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Recent ePHOTOzine research shows that manufacturers are starting to stray away from huge resolutions and concentrating on other areas like wide lenses, image stabilisers and ease of use. With a standard 8Mp resolution, wide 28mm lens and Intelligent Auto to take the sweat out of photography, could the Panasonic FX55 be the camera of the future?
- Sensor: CCD - 8.1Mp
- Image Size: 3264 x 2448 pixels (4:3)
- Lens: LEICA DC VARIO-ELMARIT, 7 elements in 6 groups, 28-100mm f/4.6-16.4mm (3.6x optical zoom)
- Focus: TTL Auto - 5cm Macro
- Exposure: Program AE
- Metering: 1-point/1-point high speed/3-point high speed/5-point/Spot
- Movie Mode: Yes
- Storage: SD, SDHC, MMC
- Batteries: Li-Ion Battery Pack
- Video Output: Yes
- Size/Weight: 94.9 x 57.1 x 22.8 mm - 143g
- Transfer: USB
At £245 and boasting 8Mp and a wide 28mm Leica lens, the FX55 is comparable to the Canon IXUS 860 IS at £10 less. It's also fitted with an 8Mp sensor, 28mm lens and has the IXUS badge of quality. Also, the Nikon Coolpix S51c at £199 with 8Mp. It only has a 38mm zoom lens but it works inside the camera.
Panasonic FX55 Modes and features
When Panasonic really started pushing their digital cameras, they had a lovely retro feel to them reminiscent of the old Leica cameras. This was a fitting tribute to the company that provide the optics. The casing was a grooved brush effect and the shape was beautiful in its squat, wideness.
These days, like other manufacturers, they are pandering to the market, which is only good business and I won't mark them down on it. I just think it's a shame that the shape of the camera has changed from the retro, vintage look into this modern, minimalist block.
The top of the camera has the power switch, shutter release and the zoom wrapped around it. In the bottom corner of the top plate, the mode dial sticks its nose out to offer its options to you that can then be manipulated by the thumb.
The options available on the mode dial are Playback, Intelligent Auto, Auto, Macro, Scene modes, Movie, Clipboard and Print mode.
The Intelligent Auto is something that Panasonic are especially proud of. It is designed to take the pain and suffering that always comes with taking pictures. What it means is that those of you who are photographically disadvantaged will enjoy this feature as it does everything for you.
In Intelligent Auto, the camera will choose the best mode for what scenario it is in, so if someone is in the frame, it will choose Portrait mode. If you try to focus on something close, it will switch to Macro without you having to press a button. Whilst this is a good feature, it does restrict the amount of things you're allowed to do. If you're going to limit the capability of the camera, you may as well buy a cheaper one.
The 3in screen dominates the back of the camera and if their were a lot of buttons on the back, it would look cramped, but Panasonic have managed to fit everything into three primary buttons. The display preferences can be altered using the top button and this will bring up things such as no info, histogram and a rule of thirds grid. Holding the button for a second will bring up the LCD modes. Four options are available here and they are Off, Auto power LCD, Power LCD and High angle. The High angle LCD adjusts the screen so that it is visible from an oblique angle as though you were lifting the camera over peoples heads to take a shot from a high viewpoint.
The navigation pad doubles up for different functions, so pressing up will change exposure compensation, left will access the self timer, press right for Flash and down for quick Review of pictures already taken.
The Menu button doubles as the confirmation button and gives access to higher functions of the camera. Only two tabs are available, one for camera functions and the other for the Set up of the camera. Interestingly, the Intelligent Auto also has a restrictive part to play here as it cuts down the three pages of options in Camera functions to just one page. In normal Auto mode, this is where things like the Digital zoom status, White balance and ISO ratings can be changed.
The Set up tab allows changes to features such as the Clock, Review time, Beep, Shutter noise and File number reset.
Some of these features can also be accessed in the Function button on the back of the camera. The modes available are the Image stabiliser, Continuous shooting modes, White balance, ISO ratings, Resolution and Image quality.
Panasonic FX55 Build and handling
The Panasonic FX55 is a good build quality. It feels solid in the hands due to the metal construction and the buttons are strong.
Looking on the bottom of the camera, the battery door springs open lightly and the reason behind this is because it is fairly weak and has a degree of movement in it. The tripod bush is metal which is great to see as threading won't be something to worry about.
The USB and AV is easily accessible from a flip open lid on the side of the camera.
Through continued use, it is apparent that the Function button is annoyingly difficult to operate. I am the sort of person that just wants to briefly press the button and access the menu, but this button has to be held down for approximately one second before the menu comes up.
Woe betide you if you try taking pictures on the internal memory as the camera will not let you forget it. A warning message will flash up and doesn't go unless you wait ages or you press a button to remove it. I don't want to have to remove messages. Flag them, by all means, but on a short timer.
Panasonic FX55 Flash options
Five options are available from the Flash button, which is a welcome change to the minimalist menus being offered from other companies. Auto, Auto with red-eye reduction, Flash on, Slow sync with Red-eye and Flash off are the suspects. The slow sync uses a slow shutter speed with a burst of flash and is generally used for night landscapes with someone in the picture. The flash lights the person and the long exposure lights the dark background. A tripod is needed for this mode.
Panasonic FX55 Performance
In my independent test of the shutter lag, the Panasonic FX55 came out with a result of roughly 0.13 of a second which is slower than other models.
ePHOTOzine asked Panasonic to concur this result and they said the FX55 has a shutter lag rate of 0.8 seconds. This is certainly faster than my results, although I did get a response of that time, but only once.
The continuous shooting mode will only take four images then simply stop. So, technically, only four images can be taken in 10 seconds. However, as a sporting gentleman, I decided to keep pressing the button after each burst and the camera managed 15 images in ten seconds. That doesn't mean a 1.5 fps speed as the camera downloaded before starting another burst of four. It means that the camera is actually faster than that.
The landscape image is a good result. The picture was taken early morning, around 8AM facing East, so the sun was directly infront of me. The detail has been retained in the winch, some fringing is apparent on a low contrast area of the white bars.
The portrait images show a cool standard result from the program mode, but the image is well balanced and has exposed nicely. The Portrait mode using flash has warmed the image as the skin tone and the wall in the background illustrate.
Looking at colour reproduction, the processor has boosted all colours including red, but managed to leave the skin tone balanced.
Skin tones are warmed up and the flash has evened out any shadows.
Program has a cooler result as shown on the wall in the background.
Panasonic FX55 Noise test
There are six ISO settings and starting at ISO100 shows a good result, although despite being on a tripod, the camera refuses to go below 1/8th of a second at f/2.8 even though it is underexposing at that exposure and the camera has a slowest shutter speed of 8 seconds. What remains is a sharp image with no noise present.
Skip ahead to ISO200 and the noise status is the same as before, but the image is now lighter as the camera can take more light on the faster ISO. The camera was still shooting at 1/8th sec f/2.8.
ISO400 is lighter still and noise is starting to show on the full size image whilst ISO800 shows more sharpening, but it's worth pointing out at this stage that the noise shown is very minimal for this stage and is a very good result.
Purple blobs are starting to develop in the low key area at ISO1250 but good detail still remains in the petals. Finally, ISO1600 shows more sharpening of the noise, but has been kept to a minimum.
ePHOTOzine asked Panasonic what technology they were using to get such fabulous noise results and they replied that the third generation Venus engine is the brains behind the process (no pun intended): "The Venus Engine III greatly improves noise reduction, with picture noise removed in stages during image processing. Critical noise is analysed, and chromatic and luminance noise are reduced separately. The chromatic noise, which has greater effect on picture quality, is then selectively suppressed, resulting in clearer images."
The ISO100 test.
The ISO200 test.
The ISO400 test.
The ISO800 test.
The ISO1250 test.
The ISO1600 test.
Panasonic FX55 Verdict
As with all compacts that have come from Panasonic, I'm impressed. I think they are a company to give serious consideration to when thinking of what to buy. It's a shame they have fallen into the trap of styling cameras the same as everyone else.
This camera is great for if you work in low light, thanks to the great noise results. If you want a good quality picture from a slim compact but can't be bothered, or simply don't know how to use a camera, then with the Leica lens and Intelligent Auto, this camera will be good for you.
The card and battery are situated in the same area under the camera.
Panasonic FX55 Plus points
Good quality build
28mm wide angle lens
Good noise results
Panasonic FX55 Minus points
Function button is not responsive enough
Zoom is steady, but too slow
Because of the lens and build quality, coupled with the ease of use and features avialable, the Panasonic FX55 has received our highly recommended award.
The Panasonic FX55 costs around £245 and is available from the ever alert ePHOTOzine shop here.