DigitalCameraReview.com
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35 Review
by J. Keenan -  3/24/2008

In the compact digital camera world, standard zoom lenses have tended to start out in the low- to mid-30mm focal range at the wide-angle end of the spectrum – a 35mm-equivalent length that isn't really all that wide. Every so often you'll come across a 27 or 28mm, but those have tended to be the exception rather than the rule.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
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As a brand, Panasonic's lineup has a fairly high concentration of 28mm to low-30s lenses, but the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35 breaks new ground in the compact wide-angle sweepstakes: a 4x optical zoom starting out at 25mm. Is wider better? Panasonic thinks so, and is betting consumers will embrace the concept.


FEATURES OVERVIEW

The FX35 features a 10.1 megapixel sensor, face detection and red-eye correction technologies, a full-res ISO range of 100 to 1600, optical image stabilization, and a 2.5 inch monitor. The camera has Panasonic's latest Venus Engine IV image processor, which is said to "produce higher-quality digital photos, as compared to the Venus Engine III predecessor, with an advanced signal processing system that produces a quick response time." Panasonic includes a battery and charger, battery carrying case, AV & USB cables, wrist strap, and CD-ROM software with each camera. There are approximately 27MB of internal memory and the camera may employ SD, SDHC, or MultiMediaCard memory cards.

There are five primary shooting modes:

For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.


FORM, FIT AND FEEL

This Panasonic is a typical digital compact, shaped and sized in the deck of cards/pack of cigarettes form factor common to many camera makers.

Styling and Build Quality

The FX35 comes in silver or black versions, with the silver model that was the subject of this review sporting a satin-finished metal body with smooth silver accents.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
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The camera felt solid and well-built. There is some subtle rounding of edges at each end of the camera body, but otherwise there is no real attempt to sculpt the body beyond its basic rectangular shape.

Ergonomics and Interface

One-handed shooting with the camera feels fairly secure, thanks in part to its slim shape.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
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The natural grip in either one- or two-handed shooting doesn't interfere with camera components or controls. The control layout is simple and straightforward, with power, zoom, shutter button, and mode dial on the camera top, and monitor, menu/set, display, Quick Menu, and record/play buttons on the camera back.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
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In addition to logos depicting various shooting modes or scenes, the camera also describes the settings in plain language when the setting is first selected.

The Quick Menu button is a nice feature, allowing the user to call up a list of available options for whatever shooting mode the camera is in without resorting to internal menus.

Display/Viewfinder

The 2.5 inch LCD monitor is composed of 230,000 dots and provides approximately 100 percent coverage.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
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There are Auto Power and Power settings that modify monitor brightness, as well as a setting that makes the monitor easier to see when held at a high angle. The monitor brightness in the Power setting makes it a bit better than the typical monitor in this class of camera, but it can still be difficult to use in bright conditions and/or if the monitor is smudged.

There is no viewfinder.


PERFORMANCE

The FX35 performed well overall and is a simple and fairly intuitive camera to use.

Timing and Shutter Lag

Panasonic claims a shutter release lag time "as short as" .005 seconds, but using the DCR.com timing standard I managed about .1 seconds to push the shutter and capture an image with focus acquired. In any event, shutter lag in the FX35 with focus acquired is a strong point. Shutter lag without focus acquired was in the .8 second range. In-camera write speeds and some continuous shooting rates seemed to benefit from the use of a high speed memory card (SanDisk Extreme III vs. standard SanDisk).

Single shot-to-shot (shoot, write, reacquire focus, shoot) times were about 2.75 seconds with the standard card and 2.2 seconds with the Extreme III. Burst mode produced three shots in about .8 seconds with either card, and Continuous Shooting mode produced 5 shots in 4.1 seconds with the standard card and 5 shots in 3.1 seconds with the Extreme III. The Hi-Speed Burst setting (reduced resolution) in the scene menu produced 10 shots in about 1.5 seconds with either card.

Lens and Zoom

The FX35's 4x optical zoom lens spans a 35mm equivalent range of 25 to 100mm, and offers a fairly fast f/2.8 maximum aperture at wide angle. There is a 4x digital zoom which may be enabled via internal menu. That 25mm figure is a bit wider than any other compact I've come across, and wide-angles lend themselves to capturing sweeping vistas or getting really close to things, particularly big things.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
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The lens is officially a Leica DC VARIO-ELMARIT – an unevenly thick concave meniscus EA (Extra high refractive index Aspherical) lens, comprised of seven elements in six groups, including four aspherical lenses with six aspherical surfaces – developed by Panasonic to Leica standards.

Here's what the lens range looks like in the real world:

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
Wide-Angle (view large image)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
Telephoto (view large image)

Auto Focus

There are six AF options available in the FX35, depending on shooting mode: face detection, 9-area AF, 3-area high speed, 1-area, 1-area high speed, and spot. The option names describe how each works – face detection identifies a face and makes that the point of focus, 9-area uses any of 9 sites throughout the frame to establish focus, and so on. Focus options are intuitive in the extreme – I preferred the 3-area high speed setting.

Flash

Flash performance was good in the FX35, with recycle times in good conditions (wide angle, auto ISO, outside room illumination) of about 3 seconds. Inducing the camera to fire a full strength flash (pitch-black room, telephoto, 100 ISO) produced consistent 5.7 to 6 second recycle times.

The flash fires a pre-flash in red-eye reduction modes, which negates the camera's otherwise excellent shutter lag response. Flash modes not using red-eye reduction retain good shutter response.

Image Stabilization

As with other Panasonics, there are two modes of optical image stabilization: Mode 1 applies stabilization constantly while the camera is in record mode, Mode 2 when the shutter button is pressed.

Battery Life

Panasonic estimates battery life at "up to" 300 shots. I managed about 200, but these included a lot of flash and some shooting in "starry night" mode with long exposures with the monitor illuminated. Take a spare battery or two for all-day shoots to be safe.


IMAGE QUALITY

The FX35 is the first Panasonic I've reviewed and overall image quality was on a par with the best cameras in this class that I've personally shot. Images produced by the FX35 were generally quite satisfactory at the standard (default) setting with regard to resolution and sharpness. There is no sharpening adjustment per se in the camera, but changes to the color mode have an effect on overall image sharpness according to Panasonic.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
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With a clear night sky overhead, I opted to give the "starry night" scene mode a try. While we live in a somewhat rural portion of town, there is still a host of light sources all around, so it was with no great expectations that I dialed up a 60 second exposure and pointed the FX35 at the Big Dipper (Ursa Major). Next, I zoomed the lens in to full telephoto and aimed at the constellation Orion for another 60 second shot. The results of each shot far exceeded my expectations! I felt sure the surrounding lights would play havoc with shots, but the Panasonic did a remarkable job – the star trails are more pronounced on Orion due to the telephoto setting of the lens. This could be an interesting camera at a truly dark sky site!

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
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Exposure, Processing and Color

Exposure in the FX35 is accomplished by Programmed Auto Exposure and Intelligent Multiple light metering – metering points across the entire frame to achieve a balanced exposure setting. Auto bracketing and exposure compensation are available in some shooting modes. The Panasonic system did a pretty good job with most scenes, but as with many cameras, high contrast scenes could sometimes result in lost highlights.

Here are shots at the standard (default), normal (softer), vivid (sharper), black and white, and sepia color/sharpness settings.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
Standard (view large image)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
Natural (view large image)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
Vivid (view large image)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
Black and White (view large image)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
Sepia (view large image)
 

White Balance

Auto white balance provided good overall color rendition, and although incandescent light was reproduced a little on the warm side, the Panasonic has been one of the best compacts I've reviewed with respect to Auto WB performance.

Lens Faults

The lens on the FX35 is one of the best overall performers I've come across on a compact digital. There is minimal barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from middle of image) at wide angle, and I don't detect pincushioning (straight lines bow in toward middle of image) at the telephoto end. There is some purple fringing in high contrast boundary areas present, but it becomes objectionable only at 300 percent magnification and beyond, well beyond any expected use of these files. There is some image softness in the corners at both ends of the zoom, but in general the lens produces fine images that will acquit themselves well under even close scrutiny.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
Wide-Angle (view large image)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
Telephoto (view large image)

Block walls with their straight (well, usually straight) lines tend to be good subjects for exposing the distortion type of faults.

Sensitivity and Noise

This is the first Panasonic camera I've reviewed and as such I don't have a yardstick to determine if the Venus Engine IV processor is an improvement over the last generation Venus III. However, looking at the crops from the various standard ISOs, my impression is the FX35 is on a par with most other brands in this camera class with respect to ISO performance.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
ISO 100, 100% crop

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
ISO 200, 100% Crop

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
ISO 400, 100% Crop

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
ISO 800, 100% Crop

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
ISO 1600, 100% Crop

ISO 100 and 200 look pretty much the same, with 400 and 800 showing some increases, and the single greatest visible change coming with the jump from 800 to 1600. This is generally a similar progression to what I've encountered with other brands, and at this point I'd venture to guess it would be hard to differentiate most brands from the Panasonic on the basis of ISO performance alone. Certainly no one is going to view similar shots by a Canon or Nikon alongside those from the Panasonic and point clearly and decisively to one or the other as having significantly better or worse noise characteristics in an everyday objective analysis.

Additional Sample Images

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
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CONCLUSIONS

On first examination, the Panasonic FX35 seems to be a rather typical standard zoom compact digital – 4x optical zoom, stabilization, 2.5 inch LCD monitor, 100-1600 ISO range, and the usual suite of auto and scene shooting options. The zoom is a bit wider than any other compact I've come into contact with, and Panasonic's press release on the camera made much of the fact that the wide angle zoom lens sitting on the FX35 starts out at 25mm: "Consumers are gradually beginning to understand the value of wide-angle lenses. When they fully understand that the FX35 can help them capture almost double the frame, meaning they can squeeze twice as many friends into the group shot, we're confident we'll have some happy digital photographers."

Well, yeah, that's true if you read the fine print and understand Panasonic is comparing the FX35 to a 35mm-format camera with a 50mm lens. If you stack the FX35 up against another digital compact with a 28mm lens, the advantage is 3mm. While the 25mm is nice to have, it is, after all, a relatively small incremental improvement over the 27 and 28mm lenses that can be found on other competitors. The Panasonic's lens separates itself from the crowd with largely distortion free performance, and the camera itself produces excellent image and color quality with ISO performance that looks to be typical for cameras in the class. Add to that good shutter response and decent flash recycle times, and you've got a camera that can more than stand on its own, 25mm lens or not.

Pros:

Cons:

 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35 Specifications:

Sensor10.1 megapixel, 1/2.33" CCD
Lens/Zoom4x (25-100mm) Leica DC Vario-Elmarit, f/2.8-5.6
LCD/Viewfinder2.5", 230K-dot TFT LCD
SensitivityISO 100-1600 (High Sensitivity mode to ISO 6400)
Shutter Speed60-1/2000 seconds
Shooting ModesIntelligent Auto, Normal Picture, Scene 1, Scene 2, Motion Picture, Clipboard
Scene PresetsPortrait, Soft Skin, Scenery, Sports, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Food, Party, Candle Light, Baby 1, Baby 2, Pet, Sunset, High Sensitivity, Hi-Speed Burst, Starry Sky, Fireworks, Beach, Snow, Aerial Photo
White Balance SettingsAuto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, User Set
Metering ModesIntelligent Multi
Focus ModesFace Detection, Nine-Area AF, Three-Area High Speed, One-Area, One-Area High Speed, Spot
Drive ModesNormal, Burst, High Speed Burst
Flash ModesAuto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Slow Sync, Forced Off
Self Timer Settings
10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
Memory FormatsSD, SDHC
Internal Memory
50 MB
File FormatsJPEG, Motion JPEG
Max. Image Size3648x2736
Max. Video Size
1280x720, 30 fps
Zoom During Video No
BatteryRechargeable lithium-ion
ConnectionsUSB 2.0, AV output, HD output, DC input
Additional FeaturesMega O.I.S., iA Intelligent Auto mode, Intelligent ISO, Venus Engine IV processing