When Panasonic announced the FX500 back in March 2008 as the "flagship" of the FX line, it became their first camera to feature a touch screen interface. Now the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX580 has been put in play as the successor to the 500, and folks who are familiar with the earlier camera will have a hard time telling it from the new kid on the block unless they're close enough to read the "12 mega pixels" script on the camera body.
But while the physical resemblance is virtually identical, the FX580 has received some hardware enhancements to introduce some separation from the FX500, which no longer appears on the Panasonic roster. Chief among these is the Venus Engine V processor which allows the inclusion of the advanced iA (intelligent auto) shooting mode that includes a face recognition feature along with "high speed, high performance, and low power consumption."
The same physical-sized sensor has received a resolution increase to 12.1 megapixel which will allow more aggressive cropping opportunities. The touch screen interface has been retained, as has the 5x Leica zoom lens that spans the 25-125mm focal range (35mm equivalent) and the full set of manual controls, somewhat of a novelty in this class of camera. Here's what that 25-125mm range can do in the real world:
The camera has 40MB of internal memory and accepts SD/SDHC or MultiMediaCard (MMC for still images only) memory media. Panasonic includes a battery charger, battery pack, battery carrying case, AV cable, USB cable, AC cable, wrist strap, stylus pen (for touch screen use) and CD-ROM software with each camera.
BUILD AND DESIGN
The FX580's rectangular metal body measures out at 2.25x3.74x0.86 inches and seems solidly built - the camera back is finished in a shiny black paint, while the rest of the body is a brushed or matte silver. The black paint is subject to wear and tear as close-ups of our apparently well-traveled review unit will attest. There's also a black body available.
Ergonomics and Controls
Edges of the FX580 have a slight rounding to them and there is a ridge at the right front edge of the camera body that looks out of place but provides an improved grip with the middle finger. Control layout is unremarkable, with power, shutter and zoom controls atop the body while menu, display, quick menu, mode and record/playback buttons are arranged vertically on the camera back adjacent to the monitor. Placement and spacing of the controls seemed adequate to prevent unintentional activations.
There are a lot of 12 megapixel 5x zoom compact digitals in the marketplace, and while the FX580's wider-than-most 25mm starting point will attract its share of buyers, the touch screen interface is what primarily separates this camera from the field. Here's a snippet of a Panasonic press release:
The enhanced hybrid control system in the FX580 combines cursor key control with touch screen operation, allowing a smooth and intuitive operation. Users can make basic settings directly with the cursor key while they can make extensive adjustments intuitively by touching or moving the slider on the screen. Users can set the auto focus and exposure at the desired part of the frame by simply touching the subject at that part while recording. In manual exposure mode, aperture and shutter speed can be adjusted by moving the slider. You can also make fine adjustment of white balance and color temperature with the touch screen.
The key word above is hybrid - the FX580 establishes a lot of settings the old fashioned way, with the cursor key. In general, touch screen options for shooting include selecting the overall shooting mode (including specific scene option from the "scene mode"); making changes to settings found in the quick menu; touch AF/AE for subjects on the screen and setting aperture or shutter speed (or both) in manual shooting modes along with exposure compensation.
Here's a brief overview of the touch screen interface in operation. After turning on the camera a press of the "mode" button on the camera delivers the REC MODE screen.
The shooting mode selected is identified by a lighter colored box, in this case P. You can select another shooting mode by touch (either the stylus pen or finger seem to work equally well, with the added advantage to the finger of being a lot harder to lose) or by the cursor. If you use the touch method the screen changes instantly to the selected mode - using the cursor requires that you highlight the new choice and then select via the menu/set button. We'll stay with P and after selecting it we get the shooting screen.
While there's a wealth of data on this screen, the only touch option at this point is the AFAE box in the lower right corner - your first touch selects the AFAE option and the second identifies the portion of the image selected. From the initial shooting screen a push of the "quick menu" button on the camera back gives you the screen for the manual shooting modes.
Settings available for user input are displayed horizontally across the top of the screen and may be selected by touch or cursor. Selecting an individual setting brings up options arranged vertically on the right side of the screen - in this case, the burst shooting settings. If you happen to be shooting in the iA (full auto) mode, the quick menu screen looks like this:
As is typical with most compact digitals, user-established settings are severely limited in full auto shooting modes.
Finally, when shooting in aperture priority, shutter priority or full manual mode, you'll get a shooting screen like this:
Aperture selection is accomplished by touch only on the horizontal slider, exposure control on the vertical. In shutter priority, shutter speed becomes the horizontal slider and in full manual shutter speed is horizontal and aperture vertical.
Menus and Modes
We've already mentioned a bit about the shooting menus in the overview of the touch screen interface, but besides those there are setup and edit menus accessed via the cursor and both largely intuitive.
Shooting options are largely unchanged from the FX500, with the addition of a "My Scene" mode and a few more specific scenes that bring the total to 25 (26 if you count baby1/baby2 as 2 scenes).
The 3.0 inch LCD monitor is of 230,000 dot composition and adjustable for 7 levels of brightness. It proved to be one of the better monitors I've encountered in compact digitals for use in image composition under bright outdoor conditions (probably due in large part to its size, as all the other better compact monitors have been 3.0 inches also). Coverage approaches 100% and there is no viewfinder.
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