Like cars, boats, and audio/video components, cameras get much more interesting as you move toward the upper end of the product range. Point-and-shoot digital camera buyers usually want the longest zooms, the hottest features, the most megapixels, and the cheapest prices they can get. The recently introduced Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX150 delivers on at least one of those consumer desires: the FX150 generates absolutely mammoth 14.7 megapixel images and also includes all the bells and whistles users have come to expect from premium point-and-shoot digital cameras.
I had the FX150 for a bit less than two weeks and the mid-winter weather here in north central Kentucky was typically horrid (gray skies, bad light, cold, and wet) the whole time, but I still managed to come away impressed with this elegant and easily pocketable little digicam. The FX150 offers beginners and casual shooters a rich selection of useful auto features that bring some fun to photography. More advanced photographers will appreciate the FX150's manual controls, manual white balance, exposure bracketing, and live histogram.
In addition to its 14.7 megapixel 1/1.72 inch CCD image sensor, the FX150 also features a relatively fast (f/2.8) 3.6x Leica DC Vario-Elmarit zoom that starts at the equivalent of 28mm, a 2.7 inch LCD, and Mega O.I.S. image stabilization.
Basic shooting modes include an Intelligent Auto setting, plus manual exposure control and a wide-ranging list of scene modes. Auto bracketing, a live histogram, 720p HD video recording, an 11-point AF system with Face Detection, manual white balance, and a high-sensitivity ISO mode are also included, as are claimed 2.5 fps burst shooting and very good battery life.
Here's a breakdown of the FX150's shooting modes:
The FX150 stores images to SD/SDHC/MMC/MMCPlus cards or its 50MB of on-board image storage. The FX150 saves images in either JPEG or RAW formats.
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
Styling and Build Quality
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX150 (available in black or silver) has an elegant and stylish retro-classic look – rather like a modern-day version of the Rollei 35S or one of the early collapsible lens Leica Range Finders. In hand the FX150 feels comfortable and nicely constructed.
The robustly built metal alloy body shows very good fit and finish and appears to have first-rate seam sealing. Plastic materials (buttons, knobs, etc.) seem tough enough to stand the test of time and the rigors of heavy use.
One minor design gripe involves the tripod mount, which is solid (metal not plastic) but is also positioned at the edge (rather than the center) of the camera's bottom plate.
Ergonomics and Interface
The FX150's image files are really big, but the camera is small enough to easily drop in a shirt pocket – 3.8x0.976x 2.1 inches – and it only weighs 5.3 ounces minus the battery and memory card. The FX150 is fairly stable to hold (although it lacks any sort of handgrip) and it is dependably easy to use. The minimal control layout is reminiscent of traditional 35mm rangefinder cameras, and like them the FX150 handles simply and operates logically. Experienced shooters won't even need to check the manual before using the camera.
Controls are generally large enough, clearly marked, and reasonably placed for right-handed shooters. The on/off switch and zoom control/shutter release button are very nicely positioned and the mode dial is well placed – making it simple to turn the camera on or off, zoom in and out, change modes, and trip the shutter with the right thumb and forefinger.
In record mode the compass switch controls the flash, exposure compensation, the self-timer, and marco focus mode. In playback mode the same four-way controller is used to toggle through images being reviewed and in both modes is used to navigate through the various menu screens.
The Quick Menu button provides access to the shortcut menu in record mode and functions as the delete button in playback mode. Note that the compass switch is laid out as five small separate buttons in the form of a cross rather, than as a single circular pad – so while it works in the same way as other digicams it doesn't feel the same in use, which is a bit disconcerting.
The FX150's menu system is user-friendly, logical, and easily navigated – the relatively large 2.7 inch LCD screen and reasonable print size make reading the various menus simple. The FX150's Quick Menu provides direct access to the most commonly changed/adjusted camera settings and functions like exposure compensation, white balance, sensitivity, image size, etc.
The FX150 (like many current point-and-shoot digicams doesn't provide an optical viewfinder – so all framing and composition must be done via the 2.7 inch, 230,000 pixel "Intelligent" High Angle TFT LCD. The FX150's LCD is positioned slightly off center – with all controls running along the right side of the screen. At first this somewhat different rear deck layout was a minor irritation, but I came to like the practicality (for right handed shooters) of the design.
LCD images are bright, sharp, hue/color accurate, and fluid, and the info display provides all the data the camera's target audience is likely to need. The display automatically increases brightness in dim lighting and users can also manually boost (11 steps) LCD brightness.
The FX150 provides a real-time (live) histogram making it easy for shooters to check for (and correct) under/over exposure problems before the image is captured. There is also a review/playback mode histogram for checking exposure in captured images.
Timings and Shutter Lag
In terms of shutter lag, the FX150 is noticeably quicker than average at 0.03 seconds, but this very quick capture time is somewhat negated by the camera's AF lag time – which is much slower than average at 0.92 seconds (with Quick AF enabled).
Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W300||0.02|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX150||0.03|
|Canon PowerShot G10||0.03|
|Fujifilm FinePix F60fd||0.05|
|Nikon Coolpix P6000||0.06|
AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
|Fujifilm FinePix F60fd||0.42|
|Canon PowerShot G10||0.52|
|Nikon Coolpix P6000||0.61|
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W300||0.67|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX150||0.92|
|Fujifilm FinePix F60fd||3||2.5 fps|
|Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX150||4||2.3 fps|
|Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W300||10||2.1 fps|
|Canon PowerShot G10||∞||1.3 fps|
|Nikon Coolpix P6000||5||0.9 fps|
Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.
Overall, the FX150 comes in about average, speed-wise. With numbers like those shown above, experienced photographers might have a tough time capturing the peak moment in action shots.
The FX150's contrast-detection auto focus system offers users several AF options – 11 point standard AF, three point high speed AF, one point AF, one point high speed AF, AF area select (which allows you to select which one of the 11 AF points is live), spot AF, tracking AF, and face detection AF options. AF is smooth and dependably accurate, but speed/lag is about average.
Lens and Zoom
The heart of the FX150 is its 28-100mm, f/2.8-5.6 3 Leica Vario Elmarit zoom. Ernst Leitz GMBH (Leica's parent company) is justifiably famous for designing and manufacturing first-rate optics – they have been recognized as an industry leader for almost a century.
When the camera is powered up, the lens automatically telescopes out of the camera body. When the camera is powered down the lens is fully retracted into the camera body and a built in lens cover slides into place to protect the front element. The lens is constructed of seven elements in six groups with four aspherical elements. Aspherical lens elements make it easier for lens designers to manufacture cheaper, smaller, lighter, and less complex zoom lenses – they also improve optical performance (sharpness, contrast, and color) by reducing internal reflections.
The FX150 is able to cram about 25 percent more real estate into the frame (at the wide angle end of the zoom) than most of its competition, but that slight edge is somewhat negated by higher than average noise levels indoors (as sensitivity rises to overcome lower levels of ambient lighting). Contrast is balanced and colors are hue accurate. Minimum focusing distance in macro mode is 2.0 inches.
Zooming is smooth and very quick – I counted 18 steps from the wide-angle end to the telephoto end of the zoom, which makes precise zooming much easier. Overall, the FX150's optical performance is exceptional for a compact point-and-shoot digicam zoom. Finally, unlike much of its competition,the FX150 allows shooters to use the optical zoom during video capture.
The above wide-angle shot of a restaurant patio dumbwaiter nicely illustrates the FX150's impressive optical performance – barrel distortion is essentially non-existent.
The FX150's built-in flash provides a fairly typical selection of external lighting options, including auto, auto/red-eye reduction, forced on, slow synch/red-eye reduction, and off. Maximum flash range (according to Panasonic) is 19.4 feet but that seems a bit optimistic unless there's lots of ambient light on the subject or a light background. Flash recycle time is about 6.6 seconds with a fully charged battery.
The FX150's Mega O.I.S. optical image stabilization system automatically counters the involuntary movements of the photographer and minimizes the virtually unavoidable camera shake that causes blurry images by quickly and precisely shifting lens elements in the zoom to compensate for camera movement during exposure. The FX150's image stabilization system allows users to shoot at shutter speeds up to three stops slower than would have been possible without image stabilization. Stabilization also helps shooters capture sharp images at the telephoto end of the zoom – where even the slightest camera movement is magnified. Image stabilization can also be very useful when shooting indoors, where higher shutter speeds may not be possible or would result in dark images with poor shadow/highlight detail.
The FX150's image stabilization system offers two modes: Mode 1 (continuous), in which IS is engaged full time, but this method shortens battery life. IS can be also engaged just prior to exposure via Mode 2 (shoot only IS), which is equally effective and uses less power.
Image stabilization can't cure everything – subject movement can also cause blurred images and the FX150 provides a useful feature called Intelligent ISO Control to counter the blur caused by subject movement during exposure. Intelligent ISO Control works by automatically boosting shutter speed and sensitivity when the camera detects subject movement during exposure. Faster shutter speeds and higher ISO settings help subject freeze movement, but at the cost of higher image noise levels.
The FX150 is powered by a Panasonic 3.7v 1150mAh rechargeable li-ion battery. I didn't keep track of numbers (Panasonic claims 330 exposures) but I had the camera for a bit less than two weeks and I only had to charge the battery once. Panasonic's new chip seems to manage power output nicely – the FX150's battery life is slightly better than average for compact/ultracompact point-and-shoot digicams.
Image quality is reliably very good to excellent (outdoors in good light) with essentially no effort on the part of the photographer. Images are very sharp with balanced contrast and colors are hue accurate and slightly over-saturated. Shadow detail is decent, but there is a slight tendency to clip highlights and some very minor chromatic aberration/purple fringing is visible in high contrast color transition areas at the wide end of the excellent Leica zoom.
Exposure, Processing, and Color
The FX150's auto exposure system is noticeably better than average and the nifty new intelligent Auto (iA) mode makes taking very good to excellent images simple. The Venus Engine IV processor does a very good job across the board.
The FX150 offers a fairly standard selection of light metering options including Intelligent Multiple, Center-Weighted, and Spot for calculating exposures. I used the Intelligent Multiple metering mode exclusively and the images captured by the FX150 fairly accurately reflect what I saw when I pressed the shutter button.
The FX150 provides users with an impressive selection of white balance options, including the typical range of presets, two user-set custom white balance settings, and advanced white balance fine-tuning options.
Auto White Balance, 3200K incandescent light
The FX150's auto white balance mode, Intelligent Multiple metering, and iA auto exposure system work nicely together to produce consistently very good to excellent photos even for beginning photographers, but like most consumer digicams the auto setting produces slightly warmer colors than those seen by the naked eye under incandescent light. The FX150's manual white balance is a useful feature that's not always included on compact/ultracompact digicams.
The FX150's Leica zoom exhibits very slight barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from the center) at the wide-angle end of the zoom range and negligible pincushioning (straight lines bow in toward the center) at full telephoto.
Very minor chromatic aberration/purple fringing is visible in high-contrast transition areas at the wide end of the zoom, but essentially undetectable at the telephoto end. Corners show some very minor and highly typical softness, but are perceptibly sharper than average. There was no visible vignetting (dark corners) at the wide-angle end of the zoom range.
Sensitivity and Noise
Image noise levels are above average at all ISO settings.
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Images shot at ISO 100 show reasonably low noise levels, vibrant color, sharp resolution, acceptable highlight detail, and decent shadow detail. At the ISO 200 setting noise levels begin to rise a bit, but image quality is still very good. ISO 400 images are noticeably noisy and some detail is lost, but they are still usable. ISO 800 images are soft, colors are flat, and detail loss is evident. ISO 1600 images are noisy enough to look a little mushy with flat, pastel-like colors.
This auto ISO indoor shot (window light, overcast day) shows just how flat and noisy indoor images from the FX150 can be.
This auto ISO indoors shot (combination window light and overhead incandescent) is slightly better, but still flat and very noisy.
Additional Sample Images
The elegant little FX150 has a couple of minor shortcomings and it's probably not the best choice for those who like to shoot in natural (read: low/dim) light, but for just about everyone else the FX150 provides nearly the same level of creative capability as many of today's upper-tier point-and-shoot digicams. If that isn't enough, the FX150 is smaller, lighter, easier to use, and looks better than most of its competition as well.
The FX150 should appeal to more serious photographers looking for a pocket digicam, casual photographers who want the latest features and the most megapixels, and hikers/bikers/backpackers/travelers who want lots of photographic options in a small feature rich "take it anywhere" easy to use camera.
|Sensor||14.7 megapixel CCD, 1/1.72"
|Lens/Zoom||3.6x (28-100mm) Leica DC Vario-Elmarit, f/2.8-5.6|
2.7", 230K dot TFT LCD Display
|Shutter Speed||60-1/2000 seconds|
Intelligent Auto, Program AE, Manual, Motion Picture, Scene
|Scene Presets||Portrait, Soft Skin, Transform, Self-Portrait, Scenery, Sports, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Food, Party, Candle Light, Baby1, Baby2, Pet, Sunset, High sensitivity, Hi-Speed Burst, Flash-Burst, Starry Sky, Fireworks, Beach, Snow, Aerial photo, Film Grain, Pin Hole
|White Balance Settings||Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, Color Temperature, White Set 1, White Set 2|
|Metering Modes||Intelligent Multiple, Center-Weighted, Spot
Normal / Macro, Quick AF On/Off (On in Intelligent Auto), AF Area Select, AF Tracking
|Drive Modes||Single, Burst, High-speed Burst
Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Slow Sync/Red-Eye Reduction, Forced Off
|Self Timer Settings
||10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
|Memory Formats||SD, SDHC, MultiMediaCard
|File Formats||JPEG, RAW, Motion JPEG|
|Max. Image Size||4416x3312|
|Max. Video Size
||1280x720, 24 fps
|Zoom During Video||Yes
|Battery||Rechargeable 1150 mAh lithium-ion, 330 shots|
|Connections||USB 2.0, AV output, HD AV output, DC input|
|Additional Features||Mega OIS Image Stabilization, Venus Engine IV processor, Intelligent ISO, Intelligent Scene Selector, RAW shooting, HD video capture, Image Leveling|