Taking the Panasonic DMC-FX150 for a Spin

Geeks.com, the popular computer parts store, sent us in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX150 14 megapixel digicam for a spin. This camera has been a hit in the past year, both for its still capabilities, but also for its 720p HD video at 24 fps (film speed).

The camera captures still images at 14.5 mega pixels, and it uses a large 1/1.72″ sensor. It records JPEG, RAW, and JPEG+RAW in 4:3, 3:2 & 16:9 format, and it supports SDHC cards. Here are some of the rest of the specs:
# Optical Image Stabilizer: MEGA O.I.S. (Auto/Mode1/Mode2)
# Optical Zoom: 3.6x
# Digital Zoom: 4x
# Extended Optical Zoom: 7.7x
# Image Sensor: 1/1.72-inch 15.0 Total Mega Pixels CCD, Primary Color Filter
# Focal Length: f=6.0-21.4mm (35mm Equiv.: 28-100mm)
# Lens: 28 mm Wide-Angle LEICA DC VARIO-ELMARIT
# Aperture Range: Wide: F2.8/F9.0 (2 steps) / Tele: F5.6/F18 (2 steps)
# Focusing Area: Normal: 50cm – infinity, Intelligent AUTO/ Macro: Wide 5cm/ Tele 30cm – infinity
# AF Metering: Face / AF tracking / multi-area / 1-area high speed / 1-area / spot
# Focus: Normal / Macro, Quick AF On/Off (On in Auto), AF Area Select, AF Tracking
# AF Assist Lamp
# ISO Sensitivity: Auto/100/200/400/800/1600 (High Sensitivity Mode : Auto(1600 – 6400))
# Backlight Compensation (auto in Intelligent AUTO mode)
# Auto Bracketing (AE): +/- 1/3 EV ~ 1EV step, 3 frames
# Light Metering: Intelligent Multiple / Center-weighted / Spot
# Self-timer: 2 second, 10 second
# Auto Review: 1 second, 2 second, Zoom, Hold
# Unlimited Consecutive Shooting
# Intelligent Exposure: Off/Low/Standard/High
# Digital Red Eye Correction
# Scene Mode Help Screen
# Auto Angle Detection
# Travel Date/World Time
# Built-in microphone
# Built-in Speaker
# Exposure: Program AE, Simple Manual
# Exposure Compensation: 1/3 EV Step, ± 2 EV
# P:1-1/2000sec (Selectable minimum shutter speed)
# M:60-1/2000sec
# Starry Sky Mode: 15, 30, 60 seconds

The camera has an auto mode, a Program AE mode (ISO & exposure compensation control), a manual mode (aperture, exposure compensation, shutter speed, ISO), a scene mode (Portrait, Soft Skin, Scenery, Sports, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Self-Portrait, Food, Party, Candle Light, Fireworks, Starry Sky, Beach, Aerial Photo, Snow, High Sensitivity, Baby1&2, Sunset, Pet, Hi-Speed Burst, Multi Aspect), and a video mode (720/24p MJPEG at 25 mbps, in the .mov container).

On the top, there’s the on/off button, with a shutter button along with a rocker zoom button next to it. The 5-way joystick button has multiple functions: exposure and bracketing for the up key, macro on/off for the bottom key, burst mode on the left key, flash modes on the right key, and menu options on the center key which also functions as the “confirm” button.


Below the joystick buttons there is the display button that alters between the standard informational icons in the screen, a no icons screen, and guidelines. The Quick Menu button next to it enables a strip of icons on the screen that have drop-down menu items, e.g. metering area, the autofocus mode, white balance, ISO, picture size etc.

The FX150 is a small camera for all its 14.5 MP, definitely smaller than the bunch of Kodak cameras, and some Canon A-series cameras I have around in my office. It has a much better build quality than my Kodaks, with its buttons being made out of metal rather than plastic. I found the UI and picture-taking very fast, although the UI could have been more organic. The battery life with the included battery is not stellar, but I was able to capture about 120 pictures before it started complaining.

Picture quality is very good considering the price. Definitely better than my Kodaks (I am swimming on Kodaks you see), and without that extreme “mushy” look found on cheaper cameras. I was happy to see that there were no blurry corners, the picture was pretty much sharp throughout. Low light support was normal, not exceptional. One thing I didn’t appreciate though was the lack of good dynamic range as it’s evident on one of my pictures. In some cases there’s some fringing too, but not too evident. There is quite some noise in higher ISO values, more than other high-end digicams. The on-board flash did a good job to provide the needed light when needed. The various focusing algorithms were very helpful and got it right most of the time.

Disappointing dynamic range (16:9)
Flash (16:9 mode)

There are three things that I don’t like in this camera though:
– In manual mode, the aperture value can only be set as F2.8 and F9, with no values in between.
– Only 3.6x zoom. A 5x would have been welcoming.
And the biggest bummer: no exposure locking in video mode. There is exposure compensation, but I can’t seem to find an exposure locking ability. Hence, when panning, the exposure jumps left and right (example), destroying the footage’s professional look.

At least, we get manual white balance support in video mode. And speaking of the video mode, there is also QVGA, VGA and 480p recording modes in addition to the 720/24p mode. The quality of the video is on par with the Kodak HD digicams (that record in MPEG4-SP), but it is not better than the h.264 video found in the new Canon digicams. Compared to Canon cameras, the video is grainy, and with lower dynamic range and color accuracy. The only thing it has going for it is ease of editing on PC editors (MJPEG is faster to decode than mpeg4). Here’s an 11 MB sample (right click to save and watch offline).

Overall, this is a great still digicam, very good for the price, but the video mode needed more love: exposure locking, and why not, some shutter speed support. The higher end and more popular Panasonic model, the LX3, barely fixes some of the problems discussed here, so if you are after solid results, either a DSLR, or a Canon digicam might be a better option.

Rating: 7/10


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