Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500 Review

 
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500 Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Very good overall color and hue accuracy, with only minor oversaturation of some colors.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.

Saturation. The Panasonic DMC-FX500 produced accurate saturation overall, though strong reds and blues are just a hint oversaturated. Results are very good here. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. With proper white balance, the DMC-FX500's skin tones were a little on the pink side, but still pleasing. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.

Hue. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500 showed only a few small color shifts relative to the correct mathematical translation of colors in its subjects. Cyan was pushed a tad toward blue and some yellows toward green, though overall hue accuracy was good and believable. Hue is "what color" the color is.


See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Pretty good color with Manual white balance, though a hint magenta. More than average positive exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
+0.7 EV
Incandescent White Balance
+0.7 EV
Manual White Balance
+0.7 EV

Color balance indoors under incandescent lighting was quite magenta in Auto white balance mode, but very warm in Incandescent mode. The Manual option produced the most accurate results overall, though with a very slight magenta cast. Overall color looks pretty good, though skin tones here are a bit on the pink side, and the white elements in the composition have a very slight magenta tint as well. The DMC-FX500 required a +0.7 EV exposure compensation boost to get a good exposure, which is a little higher than the average exposure here. Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.

 

Outdoors, daylight
High contrast, but still good overall color and exposure under harsh conditions.

Auto White Balance,
+0.7 EV
Auto White Balance,
Auto Exposure

Outdoors, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500 produced generally good color and exposure, though contrast is high. Detail is strong in the shadow areas, though noise pixels interfere with definition in the finer details here. In the portrait above, the slightly high EV boost pushed the highlights in the white shirt, though some detail is preserved. The camera's Intelligent Exposure mode did attempt to balance the exposure, but with the amount of positive exposure compensation needed here, the highlights remain quite bright.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
Very high resolution, 1,700 lines of strong detail.

Strong detail to
1,700 lines horizontal
Strong detail to
1,700 lines vertical

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,700 lines per picture height in both directions. Extinction didn't occur, and lines at 1,800 are still fairly distinct. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Fairly sharp images overall, with only minor edge-enhancement on high-contrast subjects. Some noise suppression limits detail in the shadows, and image noise grain decreases detail definition in some areas.

Definition of high-contrast
elements is affected by noise
suppression, luminance noise,
and there's evidence
of minor edge enhancement.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression blurs
detail in areas of subtle contrast,
as in the darker parts of hair here.

Sharpness. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500 captures a lot of fine detail, though detail definition suffers from both noise suppression and noise grain. Slight enhancement artifacts are visible on high-contrast subjects such as the crop above left. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.

Detail. The crop above right shows moderately high noise suppression, with the darker areas of hair showing limited detail, as individual strands are only hinted at. Though the camera does attempt to reduce the effects of noise here, some noise grain also reduces fine detail. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

ISO & Noise Performance
Moderate noise at the normal sensitivity settings, though stronger noise and noise suppression at the higher settings, resulting in blurred detail. Adjustable Noise Reduction setting trades detail for fewer noise pixels.

ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400
ISO 800 ISO 1,600
ISO 3,200
(2,048 x 1,536 pixels)
ISO 400
Max Noise Reduction
ISO 800
Max Noise Reduction
ISO 1,600
Max Noise Reduction

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500 produced moderate to moderately high noise at the lower sensitivity settings, with the noise grain interfering slightly with detail definition. At ISO 400, noise and noise suppression become more evident, in the form of smudged detail. At ISOs 800 and 1,600, noise grain is much more prevalent, altering color balance and decreasing fine detail. The camera's maximum ISO 3,200 setting is only available at the 2,048 x 1,536-pixel resolution, and efforts by the camera to hold down the noise levels result in a very blurry image altogether. The DMC-FX500 does offer an adjustable Noise Reduction setting for all ISOs except 3,200, which reduces noise in five settings. The last set of crops show the 400, 800, and 1,600 ISO equivalents at the maximum noise reduction level, and you can see that the camera trades detail for decreased noise pixels. So, there is a trade-off for decreased noise in the form of blurred details.

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with strong overall detail, but high contrast. Slightly limited low-light capabilities, but able to capture bright exposures in near darkness.

+0.7 EV +1.0 EV +1.3 EV

Sunlight. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500 produced high contrast under the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above, with washed-out highlights and deep shadows. Still, shadow detail is pretty good, though noise pixels and noise suppression do interfere here. At +1.0 EV, the highlights on the white shirt are almost too hot, but the overall exposure looks better here. The DMC-FX500 does feature an Intelligent Exposure mode, which attempts to correct for situations like this, and it did indeed produce a slightly more balanced exposure, though overall exposure was much too bright. Still, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; and it's better to shoot in the shade when possible.

Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here.)




  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
ISO
100
Click to see FX500LL0103.JPG
1.6 sec
f2.8
Click to see FX500LL0104.JPG
3.2 sec
f2.8
Click to see FX500LL0105.JPG
6 sec
f2.8
Click to see FX500LL0106.JPG
8 sec
f2.8
Click to see FX500LL0107.JPG
8 sec
f2.8
ISO
200
Click to see FX500LL0203.JPG
0.8 sec
f2.8
Click to see FX500LL0204.JPG
1.6 sec
f2.8
Click to see FX500LL0205.JPG
3.2 sec
f2.8
Click to see FX500LL0206.JPG
8 sec
f2.8
Click to see FX500LL0207.JPG
8 sec
f2.8
ISO
400
Click to see FX500LL0403.JPG
0.4 sec
f2.8
Click to see FX500LL0404.JPG
0.8 sec
f2.8
Click to see FX500LL0405.JPG
1.6 sec
f2.8
Click to see FX500LL0406.JPG
4 sec
f2.8
Click to see FX500LL0407.JPG
8 sec
f2.8
ISO
800
Click to see FX500LL0803.JPG
1/5 sec
f2.8
Click to see FX500LL0804.JPG
0.4 sec
f2.8
Click to see FX500LL0805.JPG
0.8 sec
f2.8
Click to see FX500LL0806.JPG
2 sec
f2.8
Click to see FX500LL0807.JPG
4 sec
f2.8
ISO
1600
Click to see FX500LL1603.JPG
1/10 sec
f2.8
Click to see FX500LL1604.JPG
1/5 sec
f2.8
Click to see FX500LL1605.JPG
0.4 sec
f2.8
Click to see FX500LL1606.JPG
1 sec
f2.8
Click to see FX500LL1607.JPG
2 sec
f2.8

Low light. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500 was able to capture bright images down to the lowest light level at ISOs 400 and up. At the lower ISOs, the target is visible at the darker light levels, but quite dim. Some of the FX500's night scene modes would have helped here. Color balance looked pretty good, if a bit cool or magenta depending on the exposure, with the Auto white balance. The camera's AF system was able to focus unassisted down to just above the 1/16 foot-candle light level, and to total darkness with the AF assist. Overall, a pretty good performance despite minor limitations at the lower sensitivity settings.

How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.

Flash

Coverage and Range
A slightly weak flash at close range, with uneven coverage. Exposure compensation had no effect on normal flash mode, resulting in a dim shot, though Slow-Sync mode produced brighter results.

25mm equivalent 125mm equivalent
Normal Flash, Default Exposure Slow-Sync Flash, +0.7 EV

Flash coverage was quite uneven at wide angle, and still a bit uneven at full telephoto. In the Indoor test, the DMC-FX500's flash underexposed our subject at its default setting, though boosting the exposure compensation produced no effect on the overall brightness. The camera's Slow-Sync flash mode produced brighter and more even results, with a stronger pinkish-orange cast from the room lighting, and in this mode the exposure compensation did help brighten the exposure.

Flash Range: Wide Angle
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft
Click to see FX500FL06W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see FX500FL07W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see FX500FL08W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see FX500FL09W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see FX500FL10W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see FX500FL11W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft
Click to see FX500FL12W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see FX500FL13W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see FX500FL14W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see FX500FL15W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100
Click to see FX500FL16W.JPG
1/30 sec
f2.8
ISO 100

Flash Range: Telephoto
6 ft 7 ft 8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft
Click to see FX500FL06T.JPG
1/60 sec
f5.9
ISO 100
Click to see FX500FL07T.JPG
1/60 sec
f5.9
ISO 100
Click to see FX500FL08T.JPG
1/60 sec
f5.9
ISO 100
Click to see FX500FL09T.JPG
1/60 sec
f5.9
ISO 100
Click to see FX500FL10T.JPG
1/60 sec
f5.9
ISO 100
Click to see FX500FL11T.JPG
1/60 sec
f5.9
ISO 100
12 ft 13 ft 14 ft 15 ft 16 ft
Click to see FX500FL12T.JPG
1/60 sec
f5.9
ISO 100
Click to see FX500FL13T.JPG
1/60 sec
f5.9
ISO 100
Click to see FX500FL14T.JPG
1/60 sec
f5.9
ISO 100
Click to see FX500FL15T.JPG
1/60 sec
f5.9
ISO 100
Click to see FX500FL16T.JPG
1/60 sec
f5.9
ISO 100

ISO 100 Range. At wide angle and ISO 100, flash shots were bright at six feet, though intensity decreased with additional distance. At full telephoto, exposures were already dim at six feet, and decreased in brightness from there.


Manufacturer-Specified Flash Range
Wide Angle Telephoto
Click to see FX500FL_MFR197WA0320.JPG
19.7 feet
Auto ISO 320
Click to see FX500FL_MFR092TA0400.JPG
9.2 feet
Auto ISO 400

Manufacturer Specified Flash Test. In the shots above, the DMC-FX500 performs about as Panasonic says it will, producing a good exposure at the rated distance with its ISO set to Auto (which selected ISO 320 and 400 to compensate). Our standard test method for flash range uses a fixed setting of ISO 100, to provide a fair basis of comparison between cameras. We've now also begun shooting two shots using the manufacturer-specified camera settings, at the range the company claims for the camera, to assess the validity of the specific claims.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Soft print quality, good color, soft 11x14-inch prints. ISO 400 images are soft but usable at 8x10, ISO 800 shots are better at 5x7.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500 had enough resolution to make usable 11x14 inch prints, but the luminance noise and overall softness make 8x10-inch prints more desirable. ISO 200 shots are usable at 8x10, as are ISO 400 shots, but even those are better at 5x7. ISO 800 shots are too soft at 8x10, but usable at 5x7 for most purposes. ISO 1,600 shots are okay at 4x6, but not entirely sharp. All shots lack detail in the color areas, and all solid colors, regardless of shade, are marred by stippled noise.

Overall, ISO 100 is the best choice for detail, but it's surprising that there's not better luminance noise control. It's unfortunately a common problem with Panasonic point and shoots, but we haven't seen this kind of luminance noise on this scale before.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon Pro9000 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5200 here in the office. (See the Canon PIXMA Pro9000 review for details on that model.)

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500 Photo Gallery.

Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!

Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

Panasonic DMC-FX500

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