Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX3 Review
The Lumix DMC-FX3 is one of several offerings from Panasonic for 2006, and shares almost all of its features
with the DMC-FX9 from last year. It retains the same 6-megapixel
imager, 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 17 scene modes (compared to the 14 found on the FX9), and the ability to
choose a 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio in movie mode.
Positioned as an "affordable" ultra-compact model, it is geared for users who like their photo taking process to be simple, offering several fully automatic exposure modes. Novice users can also grasp a bit more control over the exposure process with the Normal (Program AE) mode that gives access to more advanced options like white balance, ISO, metering, Aspect ratio, AF mode, etc.
Like the FX9, ergonomics are good. While this is a very compact model (about the size of a deck of playing cards), I found it fit well in my hands, and allowed for easy one-handed shooting. The controls are positioned so that your finger tips fall naturally over them. As with past models, the menu system is logically organized, allowing for quick navigation. The 2.5-inch LCD is the only viewfinder on this camera, I found the display worked great outdoors in bight light, having very few angles that reflected the sun. Unlike the FX9, when shooting in marginal lighting conditions, it does "gain up", to help brighten your subject for framing. You'll also notice that when the AF-assist lamp fires, your subject(s) will also be illuminated.
Shooting performance was good. From power up to first image captured measured about 2.2 seconds. Shutter lag averaged about 1/10 of a second when pre-focused and 4/10 of a second including autofocus. The shot to shot time in single exposure mode was approx. 1.5 seconds between frames without the flash and between 2.5 - 3.5 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance and battery life. The FX3 offers three Burst mode settings to choose from (Low-speed, High-speed, Unlimited.) Using the Low-speed setting, I was able to capture 6 frames in about 2.4 seconds. While High-speed mode captured 6 frames in approx. 1.8 seconds. Unlimited mode allows you to continuously capture frames at about 1.5 seconds and is limited only by available memory. Our tests were done using a Lexar High-speed 1GB 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.
Image quality was average for a 6-megapixel consumer model. The Leica 3x optical zoom offers a typical zoom range of 35 - 105mm (in 35mm equivalence.) The field of view at the 35mm wide angle extreme is sufficient for landscape and group portraits, while its telephoto capabilities work great for close up portraits; just don't expect to bring distance subjects up close. Overall, it helped the FX3 produce sharp images throughout the zoom range, with moderate barrel distortion at full wide angle and slight pincushioning at the telephoto extreme. Our outdoor sample images show pleasing exposure and color balance. Noise levels were low in areas of contrast, however I did see above average amounts of chromatic aberrations around brightly lit subjects.
Indoors, you will have to work the limited range of this model's tiny built-in flash unit. Panasonic claims to have a rage of 13.1 feet at wide angle (ISO Auto at wide angle.). I found the flash to be sufficient enough at illuminating subjects from about 5 or 6 feet away using the mid telephoto end of the zoom range. When doing so, the outcome is good flash exposure and natural skin tones. However, do not expect this unit to illuminate open 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.
Movie mode lets you record Quicktime video at either 4:3 (640x480 or 320x240) or 16:9 (848x480). 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.
Battery life was good for such a compact model. Panasonic claims the 3.7v 1150 mAh Li-ion battery pack can power the FX3 for up to 320 shots on a full charge (using CIPA Standards.) I was able to capture over 85 images (including several 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 - Panasonic has put together a nice digital package, offering good image quality, speedy performance and plenty of exposure options for the entire family. The 6-megapixel Fine images have plenty of resolution to create beautiful 13x19-inch prints or larger. With an MSRP of $US279.95 it's a bit more expensive than some of the other competitors out there , however, it does offer a good value for a capable 6- megapixel model.
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