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The headlines features of the FX100 are pretty impressive. You've got a whopping 12Mp resolution, a very handy 28mm wide angle lens, and a large 2.5in. screen on the back. And all crushed into a camera the size of a mobile phone. If only it could make the tea as well.
Panasonic DMC-FX100 Specifications
- Sensor: CCD - 12.2 Million pixels
- Image Size: 4000x3000 pixels
- Lens: 28-102mm (3.6x optical zoom). Leica Dc Vario-Elmarit, 7 elements in 6 groups
- LCD screen: 2.5in. (230k pixels)
- Focus: TTL Auto
- Macro: 5cm
- ISO Range: 100-1250
- Shutter speed: 8-1/2000sec. Starry sky mode up to 60sec.
- Flash range: 4m wide angle, 2m telephoto
- Exposure: Program AE
- Metering: 1-point, 1-point high speed, 3 -point high speed, 9-point, spot
- Movie Mode: Yes
- Storage: SD, SDHC, MMC
- Batteries: Li-Ion battery pack
- Video Output: Yes
- Size/Weight: 97.7 x 57.1 x 25.1 mm - 151g
With that monster resolution, the FX100 is up against the Casio Exilim EX-Z1200 which has a 12Mp res, but a slightly smaller LCD and a less useful 37mm wide angle, though it does cost £50 less. There's also the Canon Digital Ixue 900 Ti with a 10Mp res, 37mm wide angle and 2.5in. LCD which is £30 cheaper.
Panasonic DMC-FX100 Modes and features
While the FX-100 isn't as minimalist as the Samsung or Pentax cameras with touch-screens, it manages to arrange everything neatly and clearly all the same. The top panel houses a solid on/off slider, the zoom rocker and fire button, and interestingly, a button marked E.ZOOM. Press this and the zoom races out to the maximum focal length - it's much quicker than using the zoom rocker. Press it again and it extends up to 7x zoom digitally, which reduces the resolution down to 3Mp. Now, this is a point we've touched on before. While no-one really needs 12Mp in a compact, it does mean that there is much more resolution to play with, when cropping in using the digital zoom. However, what's strange is that if the zoom rocker is used to go through the digital zoom range, it goes up to 14x by cropping into the middle as before, but retains a 12Mp image size by then interpolating the result.
As with some other Panasonic compacts, the mode dial is half hidden so that only three options can be seen at once. While this does keep it neat and out of the way, it's rather unnecessary and slows down selection of the mode that you actually want. On the dial are selections for program mode, Auto ISO mode, Playback, Simple mode, Scene mode, printer connection, Movie mode and Macro.
Now, Macro is normally on one of the joypad buttons, but as it's here on the model dial it frees up a spot downstairs. That has now been used an additional playback button, or review as it's called here. Anyway, back to the mode dial. Program mode allows access to all the secondary functions like exposure compensation, metering mode, ISO control and resolution. To optimise the image for particular scenes you need the Scene modes as there are no aperture priority or shutter modes. The Scene modes cover favourites like portraits, landscapes and sports, but throws in some interesting ones like portrait with soft skin, starry sky (very long exposure), fireworks and aerial photography.
Down the back of the camera where the jazzy little buttons sit all shiny and new, a press of the central one brings up the menu system, while the others cover exposure compensation, self-timer and flash options. Two further, but round, buttons change details on the LCD screen or activate the custom function. And that's it control wise. It's very neat and organised and the menu system is straightforward as well.
A final mention goes to the lens, which is a 3.6x zoom, so a bit more than 3x, but seeing as it's starting way back at 28mm it means that it only gets up to 102mm equivalent, which is roughly back up to where a 3x zoom on a 35mm starting point would be.
Panasonic DMC-FX100 Build quality
No complaints here. It's a solid metal body with a two-tone colour scheme. The lens is a solid gun-metal grey and the body comes in silver or black. To be honest, go for the black version as this look very cool whereas the silver one is a bit corporate. I particularly liked the buttons on the back which are arranged in a joypad configuration. Stylish and solid. The LCD screen is nice and large at 2.5in. though doesn't pack as many more pixels into that space as you might think. But, at 230k, you can't really complain. Handling is fine and even though the SD card slot is in the same bay as the rechargeable battery, there's never the feeling that one will fall out while the other is being changed.
Panasonic DMC-FX100 Flash options
There's a decent range of flash options here, starting with auto, auto with red-eye reduction, forced flash on, slow-synch with red-eye removal, and forced off. The range isn't great at 4m, but that's pretty much par for the course with a compact camera.
Panasonic DMC-FX100 Performance
While the Casio ZX-1200 struggled to capture 12Mp pics, the FX-100 is a rather different beasty. For a start it whacked out three shots in about one and a half seconds, and then continued on to grab another three 12Mp pics, scoring six in the 10sec test. That's the higher end of average, but as they are 12Mp files, it's a pretty good result.
The fast zoom option button is a treat and will see a lot of use, and even the ability to get extra reach and drop down to 3Mp is of some use. It's a pity that you can't zoom slightly less and get an incrementally higher resolution because the standard digital zoom interpolates the image, which at 14x maximum gives a pretty crude result. All that said, you can of course, just crop the 12Mp picture yourself and get a closer shot with a lower resolution. That's the advantage of having such a high res to start with.
Focussing is fast enough for a compact, and it's nice to see the three metering options of centre, spot and zone. Set the camera to centre-weighted and use exposure compensation when required and you can turn out good results all day long.
Startup time from on until the first shot is taken is quite slow at around 5-6secs and turning off takes nearly 5secs as well. So, this isn't great, but for compact users isn't a huge concern.
The collection of scene modes are rather essential, as otherwise, trying to take a landscape picture gives unsatisfactory results in Program mode in terms of depth-of-field. Shoot it in landscape though, and f/9 is your reward and much greater front to back sharpness the result. Portrait mode as well will reward your patience by making the skin tones lighter and evening out shadows.
Panasonic DMC-FX100 Noise tests
With a massive 12Mp resolution, noise issues were always going to be a concern and sure enough, there's visible noise at ISO80. However, it isn't enough to worry about, and nor is the visible coloured mottling at ISO100 either. It does however get worse at ISO200 and is visibly patchy in the grey card area. At ISO400 the noise becomes more sharply defined with patterns appearing and the image now starts to get softer as well. This isn't awful, but neither is it particularly good. At ISO800 the grey card area is now very noisy, with a very broken surface, however, the colour of the noise doesn't leap out, so in some circumstances it could be usable. It's interesting to see an intermediate ISO1250 setting and here the image has deteriorated dramatically. The details disappears into blocky patterns, the plain areas are a riot of noise and the colour of the petals changes to a darker red. That really should have been it, but Panasonic decided to push their luck with ISO1600. Surprisingly it isn't much worse than 1250, so perhaps should be reserved for grainy black and white images only.
Panasonic DMC-FX100 Verdict
The FX100 has a kind of Canon Ixus appeal to it, with the gun-metal grey barrel and it's one of Panasonic's nicest looking cameras with a large 2.5in. LCD and very flashy looking buttons on the back. On top of the good looks then, it packs 12Mp resolution inside and this can give some very detailed images. With good focussing and metering, plus easy-to-hand exposure compensation and scene modes, it's possible to get some very nice, detailed images. The portrait scene mode works equally as well, brightening and rounding out skin tones without making them softer - though there's a mode for that as well. Colour reproduction is good and as long as you generally stay under ISO400 then the noise issues shouldn't impact the image quality significantly.
The fact that there's a 28mm wide angle lens, and high resolution, and the fact that it looks nice makes this one of the stars in Panasonic's firmament. Keep an eye on the ISO control and it will make a very handy little compact capable of very high resolution shots.
Panasonic FX100 Plus points:
Massive 12Mp resolution
28mm wide angle lens
Small and stylish
Good build quality
Metering works well
Nice colour rendition
Excellent scene modes
Panasonic FX100 Minus points:
Images show noise
No AP or SP modes
The Panasonic DMC-FX100 costs around £289 and can be purchased from the ePHOTOzine shop here.