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Christmas Gift Guide

ISO comparison

ISO 320

Blue channel noise (ISO 400)

Macro

Intelligent Resolution

A, S, M modes

Zoom range

Lens distortion

Fringing

Color

As with just about every Panasonic compact camera we've tested recently, the FX700's photo quality can be very good to excellent up to ISO 200. Go above that and you'll get a significant increase in softness and noise. That's not good considering you'll likely need to use at least ISO 400 when shooting indoors. However, even photos taken at ISO 100 aren't really sharp, and fine details are smeary when viewed at 100 percent. For printing at and below 8x10 inches with minimal cropping, its lower ISO photos are very good, but if you're expecting more because of the camera's price and feature set you may not be happy with its output. (View larger version.)
Caption by / Photo by Matthew Fitzgerald/CNET
The top photo was taken in Intelligent Auto mode at ISO 320 and is a 100 percent crop from the bottom photo. Along with decreased fine detail and increased softness, you can see faint yellow blotches caused by noise in the blue channel. The larger you view or print photos taken above ISO 200, the more noticeable the blotches are. Similarly, the higher the ISO the more abundant the blotches. On the other hand, if you can't see what I'm talking about, there's a good chance it won't bother you. (View larger version.)
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
Here's another noise example. The left side is a 100 percent crop of a photo taken at ISO 400 (a common ISO used when shooting indoors in decent lighting). On the right is the same image, though it's just the blue channel. The dark dots are image noise that, with the green and red channels added back in, present themselves as yellow blotches in the image on the left. Again, the noise is most visible when viewed at larger sizes either on screen or in print. Add in increased softness at higher ISOs from noise reduction and you get pretty disappointing low-light photo quality.
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
If you like to take close-ups, the FX700's Macro mode can focus as close as 1.2 inches from a subject. If you have plenty of light and use ISO 100, you can get nice results. Still, you may not want to print them much larger than 13x19 inches as subjects start to look painterly. Also, in general its photos benefit from a little sharpening once out of the camera.(View larger version.)
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
Panasonic's Intelligent Resolution feature automatically detects outlines, detailed texture areas, and soft gradation areas and performs "optimum signal processes" to each area. I've been thinking of it as smart sharpening and it definitely works. On the left is with the IR off, the shot on the right is with it on. With it on, the fibers have more texture and look sharp and clear. Occasionally, its shots appear oversharpened and crunchy, but in general the results were very good. If you can't quite make out the difference at this size, click here to see the full-size image.
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
The FX700 does offer aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and manual shooting modes, though the touch-screen controls make them a little awkward to use. Apertures are f2.2-6.3 wide and 5.9-6.3 telephoto. Shutter speeds go from 8 seconds to 1/2,000 second. Both are controlled with onscreen sliders so it can be difficult to make quick changes, especially if you're going from one extreme to the other. Also, Manual puts both sliders on screen at once so if you have larger fingers you may inadvertently change aperture when you meant to adjust shutter speed or vice versa. However, if you're just looking for more control than afforded by a lower-end point-and-shoot, the FX700 certainly gives you that.
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
The zoom range on the FX700 is 5x from a very wide 24mm to 120mm (35mm equivalent). Panasonic uses the Intelligent Resolution to extend the range of the optical zoom from 5x to 6.5x by cropping in on the center of the frame, what it calls Intelligent Zoom. The outcome is a better digital zoom, but it's still not great; it's fine if you really need to get a little closer, but not something you'd want to rely on, especially if you'll be making large prints or heavy crops.
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
Some barrel distortion is expected with a lens this wide, and it's present on the FX700. There is lens distortion in the corners, too, particularly the upper right corner on my review camera. There's also a slight bit of pincushioning when the lens is fully extended (bottom).
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
There isn't a lot of fringing around high-contrast subjects. There is some, though like many of the issues with this camera, it's only really visible at 100 percent unless you're sensitive to it.
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
As long as you're shooting at ISOs below 400, colors are just shy of accurate and overall rich and pleasing. Exposure is also very good. And if you're not happy with the results, there are controls for adjusting sharpness, contrast, saturation, and noise reduction. The auto white balance leaned toward too warm indoors, but there is a manual set option as well as a slider so you can quickly move between color temperatures.
Caption by / Photo by Joshua Goldman/CNET
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