Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX150 Review
Rounding out the "FX" series of high-end ultra-compacts from Panasonic this year (11/2008), the Lumix DMC-FX150 is loaded with features that you'd normally find on a more expensive digicam. Boasting 14.7-megapixels, a Leica 3.6x "Wide" optical zoom lens, Panasonic's famous MEGA O.I.S. image stabilization system, AF Tracking technology, HD (1280x720) movie mode option, 2.5fps burst mode, and RAW or JPEG still image capture, the FX150 is a power packed digicam. While still offering all of the fully automatic exposure modes that beginners need and love, Panasonic has also included Program and full Manual, perfect for the novice users who likes to take more control over the exposure process.
Panasonic's new models all feature one of the most advanced exposure modes we have seen, Intelligent Auto. Not only does it handle selecting the shutter speed, metering, white balance, AF mode, aperture, and ISO like typical "Auto" modes, but this unique function combines 7 techniques to help you capture images: Intelligent Exposure, MEGA O.I.S., Digital Red-eye Correction, Intelligent ISO, Intelligent Scene Selector, Face Detection, and Quick AF. By combining these technologies, Intelligent Auto will ensure that you are able to capture great pictures, no matter what the shooting conditions are.
The FX150 is not only compact, but stylish too with two color schemes to choose from; Black or Silver. Measuring 2.12 x 3.8 x .98 inches, you can stuff this little guy into the smallest of handbags or pockets. Thanks to the durable metal body, it's sure to stand up to that active users life style. Although small, I found the FX150 fit comfortably in my large hands, wrapping my right hand around the side of the camera while "pinching" the left side between my index finger and thumb. One handed shooting was also possible, and the "thumb grip" on the back helps ensure you have a firm grip on the camera. There are various controls positioned on the top and back of the camera. They seem to be placed well, just within reach of your my index finger and thumb. I especially like the zoom controls mounted around the shutter release, which allows you to zoom without much effort at all. One new feature I also liked was the "grips" that were added to the Power on/off switch, Zoom control and E.Zoom buttons. The rest of the back is occupied by a nice 2.7-inch LCD screen. With 230K pixels, this display offers a clear and sharp picture for framing and reviewing images. When shooting in low lighting, the live image "gains up" to help you see your subject. Outdoors, I found there were a few angles which reflected the sun, however I was still able to see the subject just fine. Line many LCDs, this one is Very prone to collecting fingerprints.
Shooting performance was pleasing for a camera in this class. From start-up, the camera is able to capture its first image just 2.2 seconds after being turned on. The shutter delay is almost instantaneous when the camera is pre-focused and 4/10 including the autofocus system. When shooting in single shot mode, the shot to shot delay averaged 1.8 seconds between frames without the flash and 2.4 - 3 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance and battery life. The camera also has two standard continuous shooting modes and two continuous mode located in the scene menu. The normal continuous mode captures a max of 4 images in just 1.5 seconds (2.7fps). Infinite mode will continue to capture images at a slower frame rate, and using it I was able to capture 10 images in 6.2 seconds (1.6fps). Finally there is the High-speed Burst and Flash Burt modes. High-speed mode gives you a choice of Speed priority or Image priority, then you choose the aspect (4:3, 3:2, 16:9). Image size is 3M Normal (depending on aspect), and I captured 82 images in just 10 seconds (8.2fps)! This is very impressive, and even though the image size drops to 3M, there is plenty of resolution to create 4x6 up to 8x10-inch prints. In Flash Burst, again you choose the aspect, and the image size is dropped to 3M Normal. Using this mode, I was able to capture 5 flash images in 2.8 seconds. All of our tests were completed using a Lexar Professional 133x 2GB SD card, Program shooting mode, ISO auto, flash off, review off and all other settings at the factory defaults unless otherwise noted. Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
Image quality from this 14-megapixel camera is very pleasing. While reviewing our samples, I saw sharp images with accurate exposure and good color saturation. One thing I want to point out is that when viewing some images at 100% you can see some "grain" and even some softness. While at 100% this looks like the image quality is not as good as we claim, you have to remember that there is a LOT of resolution we are dealing with here. These images are made to be viewed at "full screen" (19-25% depending on you monitor and resolution settings) and printed. With the images from this model, you can print off huge prints, like a 13x19-inch, that will look beautiful. Along with all of the "Intelligent" functions in this camera, the one option I really liked was the fact that you can set a MAX ISO when using the Auto setting. Noise levels were average for a consumer models, and I found using ISO 400 or setting the MAX ISO at 400 produced the best results. When viewing our ISO 800 and 1600 samples, at 100% you can see a lot of detail loss from heavy Noise Reduction. However, I feel that the 800 setting can still produce nice 4x6-inch or larger prints.
Indoors the FX150 captures very nice portraits in either Program of the dedicated Portrait scene mode. The flash has a pretty weak range at a max of 9.5 feet at wide angle using ISO auto. I found that shooting from 3-4 feet away using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range produced portraits where the subject was exposed well, but the background is a bit dark. Facial features are nice and sharp, and skin tones seem very natural. Another new feature is the I.Exposure technology. This mode helps ensure you don't over or under-expose an image by automatically adjusting the brightness of an image. I found the Standard setting works well, but you can see for yourself by taking a look at our I.Exposure examples.
The FX150's movie mode offers you the ability to capture HD movies at 1280x720 (30 fps) on top of the typical 848x480, 640x480 and 320x240 resolutions we have seen on past Lumix models. These video are saved using the QuickTime .MOV format. Like most digicams, the position of the optical zoom may not be changed while recording. Instead, it's best to preset the desired focal length before hand. Our movie mode samples turned out great for such a compact camera, and the Mega O.I.S. stabilization system helps keep things steady while shooting handheld videos. Our three examples on the Sample Photos page show that this camera can capture smooth video that is sharp, and is not subject to high levels of compression artifacts. The HD videos also played back just fine on my XP Pro and Ubuntu machines, just be sure you have a Wide view monitor. If you plan on taking a lot of HD video with this camera, we Highly recommend the purchase of a high-capacity memory card in the 2-4GB range; our HD sample is only about 9 seconds long and takes up approx. 25MB.
Battery life was very good for such a small camera. Panasonic has included a small, but powerful, 3.7V 1150mAh rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery pack. They claim you can capture up to 330 still images on a single charge. I had no problem capturing all of our sample images (about 85 shots), several HD, WVGA, and VGA sized movies, and concluded all of our other tests with the battery indicator showing 2/3 full. This was also with excessive reviewing of images and navigating the through all of the menus.
Bottom Line - The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX150 was a blast to use. Some might question the quality of its 14-megapixel images, however I feel this camera can create awesome images that will make beautiful large prints. Thanks to the MAX ISO feature, you can be sure that image noise is not an issue, and thankfully the FX150's effective Mega O.I.S. system will also help fight image blur and camera shake in your photos. With robust performance, HD movie capabilities, nice overall construction, and plenty of exposure options, we have no problem recommending this camera to anyone who is in the market for a "High-end" ultra-compact digicam. With a street price of $300 or less, the Lumix DMC-FX150 offers a great value, and is sure to be a very popular model this coming Holiday season.
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