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Panasonic DMC-FX30 Digital Camera Review

Panasonic DMC-FX30 Digital Camera Review - The camera with a wide angle lens in a compact body is assessed by Duncan Evans.

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Category : Compact Cameras
Product : Panasonic DMC-FX30
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Front right view
Down at the less expensive end of the market, you can generally either offer some kind of cutting edge feature, or a stylish design, but not usually both. The DMC-FX30 opts for the former with the provision of a 28mm wide angle lens.

Specification
  • CCD size: 7.2Mp
  • Image Sensor: 1/2.5in
  • Optical Zoom: 3.6x
  • Lens range: 28-100mm (35mm equiv.)
  • Lens: Leica DC Vario-Elmarit 7 elements in 6 groups
  • Optical Image Stabilizer: MEGA O.I.S. (Mode1/ Mode2)
  • Focusing Area: 50cm
  • Macro: 5cm
  • AF Assist Lamp: Yes
  • ISO Sensitivity: Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1250
  • White Balance: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen
  • Exposure: Program AE
  • Exposure Compensation: 1/3 EV step, +/-2EV
  • Backlight Compensation: Yes (at simple mode)
  • Scene Mode: Portrait, Soft Skin, Scenery, Sports, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Self-Portrait, Food, Party, Candle, Fireworks, Starry Sky, Beach, Aerial photo, Snow, High sensitivity, Baby1, Baby2, Underwater, Sunset, Pet), Motion Picture, Playback, Print, Intelligent ISO
  • Shutter Speed: 8-1/2000sec. Starry Sky Mode: 15, 30, 60sec.
  • Aperture: wide – f/2.8 or f8.0. Telephoto – f/5.6 or f/16

With a street price of around £234, the DMC-FX30 is at the lower end of the market, but it does have some notable features, headlining with a 28mm equivalent field of view lens. It's up against cameras like Samsung's L70 and Nikon's CoolPix S500.

The LCD screen
Modes and features
With a tiny body, there's actually quite a lot of functionality built into the FX30, in terms of what the lens and the scene modes have to offer. There's a dedication on-off slider button on the top, and next to this is the zoom rocker and fire button. Alongside them then control dial is mounted, bizarrely, half under the top metal strip, so that only three options on it at any one time can be seen.

These offer a printing mode, video, macro mode, normal picture mode (that is, in Program mode), intelligent ISO mode – that's an ISO-priority mode which ramps it up when the light level gets low, playback , simple mode and finally, scene mode. The scene modes are all the usual ones, as listed in the specification, but noteworthy are the underwater options, even though the camera is not waterproof, soft skin portraits, food and not just night scenery, but night sky. This records up to 60secs of exposure to capture the sky and is unheard of on a compact. The shutter speed in general is quite flexible, offering a standard eight seconds for long exposures, and up to 1/2000sec for fast captures.

What is also commendable is that just because a scene mode has been selected, it doesn't mean that all control has been given over to the camera. The ISO rating and critically, exposure compensation can still be changed. The exposure compensation control is on the joypad buttons that are used for playback and menu navigations. Also on the joypad are the self-timer options (2secs and 10secs) and the flash options (red eye, flash forced on, auto and off).

Also in this area, the display can be tinkered with to add or remove detail, including a live histogram, which is a nice touch.

As far as focussing goes, there are, once into the menu, five focussing options, from a five point cross, to central areas and spot. What's also very impressive to build in, is an optical stabiliser, that is actually hardware based so it moves the CCD to try to reduce the chance of camera shake. Pictures can also be shot in normal 4:3 mode, or cropped into 16:9 wide-screen mode. Like many compact, it uses SD cards for storage.

The battery compartment
Build and handling
It's 135g in weight, which, as it's also very small, means that it feels relatively heavy in the hand. Despite this, although the build quality is fine and the lens is sturdy, the design and overall appearance of the camera are fairly underwhelming. It looks extremely bland and won't win any plaudits from the style or gadget crowd.

The handling though, is quite good. The menus are easy enough to navigate, the on/off slider ensure you are always in control, and the rocker zoom is small but usable. The only real annoyance is that the control dial is largely hidden and that the camera is so small, it's tricky to hold at times.

Flash options
The flash options aren't great, with just red eye or normal flash being available, but it is a little more powerful than many rivals in this price bracket, being able to pump it out to 5m in wide angle. Other cameras might have 3m or 4m.

Performance
The camera comes on and can shoot a picture in 3secs, which is decent. Putting it into burst mode, it can rattle off four shots very quickly, under 4secs, but then the buffer fills up and that's your lot for 10secs. The auto focus is quite quick and fairly tenacious – finding things to lock onto even where there was no clear contrast. Like all compacts, the FX30's metering is biased towards exposing the ground correctly, and this it generally achieves.

It renders landscapes quite well, with plenty of detail, though, the image quality isn't first rate. This becomes very pronounced when looking at a portrait taken using a fairly low level of available light. Here, the skin tones get patchy, the quality is quite bitty and detail disappears in areas like the eyebrows. When looking at the noise tests and how the Venus processing engine handles noise reduction, there are distinct similarities. The ISO1250 test, loses detail but keeps the noise within an overall pattern that makes it useful. The portrait and landscape shots in lower light exhibit the same characteristics.

Colours are generally very bright and a check on the colour chart test shows why. The red colours are okay, and the green is as expected, but the blue primary is much brighter. This means that combinations like blue-green are simply cyan, the skin-tone colour is redder, the blue sky colour is much brighter and bluer and cyan is rendered with almost a neon finish. The overall result is not accurate, but it is pleasing by being brighter throughout.

The colour chart
The colour chart test shows good red and green primaries, but blue is very bright and light, and four of the resulting colour mixes are off - anything with blue in it, plus the skin tone.
The portrait test
The portrait test shows blotchy skin textures, and lots of noise and artefacts in the low lighting conditions. Also, the hair detail in the eyebrows has disappeared.

The landscape test
The landscape test shows good detail throughout, with some colour fringing in the trees, but there is noise evident.
The Macro test
The macro mode is rated at 5cm which is okay, and does show up plenty of sharp detail.

Using the flash
The built-in flash is good at red-eye reduction and gives a generally pleasing result.
The tile house
The advantage of the wide angle lens is that more of a scene can fit into the picture. The colours here are strong.


Noise tests
At ISO100 detail is fine but there's some colour variation in the grey card area. At ISO200, this variation is more noticeable but not problematic. Only at ISO400 does it really become appreciable, and even then, it's patchy rather than dotty. However, some detail has gone from the petals. At ISO800 there's a big jump in the noise in the grey area and the red petals have become lighter in colour. The top mode of ISO1250 is more noisy, it's become sharper, and the colour is slightly different, but it's not that bad a result and shows that the image processing engine is working well.

ISO100 test
The ISO100 test.
ISO200 test
The ISO200 test.

ISO400 test
The ISO400 test.
The ISO800 test
The ISO800 test.

The ISO1250 test
The ISO1250 test.



Verdict
The inclusion of anti-shake, optical technology is fairly radical at this price point, but in reality, it will make a difference on a fairly small bandwith of shutter speeds. Of much more practical use is the 28mm lens, which makes it easier to compose wider landscape shots, and also to get people into group shots. Really, it's a must-have feature for compacts, and it's surprising that more cameras don't have it. That's a big plus point. On the downside, the style and design of the camera are something a bank manager might like – it's very dull and uninspiring. The image quality isn't great either, but this department is redeemed by the noise control, which allows the whole ISO range to be utilised, unlike some cameras. While there are no AP or SP modes, the scene modes and Program mode allow the use of exposure compensation for some photographic control. This is invariably based around using the shutter speed as there are only two aperture settings at f/2.8 and f/8. What's a slight worry is that when the 3.6x optical zoom is selected the apertures shift by some degree, resulting in f/16, and difficulties hand-holding the camera for a landscape shot.

The side left view
Plus points:
28mm lens
Small and compact
Goes up to ISO1250
Simple to use
Good range of scene modes
Optical stabilisation

Minus points:
Dull design
Images noisy
Colours not that accurate
Only two apertures

FEATURES:

HANDLING:

PERFORMANCE:

OVERALL:

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Photographs taken using the Panasonic DMC-FX30

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