BUILD AND DESIGN
The FX90 comes in one color, black, and has a stylish, brushed metal look to its front plate. Its metal and plastic construction seems to be very sturdy. The camera has a large 3.0-inch LCD screen that, like all LCDs, is susceptible to scratches, so it's best to store the camera in a case when the camera is not being used. The FX90 is smaller and thinner than most digital cameras, with a length of 4.02 inches (102.2mm), a height of 2.22 inches (56.3mm) and a thickness of 0.85 inches (21.6mm). The camera weighs in at approximately 149 grams including battery and a memory card.
The camera comes with a lithium-ion battery, battery charger, wrist strap, USB cable, A/V cable, a brief owner's manual and a CD-Rom which contains the full version of the manual as well as Panasonic's Photofun Studio Lite Edition with Wi-Fi for organizing and viewing photos. It has a suggested retail price of $299 but it can be found online for less.
Ergonomics and Controls
While the FX90's burnished front plate is attractive, it's very smooth and lacks any type of gripping surface. There is a narrow ridge at the camera's rear but it's not sufficient to enable a secure grip. Despite the camera's small size and light weight, I never felt confident holding the camera with one hand. Another ergonomic quirk is that the camera has a tiny zoom lever that was not only hard to manipulate but also blocked access to the camera's shutter button.
The camera's front plate contains the lens, a thin flash on the upper left side of the lens, and an auto focus assist/self-timer lamp on the upper right. The lens is off-center and protrudes about 1/3 of an inch from the body. The flash and auto focus assist/self-timer lamp are situated far enough from the sides of the camera so they are not likely to be blocked by fingers.
At the top of the camera you'll find a speaker, one microphone (the camera records monaural sound only), an off/on switch, a dedicated button for recording movies, a shutter button and the zoom lever. The camera's rear contains only the large 3.0-inch diagonal LCD screen, which appears to be in a 16 x 9 aspect ratio, though not all of the screen is usable. The only other control at the camera's rear is a Wi-Fi button. The left side of the camera contains the Wi-Fi transmitter and the right side has ports for an HDMI and a USB/AV connection. The ports are covered by a sturdy plastic latch.
At the camera's bottom a metal tripod socket is located on one side while the compartment for the memory card and battery are on the other. The plastic compartment cover is flimsy and care must be taken so that it does not snap off. The FX90 accepts SD, SDHC and SDXC memory cards and comes with 70MB of internal memory.
With regard to the touch screen, I found it to be a mixed bag. On the plus side, it strikes a good balance between being sufficiently responsive but not overly so which could lead to inadvertent selections. However, the interface sometimes required accessing several different menus to perform commonly-used actions such as setting the flash mode.
Menus and Modes
When the touch screen starts up you are presented with five different options to select from. On the left side there are icons for menu and display. On the right side there are icons for record mode, playback, zooming and using the touchscreen to take the picture.
Record mode contains five possible sub-modes, as follows:
Black & White
The FX90 also contains a motion picture mode, in which movies can be taken using AVCHD (for smaller files) or MP4 compression. AVCHD recording options are 1920 x 1080 or 1280 x 720 at 25 frames per second. MP4 options are 1920 x 1080, 1280 x 720 or 640 x 320 at 25 frames per second. Optical zoom and continuous auto focus can be used while shooting a movie. There is also a wind-cut function that can be activated to prevent wind noise from being recorded. Movie recording time is approximately 60 minutes using AVCHD and 75 minutes using MP4.
The FX90's LCD display measures 3.0-inches in diameter with approximately 460,000 dots in resolution. The LCD has an anti-reflective coating and approximately 100% coverage. The display can be set to one of seven levels of brightness and contrast as well as levels of blue and red tint. The camera does not have an optical viewfinder.
DCR tested the LCD display for contrast ratio and brightness. The best LCD screens have a contrast ratio above 500:1 and brightness of at least 500 nits. Lab tests showed the FX90 to have a contrast ratio of 465:1, which is good, with a peak brightness score of 256 nits and a black luminescence score of 0.55 nits. I found the display to be adequate, but not outstanding, and it was tough to see in bright sunshine.
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