Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX90 (Black) review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX90 (Black)

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The Good The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX90 has a bright f2.5 ultrawide-angle Leica lens and good shooting performance for its class. Its built-in Wi-Fi lets you back up photos and movies to your PC, send them to your smartphone or Panasonic AV device, and upload to sharing sites.

The Bad The FX90's convoluted Wi-Fi setup made me want to smash the camera to bits. For its price, its photo quality is disappointing.

The Bottom Line While adding Wi-Fi to a point-and-shoot is a solid way to compete with smartphones, Panasonic fumbles it a bit with the Lumix DMC-FX90.

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6.4 Overall

With casual snapshooters opting more and more for a good-enough smartphone instead of a dedicated camera, it's not a big surprise that manufacturers are hungry for ways to get point-and-shoots similar functionality. Currently, that means putting Wi-Fi in and creating applications so you can connect your camera to your smartphone. And that's how we end up with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX90.

The FX90 is a nice ultracompact camera with an f2.5 ultrawide-angle 24mm Leica lens with a 5x zoom, a 12-megapixel high-speed CCD sensor, and a 460K-dot-resolution touch screen. It also has a one-touch record button for capturing clips at resolutions up to full HD in AVCHD format. But really, it's all about the wireless functionality, which sadly just isn't great. I mean, it does everything Panasonic says it does, but setup and use seem way more complicated than they should be. That's not good if you're trying to convince consumers that the FX90 should be the camera they reach for instead of their always-connected smartphone.

Key specs Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX90
Price (MSRP) $299.99
Dimensions (WHD) 4x2.2x0.9 inches
Weight (with battery and media) 5.3 ounces
Megapixels, image sensor size, type 12 megapixels, 1/2.3-inch high-speed CCD
LCD size, resolution/viewfinder 3-inch touch-screen LCD, 460K dots/None
Lens (zoom, aperture, focal length) 5x, f2.5-5.9, 24-120mm (35mm equivalent)
File format (still/video) JPEG/AVCHD (.MTS), MPEG-4 (.MP4)
Highest resolution size (still/video) 4,000x3,000 pixels/ 1,920x1,080 at 30fps (progressive; 17Mbps)
Image stabilization type Optical and digital
Battery type, CIPA rated life Lithium ion rechargeable, 200 shots
Battery charged in camera No; external charger supplied
Storage media SD/SDHC/SDXC
Bundled software PhotofunStudio 6.4 HD Lite Edition with Wi-Fi (Windows)

The other thing is, if you're going to put down your smartphone and use a point-and-shoot, it should probably turn out great snapshots that are significantly better than what you get from the phone's camera. The FX90 is capable of doing that, but really only if you have a lot of light. At and below ISO 200 you can get some very good shots. However, as soon as you get above that, the color noise starts to make things look mottled with yellow blotches. Plus, the noise reduction makes subjects look very soft. If you're after great handheld indoor and low-light shots without using a flash, you'll probably want to skip the FX90.

Even though most of the cost of this camera goes to its lens, LCD, and Wi-Fi features, it's not unreasonable to expect decent low-light shots for the money. Photos taken at ISO 400 might be good enough for 4x6 prints and Web use at small sizes, but quality drops noticeably above that sensitivity.

Again, though, if you shoot with plenty of light, you'll get very good results. Colors are nice and pleasing, vivid but not unnatural. With the ultrawide-angle lens, you may notice some barrel distortion in photos and movies. Also, while the center of the lens on my review camera was sharp, it does soften out to the sides and in the corners; the left edge of my lens was noticeably softer.

Video quality is slightly better than you'd get from an HD pocket video camera: good enough for Web use and undemanding TV viewing. Panning the camera will create judder that's typical of the video from most compact cameras, and you may see some ghosting with fast-moving subjects. The zoom lens does function while recording and is quiet while moving so it won't be picked up by the mic.

General shooting options Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX90
ISO sensitivity (full resolution) Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
White balance Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Incandescent, Custom
Recording modes Intelligent Auto, Normal Picture, 3D Photo, Scene Mode, Cosmetic
Focus modes Multi AF, Touch AF/AE, AF tracking, Continuous AF (movie only)
Macro 1.2 inches (Wide); 3.3 feet (Tele)
Metering modes Face, AF tracking, 23-area, 1-area, Spot, Touch Area
Color effects Standard, Black & White, Sepia, Happy, Natural, Cool, Warm, Vivid
Burst mode shot limit (full resolution) 7 shots

The FX90's shooting options are geared for people who prefer to shoot in auto, which definitely makes sense. In the Mode menu you'll find Panasonic's Intelligent Auto, which handles just about everything for you, as well as a Normal Picture mode that gives you the most control over results, with settings for focus, color effects, white balance, ISO, and exposure compensation. If you like scene modes, the FX90 has 27 of them. The list includes familiar modes like Portrait, Sunset, and Night Scenery, as well as High-Speed Burst for action and High Sensitivity for low-light photos (both capturing images at 3 megapixels and below). You get a few creative shooting modes such as Pinhole and Film Grain to experiment with.

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