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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX90 Review: Connected and Capable
by Andy Stanton -  1/5/2012

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX90 is a small, thin, elegant camera that offers some interesting features. Chief among them is built-in Wi-Fi, which enables the wireless transfer of photos and movies to a computer, audio/visual device (such as a smart TV or Blu-Ray player) or directly to a photo sharing or social website such as Facebook, Flickr, Picasa or YouTube.

Panasonic Lumix FX90

This can be done at a Wi-Fi hotspot or through a smartphone, even when Wi-Fi access is not available. While many digital cameras are compatible with a Wi-Fi-enabled memory card, there are only a few cameras on the market offering Wi-Fi that is part of the camera itself.


The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX90 is a small, thin, elegant camera that offers some interesting features. Chief among them is built-in Wi-Fi, which enables the wireless transfer of photos and movies to a computer, audio/visual device (such as a smart TV or Blu-Ray player) or directly to a photo sharing or social website such as Facebook, Flickr, Picasa or YouTube.

This can be done at a Wi-Fi hotspot or through a smartphone, even when Wi-Fi access is not available. While many digital cameras are compatible with a Wi-Fi-enabled memory card, there are only a few cameras on the market offering Wi-Fi that is part of the camera itself.

In addition to Wi-Fi, the Lumix FX90 has a high-quality Leica DC Vario-Summarit lens with 5x optical zoom ranging from a very wide 24mm through 120mm (35mm film camera equivalent) and a fast f/2.5 maximum aperture, a 3.0-inch, 460k-dot touch screen LCD, a 12.1 megapixel sensor and full HD movie ability in AVCHD format.

I carried the camera with me to various places in the Washington, D.C. area, enjoying the holiday season. It seemed that everyone was taking pictures. While I saw many point and shoot cameras and DSLRs, most of the devices were smartphones, which do not take great looking pictures but have the advantage of being able to transmit photos. This underscores the logic behind giving a camera Wi-Fi ability. Let's see how the FX90 fared.

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.

Panasonic Lumix FX90

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.

Panasonic Lumix FX90

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.

Panasonic Lumix FX90

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:

Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
Standard
Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
Happy
Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
Black & White
Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
Sepia

Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
Pinhole
Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
Film Grain

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.

Display/Viewfinder
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.

Panasonic Lumix FX90

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.

PERFORMANCE
I found the FX90 to be a quick camera. The on-screen menu system responded quickly to the touch. The dedicated movie button started the movie recording instantly. Although I didn't care for the small size of the zoom control, it worked smoothly, with no hesitation.

The camera was a bit slow to start up, requiring about three seconds. However shot-to-shot time was very quick, at about one second without the flash and about two seconds with the flash. The camera's Wi-Fi function was easy to set up and worked smoothly. I was able to send images to my computer without a problem.

Shooting Performance
The FX90's autofocus system was able to focus quickly and reliably in all lighting conditions. The camera is equipped with 23 autofocus points which no doubt contributed to its excellent focusing performance.

DCR's lab confirms my own findings regarding the FX90's focusing ability, as its autofocus acquisition time was determined to be 0.24 seconds, which was faster than three high quality cameras by Sony, Canon and Nikon that were the subject of recent reviews. The FX90's continuous shooting speed was not nearly as fast as its three competitors, though its performance can be improved using the camera's high speed burst mode which creates less-than-full resolution images.

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)
Camera Time (seconds)
Panasonic Lumix FX90 0.24
Sony Cyber-shot TX100 0.32
Canon PowerShot S100 0.39
Nikon Coolpix AW100 0.50

Continuous Shooting
Camera Framerate*
Sony Cyber-shot TX100 11.4 fps
Canon PowerShot S100 10.5 fps
Nikon Coolpix AW100 8.5 fps
Panasonic Lumix FX90 3.0 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.

The FX90's lithium-ion battery is rated at 200 shots, which is probably accurate. This figure does not take into account battery power used for taking movies or using Wi-Fi and the battery life will doubtless be shorter when those functions are utilized. Therefore it's probably a good idea to purchase an extra battery, to be brought along when heading out for a day of shooting.

Panasonic Lumix FX90

Lens Performance
The FX90 has a high quality Leica DC Vario-Summarit lens with a range of 24 through 120mm (35mm film camera equivalent), and a maximum aperture ranging from a fast f/2.5 at wide angle to f/5.9 at telephoto.

Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
Wide Angle
Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
Telephoto

The camera has an Extra Optical Zoom feature, which uses digital zoom to extend the apparent focal length of the lens. The lens can focus as close as 3cm in macro mode.

The lens was impressively free from distortion. Chromatic aberration (colored fringing) was sometimes present in high contrast situations, such as trees against a blue sky, but it was well-controlled. The lens was sharp throughout the frame with no vignetting. Some barrel distortion was present at extreme wide angle but there was no significant pin cushion distortion at maximum telephoto.

Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
Wide Angle
Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
Telephoto

Video Quality
The FX90 has an excellent HD movie mode, with a maximum resolution of 1920 x 1080 at 25 frames per second, with optical zoom and continuous auto focus available while recording. The camera performed well, even when zooming, with no problems maintaining focus. The camera records monaural sound only. In the recording below you'll note extreme wind noise, which I could have greatly reduced using the camera's wind cut feature.

Download Sample Video

Image Quality
The FX90 can produce good looking images. Colors are punchy, but not overly saturated. If a user wants more colorful images, he or she may select the camera's happy or vivid modes. I did notice a problem with overexposure, despite activating the camera's intelligent exposure mode, so users will have to avoid shooting where there's a glare.

I used the camera's auto white balance setting and was generally pleased with the results. White balance can be set to white set (custom), auto, daylight, cloudy, shade or incandescent. The image below, which shows auto white balance under fluorescent lighting, seems to have a brownish tinge:

Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

The camera's flash can be set to auto, auto with red-eye reduction, forced on, forced on with red-eye reduction, slow sync with red-eye reduction and forced off. Flash range is from 0.6 - 5.9m at maximum wide angle with auto ISO and 1.0 - 2.5m at maximum telephoto with auto ISO. The flash performed adequately without being overpowering.

Panasonic FX90 Sample Image

The FX90 does fairly well in low light for a camera with a small 1/2.3 inch sensor. One reason may be Panasonic's wise decision to limit the camera's resolution to 12.1 megapixels, rather than matching the 14.1 or 16.1 megapixels used in many small cameras, including some made by Panasonic. As the playing cards show, the camera's best performance is at 100 ISO, with some softening at 200 ISO, which gradually increases through 1600 ISO. The camera's practical limit is 800 ISO, with 1600 ISO useful only in emergencies.

Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
ISO 100
Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
ISO 200
Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
ISO 400
Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
ISO 800
Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop

Additional Sample Images


Panasonic FX90 Sample Image Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
Panasonic FX90 Sample Image Panasonic FX90 Sample Image
Panasonic FX90 Sample Image Panasonic FX90 Sample Image

CONCLUSIONS
The Panasonic FX90 is a highly competent, well-made camera with many strengths and a few weaknesses. It's attractive with good build quality, though I have a few minor quibbles with its ergonomics, particularly its tiny zoom lever. It shoots quickly and focuses accurately. The camera has good image and movie quality and exhibits very little lens distortion. However, overexposure is a problem when glare is present.


The camera's touch screen is nicely responsive, though Panasonic may want to consider revamping the interface so that fewer submenus need to be accessed for commonly used actions. The camera's Wi-Fi works well and is an excellent addition to an already high quality camera.

Pros:

Cons: