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Head to Head: Fujifilm FinePix F100fd vs. Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
by David Rasnake -  5/15/2008

The middle of the month has rolled around again, meaning it's time for another comparison courtesy of DCR's Head to Head series. In this month's bout, two high-end, wide-zoom compacts – the Fujifilm FinePix F100fd and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35 – head into the ring for a wide-angle smackdown of epic proportions: "Two cameras enter, one camera leaves!" Or something...

The idea for this pairing was suggested by DCR reviewer Jim Keenan – who provided our analysis of both cameras – in his final thoughts on the Fuji:

"After reviewing the Panasonic FX35, I was sure I'd discovered the compact to get for my sister who wanted to take photos without any real involvement other than being there, but now comes the Fuji F100fd and the decision is up in the air. The Panasonic was a favorite because of its excellent lens, but the Fuji's got a lens that's pretty close. Decisions, decisions."

Decisions indeed. With comparable price tags and some serious specs offered up all around, how to navigate the murky waters separating these two titans of compact camera performance? Based on Jim's review notes and feedback plus my own experience shooting with both cameras, here's one take on how two of the most solid performers in this class stack up.


Sophistication and Style

At a price point above $300 for a compact camera, carefully thought out, intentional styling becomes less of a nicety and more of a necessity. On that score, both the F100fd and the FX35 pass muster. Issues of style being largely issues of personal taste, it's assumed that some will disagree with my judgments in this category. Most basically, suffice it to say that neither camera commits serious design atrocities.

Though they're both nicely crafted and should both appeal to certain users, the F100fd and the FX35 represent two fairly divergent approaches to the digicam design problem. The slightly larger Fuji emphasizes curved surfaces, with a front panel dominated by the lens.

Fujifilm FinePix F100fd
(view large image)

 

The F100's signature curved top is an interesting touch that sets it apart from the mass of anonymous digicams. From a design standpoint, I found the Fuji's flash placement directly in front of the zoom toggle just a bit too easy to cover with an errant finger.

Fujifilm FinePix F100fd
(view large image)

An uncluttered back panel and a slightly larger LCD than the Panasonic also give the Fuji a sense of refinement. The control surface is a typical Fuji take on the standard d-pad arrangement, and though the entire interface can feel a bit unfamiliar at first, things quickly fall into place with the F100fd.

The Panasonic is comparatively longer and leaner, with a skinnier profile all around and more grip space to the left of the lens.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
(view large image)

 

A slightly more traditional d-pad arrangement occupies the FX35's rear deck. Larger buttons are still on my wish list for future Lumix models, but build quality on the Panasonic is excellent in just about every way, with tight seams and basically no flex.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
(view large image)

Overall, the F100fd keeps things classy (and not Will Ferrell classy, either) in matte silver, but it just doesn't bring the industrial-style visual interest and tactile appeal of the FX35's alloy body. If you don't care one way or another how your camera looks, the whole question's a moot point, but from where I sit the FX35 the better looking, better feeling choice.

Advantage: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35


Features and Specs

The Fuji rolls into this ring with a fearsome 12 megapixels of resolution. Once, this would have been taboo territory for a compact camera, with more grain than you'll find in a box of Wheaties in every shot – especially in low light. The game changer, of course, is that the F100fd uses Fuji's eighth-generation SuperCCD sensor, which, as we'll see in the image quality analysis, makes basically every bit of that added resolution usable in just about any situation.

Of course, the difference between the FinePix's 12 megapixels and the Lumix's 10.1 is all but impossible to distinguish at normal print sizes. In terms of modes and options, the Panasonic is also the more well dressed of these two cameras, with an array of AF and metering options given advanced shooters everything they could ask for – except manual exposure control, that is.

The great leveler between these two devices is the zoom lens. Both highly tout their wide-angle abilities – the Fuji has a 28mm wide end, the Panasonic an even more impressive 25mm variant – as a key selling point. The Lumix delivers a wider view, but with its 4x range it also runs out of steam at the equivalent of about 100mm. Although the Fuji is marginally narrower, a top-end range out to 140mm gives the FinePix a little more balance where covering the full gamut of possibly shooting scenarios is concerned.

On paper at least, and to some (albeit small) measure in practice as well: though it's close to a tie, a bigger zoom range, more resolution, Fuji's famed SuperCCD sensor, and a larger screen all add up to a physical specs victory for the FinePix.

Advantage: Fujifilm FinePix F100fd


Ease of Use

The F100fd goes in a slightly different direction than the previous manual-exposure F cameras it replaces: there are no manual controls, with the FinePix boasting its accommodating point-and-shoot capabilities instead. In this mindset, what appeals to me about the Fuji (and what may ultimately frustrate shooters seeking advanced options) is how well its more advanced features are segregated within the menu system. If you want more control, it's there; if you want to shoot unencumbered by lots of options, you've got it.

By contrast, Panasonic targets a slightly more gadget savvy consumer with its FX cameras. There's still no doubt that the Lumix is easy to use, with its Intelligent Auto mode handling essentially the full range of settings if you so choose. What tips the balance on this one in favor of the Fuji, however, is the Lumix's "icon and acronym" approach to stuffing as many features as possible into a tiny camera. Tech heads will love all that the FX35 does, but those more interested in pointing and shooting may be left wishing for something a little more familiar and less overwhelming.

Advantage: Fujifilm FinePix F100fd


Image Quality

Fuji's ace in hole is unquestionably its low light performance. Side-by-side comparisons of 100-percent crops from the F100fd and the FX35 suggest that the Fuji has a solid stop of performance improvement over the averagely noisy Panasonic, with ISO 800 shots from the latter looking more like ISO 1600 from the former.

Fujifilm FinePix F100fd
Fujifilm FinePix F100fd, ISO 1600, 100% Crop

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

If IQ judgments were based entirely on noise performance, Fuji would walk away with this one as well. Sadly for the FinePix, in real world usage they're simply not. Optically, the two cameras are a good match, with good sharpness all around; in this match-up, the Panasonic may have a slight edge in terms of overall abilities, but it's not enough of a lead to definitively decide the issue in my mind.

What seals the deal for the Lumix, however, is its fantastic approach to color and processing: the FX35 impressed us with what it was capable of in terms of vibrancy and wide-range color reproduction, turning in a performance that the F100fd, even with all of its advanced dynamic range expansion options, really can't match.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
(view large image)

While the Fuji can be brought to life to some degree by working in its proprietary F-Chrome color mode, the saturation gain at this point is almost too much, and is a little artificial looking on balance compared to the FX35's rich straight-from-the-box image tone.

For more sample images and a detailed breakdown of image quality for each camera, check out our full reviews:

Advantage: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35


Price and Value

As noted, both cameras are slotted in roughly the same price bracket, with street prices on average coming close to the $350 mark in both cases. The tie-breaker in this case comes in the fact that some reputable online retailers have recently offered the FX35 for under $300, with the camera falling as low as $290 from one well-rated vendor in the past week alone.

Moreover, the FX35 has been on the market slightly longer than the only recently available F100fd, meaning that we'll likely see even more deals in the short term on the Panasonic. For cameras that come away so even matched on balance, $50 in savings might be enough to sway consumers toward the Lumix.

Advantage: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35


Conclusions

In the interest of full disclosure, I've done little to hide the fact that the FX35 is one of my favorite cameras so far in this year's new crop (it won an Editor's Choice award around here, after all). Of course, no camera is perfect, and the FX35 is no exception. What's interesting to me in this comparison is how much these two devices complement each other, with the Panasonic's weaknesses playing to the Fuji's strengths and vice versa. I suppose one solution would be to buy both, but then you'd be out nearly $700 and two pockets.

The fact that they're such clear contrasts in some ways – the Fuji's curviness versus the Panasonic's straight-edged industrial look, the Panasonic's vibrant image tone in outdoor shots versus the Fuji's impressive low light abilities – may make choosing between the F100fd and the FX35 that much easier or that much harder, depending on your perspective. They're unquestionably different cameras with fairly well-defined capabilities differences, brought together by similar price classing and optically proficient wide-angle lenses on both sides. The perfect camera might well be the one that unites the respective strengths of each of these two competitors, but even on their own, either of these powerful point-and-shoots can be a great choice depending on what your needs are.