Panasonic Lumix FX500 Digital Camera
At a Glance
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500 Compact Camera
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Not a replacement for your SLR, but a classy little camera that can handle a lot.
The 10-megapixel Panasonic Lumix FX500 has sophistication written all over it. Its brushed metallic surface, well-placed, slim flash, and 25mm-to-125mm Leica 5X optical zoom lens are appealing, but the marquee feature of this $400 point-and-shoot camera is its 3-inch touch-screen display, which is sure to be controversial with photography purists who would otherwise be attracted to its manual settings.
The touch screen is bright enough for viewing in almost all lighting conditions, and it's not so hair-trigger that it invites accidental selections. You can use it to access some of the camera's menu settings more easily, as well as to zoom in and out on photos you've taken. For some operations you must use it, though casual snapshooters may be disappointed that it does not supplant more menu options. (Besides the touch screen, the FX500 has a four-way toggle switch you can use to reach particular settings.)
If you touch a subject on the touch screen, the camera will focus on the selection--a novel and quite effective approach. The zoom-and-drag options for viewing images on the screen are another nifty feature. You can touch an area of the screen and then either zoom in on the selection or drag it around on the touch screen. It's a convenient way to check sharpness, facial expressions, and other details at 100 percent of actual image size. Tapping arrows on the touch screen lets you move the entire image around.
The touch screen eliminates some of the tedious drilling-down that many cameras force you to perform to get to settings such as scene modes and playback options. That's good news because the FX500 offers 21 preset scene modes, including portrait, party, soft skin, and starry sky. The beach and snow modes will help keep your highlights where you want them in those environments; and flower enthusiasts and the detail-obsessed will find the camera's macro mode awe-inspiring.
All of that touch-screen action may be a bit draining. In our lab tests, the FX500's rechargeable lithium ion battery was good for 240 shots on a single charge--not too shabby, but far short of the 300 or more shots per charge that some more energy-efficient point-and-shoot models offer.
My only serious gripe with this sleek-but-expensive little camera relates to its manual settings. The FX500 saves all images in JPEG format; there's no RAW option. Also, to adjust manual settings, aperture priority, and shutter priority you have to use scroll bars on the touch screen. Even people with fine motor control of their hands may find this process frustrating unless they resort to using the FX500's included stylus; without it, I labored to obtain the aperture and shutter speed combinations I wanted.
Carrying the stylus cramps your style, but attaching it to the camera strap and stuffing it into your bag could damage the FX500's beautiful screen. Fortunately, the camera's excellent Intelligent Auto mode and subject autofocus tracking kept me covered without my having to think too much, and the icons on the touch screen helped me switch modes quickly and accurately.
You can shoot video (in either wide screen or the more traditional 4:3 ratio), with metering, quality, and frame-rate options; and you can extract individual frames as photos. The FX500 lets you record up to 2GB of continuous video footage, but you can't zoom in or out while shooting, so compose carefully beforehand.
Among the FX500's additional features are two burst modes, bracketing, long exposures, spot metering, a choice of aspect ratios, customizable white balance, and an ISO range of from 100 to 6400. In my tests, some inevitable noise was visible at higher ISOs, but I saw few if any artifacts in high-contrast edges. Image quality was a mixed bag in our lab testing: The FX500 produced sharp images, but didn't distinguish itself in our flash-exposure and normal-exposure tests.
The camera's responsiveness was excellent, with almost no lag time between when I pressed the shutter and when pictures wrote to the card, even at the highest quality setting. This characteristic, combined with the FX500's quick, accurate autofocus and exposure, makes the camera very satisfying to shoot with.