I purchased this camera after selling my fairly new but discontinued Panasonic Lumix TZ4 ($235 from the Egg). It was 8mp and 10x optical. I love Panasonic cameras and the TZ4 was the best compact camera on the market at the time. I'm planning a backpacking trip to Scotland in October so after weighing in all my options I decided the TZ4 was just too bulky and heavy to keep in my coat pocket. I wanted to stay with Panasonic and so began a search for a Panasonic ultra-compact. The first camera to find was the Lumix DMC-FS15 which runs about $180 which is what I sold my TZ-4 for. It gets great reviews and is 12 megapixels. Then I stumbled upon it's little brother, FS-7. It was only $130 with free ship. It's only 10 megapixles and when shooting in widescreen 16:9 it drops to 7.5 megapixles (I'll explain this later so bear with me).
I had a feeling the FS7 would be much less quality than my old TZ-4 but having such a good feeling about Panasonic cameras I was encouraged to take a chance. So I crossed my fingers and made the purchase. I received the camera and started taking pictures right away. Much to my surprise, the image quality is stunning. The macro mode is far superior to the TZ4. The pictures look great with a realness the TZ-4 lacks. Image stablization has an added "Auto" feature and it works superbly! Also, the focus problems TZ4 had are gone. A firmware update helped it a little but didn't cure it. I do miss the 10x optical and you can't focus in and out while shooting video, but this camera is amazing for it's size, weight and price.
I've uploaded some pictures of Ben Lomond Mountain so you can compare my old TZ-4 and the new FS-7. Remember that when the TZ-4 fist came out, it was considered by many to be the best compact camera on the market and it still takes fantastic pictures. But I do wish I had the FS-7's big brother, the FS-15 to compare pictures with, but these will have to do.
The pictures I've uploaded have an imbedded description inside showing which camera took the picture, month and time of day. These pictures of Ben Lomond are a great way to examine the two cameras because they are taken 5 months apart of each other but on very similar days at almost the same time of day. Take a look at the sky taken with the TZ-4 on May of 2009. You can see a grainy pixelation in the blue. I would use photoshop to get rid of that but it's a hassle. Take a look at the similar FS-7 picture. It was taken on July 09 2009. No noise in the blue sky at all. The picture looks a little more lively and warm too. Don't you think?
On top of the TZ-4 was a wheel that let me spin it to different shooting modes such as movie or auto. Thats gone on the FS-7 and instead you'll find it as a button on the back. I don't mind and it saves me from worrying about the rotary knob breaking off. I'm extremely familar with the TZ4 menu layout so it was a breeze to figure out this camera in 5 minutes. Most of the menu options are the same, Picture Size, Quality, Aspect Ratio, Intelligent ISO (on of off), Sensitivity, White Balance, AF Mode, Burst, Digital Zoom (on or off), Color Mode, Stabalizer, AF Assit Lamp (on or off), Clock Set. Thats almost identical to the TZ-4. The video mode does however lack some options. You only have the digital zoom to work with and I'm happy to see that they have removed the "continious auto-focus" feature which would ruin your video as it constantly whirled around trying to find focal points. The quality of the video recording has been improved a little and it's pretty good. They have added more color modes like vivid which looks warm and energetic (unfortunatley it's missing from the movie mode) but I'm allready thinking about sunsets at Canon Beach in Oregon. I like the zoom option for macro too. It's awesome. I've included a picture of a jalapeno plant I've been growing so you can see Macro Mode in action. The TZ-4 would never have taken such a lively looking macro shot.
Also the camera starts up very quickly, shoots quickly and is ready to shoot again very quickly. If you're like me, you sell stuff on e-bay once in a while. I've been snapping shots of silly things around the house like a cd on a computer desk, a coffee cup, some pens, my lcd monitor. I have the flash set to auto and it seems to produce some really nice images that are easy on the eye. The flash doesn't overpower the scene. With the TZ-4, the flash would wash everything out and I had to really work to get good indoor pictures of objects. This is good if you sell on the bay a lot.
Also, some people have been wondering why digital cameras like the FS-7 drop to 7.5 megapixels when shooting in 16:9 wide angle and step back up to 10 megapixel when in 4:3 mode. Don't be worried that you're losing quality, you're not. Both modes shoot an image that is 3648 pixels wide and thats whats important. The pixel depth remains the same because it's a physcial property of the CCD sensor. I'll explain.
When you shoot in 4:3 mode the picture is 2636 pixels tall and when you shoot in 16:9 mode, the picture is only 2056 pixels tall. All they are doing in 16:9 mode is cropping off the top and the bottom of the image to make it technically accurate for the wide-angle standard. When you shoot in wide-angle 16:9 you lose a total of 2,480,640 pixels (two and a half million) but the image quality remains the same of course.
Why would anyone want to give up all those extra pixels from their pictures? Some people prefer a wide angle picture because it looks so professional and artsy. Also, if you don't trust your eye, then you could leave it as 4:3 and crop the image yourself later on in Photoshop and decide where you want the cuts to be.
To sum things up, this camera takes great pictures, the flash is an improvement over the TZ4 for sure, but not as intense and the weight of the camera is amazing. One problem with my TZ-4 is that it was a little bit hefty, so it would never leave the house when I went anywhere. I used it so little that it was essentially in mint condition when I sold it. You couldn't fit it in your levis so I never took it anywhere with me in summer and now that winter is on it's way I may have started carrying it but perhaps not.
Also one last thing. If you're considering a camera for a kid and don't want to spend too much money, I couldn't think of a better camera. You can set it to auto for them and they will capture some amazing pictures that you would be proud of. Set the anti-shake feature to "auto" and I'd be surprised if they took a single blury picture all day. It also comes in really cool colors.. The blue one is my favorite.
Dec: 28th 2009
I recently returned from my backpacking trip to Scotland. What an adventure! I started in Edinburgh, went to Saint Andrews, Dundee, Aberdeen, Inverness. Then over to the Isle of Skye. Then down through the west coast of Scotland to Fort William and then over to Oban on the coast. Crossed over to the Isle of Mull, up to Fionophort and over to the Isle of Iona. Back over on the ferry to Oban, then down to Glasgow and then back to Dundee and finally back to Edinburgh. Just as I imagined, I had this little camera in my coat pocket for the entire 2 months I was there. I took well over 1500 pictures and in two months, I charged the camera maybe 3 or 4 times total. I stayed at Hostels along the way and met several pro and amatuer photographers. All were blown away by what this little camera can do. I couldn't recommend it enough. I took a little Asus Netbook with me and could view my pictures after a day of shooting. Scotland was so beautiful. I took a real chance on such an inexpensive tiny camera and I have no regrets at all! Check out some of the pictures I've included of the Isle of Skye. Cheers!