With a Leica lens that lives up to its name and optical image stabilisation that dampens the effect of the shakiest hands, this 5-megapixel ultracompact is an alluring camera for the snapshot photographer who wants a sharp, clear digicam. But the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7 offers more than good picture quality. It features a versatile burst mode among its high-performance features, a useful complement of scene options to simplify picture-taking decisions, and a no-brainer Simple mode that enables even neophytes to take good snapshots. While enthusiasts will miss the almost complete lack of manual controls and should probably look elsewhere, casual photographers will like the quality and convenience, as well as the ultracompact package.
Panasonic has shrunk this 5-megapixel package down to ultracompact size (at 94 by 51 by 23mm and 136g) without miniaturising the components that really matter, including the 64mm (2.5-inch), 114,000-pixel LCD that covers two-thirds of the back panel. The buttons and switches on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7 are small but serviceable, providing quick access to the few controls that need to be accessed during a typical snapshot session. There's no optical viewfinder on the camera, which most digital snapshooters probably won't mind.
Although one-handed shooting is possible, Panasonic's design just about mandates a two-handed grip, with the left index finger and thumb pinching the top and bottom edges while the right index finger remains poised over the shutter release and concentric zoom lever. At the far right end of the top surface is a tiny key that activates either of two Mega OIS (optical image stabilisation) modes or disables the feature entirely. Protruding from the back of the top panel is a junior-size knurled mode dial with six positions for picture review and scene-mode selection, as well as automatic, Simple, macro and motion picture modes.
On the back panel, the display info button doubles as an LCD brightening key when held down for more than a second. The trash button deletes the current picture being reviewed or, in recording mode, cycles through continuous-shooting options. Each of the five keys in the control pad also does double duty: the up key activates exposure compensation, the down key produces a zoomable review image of the last picture taken, the right button cycles through flash options, and the left key allows you to choose either a 2-second or a 10-second self-timer delay without the need to access a menu.
While the scene modes (Portrait, Sports, Landscape, Night Landscape, Night Portrait, Fireworks, Party, Snow and Self-Portrait) make it easy to invoke settings for the most common picture-taking situations, the Lumix DMC-FX7's Simple mode, represented by a heart icon on the mode dial, reduces decisions to the bare-bones minimum. Autofocus is locked on the subject in the centre of the frame, white balance and ISO is set to Auto, image stabilisation is activated and EV settings are replaced with a Backlighting option. An ultrasimple set of options pop up when the Menu button is pressed, limited to four choices: Clock Set, Beep (soft, loud or off), Auto Review (on or off) and Pict mode, which replaces resolution options with Enlarge (full resolution/fine compression), 4x6 (1,600x1,200/standard compression), and E-mail (640x480/standard compression).