Panasonic DMC-FZ7

My spiffy new camera

The Saga of the Digital Camera 

Right-o. To replace my aging grey brick of a camera, the ugly-but-functional-and-mostly-held-together-with-electrical-tape Kodak DC3200, as well as the heinous atrocity that was my mother's camera before she decided she didn't care for it and gave it to me (and which camera recently quit for no apparent reason), I decided to buy a proper (read: expensive) one.

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Now, the DC3200 takesnicepictures, and if you give it plenty of light (or hold it very still) and don't smash the utterly-unprotected LCD or drop it 20' onto concrete and break the battery door, it's a wonderful camera. Mine, however, is in somewhat less-than-ideal condition. The battery life is quite good on the DC3200 - four 1900mAh AA NiMH cells delivering 350+ shots - even more if you've smashed the LCD and decide to remove it (along with the power-hungry backlight), and a cheap 256MB CF card is fast to write to/read from and holds over 700 shots.

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Both of my Kodak cameras left a red-coloured dot somewhere on the image due to a fault on the CCD, necessitating a fair bit of Photoshopping for a good image. The battery life on my mother's former camera was pathetic, averaging 40 shots on two 2250mAh AA NiMHs. And both of them were fucking ugly. Button-to-shot and shot-to-shot time was also an issue: the DC3200 would take 25+ seconds to start up, and also have utterly random and unpredictable times between pushing the shutter button and actually taking the photo, sometimes in excess of 7 seconds! It would flash a green LED while it was writing the image to disk, and when it stopped flashing you could take another photo- this is fine; not ideal, but understandable. My mother's former camera, on the other hand, wrote to SD, which is already a slower media- so one would hope they'd put in a decent-sized RAM buffer to take a few shots while writing from buffer to disk....but noooooo. It would flash and flash, and and some point would appear to be ready to take another picture; you frame the perfect shot (frequently from a moving bus), push the button, and....the LED would go red, and the LCD would display a message 'Processing...' and do abso-fucking-lutely nothing! Completely unacceptable. A film camera would take the picture right then and there, but not this POS.

Enter the Panasonic... 

So, naturally, I had a few criteria when choosing a new camera:

  • 1) It should have good colour and clarity
  • 2) Button-to-shot and shot-to-shot time should be negligible 
  • 3) Writing time should be negligible
  • 4) It should be able to handle low-light conditions without the necessity of flash
  • 5) It should not be burdensome
  • 6) It should look pretty, and preferably classic, or at least be silver

A friend and I hit all the camera shops in central Dublin one fine Saturday, and my eye fell on a n SLR-wannabe with classic lines, and a sizeable Leica lens that looked as if it should be able to pick up light reasonably well and without distortion.  This, as it turned out, was the Panasonic DMC-FZ5(photo at right).

It wasn't cheap, priced locally at €573, but I resolved that when the time came (at this point I didn't actually need a camera- my 3,1MP one still worked) I would buy either this one, or a digital SLR.

In the intervening months, the FZ5 was end-of-lifed, replaced by the FZ7. The new model has slightly more futuristic lines, which doesn't sit quite as well with my æsthetics, but it does add manual focus capability (via a joystick control on the back), as well as a larger LCD and an extra megapixel, among other sundry features. It got very good reviews, and the sample images I saw which were shot with it were very impressive indeed. The price was the same as the FZ5, and the one I eventually found seemed to be the last available for sale in the city, so I bought it (at a discounted price of €550 since it was the display model- pristine, and locked in a glass cabinet, mind you).

The Review... 

It is not a cheap camera. Add to that, I am aware that I overpaid- MSRP is $400, and even with the Europe tax, considering the relative strength of the Euro, it should have been less. Likewise, I am aware that I could probably have gotten an SLR for a similar price. The fact of the matter, however, is that this camera is precisely the one I wanted (almost- in fairness, what I actually want is an FZ7 in an FZ5 case, but that's not reasonable).

As to the points above:

  • 1) It should have good colour and clarity

It has excellent colour, and the various 'scene' modes provide a brain-free way of getting the most out of the camera when you don't feel like fiddling or need to hand the unit to someone else to take a photo.

  • 2) Button-to-shot and shot-to-shot time should be negligible

it boots up and is ready to take a picture in 5 seconds from cold. Button-to-shot time is practically nonexistant: pushing the fire button down halfway forces an immediate autofocus, and the camera fires within 0.3 seconds after the button is fully-depressed. The FZ series has a burst-fire mode which shoots 3fps+ until its (considerable) buffer is filled. I get 5-6 shots on average in the buffer @ 6MP, which is more than enough even when shakily taking pictures at 48X (12x optical + 4x digital) zoom.

  • 3) Writing time should be negligible

Writing time, considering that the disk is SD-based, is a minor factor. However, it is adequately compensated for by a generous buffer. Lowering the resolution, or upgrading to a faster card, may improve time. I don't consider it to be an issue, at this point.

  • 4) It should be able to handle low-light conditions without the necessity of flash

A large lens, high-sensitivity CCD (able to equal ASA1600), and OIS technology to stabilise the shot make shooting in low-light a doodle.

  •  5) It should not be burdensome

I've shot with numerous traditional 35mm SLRs, and the thing I liked the least about them was their weight and balance. Having a front-heavy, 6-lb monstrosity hanging from my neck any time I wasn't struggling to keep it from pointing at the ground is not a feature I sought in my new digital. The FZ7 is lightweight and well-balanced (a little front-heavy if the sun hood is fitted, but that's inescapable, and rarely necessary). The exclusion of manual focus rings easily allows for a retractable lens which further shrinks the unit when it is powered-off.

  • 6) It should look pretty, and preferably classic, or at least be silver

It is definitely silver, and sufficiently pretty. I prefer the more classic lines of the FZ5, but I daresay I'd rather have the features of the FZ7 in the end.


The Conclusion...

It's a good camera.

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 The inimitable (and why would you want to?) Kodak DC3200

 

The Panasonic DMC-FZ7