Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75
by David Elrich and Stephanie Boozer
Review Date: 11/08/2010
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75 offers an effective resolution of 14.1 megapixels. With an image-stabilized, Leica DC Vario-Summicron branded 5x optical zoom lens, the Panasonic FX75 offers a zoom range from a 24mm-equivalent wide-angle to a moderate 120mm-equivalent telephoto. The Panasonic FX75's lens has a maximum aperture that varies from f/2.2 to f/5.9 across the zoom range. The minimum focusing distance for the Panasonic DMC-FX75 is ordinarily half a meter, but drops to just three centimeters when switched to Macro mode. As with most compact cameras these days, there's sadly no optical viewfinder, with the Panasonic FX75 instead opting solely for a roomy 3.0-inch LCD display with 230,000 dot resolution on which images and videos are framed and reviewed. Thanks to a touch panel over the display, it serves as a point of control as well.
The Panasonic DMC-FX75 has an 11-point multi-area autofocus system which also includes a single-point "high speed" focusing mode. There's also a face detection function, with Panasonic's implementation using the information to adjust focus and exposure to properly capture your subjects' faces. Unlike most digital cameras, Panasonic's implementation goes a step further, by enabling the Lumix DMC-FX75 to recognize specific individuals' faces, and prioritize these over other detected photos when capturing photos, or search for photos containing a specific face in Playback mode. The Panasonic Lumix FX75 also has an implementation of autofocus tracking, which can monitor a subject as it moves around the frame, continuing to update autofocus as required. Panasonic's AF tracking is linked to the face detection system, allowing the camera to continue tracking a face even if it briefly turns to a side profile, although it should be noted that the face detection system does require the subject be looking toward the camera to achieve its initial detection. It's also possible to select a point on which to focus by tapping it on the camera's touch-screen panel.
ISO sensitivity ordinarily ranges from 80 to 1,600, with the ability to extend this as far as ISO 6,400 equivalent in High Sensitivity Auto mode. Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 60 seconds are possible, and a Touch Shutter function allows a picture to be captured simply by tapping the touch panel. The Panasonic DMC-FX75 uses Intelligent Multiple metering, and offers six white balance settings including Auto, Manual, and four fixed presets. A whopping selection of twenty nine Scene modes for stills let users tailor the look of their images, useful since the Panasonic FX75 doesn't provide aperture-, shutter-priority, or fully manual modes. There's also an Intelligent Scene Selection function, which can automatically select from a subset of six scene modes. A five mode flash strobe includes red-eye reduction capability, and has a rated range of up to 7.4 meters at wide-angle, or 2.8 meters at telephoto. There's also digital red-eye correction, and Panasonic's Intelligent Auto, Intelligent Exposure and Intelligent ISO functions as seen on past models. Also included is Intelligent Auto, which can now also enable the AF Tracking and Intelligent Exposure functions.
As well as JPEG still images, the Panasonic FX75 can capture movies with sound at up to 1,280 x 720 pixel resolution or below, using either AVCHD Lite or QuickTime Motion JPEG compression at full-res, or Motion JPEG only at lower resolutions. Movies are captured at 30 frames per second with audio, though AVCHD Lite 720p format is 60p from 30p sensor output. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75 stores its images and movies on Secure Digital cards including the newer SDHC or SDXC types. There's also a generous 40MB of built-in memory. Connectivity options include a USB 2.0 High-Speed connection, plus mini-HDMI high definition or NTSC / PAL standard definition video output. Power comes from a proprietary lithium-ion battery, which includes Panasonic's ID Security function to prevent use of counterfeit or third-party battery packs. Battery life is rated as good for 360 shots on a charge to CIPA testing standards. The software bundle includes PHOTOfunSTUDIO v5.0 HD Edition.
The Panasonic Lumix FX75 began shipping in mid-July 2010 in black and silver models for a suggested retail price of US$299.95. (Panasonic has recently reduced the price to US$270 online.)
by David Elrich
Fast aperture, wide-angle lens point-and-shoots are proliferating like crazy these days. The new 14.1-megapixel Panasonic DMC-FX75 has a very fast f/2.2 24mm 5x optical zoom for shooting in low light, taking expansive landscapes, plus it has a decent telephoto range (120mm). Not only that, this digital camera has a 3-inch touch screen LCD and takes high-definition AVCHD Lite videos. In theory, we'll be able to shoot in very low light without a flash with barely a hint of noise and make gallery-sized prints with an intuitive touch-screen interface. That's Panasonic's narrative, so let's see if they're spinning a yarn or if this camera is worth almost $300 MSRP.
Look and Feel. Available in two colors (silver and black), the Panasonic FX75 won't win any awards as a breakthrough design, but it isn't unattractive. A decade into the digital camera revolution, it seems the design aesthetic is pretty well set. The Panasonic FX75 is basic with a few soft curves and a nice compact size. Our review sample was black, helping it stand out a bit from the pack.
The front of our Panasonic FX75 had a dull but attractive finish dotted with the usual raised logos. Of note is AVCHD Lite decal, letting you know this camera takes higher-quality videos than the usual 720p Motion JPEGs of most point-and-shoots. Also on the front is the f/2.2 5x zoom lens, an AF Assist/self-timer lamp, and a flash. At this point I must highlight a seemingly minor but extremely helpful bit of design--the wrist strap eyelet mounted on the front left. Have you tried to connect a camera's wrist strap only to discover the hole is so small you need physician's instruments and a magnifying glass to pull the string through? This drives me over the top; with the Panasonic FX75, the hole was large enough to get it into position with nary a fumble.
On the top of the Panasonic FX75 is a two-pinhole mic, a four-pinhole speaker, an on/off switch, and a shutter button surrounded by a zoom toggle control. At the far right is a dedicated video button with a red dot so you can immediately capture a movie, if that's your desire.
Since this is a touch-screen digicam the number of rear controls is a bare minimum. You'll find the 3-inch LCD rated at 230K dots. In the Auto Power LCD mode, the screen is usable even in direct sunshine but it tends to smear in low light. To the right of the screen is a switch to change between Record and Playback, as well as Mode and Menu keys. There's no four-way controller with center set button as almost everything is handled via the touch screen. This is not such a good thing, as I'll detail shortly.
On the right side is a metal compartment door with mini-HDMI and AV/Digital out connections. You should definitely purchase a mini-HDMI cable so you can quickly connect the Panasonic FX75 to an HDTV to review stills and videos, unless you have a television with a built-in SD card slot. The left side is bare.
You'll find a metal tripod mount on the bottom and another compartment that holds the battery and optional SD/SDHC/SDXC cards. The Made In Japan camera measures 4.06 x 2.17 x .9 (WHD, in inches, 102.5 x 55 x 22.8mm) weighing 5.86 ounces (166g) with battery and card. Overall it feels comfortable and non-intimidating.
Lens. The Panasonic DMC-FX75 has a 5x wide-angle optical zoom with a focal range of 24-120mm. The 24mm focal length really adds character to traditional landscape photos and you'll capture great crowd shots. The Leica DC Vario-Summicron 5x zoom has 7 lenses in 6 groups with 5 aspherical surfaces. It's rated f/2.2-5.9, f/2.2-6.3 (wide) and f/5.9-6.3 (tele). Macro gets as close as 3cm (1.18 inches).
Panasonic was one of the prime movers of digicam optical image stabilization and the Panasonic FX75 has Power O.I.S. which nearly doubles the hand-shake correction power of conventional MEGA O.I.S., according to the company. In the shooting section, I'll let you know how well this performs.
Controls. As noted, there aren't many controls. Those that are there feel solid and are logically positioned. When you're changing various options, for the most part, you'll use the touch screen.
Modes. This is no Nikon D3x, so even the least technically inclined person in the world can pick it up and start shooting. Turn it on, hit the mode key and you'll see four icons: Intelligent Auto (iA), Scene Mode, Normal Picture (similar to Program AE) and a bizarre one, Cosmetic Mode. There is no Movie mode as you simply press the red button on the top to start and stop recording. Intelligent Auto is no-brainer photography. The camera decides what is in front of it and adjusts accordingly. While other digicams may use more or less, the Panasonic FX75 chooses between 7 (i-Portrait, i-Scenery, i-Macro, i-Night portrait, i-Night Scenery, i-Sunset, i-Baby), the most common situations casual shooters encounter. This system works well as it does with other top manufacturers' models.
Normal Picture is comparable to Program AE in other cameras. In the Normal setting when you tap DISP (Display) in the lower right corner you get access to several parameters including exposure compensation, flash, macro and self-timer. A smaller Q Menu (Quick Menu) box appears on the left. Tap this and you can adjust still/video resolution, white balance, type of O.I.S., color mode, Intelligent Exposure and Intelligent Resolution. Surprisingly, ISO is not available in the Quick Menu which seems like a mistake since that's one setting you're likely to change fairly often. You will find it when press the Menu key along with other options such as Face Recognition on/off, AF mode and so on. There are absolutely no options for changing the aperture or shutter speed other than via Scene modes. If you want to make them, the Panasonic FX75 is not for you.
When you press the Scene icon, you have access to 27 options including the usual Portrait and Fireworks to Baby and Food. In Starry Sky you can adjust shutter speed to 15, 30 or 60 second duration. Finally, there's Cosmetic Mode that lets you adjust skin tones (3 types including Summer Look) with 3 levels of effects. Since most of the people around me had reasonable color from a long summer, I passed this one by. As I did the "Happy" setting in the Color Mode. I understand Standard, Sepia and B/W but what exactly is Happy color? Per Panasonic it's enhanced brightness and vividness. As much as I admire my friends from across the International Date Line, some things don't make the cross-ocean voyage well.
The Panasonic FX75 uses the AVCHD Lite format (most other digicams use Motion JPEG 720p). When set to SH, you get 1,280 x 720p pixel videos at 60 fps (from 30 fps sensor output) with a bit rate of 17 Mbps. You can also choose 13 Mbps (H) or 9 (L). The AVCHD Lite codec lets you record approximately twice as much footage compared to Motion JPEGs so 4GB cards hold 30 minutes of HD video versus 15 minutes.
Menus. Panasonic's menu system hasn't changed in years and it's clearly showing its age. In a world of swipes, taps and cool icons, Lumix cameras seem like Windows XP compared to Mac OS X or even Windows 7. It's a basic tree-system with a few cryptic descriptive phrases that require peeks at the Owner's Manual to decipher. Press the Menu key--depending on the mode you're in--you'll have access to adjustable parameters, then you'll use the touch screen to step through the choices. In iA, for example, it's just compression and resolution adjustments. Move to Normal and there are many more options as detailed earlier. I've used the latest touch screens from Canon, Samsung and Sony, finding them very smooth and intuitive. Panasonic's system isn't in the same league. Oh, it's usable all right, but much more Tony Bennett than Lady GaGa.
Playback. Move the main mode switch near the LCD into Playback and you can easily review your shots. By swiping the screen, you can move forward and back but it's not the speedy review available on Canon and Sony models. You can't enlarge them either by spreading your fingers like the iPhone or iPad. By tapping DISP you can mark favorites or go into thumbnail mode to quickly get to a shot. A calendar view is also available. It's a decent system but a higher resolution screen would help reviewing your images.
Storage and Battery. The Panasonic DMC-FX75 uses SD and SDHC cards as well as the newer SDXC format. Since AVCHD Lite video is an important feature, at least a Class 6 high-speed card should be used. I suggest 8GB since the price of memory has really dropped through the floor. There's also about 40MB of internal memory available for storage.
The Panasonic FX75 comes with an DMW-BCF10PP lithium-ion battery. Per CIPA standards it lasts for a solid 360 shots in still mode. Even with that above-average figure, a spare makes sense especially if you plan to be out and about, giving the touch screen a hefty workout.
Shooting with the Panasonic FX75
One of the beauties of a compact camera like this one is the fact you can take it everywhere. I had it in my pocket over the period of several weeks, shooting stills and videos from the streets of Manhattan, to the beaches and lakes of New Jersey, even vistas of the American West.
Before getting into the results, let's discuss one of the major flaws of this camera--the touch screen interface. It seems like the over-arching philosophy behind this GUI is Whack-A-Mole. When you tap DISP in the lower right, your options appear, then just as quickly disappear, forcing you to tap DISP once again and then speedily tap the parameter you want to change. This drove the folks in the IR lab and myself around the bend. Fortunately when you hit Q Menu, those options stay on screen much longer so you can methodically make your adjustments, rather than trying to whack the mole. This is nearly a deal breaker--especially given the competition. If that's not bad enough, the camera has a seemingly useful feature that lets you focus on any portion of the screen then snap the shutter by tapping the screen. Now, imagine holding a compact camera with one hand, then tapping the screen with a finger from the other. Think you'll get an accurate, blur-free image? Think again. Fortunately, this can be disabled my tapping a box near the DISP icon. That tap control worked well, thankfully.
As for basic handling and ergonomics, the camera passes muster. I had few problems with the quality of the screen--especially shooting with the sun directly hitting it. Panasonic's Auto Power LCD mode adjusts brightness appropriately. It worked well, but I do wish the screen had more dots and didn't smear as much in low light. Note: the Auto Power LCD feature drains the battery more than the basic setting so a handy spare is a good idea. I did most of my shooting at the 4,320 x 3,240 pixel Fine JPEG level, starting in Intelligent Auto then trying the various options. Videos were shot in AVCHD Lite at highest resolution. I made full-bleed 8x10 prints with no post processing and also viewed videos on a 50-inch plasma HDTV using the built-in SD card reader. Images were also closely examined (100%-plus) on my monitor.
Since the Panasonic FX75 uses a 14-megapixel 1/2.33-inch CCD, noise at higher ISO settings is a given--it's just a matter of how bad the head- and eye-ache. On the monitor, I saw lots of noise even at low settings. Shots of my cat half-in/half-out of the sun were very noisy in the shadows. I saw this in many available light images other than bright sunshine. Detail degrades noticeably from ISO 100 to 200, way too early. ISO 1,600 looks like someone spilled water on a print. Fortunately the camera has an Intelligent ISO option in Normal mode so you can limit it to 400, 800 or 1600; make sure it's set to 400, if you buy this camera. Using iA I found photos tended to overexpose and colors were uneven on cloudy days and in the shade. This baby definitely needs a lot of light, even with the f/2.2 lens. On a more positive note, the OIS system worked well as I was able to handhold the camera at relatively low shutter speeds with a minimal amount of blur--except when tapping the screen to take a shot.
Reviewing my photos, I wasn't thrilled. Photos didn't have a lot of pop or super crispness. In the lab we found soft corners on the left at wide-angle, although sharper on the right. At tele the lower left corner is softest, but all are soft. Overall, softness remains fairly far into the image area. There's moderate chromatic aberration in blurrier corners, but it's not bad on the right side. The Panasonic FX75 has noticeable barrel distortion at wide-angle and the pronounced pincushion at telephoto is more than usual. The auto white balance does well with Incandescent light. The Tungsten mode is only very slightly warmer, but it's hardly noticeable. Macro shots were serviceable, not great. Although the camera focuses close, it's only sharp in the center, getting quite soft as it radiates out. You can see this in my flower shots taken in Manhattan.
On a much more positive note, the 24mm wide-angle option is much appreciated. Walking through the streets of NYC, there are architectural subjects by the ton and the Panasonic FX75 did a fine job capturing The Big City. The caveat is good light although I must admit the camera did respectably with a bizarre sign in Asbury Park, NJ at night. The wide-angle was great with shots of the Grand Tetons and Snake River in Wyoming but again, there was a tendency toward overexposure. A shot of a color kayak on a cloudy day was much too noisy.
The Panasonic FX75 is very responsive, delivering pretty good performance (see test results below). You shouldn't expect DSLR response in a sub-$300 camera and the FX75 grabs approximately 1.8 fps, stopping to take a breather after 3 frames when you're at maximum resolution/best compression. So don't expect crisp prints of soccer-playing children unless it's the team portrait--again thank you, 24mm lens.
The Panasonic FX75 may use AVCHD Lite but it in no way compares to a true AVCHD camcorder with 1,920 x 1,080 resolution versus 1,280 x 720 of the FX75. Having just used the new Sony SLT-A55V, the results were decidedly weak in comparison. That's a tad unfair since that camera has a 16.2MP APS-C sensor, costs more than twice as much and has a wealth of other video tricks. That said, the clips recorded with the Panasonic FX75 were a very solid 720p with a minimal amount of digital noise. As an added plus, optical zooming is available while recording. On the downside, the tiny mic makes ocean breezes sound like rotating helicopter blades and it picks up the sound of the zoom toggle if you click it into position rather than smoothly adjusting it.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75 Lens Quality
Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Very strong blurring in the lower left
Tele: Sharp at center
Tele: Strong blurring, also lower left
Sharpness: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75's wide-angle and telephoto lens settings both produced very strong blurring in the corners of the frame. The effect extends far toward the center, making it an obvious distortion in many shots.
Wide: High barrel distortion; noticeable
Tele: Moderate barrel distortion, fairly noticeable
Geometric Distortion: Barrel distortion at wide-angle is on the high
side (0.9%), while the telephoto setting shows more moderate pincushion (0.3%).
While distortion isn't extreme in either case, it will be noticeable with certain
subjects, such as architectural views or any subject with strong lines near
the edges of the frame.
Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is only moderate
in terms of pixel count, though pixels are bright enough to make the distortion
appear more distinct. At telephoto, distortion is a little by pixel count, but
the blurry target lines and less bright pixels actually make it less of a distraction.
Macro with Flash
Macro: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75's Macro mode captures a slightly
soft image overall, though some fine detail is strong and well-defined at the
very center of the dollar bill. Blurring is strong in the corners of the frame
(a common limitation among consumer digital cameras in macro mode). Minimum
coverage area is 1.71 x 1.28 inches (44 x 33mm), which is about average these
days. The camera focuses so closely that the flash is blocked by the lens in
the lower right corner, and the brooch creates a strong reflection.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75 Viewfinder Accuracy
Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor
Viewfinder Accuracy: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75's LCD monitor showed about 101% coverage accuracy at wide-angle and about 100% at telephoto, which is quite good.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75 Image Quality
Color: Saturation is a little off for colors like strong reds, blues
and oranges, which are pumped brighter than life. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75
also produced some noticeable shifts in hue, such as greens toward yellow, cyan
toward blue, and red toward orange. Darker skin tones show a significant push
toward yellow, while lighter skin tones are more accurate (just a small nudge
Good, though slightly red
Also good, a hint red
Incandescent: Manual white balance handled our incandescent lighting
best overall, though it did have a slight red tint to it. Auto white balance
came in a close second, though with a more distinct reddish tint, and the Incandescent
setting was too warm.
Horizontal: 2,200 lines
Vertical: 2,200 lines
Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,200 lines per picture height horizontally, and about 2,200 lines vertically. Extinction of the pattern occurred at around 2,800 lines per picture height.
Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) doesn't work well at wide-angle when the reported distance goes beyond 16 feet, because that takes the camera out of the main lab, so the wide-angle result is inconclusive at 24.3 feet and ISO 400. The telephoto test came out bright at 9.2 feet, but required an ISO boost to 800.
Auto flash produced bright results in our indoor portrait scene, retaining some of the ambient light even with a shutter speed of 1/60 second (ISO 320). Because of the fairly quick shutter speed, you should get good results when taking portraits.
ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is already a little soft at ISO 80, though
still defined well enough. Definition remains good up to about ISO 400, where
noise grain begins to interfere. At ISOs 800 and 1,600, noise grain becomes
problematic, strongly blurring detail and altering color balance. See Printed
results below for more on how this affects prints.
Printed: Taking just the center of the image into account, ISO 80 files from the Panasonic FX75 can handle printing at up to 13x19 inches. But if you consider the softening in the corners, these images are better printed at 11x14 or even 8x10 before the corner softening ceases to be a major factor, regardless of ISO. I'll continue commenting mostly on the center sharpness from here.
ISO 100 shots are essentially the same as the ISO 80 shots, with good detail and color.
ISO 200 shots are better when reduced to 11x14 inches.
ISO 400 images are softer, but still hold up pretty well at 11x14 inches.
ISO 800 files print pretty well at 8x10, though with some luminance noise in the shadows (looks like soft static).
ISO 1,600 images are usable at 5x7, but look better at 4x6.
Overall, the Panasonic FX75 is better kept to 8x10-inch enlargements because of the very soft corners, which is a shame because otherwise it looks pretty good in the center. Those printing only 4x6 images won't notice.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75 Performance
Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is actually quite good, at 0.39 second at wide-angle and 0.33 second at full telephoto. Prefocused shutter lag is 0.011 second, which is excellent.
Cycle Time: Cycle time is also good, capturing a frame every 1.73 second in single-shot mode. Panasonic rates the FX75's full-resolution continuous mode at 1.8 frames-per-second for 5 standard or 3 fine JPEGs, but we didn't test that. High speed modes up to 10 frames-per-second are also available at reduced resolutions of 3 megapixels or less.
Flash Recycle: The Lumix DMC-FX75's flash recycles in about 5.6 seconds after a full-power discharge, about average.
Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to just under the 1/8 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, though the Lumix FX75 was able to focus in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled.
USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer or printer with USB 2.0, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75's download speeds are quite fast. We measured 6,402 KBytes/sec.
In the Box
The Panasonic Lumix FX75 ships with the following items in the box:
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75
- Wrist Strap
- Plug-in Battery Charger DE-A59B
- Battery Pack DMW-BCF10PP
- A/V and USB Cables
- 36-page Basic User's Manual
- Software CD-ROM
- Extra battery pack for extended outings
- Large capacity, high-speed Class 6+ SDHC/SDXC memory card. 8GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.
- Small camera case
Panasonic FX75 Conclusion
For around $300, I have problems recommending the Panasonic DMC-FX75. If it were $100 less, I'd say buy it for the wide-angle lens, solid image stabilization and AVCHD Lite videos--but just be prepared for best results when Mr. Sunshine is in the neighborhood. The touch-screen is a decent effort but falls short of the competition. Add in way too many issues with digital noise at relatively low ISO settings and the very soft corners from this Leica lens, and we have a camera that's fine for enlargements under 8x10, but doesn't have enough else for an enthusiastic recommendation.