Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500
When the 10-megapixel Lumix DMC-FX500 was announced in March 2008 it was the new flagship for Panasonic's FX-series ultracompacts--complete with a hefty $399.95 price tag (however it is available well below that price). As such, it features many technologies beyond those needed to take a good snapshot such as shutter- and aperture-priority modes and controls for color effects and adjusting sharpness, color, and noise reduction. It also has a hybrid interface using both a 3-inch touch-screen LCD and a traditional directional joystick and buttons. It does have abundant "auto" shooting abilities, too, though the FX500 is best suited for people wanting more control and/or the ability to experiment with their photos. Overall, it's a very good advanced point-and-shoot, but not without a couple shortcomings.
|Key specs||Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500|
|Dimensions||3.7 inches wide by 2.3 inches high by 0.9 inch deep|
|Weight (with battery and media)||6.2 ounces|
|Megapixels, image sensor size, type||10 megapixels, 1/2.33-inch CCD|
|LCD size, resolution||3-inch LCD (touch screen), 230K dots|
|Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length)||5x, f2.8-5.9, 25-125mm (35mm equivalent)|
|File format (still/video)||JPEG/Motion JPEG|
|Highest resolution size (still/video)||3,648x2,736 pixels (4:3)/1,280x720 at 30fps (16:9)|
|Image stabilization type||Optical and electronic|
|Battery type, rated life||Li-ion rechargeable, 280 shots|
The FX500 is a boxy little camera. Available in silver or black, the metal-and-plastic body is on the large side of "ultracompact," but is nonetheless small enough to fit in a pants pocket without difficulty. Construction feels pretty solid as well. On top is a simple on/off switch next to the shutter release and surrounding ring for adjusting the 5x optical zoom. The controls on back are where things get a little funky.
The use of a touch-screen interface typically means fewer physical controls; not so with the FX500. It has a switch for going between shooting and playback and Mode, Display, and context-sensitive Quick Menu buttons as well as a five-way joystick for navigation. These are all to the right of the 3-inch touch-screen LCD that is reserved for only a handful of shooting controls. For example, pressing the Mode button brings up a screen filled with recording options and you just tap the one you want. Similarly selecting Scene mode shows all of those choices for you to tap on. When you're in Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, or Manual modes, onscreen sliders appear for quickly making adjustments (and they work really well, to boot). Another function, Touch AF, lets you select your subject by touching it on the display, and the camera will then focus and track the subject.
Needing to go back and forth between the physical and touch controls, such as when you're changing modes, is confusing at first but diminishes with frequent use. I prefer changing settings like ISO and white balance with the touch screen, but Panasonic keeps all of those settings in the menu system to be navigated by the occasionally frustrating-to-use joystick. In the end, the FX500 has just enough touch-screen controls to make its existence worthwhile.
|General shooting options||Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500|
|ISO sensitivity (full resolution)||Auto; 100; 200; 400; 800; 1,600|
|White balance||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, Manual|
|Recording modes||Intelligent Auto, Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Manual, Scene, Movie|
|Focus||Face, 1-point, 1-point (high speed), 3-point (high speed), 9-point, Spot, Touch AF|
|Metering||Intelligent multiple, Center-weighted, Spot|
|Color effects||Standard, Black & White, Sepia, Cool, Warm|
|Burst mode shot limit (full resolution)||5 photos (Standard mode), 3 photos (Fine Mode)|
While the FX500 has a full assortment of automatic shooting options, it has an excellent feature set that will appeal to more experienced photographers. This includes manual modes common to digital SLRs in addition to multiple options for exposure, light metering, focus (though no manual focus), continuous shooting, and the ability to set restrictions on ISO sensitivity and shutter speed.
If there's one downfall to the FX500, however, it's performance--especially shutter lag. In CNET Labs' tests even in bright conditions the lag time was long at 0.8 second and at 1 second in dim lighting--not what you want if you're shooting an active child or pet. Its other performance numbers are decent, with a start-up time of 2.5 seconds to the first shot, 2.2 seconds between shots, and using the flash only extends the shot-to-shot time to 2.6 seconds. Its burst rate is 1.1 frames per second using the camera's full resolution in Fine mode.
The photo quality from the FX500 is overall very good. Shots taken at the camera's lower sensitivity settings of ISO 100 and ISO 200 were sharp with excellent detail. At ISO 400 noise reduction starts causing some loss of fine detail and photos begin looking more like paintings. At ISO 800 fine detail is gone and noise reduction affects color, but for Web use and smaller prints the results are acceptable, making the FX500 a decent choice for low-light shooting (not without a tripod, though).
Noise levels were average for its class and as usual, the higher the ISO setting, the more noise you'll get. But again the suppression keeps things in check without significant detail loss through ISO 400. Colors were not exceptionally accurate, but photos both indoors and outside were fairly natural looking. Exposure was good and while the auto white balance was OK on the FX500, you're better off using the presets or manual white balance--assuming you're not shooting in a scene mode or Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode. Finally, considering it has a wide-angle 25mm lens with a 5x zoom, lens distortion was minimal, as was purple fringing.
The camera's video quality was reasonably good for a point-and-shoot camera. Unfortunately, the optical zoom does not function while recording, though the image stabilization does.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500 was worthy of its flagship status (and its successor, the FX580, likely will be, too). Still, its $399.95 MSRP would have made it a little tough to fully recommend, but at its current price (as low as $229 at the time of this review), it's a steal.
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|Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|