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The FS7's overall performance is good, although not spectacularly so. It starts up in a little over two seconds, and shuts down again in about the same, which is about average for a camera in this class. Shot-to-shot time in single shot mode and maximum picture quality is two seconds, which is also about average, but in continuous shooting mode it can manage an average of 1.35 shots per second, which is pretty quick. It also has a three-shot burst mode which is faster still at 2fps.
The autofocus system is very good, finding focus quickly and accurately in almost all lighting conditions. Low light performance is excellent, with a good AF assist lamp helping it to focus even in total darkness to a range of several metres. The only time it has a bit of a problem is when trying to focus in low light at maximum zoom, although to be fair most cameras have difficulty focusing under those conditions. At least the FS7 lets you know quickly if it can't focus, and puts itself into a pan-focus mode, so even unfocused shots should be acceptably sharp.
Overall image quality is also excellent. Exposure and colour reproduction are spot on, and auto white balance is reliably accurate. The lens is superb, with excellent sharpness even in the corners of the frame, and there is virtually no distortion at any focal length. The level of detail is about average for a good 10MP camera, and the low compression at the higher image quality setting preserves it well, with no artefacts. Average file size is around 4.5MB, and a 1GB memory card provides enough space for approximately 200 shots.
I've seen a couple of previews of this camera which complained about image noise at higher ISO settings, but I can only surmise that these must have been based on a pre-production sample, because I found no such problem. On the contrary, the FS7 has outstanding noise control, producing extremely high quality results up to 800 ISO. At 1600 ISO there is some loss of detail due to noise reduction, but exposure and colour balance remain accurate at all ISO settings.
Panasonic has a well-earned reputation for making very good but very expensive high-performance compacts, but with the FS7 it has proven that it can bring the same level of quality to the mid-price market. It offers superb build quality, stylish and ergonomic design, ease of use and acceptably quick performance, combined with excellent image quality. If you are looking for a sub-£200 ultra-compact, then the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS7 should be near the top of your shortlist.
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