Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75: Touchscreen Cam Has Touchy Performance
At a Glance
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75 Compact Camera
The Lumix DMC-FX75 shoots very good video and sharp photos--but its touchscreen-and-physical-button combo isn't always efficient, and its overpowering flash affects overall image quality.
The point-and-shoot Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX75 ($300 as of 10/20/2010) may seem like your typical touchscreen camera, but it distinguishes itself from the pack with a bright F2.2 lens, above-average video quality, and a few fancy features that might catch your eye. Aesthetically, it's not as skinny or as sexy as some of the other cameras in its class, but its decent image quality, high-def recording capabilities, and "touch to focus" controls are big draws.
However, the camera can be frustrating to use in some ways: Many controls require you to employ both its physical buttons and its touchscreen, and the touchscreen itself is reliable only if you use the FX75's included stylus. What's more, the flash on this camera is practically a floodlight; in test shots we took to gauge flash exposure performance, our subject was totally blown out by the flash, and color accuracy suffered noticeably.
Hardware and Controls
The 14.1-megapixel Lumix DMC-FX75 features a F2.2, super-wide-angle Leica lens with 5X optical zoom (24mm to 120mm). The camera measures 4.04 inches wide by 2.17 inches high and 0.9 inches thick, and weighs 5.8 ounces when loaded with its battery and a user-supplied SD, SDHC, or SDXC card. The DMC-FX75 also features an HDMI-out port (along with the usual AV-out port) for showing off your HD recordings.
If you need to zoom just a bit more than the optical zoom lens allows (but just a tiny bit), you can switch over to the Intelligent Auto mode, which features a 6.5X "Intelligent Zoom" that is one of the more-usable digital zoom features we've seen--it gives you a little extra zoom with virtually no image-quality deterioration, even if it's just a bit more simulated zoom to work with on the telephoto end.
Although the Lumix DMC-FX75 is a touchscreen camera, it has quite a few physical buttons. On the top are buttons you'll see on almost any camera--an on/off toggle switch and a shutter button surrounded by a zoom-control ring. Also present is a small "Record" button that allows you to switch directly from photo mode to video mode without going through any menus. The Record button is indented so that people (hopefully) won't hit it by accident.
As shown just above, a few buttons are also on the back of the camera, next to the touchscreen--a switch for moving between capture and playback mode, plus a "Mode" button and a "Menu" button. While I appreciate Panasonic's thoughtfulness in providing an ample supply of physical buttons in addition to the touchscreen, this seems like overkill: All it's missing are arrow keys, and then it wouldn't even need the touchscreen.
The 3-inch LCD touchscreen is roomy and bright, but seeing an image on it is still pretty hard in direct sunlight. It's fairly responsive, providing you use the included plastic stylus attached to the wrist strap. Fingers, on the other hand, are basically a hit or miss. Unfortunately, attaching the stylus to the wrist strap means that you won't be able to use it while the camera is on your wrist.
Aside from the sometimes-hard-to-navigate touchscreen-and-button combination, I have only one major complaint about this camera: the playback mode. It's pretty typical (photos are easy to delete, but not too easy) until you start zooming in on a photo. The only way to navigate around the photo is to use the stylus and swipe your way around (no, your fingers won't work here), and for some reason the screen is not terribly responsive during this task. Trying to review your photos up close gets frustrating very quickly.
Shooting Modes and Features
The touchscreen and super-wide-angle lens aren't the only notable features in the Lumix DMC-FX75--it also has high-def video recording (in the AVCHD Lite format), Panasonic's "Intelligent Auto" mode, and an "Intelligent Resolution Technology" that truly does enhance sharpness and contrast in your shots.
A nice feature of the touchscreen is that you can take a picture by just hitting the screen (don't worry, this is easily disabled via an on-screen button). While this is not more useful than the physical button is for taking pictures, it is very useful for focusing--wherever you touch on the screen is where the camera will focus. You can still use this touch-to-focus feature when the touchscreen-controlled shutter is disabled, and you can use touch-to-focus while shooting video to switch between focus points on the fly. As has become the norm with Panasonic's most-recent camera offerings, autofocus speeds are impressively fast, which makes these touch-to-focus controls a standout feature.
The DMC-FX75's on-screen menus are nothing special--they're basic, boxy, and far from elegant. They're also not very intuitive, thanks to their heavy use of icons. More confusing than the menus, however, is the unintuitive combination of touchscreen and physical buttons you have to press in order to do anything.
To get to a shooting mode, you must first press the physical Mode button, then choose a selection on the touchscreen. You can adjust settings such as motion deblur and face detection in the regular menu--which is also accessed via a physical button--or adjust them directly via the touchscreen in the camera's "Quick Menu." Basically, there are two menus (Menu and Quick Menu), which overlap in their selections, but not entirely. You sort of have to guess as to which one will have the setting you're looking for.
There are five shooting modes, none of which is "manual." The closest you'll get to tooling around with the image is in the "Normal Picture" mode, where you can adjust things like the white balance (auto, manual, and four presets), the ISO (80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, or Auto), and Macro mode. Macro is pretty good on this camera, with a distance minimum of about an inch away. ISO, on the other hand, is not so great--you'll start seeing graininess creep into your shots at ISO levels as low as 400.
The other shooting modes include video recording, Scene modes (29 in all, including a "High Sensitivity" mode that boosts ISO to 6400), "Cosmetic Mode" (in which you can adjust the skin tone of your subject), and Intelligent Auto. Shutter speed on the DMC-FX75 was quick and presented virtually no lag time at all. And while you don't have direct manual control over your shutter speeds, you can use the camera's "Starry Night" scene mode to slow down your shutter speed.
Panasonic's "Motion Deblur" mode and "Intelligent Exposure" combine with the optical image stabilizer to make blur-free photos. This massive combination of antiblur technology seems to work, as waving the camera around still manages to get you a (relatively) blur-free picture.
Performance, Image Quality, and Video Quality
In PCWorld Labs' subjective tests for image quality, the Lumix DMC-FX75 suffered quite a bit from having that super-powered flash. Exposure quality was rated as Fair, while color fidelity was rated as Poor. Because we take our sample shots for these tests with the flash powered on, foreground highlights and colors looked blown out by the camera's flash.
Distortion levels were also rated as Poor, as chromatic aberration and colored fringing was noticeably evident in our test shot of a target chart, most likely due to the camera's ultra-wide-angle 24mm lens. On a very bright note, however, the Lumix FX75's image sharpness was rated as Superior, outscoring practically every camera we've tested in 2010.
To see our image-quality test shots at full size, click any of the thumbnails at left.
This camera really shines in video mode, especially in bright light. The Lumix FX75 earned a video quality score of Very Good, with sharp, smooth video in bright indoor lighting that was on a par with the video-capture quality of Panasonic's Lumix DMC-LX5. The camera also shoots serviceable video in low-light situations; but while motion is smooth, its low-light video isn't as well-defined. Audio capture is also decent through its on-board mono microphone, and the camera earned an audio score of Good.
Below are the sample clips from the PCWorld Labs' subjective video-quality tests, shot at 720p in AVCHD (.mts) format at 30 frames per second in bright light and in low light. Select 720p from the drop-down menu in the lower-right corner of each video player for the highest-quality footage.
Battery life is also a plus, as the FX75 has a CIPA battery-life rating of 360 shots per charge of its lithium-ion battery. That's enough juice for a battery-life rating of Good.
Unfortunately, although touchscreen-controlled cameras may be on the rise, Panasonic hasn't implemented this feature effectively in the DMC-FX75. The touch-to-focus is cool, but it doesn't make up for the fact that every function on this camera is a song-and-dance of touchscreen tapping and button pressing. The need for a stylus to get some touchscreen functions to work correctly seems downright archaic. Video quality, image sharpness, and autofocus speeds are significant bright spots, but you should try to get some hands-on time with the FX75 before buying it to see if its touchscreen-and-button interface suits you.