Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9 Review
The Lumix DMC-FX9 is the 2005 upgrade of Panasonic's
DMC-FX7 from last year, and retains the same Leica DC-VARIO ELMARIT 3x optical zoom
lens, Mega O.I.S. image stabilization and 2.5-inch LCD. The list of revised features
includes a higher resolution 6-megapixel imager, 14 scene modes (compared to the 9 found on
the FX7), and a high-quality 640x480 (30fps) Quicktime movie mode.
This ultra-compact model is geared for users who like their photo taking process to be simple, without having to mess with many functions or settings. It can also accommodate those who like to have control over certain aspects of the exposure process with options for ISO, white balance, EV compensation, and Auto bracketing, etc.
Although the FX9 is very small, it fits well in your hands, and allows for easy, one-handed shooting. The Controls are positioned so that your fingers fall naturally over the various buttons on the top and on the back. Like we have seen with past models, the menu system is logically organized and simple to navigate. The only viewfinder on this cameras is its large and bright 2.5-inch LCD. I found this display worked great outdoors in bight light, having very few angles that reflected the sun. When shooting in marginal lighting conditions, it does not "gain up". However the exposure system is very sensitive, and will allow you to frame in most cases.
Shooting performance was good. From power up to first image captured measured about 2.4 seconds. Shutter lag averaged about 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 5/10 of a second including autofocus. The shot to shot time in single exposure mode was approx. 1.8 seconds between frames without the flash and about 2.8 seconds with the flash. The FX9 offers three Burst mode settings to choose from (Low-speed, High-speed, No-limit.) Using the Low-speed setting, I was able to capture 6 frames in about 2.1 seconds. While High-speed mode captured 6 frames in approx. 1.7 seconds. No-limit mode allows you to continuously capture frames at about 1.5 - 2fps and is limited only by available memory. Our tests were done using a High-speed 512MB SD card, shooting in "Normal" mode, size/quality set at 6M Fine, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
The FX9's image quality was good when using 6M Fine mode. The 3x optical zoom lens has a typical 35mm equivalent zoom range of 35-105mm. This is sufficient for most indoor and outdoor framing. A 4x digital zoom feature is also included, but we would recommend not using it, instead crop your photos in an image editor when necessary. The lens exhibits moderate barrel distortion at full wide angle, with slight pincushioning at its telephoto extreme.
Outdoors, we were able to capture pleasing images that are both sharp and nicely saturated. Exposure is very accurate almost every time, and its Auto white balance setting did very well in various lighting conditions. Compression noise levels were very low in areas of contrast, however I did see average amounts of chromatic aberrations around brightly lit subjects.
When shooting indoors the flash has a good range of about 13 feet (ISO Auto at wide angle), which is sufficient for most interior shooting (in small to medium sized rooms.) If you are going to be using the camera in large open areas, be sure that there is plenty of ambient light present to illuminate your subject. Overall, I was very pleased with our indoor people pictures and found that the flash worked very well for those up close and personal individual portrait shots; just remember, the effective range of the flash drops as you zoom.
When a picture just isn't enough, you can record Quicktime movies at both 640x480 or 320x240. The frame rate can be set at either 30 or 10 frames per second, and the length of a clip is only limited by how much space is left on the SD memory card. Our movies turned out pretty good, with little noise and the AF system did well when panning. Because sound is recorded, the zoom may not be used during recording, however you may preset it before hand.
The FX9's battery life is good for such a diminutive model. Power comes from a 3.7v 1150 mAh Li-ion battery pack that Panasonic claims will allow you to capture about 270 shots on a full charge (using CIPA Standards.) I was able to capture over 105 images (including several 10-second movie clips) and perform many of our tests before the camera displayed a battery exhausted warning. Once a pack is depleted, simply slip it into the handy rapid charger and you'll be ready to take pictures again in about 130 minutes; or you can purchase a second battery pack (highly recommended) and continue your photo taking fun!
Bottom line - the Lumix DMC-FX9 will make a great choice for anyone who is looking for a simple to use consumer model which performs well and has the ability to capture quite pleasing images as well as the added bonus of being able to slip snuggly into almost any size pocket or handbag. Its 6-megapixel Fine images have enough resolution to create awesome 13x19-inch prints. At $399 (MSRP) it offers the price conscious user an excellent value and is sure to be a popular model this holiday season.
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