I purchased this camera after considering models by Canon (SD800) and Fuji (F30, mainly). There were several things that led me to choose Panasonic. First, I felt that the feel of this camera was better than any of its competition. The Fuji was larger than most ultra-compacts, in that it had quite a bit of extra body around the 2.5" LCD - this seemed wasteful and clunky. The Canon SD800 tried to go for a more curvy, fitted ergonomic look, but I found it to look like a child's toy and plus the ergonomic features didn't fit my hand (large) well, so they were a hindrance rather than an aid. Also, with ALL canon models that I tried, I felt that it was far too easy to activate buttons inadvertently.
Recommend this product?
The Panasonic is hands-down the best looking camera in its class. I know this should not play a factor in choosing a camera, but Panasonic was smart because they knew that it DOES play a factor - it caused me to consider this model and start reading reviews about it AFTER seeing the visual, as opposed to the other two models that I first approached based on technical reviews.
It is built very solidly with lots of metal. The access doors for PC connections and battery are metal, and have hinges. Not cheap at all.
The fact that this camera has a Leica lens and 28mm equivalent wide-angle is a big plus. I would guess (logically) that this is probably not the greatest lens Leica has ever made, but the fact that Leica (a very reputable high end lens corporation) is partnering with Panasonic says something positive to me about the products.
I like Panasonic's menu system better than the other cameras out there (Sony isn't bad either). The Canon was offensively childlike with big stupid icons that make me feel like I am playing with a toy, not an electronic device.
I feel like the entire interactive design of this camera is well done.
Now... for the photos...
I had read that if I wanted good noise performance, then Fuji > Canon > Panasonic. And this is probably true, from what I read in reviews. Although I did not spend a week taking photos with those two cameras, so I cannot directly make a statement about them. The Panasonic can be noisier than I would like to think - in LOW lighting. And there is a qualifier that needs to be added here - it is noisier if you either a) run in auto mode, or b) choose a scene mode that favors faster shutter speeds (at the expense of ISO). I am not thrilled with how this camera looks at ISO 400 and up. That's not great news, but I think I am being tricked a little bit, by my expectations. Because I used to have a 3 MP camera and now this is 7 MP, I think I am fooling myself by zooming in too far and then judging the noise. But from what I have read, I tend to believe that the Fuji F30 is much better, and the Canon SD800 at least a little better.
That said, I was able to take reasonably low light pictures with or without flash, forcing ISO 100, and had very nice quality. And the noise that I *did* see was often able to be improved significantly with a program called Neat Image that I downloaded for free. Purists are going to say that the noise is a killer, but I really think that it might be blown out of proportion (pun intended) since Photoshop and other programs have capability to remedy many issues, AND if you are not printing large prints, you have no worry about it.
In bright light, excellent results.
In night time, using slow shutter speeds (15, 30, 60 seconds), I was able to create some really cool blurred streaky lighting shots riding in a car, that were not that noisy at all.
The image stabilization feature seems to enable me to shoot ISO 100 with shutter speeds as low as 1/6 of a second without any evidence of shake (no tripod). So that's a plus.
In normal mode, I found that the color balance is a little bit off - a bluish green sweater came out looking distinctly blue. But again... Photoshop.
I took almost 200 pictures, including at least 4 movies of 30 seconds to 1 minute each, and left the camera on to review pictures quite a bit on one battery charging, over the course of 4 days. Given their specification of 320 photos, I think I did very well, since my use would be more draining than the way they obtain their specification data.
Although there is no true manual or priority mode, the plethora of scene modes, and multitude of other adjustable parameters practically give you the capability of spanning every possible creative scenario you could imagine. The scene modes are well thought out, and most are worth checking out. One thing I would strongly recommend is reading about what each scene mode functionally affects, because you might want to intentionally misuse a scene mode to give you the effect you want (i.e. as close to manual control as you can get). And in dimmer lighting, I recommend selecting scene modes that minimize the bright flash (such as "Candle Light" for close shots) and try to always go with ISO 100 in dim lighting unless you're really pressed to get sensitivity over resolution.
There is nothing that I hate about the camera. If it had noise free performance up to ISO 3200 I would like it better :)
The final tradeoff in my mind was as follows:
I didn't like the look/feel of the Canon. They are also priced quite a bit higher ($350+ online for the SD800, whereas I paid $250 for the FX07). So that ruled out Canon. I wanted to love the Fuji F30 because of the spectacular reviews, and the great price ($199). But ultimately, low noise or not, I was thinking "this camera is bulkier, with fewer megapixels, and no optical image stabilization".
Another thing that led me to pick the FX07 is that its predecessor models had been given decent reviews (though not quite as good as the Canon or Fuji). The FX07 has not yet (as of this writing) been exhaustively reviewed at places like dpreview or the like, but based on its specifications, I was guessing it would come in a little bit better than the predecessors... and that sounded promising.
Amount Paid (US$): 253
This Camera is a Good Choice if You Want Something... Flexible Enough for Enthusiasts