as the FZ5, though it's been prettied up.
There's a few new scenes in the SCN mode, but otherwise it's all pretty familiar. In 'High Sensitivity' mode (one of the scene modes) you get the option to set the ISO to 800 or 1600.
Switching to the 'Simple' mode (indicated by a heart symbol on the mode dial) gives you a friendlier, simpler OSD with larger icons and less information. The menus for simple mode are - naturally - much simpler, and there are far fewer options on offer to trip up the inexperienced user.
As when in record mode you can choose the amount of information displayed in playback mode - from nothing at all to full data and histogram (as shown here). Moving the zoom lever to the left ('zoom out') to view nine thumbnails. New for the FZ7 is the option to view 5x5 thumbnails.
Another new option is a calendar type display for browsing images by date . Moving the zoom to the right enlarges the playback image. There are only four steps (2x, 4x, 8x and 16x), but it's very quick. The four arrow keys are used to scroll around enlarged images.
The three page playback menu offers the usual array of printing, erasing, protecting and slideshow options. The setup menu - accessible from either playback or record mode - has four pages of basic camera-related settings, from monitor brightness and auto review settings to power management, sounds and date and time settings.