An 8.1-megapixel CCD sensor is at the heart of the DMC-FX55's imaging system. A 3.6x optical, 28-100mm f/2.8-5.6 Leica DC Vario-Elmarit lens feeds light to the sensor, while Panasonic's Venus Engine III processes the images captured by the sensor. Sensitivity ranges from ISO 100 to ISO 1,600 at full resolution. Panasonic advertises that the camera can extend to ISO 6,400, but you have to access a special high-sensitivity scene mode that automatically selects an ISO between 1,600 and 6,400, but also reduces the pixel resolution to 3 megapixels. Similarly, the camera offers a High-Speed Burst mode in addition to the normal burst mode, though that'll cost you even more pixels, reducing the pixel count to 2 megapixels. Since Panasonic is fond of marketing hype, the company misleadingly labels the digital zoom, another resolution-robbing feature, Extra Optical Zoom.
In our lab's performance tests, the Lumix DMC-FX55 fared well, but was no speed demon. The camera started up and captured its first JPEG in 1.4 seconds. Thereafter, the camera took 1.8 seconds between images with the flash turned off and a slightly sluggish 2.3 seconds between photos with the flash turned on. Shutter lag measured an impressive 0.6 second in our high-contrast test and 1.3 seconds in our low-contrast test, which mimic bright and dim shooting conditions, respectively. The camera did live up to Panasonic's claims in burst mode, capturing an average of 3.3 frames per second regardless of image size, though it is limited to 4 images per burst in fine JPEG mode and 7 per burst in the lower quality standard JPEG mode.
Though the FX55 fares well in some aspects of image quality--its exposure, white balance, and color are impressive--the camera's image quality falls apart when it comes to noise. I saw noise even at the lowest sensitivity setting of ISO 100. At ISO 200, Panasonic was already engaging a noticeable blur filter to keep noise from getting out of control, though at the expense of sharpness, which means a loss of fine detail. At ISO 400 noise increases more and more detail is lost, though there is still a decent amount of shadow detail present and you should be able to get acceptable prints. Noise increases precipitously at ISO 800, with even more loss of fine and shadow detail and finally plummets off the deep end at ISO 1,600. I recommend staying below ISO 800 when shooting with the Lumix DMC-FX55.
Noise has always been Panasonic's Achilles' heel and continues to dog their compact cameras. If they could only get that under control, they'd stack up better against the competition. As it stands, you'd be better served going for something along the lines of Canon's PowerShot SD870 IS
or Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-T100
Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
||Typical shot-to-shot time||
||Time to first shot||
||Shutter lag (typical)||
Pansonic Lumix DMC-FX55
Typical continuous-shooting speed (frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55