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Panasonic DMC-FX70 Digital Camera Review

Panasonic go down the Samsung route of offering a hi-res compact camera with nice build quality and all manner of technological trickery under the hood in the FX70.

|  Panasonic DMC-FX70 in Compact Cameras
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Panasonic DMC-FX70: Click on the thumbnail for the larger image.
Panasonic DMC-FX70
The FX70 marks a slight departure in style for the range, but only at one end. Otherwise the camera is smooth and stylish.

The latest Panasonic in the compact FX range sits proudly at the top end, complete with a hefty price tag, so does the FX70 deliver style, looks and performance? The design is a slightly modified version of the previous FX options, and at just 22.8mm wide and weighing in at 165g it’s slender and light enough to carry around in your pocket.

Panasonic DMC-FX70: Features
It’s hard to miss the main features of the FX70 as they are plastered over the front of the camera. It has a Leica branded DC Vario-Summicron 4.3-21.5mm zoom lens, HD movie and a Power Optical Image Stabiliser. What it doesn’t say is that there’s a fairly huge 14.1Mp resolution and that the 3” LCD screen is touch operated which means very few buttons on the back. Anyway, the words HD movie can clearly be bandied about to cover everything from HD Ready to Full HD as the movie resolution is actually 1280x720p. However, there is a miniHDMI output and with AVCHD Lite video, the camera is design to be hooked directly up to the TV.

In terms of shooting modes, there’s no manual options, but a range of automated ones – possibly too many with Normal, Cosmetic, Intelligent Auto and Scene.

The optical zoom fits flush to the body so it’s little surprise to find that it’s a modest 5x, (24-120mm in 35mm terms) which off the back of a crowd-pleasing 24mm wide angle gives very little reach indeed. Interesting then to see the extended optical zoom, which goes further, but loses resolution on the chip. Don’t confuse it with the digital zoom, that adds an extra 4x magnification, but does interpolate the middle of the image with the usual results.

Panasonic DMC-FX70 Key features: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
The battery and memory card are in
the same compartment, but they are
both locked in place so one doesn’t
fall out while replacing the other.
The back of the FX70 features few controls because that large LCD screen is touch operated, though you’ll need small fingers.
Even with the lens fully extended,
the camera is small and unobtrusive.
It’s certainly a pocket-friendly size.
A chrome band surrounds the body and the controls are all metal and high quality with positive feedback.

Panasonic DMC-FX70 Handling
As a luxury brand product, with a relatively high price, though street prices are now down towards the £210-£230 mark, there is a real expectation of a quality finish and in that regard the FX70 doesn’t disappoint, but it doesn’t set the pulse racing either. The aluminium body has a choice of black or silver finishes, with a chrome band and bottom, plus the large LCD on the back. Having gone down the touchscreen route, there’s little need for extra buttons so the back simply has three: record/playback, shooting mode and menu options.

There’s a case to be made that the Menu button is superfluous as the touch screen contains a quick menu and also the most commonly accessed parameters in icon form that can be accessed directly. The buttons themselves are all metallic, the zoom rocker is suitably solid, and there’s also a separate movie record button to save any fiddling around.

Possibly the only handling concerns are that with such a smooth finish, the FX70 is a little slippery and that the touch screen isn’t super-responsive. Also, the icons on the screen are very small, requiring fingernail taps rather than the actual finger. The screen as well, isn’t too hot in bright conditions outside.

Panasonic DMC-FX70 Performance
The FX70 has four main modes: Cosmetic for portraits, Normal, Intelligent Auto (guessing what you’re doing) and Scene. It’s zone metering all round, but there is exposure compensation to help deal with tricky situations. As with all compacts, the camera is set up to give you landscape detail, so even when subjects are backlit, they tend to be exposed correctly, at the expense of the sky. The camera also has exposure correction as an option so that it can really lighten up shadows, but even with this turned off, there’s evidence that it does it to a degree anyway. Because of this, on landscape shots it’s often a good idea to get the focus, and thus the metering, off the sky, so that there’s detail in it and the firmware can brighten up the landscape. Also, when tackling dark or light subjects, there’s a good deal of object or scene recognition going on, even in normal mode, to ensure black doors remain black and white doors are shiny white.

If a camera is going to do things automatically, it needs to do them well and the FX70 is clearly doing a lot under the bonnet. It was also interesting to see the Intelligent Auto mode do a great deal of work on a scene with a lot of dark-bright contrast, where even using exposure compensation in normal mode couldn’t balance the two. The iA mode managed to record the sky and brighten the shadows. If that was a success, the Cosmetic mode surely is an epic fail. It brightens up faces and softens them, almost always to the point where they are then overexposed and look like they are out of focus. It’s completely over the top.

Focusing can either be the usual centre spot, or you can tap the screen and set that as a spot to focus on, which is quite neat, though because the icons on the screen are so small, there is a tendency to miss the icon and activate the spot focus instead. In the other modes, the face detection can store faces for recognition and priority later, so if that person is in a group, they will be in focus. The face detection is pretty decent, it usually picks people up and will give multizone focus in other modes as well. Certainly for a compact, there were no real issues with the focusing here.

What was pleasing was colour rendition. They have good saturation but even pale colours aren’t overcooked, so they look fine as well, as do skin tones.

One area that won’t be drawing any applause is the burst mode. In a 10 second test on top quality, the FX70 can knock out three shots at slightly faster than one a second, but then the internal buffer says no more and that’s your lot. Three shots is about the worst performance you can get from a compact. A positive area to comment on finally is that of white balance. This is pretty effective and the manual white balance option works well to allow custom use in really tricky situations.

Panasonic DMC-FX70 Performance: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
Great colours and plenty of detail in
this Scene Mode landscape shot that
really benefits from the super wide
Tricky shot straight into the sun, but not as much flare as you might expect and certainly a lot more detail and brightness in the cathedral itself.
Macro is a very respectable 3cm and
the metering and rendition of pale
colours here is excellent.
A mixed lighting, interior shot with cold light from outside and warm light from the chandelier. It would be all too easy to have turned the room blue, but there’s a good balance between the very different colour temperatures.

ISO and noise performance
If there was going to be one issue, it was always going to be noise control with a 14Mp sensor in a compact body. Variation in tone is noticeable but not significant until it gets to ISO400 and then it’s apparent when zoomed in. ISO800 is a little iffy, but ISO1600 really does take a quality hit as the processing goes into overtime to keep the noise under control. This means fine detail disappears but edges are retained. There is an automated High ISO mode, but that is not recommended for daily use.

 Panasonic DMC-FX70 test chart ISO speed test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
ISO 80 ISO 100 ISO 200
ISO 400 ISO 800 IS0 1600

White Balance
Impressive studio test shots where AWB works well and specific temperature modes are quite accurate is backed up by real life situations. Interiors worked well with single and mixed light sources and custom white balance is a real pleasure to use and accurate when you do. Exterior shots have no problems either.

Panasonic DMC-FX70 White-balance test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
Auto white-balance in incandescent lighting. Incandescent preset in incandescent lighting.
Auto white-balance in fluorescent lighting.  

Lens performance
With a lens rated at f/2.2 at the widest aperture it gives the FX a little advantage when light is at a premium. Just because the camera sets the aperture at all times, don’t think that you’re going to be getting no depth of field though. On portrait mode or macro shots there isn’t much, but on any other mode, and it doesn’t even have to be landscape, there’s enough depth of field and the lens resolves enough detail to be able to read signs all down a street, even with the lens wide open. Most shots end up being at the wider aperture end, even during normal daylight, just to ensure a fast shutter speed. It means there certainly is colour fringing, but it’s only bad in high contrast situations or through trees with a blue sky behind.

There’s plenty of detail and sharpness in most shots so they can be used without further processing. At wide angles the lens shows barrel distortion, which is to be expected at 24mm, and while the centre is pretty sharp, the edges do show a fall off in detail. It’s about what you would expect. At the telephoto end distortion is minimal, better than expected, and while the centre of the image has respectable detail, the edges here do get quite soft.

Panasonic DMC-FX70 Lens quality: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.
This scene shows the iA mode at
work. Even using –EV it was impossible
to capture the full range from shadow
to highlight in any other mode, but this
one did it.
Dark gloomy streets, harsh white sky. Yes, there’s colour fringing, but the detail and brightness level of the street scene is really commendable given the impossible conditions.

There’s plenty of detail at the end of
the zoom as this shot shows and
not a great deal of distortion either.
With a 24mm wide angle you can get lots of scenery in the view and there is an amazing amount of detail in this shot, all the way to the cathedral in the distance.

Panasonic DMC-FX70: Verdict
There’s a premium price tag with this top end compact from Panasonic, and while it has some standout features – lovely build, neat design, nice touch screen, and a super wide angle lens, it never really hits top spot. There are a number of modes, but they are all automatic to a degree, and even though some features are selectable, the camera does a fair bit of processing behind the scenes regardless. For the average compact user, it’s all much the same thing and to a degree, confusing.

The downside in having a great wide angle view is that the 5x optical zoom doesn’t get you far and the downside to the whopping 14Mp resolution is that noise and noise control start becoming an issue at ISO400. Make no mistake, this is a good compact camera, it delivers pleasing and good quality results a lot of the time and also, it’s fun to use in practice. It doesn’t sparkle though, or offer a huge amount of control, and it is slightly pricy for what you get. If value for money isn’t an issue, it’s a good purchase for the casual photographer.

Panasonic DMC-FX70: Pros
Quality build
Touch screen
24mm wide angle lens
Intelligent Auto can save a picture
Lots of processing going on

Panasonic DMC-FX70: Cons
Icons on screen very small
Images noisy above ISO400
Not a lot of control
Cosmetic mode fails


Panasonic DMC-FX70: Specification
Price £279
Optical zoom 5x (24-120mm in 35mm equiv.)
Resolution 14.1Mp
Sensor size 1/2.33in
Sensor type CCD
Max image size 4320x3240
Aspect ratio 4:3, 3:2 and 16:9
Focusing system TTL
Focus points Spot, 1 point, 11point, Face
Focus type Normal, Macro, Zoom Macro, Quick AF On/Off (On in Intelligent Auto), Continuous AF On/Off, AF Tracking, Touch AF/AE
Focus distance 50cm normal, 3cm macro
File types JPEG, AVCHD Lite, QuickTime MJPEG
ISO sensitivity Auto / Intelligent ISO / 80 / 100 / 200 / 400 / 800 / 1600 / High Sensitivity (ISO 1600-6400)
Metering system Program Auto, iAuto
Metering types Intelligent Multiple zone
Exposure compensation +/- 2EV
Shutter speed range 8-1/2000sec standard; 15, 30, 60sec Starry Sky mode
Frames-per-second 1.8fps, 3 images in Fine
Image stabilisation Optical POWER O.I.S. (Off / Auto / Mode1 / Mode2)
Monitor 3in LCD touch screen
Media type SD, SDHC
Interface AV output (NTSC/PAL), miniHDMI, USB 2.0
Power 940mAh Li-ion battery pack
Size 102.5 x 55 x 22.8mm
Weight 165g with battery and card
The Panasonic DMC-FX70 is available for £279.00 from Warehouse Express here:

Panasonic DMC-FX70

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Photographs taken using the Panasonic Panasonic DMC-FX70

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