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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75 Review
by Jim Keenan -  8/9/2010

Just entering the market, Panasonic's DMC-FX75 joins a Lumix compact digital lineup featuring no fewer than fourteen other models that could easily be mistaken for one another on looks alone.

Panasonic FX75


In the case of the FX75, it's the 14.1 megapixel, 5x optical zoom compact with the 3.0-inch LCD monitor, full touch screen operation and the Sonic Speed autofocus (AF) system. That 5x zoom is a Leica design built by Panasonic and covering the 24 to 120mm focal range (35mm equivalent) with a fast f/2.2 maximum aperture at the wide end. Here's what that range looks like:

Panasonic FX75 Test Image
24mm Wide Angle

Panasonic FX75 Test Image
120mm Telephoto

The camera also features the Venus Engine HD II processor and Panasonic's signature intelligent Auto (called Evolving iA) shooting mode. Along with iA come power Optical Image Stabilization (O.I.S.), face recognition and detection, AF tracking and the intelligent threesome of ISO control, scene selection and exposure. Video capture is offered in Motion JPEG or AVCHD Lite formats and the camera can utilize SD/SDHC/SDXC memory media in addition to about 40MB of internal memory. Panasonic includes a battery pack, charger and battery case, USB and AV cables, a hand strap, plastic stylus, CD-ROM software and a printed basic operating instructions manual with each camera.

That fast 24mm maximum aperture is interesting, but the buzz around the FX75 is likely to center on the full touch screen operational aspects of this camera. Panasonic reports the touch screen operation is "fluid and smooth" in playback or record modes. If it can manage to crank out quality images as well, Panasonic may be on to something. Let's find out.

BUILD AND DESIGN
Easily shirt pocket portable, the FX75 fits the deck of cards/pack of cigarettes size template that defines so many compact digitals with zooms less than 10x. The body is metal and our review unit had a matte black finish with bright silver accents (a silver body is also available in the U.S.). The camera seems well built.

Panasonic FX75

Ergonomics and Controls
The FX75 is pretty much shaped the same as virtually every standard zoom compact digital - the rectangular body is a bit rounded on the ends and edges and promotes a grip with fingers atop and below the body. The focus assist lamp is located at the upper left front of the body and invites obscuration by the fingers of the left hand should they stray from the camera top.

Panasonic FX75

This Panasonic point-and-shoot breaks from the pack with a control layout that defines simplicity. The on/off switch, shutter button/zoom lever and motion picture capture button sit atop the body; a record/playback switch, mode and menu buttons stack vertically to the right of the monitor on the rear. The camera even has a touch shutter feature that can bypass the shutter button in the capture process - more about that later. The menu and mode buttons get you to the touch screen and the record/playback setting determines what is presented once you arrive. Here's the startup screen with the camera set in record mode.

And here's what the menu and mode buttons produce from this point.

Panasonic FX75
Menu
Panasonic FX75
Mode

Menus and Modes
As you can see above, pushing the menu button with the camera in record mode and "normal picture" gets you the first page of a four page menu with a total of eighteen settings. Included on this screen are small icons at the lower left that allow you to select menus for motion pictures or camera setup. Here's what the first page of those respective menus look like.

Panasonic FX75
Movie
Panasonic FX75
Setup

If the camera had been set for intelligent Auto, a push of the menu button would have delivered this result - a single page menu with only four settings.

Selecting menu with the camera in the high dynamic option of the scene shooting mode gets you this first page of a three page menu - menu size and content may vary from scene to scene.

Back when we first got the startup screen there was a small "disp" icon at the lower right corner of the screen - if we pushed it we would have gotten this screen.

Had the camera been set for intelligent Auto instead of normal picture, the screen would have looked like this.

Pushing the quick menu icon in the lower left of the display for intelligent Auto produces this screen.

A slightly different screen would have appeared had the camera been in normal picture mode. Finally, there's a funny looking little icon next to the disp icon - this is the touch shutter enable/disable control. This feature is off by default and the icon is blue. Touching the icon enables the feature and the icon turns yellow.

Panasonic FX75
Touch Shutter Off
Panasonic FX75
Touch Shutter On

From this point, wherever the user next touches the screen establishes a focus point and fires the shutter.

Navigating the menus is really quite easy and intuitive - after all there aren't that many external controls and once you get to the touch screen things just seem to naturally fall into place.

There are five primary shooting modes, but no manual exposure controls:

Display/Viewfinder
The 3.0-inch monitor has a 230,000-dot composition with automatic and manual bright illumination options. The screen can be hard to use in bright outdoor conditions in either mode for image composition and capture or playback - touch screen menus were sufficiently bright and legible - and the buildup of fingerprints on the screen due to touch operations only makes matters worse.

Panasonic FX75

Any screen can be difficult to use in bright outdoor conditions, but the FX75 seemed a bit more difficult to see than on average. Panasonic provides a silver-dollar sized plastic stylus that may be used to select touch screen functions in addition to using the fingers, but the stylus can be easily misplaced if not attached to the camera. I attached the stylus via the camera wrist strap, but the camera had to be taken off the wrist to use the stylus, so the fingers did the bulk of the work. Coverage is about 100%. Carry a lens cloth for frequent cleanings of the screen.

PERFORMANCE
While the FX75 features a 5x optical zoom at full resolution, it also has a little trick up its sleeve to push that zoom out a bit more thanks to the Venus Engine HD II processor and "Intelligent Resolution" technology. From Panasonic's FX75 press release:

With the Intelligent Resolution technology, three areas - outlines, detailed texture areas and soft gradation - are examined pixel by pixel and automatically detected to enhance any degradation created during the digital zoom process or in high-sensitivity shooting.

I've never been a fan of digital zooms on cameras because of their image quality, but with "Intelligent Zoom" enabled the FX75 goes out to 6.5x "with no noticeable deterioration" in image quality per Panasonic. That equates to about 156mm versus 120mm with the optical zoom. Here are two sets of shots at 5x and 6.5x.

Panasonic FX75 Test Image
5x Optical Zoom
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
6.5x Intelligent Zoom
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
5x Optical Zoom
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
6.5x Intelligent Zoom

You can decide for yourself, but I'd probably go to intelligent zoom if I needed to be just a bit "closer" on some shots. The FX75 does provide higher pure optical zoom multiplications, but at reduced resolutions.

Shooting Performance
The FX75 powers up and presents a focus point in about 2 seconds - I was able to get off a first shot in about 2.5 seconds from power up. Single shot-to-shot times ran about 2 seconds. Shutter lag was quick at less than 0.01 seconds, and AF acquisition time was also fast at 0.28 seconds. There is a focus assist lamp and the FX75 retained good AF acquisition times at telephoto in good light, and wide angle in dim light. The camera noticeably slowed at telephoto in dim light. There is an AF tracking option that allows you to designate a focus and exposure point on a subject in the frame via the touch screen - as long as the subject remains in the frame the focus icon will follow them if they or the camera move.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75
<0.01
Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS 0.01
Fujifilm FinePix JZ500
0.01
Nikon Coolpix S8000 0.05

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Nikon Coolpix S8000 0.26
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75 0.28
Fujifilm FinePix JZ500 0.38
Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS 0.57

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Canon PowerShot SD4000 IS 3.3 fps
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75 3 1.8 fps
Fujifilm FinePix JZ500 3 1.4 fps
Nikon Coolpix S8000 10 1.2 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.

Continuous shooting in burst mode produced three shots at a 1.8 fps rate. You can get five shots if you drop image quality while retaining resolution, and there are faster rates in the high speed burst mode of the scene menu but at dramatically lowered resolution. There's about a 1 second blackout of the monitor after the first shot in continuous shooting mode; the blackout period is briefer with high speed burst.

The FX75's Power O.I.S. (optical image stabilization) system moves the lens to compensate for camera shake. There are two modes in addition to an auto mode that selects one or the other: mode 1 offers continuous stabilization while mode 2 stabilizes when you push the shutter button.

The camera also offers "motion deblur" which "is a comprehensive integration of Intelligent ISO Control which automatically adjusts ISO setting and shutter speed according to the subject's movement and the advanced contrast control system of Intelligent Exposure that also optimizes the exposure to prevent over/under exposure part in a picture."

I'm not a big fan of "stabilization" systems that ramp up ISOs to get faster shutter speeds as part of the quest for sharper images. With their physically small sensors, compact digitals generally don't have a lot of leeway for increasing ISO sensitivity before noise starts to enter the picture, so that makes such options my last resort. Here's a shot in dim conditions, no flash, with motion deblur on and off. ISO with it on was 5000 (and reduced resolution) - without was 1600 and full resolution.

Panasonic FX75 Test Image
Motion Deblur On
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
Motion Deblur Off

I'd shoot the FX75 with the O.I.S. enabled and save motion deblur for "when all else fails."

Panasonic rates the FX75 flash range as about 2 feet to 7 feet at wide angle, and 3.28 feet to 9.18 feet at telephoto with auto ISO. At the camera's base ISO of 80 range drops considerably - 2 to about 5.25 feet at telephoto and Panasonic recommends 4x as the maximum telephoto for flash with both 80 or 100 ISO as "pictures recorded with tele may be darker than normal." It's the maximum aperture of the FX75 lens at telephoto that's largely the culprit - while the lens is a fast f/2.2 at wide angle, it's a slow f/5.9 at telephoto. The auto ISO setting the camera uses for that 9 foot telephoto range is 1600, and we've already seen what that looks like, at least without flash.

Battery life for the FX75 is rated 360 shots according to a CIPA standard of 73 degrees, auto optical stabilization, flash every other shot, zooming to the other end of the focal range for each successive shot and resting the battery after every 10 shots.

Lens Performance
The FX75's Panasonic-built Leica DC Vario-Summicron lens was a decent performer at wide angle, with fairly even light distribution across the frame, some softness in the corners and a bit more barrel distortion than I've seen with Panasonics equipped with Vario-Elmar lenses. Telephoto (5x) was a bit better in corner sharpness than at wide angle, and had a slight bit of pincushion distortion.

Panasonic FX75

Intelligent zoom (6.5x) looked a bit softer in the corners than tele and had about the same degree of pincushion. Chromic aberration (purple fringing) was visible in an admittedly worst-case scenario type of shot at 100% enlargement at wide angle; at telephoto and intelligent zoom the effect was much more muted and difficult to find.

Minimum focus can be as little as 1.18 inches in macro mode, and the FX75 briefly displays a handy scale to let you know the focus range at any particular focal length.

Video Quality
The FX75 can capture video at 1280x720 resolution in both AVCHD Lite and Motion JPEG formats; AVCHD Lite is recommended for viewing on HD televisions and JPEG for computer/internet applications. AVCHD Lite requires compatible devices for playback while Motion JPEG is more widely recognized at this point. Video(s) for this review were captured in Motion JPEG. FX75 video quality is average in this format. There's a second or two blackout of the monitor when you initiate video capture so tracking moving subjects can be problematic at first.

Auto focus and zoom are available and there is a wind cut setting that may be enabled. The AF Tracking option described in the Shooting Performance section is also available for video capture. Maximum continuous recording time is 29 minutes and 59 seconds with a 2GB maximum for Motion JPEG.

Image Quality
Still images were pleasing and accurate as to color rendition and sharpness.

Panasonic FX75 Test Image Panasonic FX75 Test Image

The FX75 also provides a range of color options for shooting in normal picture mode, and a "happy" color mode for intelligent Auto.

Panasonic FX75 Test Image
Standard
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
Natural
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
Vivid
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
Black & White
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
Sepia
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
Happy (iA)

There's a high dynamic shooting option in the scene menu, and the camera's intelligent Exposure and intelligent Resolution features may be enabled for shooting in normal picture mode. I shot the mission fountain in normal mode, then with intelligent Exposure enabled and finally with both intelligent Exposure and Resolution.

Panasonic FX75 Test Image
Normal mode
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
Normal + iExposure
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
Normal + iExposure + iResolution

The three shots are similar, and histograms are the best way to visualize the differences but highlights were lost to a greater degree without iExposure enabled, and iExposure also brought out a bit more detail in shadow areas. The shot with iExposure and iResolution enabled was a virtual twin for the iExposure only shot.

Here's an important point to note when enabling iExposure for shooting with normal picture mode - if you set the ISO at 80 or 100 and have iExposure enabled, the camera is free to adjust the ISO from what you have set. You might be happily firing away thinking you're shooting at 80 ISO when the camera has actually been using a different (and potentially noisier) setting. Most of the shots used to illustrate this review were made with iExposure disabled.

While the FX75 lacks manual exposure controls, there's a hidden treasure waiting in the scene menu for folks who want a little more input into the image capture process.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you fireworks.

Usually I tend to avoid shooting in scene modes because they typically set the ISO for the shot. That's exactly what fireworks does, and that's why it's a hidden treasure - it sets the ISO at 80. Fireworks also gives you a 2 second shutter time if you turn the stabilizer off, and you also have +/- 2 EV of exposure compensation available.

The two shots that follow were made on a tripod in fireworks mode and with +2 EV of exposure compensation. I used the self timer to fire the shutter and these shots came at 9:09 PM local time - right at the start of astronomical twilight, which means the sun was about 18 degrees below the horizon. It was dark, but the +2 EV compensation turned the 2 second firework shutter into 8 seconds for each shot. How come two shots made seconds apart at the same ISO and shutter speed aren't exposed exactly the same? I zoomed in a bit on the second shot and the lens aperture changed from f/4 to f/5.5 due to the focal length.

Panasonic FX75 Test Image Panasonic FX75 Test Image

Between the fixed ISO, exposure compensation and varying apertures based on focal length, fireworks give you an admittedly small window of manual exposure options, but some options are better than no options in my book.

Auto white balance worked pretty well for a variety of lighting conditions, and while we've switched lamps to 5500K fluorescents for our studio shots, the FX75 shot a bit warm under 3200K incandescent lamps. There are daylight, cloudy, shade, halogen and custom settings available.


Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

The FX75 uses Panasonic's intelligent multiple metering system for exposure calculation, and it performed well in average lighting conditions but had a tendency to lose highlight in scenes with high contrast. Things were a little better with iExposure enabled in normal picture mode, but the camera seemed to lose highlights virtually any time a scene had high contrast. Shooting an FX75 in normal picture mode with a bit of under exposure compensation would probably be my setup of choice.

Noise performance in the FX75 was average. ISO 80 and 100 sensitivities were pretty clean and hard to tell apart. ISO 200 has some small hints of noise creeping in - a small loss of detail in the bear's nose and the filter package, for example. Moving to ISO 400 is a definite step down from 200 - still usable for small images, but becoming marginal for large print work.

Panasonic FX75 Test Image
ISO 80
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
ISO 80, 100% crop
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
ISO 100
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
ISO 200
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
ISO 400
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
ISO 800
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
ISO 1600
Panasonic FX75 Test Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop

ISO 800 is another notch worse and 1600 takes an even more dramatic downturn, becoming the ISO of last resort. There is a high sensitivity mode in the scene menu that permits capture of images at 3 megapixels or less at the "standard" quality setting. ISO is adjusted automatically between 1600 and 6400, so just like Forest Gump's box of chocolates you never know what you're going to get.

Additional Sample Images
Panasonic FX75 Test Image Panasonic FX75 Test Image
Panasonic FX75 Test Image Panasonic FX75 Test Image
Panasonic FX75 Test Image Panasonic FX75 Test Image

CONCLUSIONS
The FX75 is a capable digital camera with a fast wide angle zoom, good shutter and AF performance and good image quality. It features a touch screen for the bulk of camera operations and, as advertised, this system proved to be "fluid and smooth." The zoom range lends itself to capturing wide vistas or large subjects up close; bringing distant subjects close is not this camera's forte. Lack of manual controls will send some folks away unhappy, but the FX75 is clearly targeting users who seek minimal involvement with the image capture process.

Not many blemishes come with the FX75, and those that do are relatively minor. The AVCHD Lite video format is still not as widely recognized as Motion JPEG, so even if you've upgraded to compatible devices there's no guarantee your friends will be able to view your AVCHD videos on their equipment.


I found the monitor a bit harder than usual to see for image composition and capture in bright conditions (but OK for menus and other touch screen operations). The maximum aperture at telephoto is slower than most and with ISO noise grading out as average overcoming this speed differential with higher ISOs isn't the way to go.

Still, Panasonic continues to impress with their compact digitals, which do a fairly good job overall. The FX75 is just one of the latest additions to continue this tradition.

Pros:

Cons: