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Panasonic Lumix DMC FX9 - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 11/12/05
Rating: Recommended
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Read reviews on: Panasonic DMC-FX9K Lumix


Introduction: Announced on the 20th of July, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9 is a 6 megapixel update to the Panasonic Lumix FX7/9. The camera has a Leica 3x optical zoom lens starting at 35mm - 105mm equivalent, with "Mega Optical Image Stabilisation" - this should allow blur free low-light / zoom photography. The Panasonic Lumix FX9 is available from £240, this makes it good value for money as an ultra-compact digital camera. The camera is enclosed in a black, silver or red metal body. The FX9 records 640x480 movies with sound at 30fps. The camera is very compact and fits easily into pockets. The camera takes a rechargable lithium-ion battery and measures: 94.1 x 50.5 x 24.2 mm (without protruding parts), and weighs 127g (without batteries and memory card).

Panasonic have this to say about the camera:

"Panasonic introduces the new LUMIX model DMC-FX9, which is the next-generation model of the world-renowned stylish and compact MEGA O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilizer)-equipped FX series. The FX series boasts high picture quality, a large LCD, compactness and stylish design, features desired in a compact camera."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Panasonic Lumix FZ3)


Front - Camera off.


Front - Camera on, lens extended, flash, focus assist lamp, small handgrip.


Back - 2.5" screen, 4-way control, menu button, display, delete.


Top: Speaker, microphone, on/off, zoom control, shutter release, image stabilisation button, mode dial.


Bottom - lockable battery / memory compartment, metal tripod mount. The battery is a 3.7v 1150mAh Lithium-Ion battery.


Left Side.


USB / Video out, DC in connection compartment.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.


Size comparison.


Size comparison.


Size comparison, compared to another 6 megapixel digital camera, the Olympus FE-120 / X700.

Specifications / Features:

  • 6 Megapixel CCD
  • Advanced Mega Optical Image Stabilizer
  • 2.5" screen, 207,000 pixels
  • Leica 3x Optical Zoom lens,
  • 4x Digital Zoom
  • ISO AUTO, 80, 100, 200, 400
  • Video mode: 640 x 480 pixels, 30 fps with sound
  • 5cm AF Macro mode

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • 16mb SD Memory card
  • Battery pack
  • Battery carrying case
  • Battery charger
  • AV Cable
  • USB Cable
  • CD-ROM
  • Strap

Average box contents - you will need to buy a larger memory card (as with almost all digital cameras).

Battery usage: Up to 270 pictures with the supplied battery according to CIPA / Panasonic testing. Battery life seemed good, but not as good as the 500-shot Fuji F10 for example.

Menu Options / Modes: The camera mode is selected using the back / top dial.

Photo mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right below:

Photo mode Photo Menu

Screen / LCD display in photo mode: (shown on the left) The screen resolution with 207,000 pixels is good, and has a live histogram. The screen is clear and the text and menus are easy to read. Optical Viewfinder: There is no optical viewfinder.

Photo menu options: White balance, Sensitivity, Aspect ratio, Picture size, Quality, Audio record, AF (Auto-Focus) mode, AF assist lamp, Slow shutter, Digital zoom, Colour effect (Cool, Warm, Black and White, Sepia), Picture adjust (Natural, Standard, Vivid).

Scene mode Setup menu

Scenes: Portrait, Sports, Food, Scenery, Night portrait, Night scenery, Baby, Soft skin, Candle light, Party, Fireworks, Snow, Starry sky, Self portrait. Pressing left will show a screen explaining what the scene mode does.

Setup menu options: Monitor, Auto review, Power save, Economy, Beep, Volume, Clock set, No. Reset, Reset, USB mode, Video out, Scene menu, Language.

Playback (Review) mode/menu: The menu button brings up the menu screen as shown on the right, below:

Playback mode Playback Menu

Playback mode: Scrolling through the photos is fairly quick, although initial display can seem a bit sluggish. The zoom is quick, and allows you to zoom up to 16x.

Playback menu options: Slide show, Favourite, Rotate display, Rotate, DPOF Print, Protect, Audio dub, Resize, Trimming, Clean up (promises to speed up SD card access), Format.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera takes the following size pictures, and the following number of images will fit on the 16mb memory card provided with the camera:

Image Size: Number of Photos Stored / Quality
  Ratio Fine Standard
4.5mp 3840 x 2160 16:9 6 12
2mp 3072 x 1728 13 25
5mp 3248 x 2160 3:2 5 10
2.5mp 2560 x 1712 10 19
6mp 2880 x 2160 4:3 4 9
3mp 2304 x 1728 9 17
2mp 2048 x 1525 14 28
1mp 1600 x 1200 22 41
0.3mp 1280 x 960 69 113

As shown in the table above, you can fit a very small number of images on the 16mb memory card - a large memory card is definitely recommended, unless you want to use the lower image sizes / higher compression options in order to fit more pictures in memory. There is a very good choice of image sizes and aspect ratios, and a good choice regarding image compression.

A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 256mb memory card, and preferably a 512mb memory card, or larger, especially considering the relatively low prices - the larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Panasonic Lumix FX9:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 128mb: £9.99, 256mb: £11.74, 512mb: £19.19, 1gb (1000mb): £36.03.
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera is fairly quick to switch on and take photos, being ready in just over one second. Focusing seemed fairly quick even in low-light thanks to the focus-assist lamp. The playback mode is also quick. The camera shutter response seemed quick when pre-focused - and shot to shot time was fairly average, with a delay of 2 - 3 seconds between shot when using flash. The flash recharge time was quite quick. The cameras menu's seemed quick. Continuous shooting is very quick, at roughly 2.5 fps (without flash).

Ease of use: The camera is very easy to use, especially in AUTO mode, or one of the scene modes, even though the camera has a lot of options. The controls on the back of the camera are quite straight forward - the menus are very responsive and easy to read and navigate. The menus are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly. The modes are easy to access, quick and simple, mainly thanks to the right number of dials and buttons on the camera (the options aren't hidden away in menus which makes it easier to use). Most functions can be worked out without having to refer to the manual.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The buttons are fairly easy to use, and they are in a good position. There seem to be the right amount of buttons - and dials allowing easy access to the most commonly used functions and features. The buttons feel okay, although some may find them small. The shutter release is quite decent. The buttons are labelled fairly well. I thought the camera felt good ergonomically, although there is very little in the way of a hand grip. I like the zoom control. The camera feels like a solid, robust and well built camera.

Image Quality: Here are some sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Noise, Outside, Zoom, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Panasonic Lumix FX9 Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower Group photo

Inside: The camera has good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - there is some red-eye in the photo. It has a fairly decent flash (despite its small size), and copes well with group photos, although on AUTO ISO, the ISO setting is often increased, which in turn increases noise to quite a high level and due to noise reduction detail is often lost. The camera did a good job at focusing even in low-light.

Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels, and manual ISO settings (ISO: 80, 100, 200 and 400) - below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops from the image taken at different ISO settings.


ISO Noise Test Photo - Flash on

ISO80 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels

Noise is visible in photos taken at ISO80 and ISO100, at these low ISOs you would normally expect (or hope) there to be no noise, however the noise isn't too bad. Noise is lower than the LX1 - but this appears to be mainly due to much higher noise reduction, this causes detail to be lost, especially when ISO200 or ISO400 photos are taken. It may be best to try and stick with ISO80 or ISO100, and avoid AUTO ISO and the higher ISO settings for best results.

Anti-shake / Optical Image Stabilisation effectiveness: Here are some test photos taken with "Mega Optical Image Stabilisation" on and off - these photos were taken without flash in low light.

Image Stabilisation On Image Stabilisation Off
1/4 second, f2.8, ISO200 1/4 second, f2.8, ISO200

As you can see - image stabilisation is very effective for low-light, slow shutter speed photography allowing blur free photos. Anti-shake is also very effective when used with zoom. (These examples from the Panasonic Lumix LX1)

Outside:

Shops Macro Flower

Outside, the camera had very good colour, with good contrast and saturation. There was good detail although images did seem slightly soft. There seemed to be good dynamic range. Noise seemed quite low, especially on sunny days. I didn't notice jpeg artefacts in the images.

Zoom: The camera has a 3x optical zoom lens, and a 4x digital zoom - I've included examples below to show what the zoom range of the camera is. Using the digital zoom degrades image quality and is best avoided.

Wide-angle 3x Optical zoom Optical and Digital Zoom

Exposure / Metering on the photos of the clock tower seems good, with the dark areas of the photo not too dark, and the bright areas of the photo still visible.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens is almost silent. The shutter is very quiet. There are roughly 17 steps between wide and telephoto giving you very good control on how you frame your subject.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing seemed quite high (slightly higher than average) - especially noticable when the clock tower photos were viewed at full size.

Macro: You can use the flash in macro mode, although this has a tendancy to wash out the picture when the subject is too close. The camera can be roughly as close as 5cm away from the subject from the front of the lens in wide setting, when set to macro mode.

Macro Timex Watch Actual Pixels (ISO100)

The macro mode is good - colour and detail is very good, although noise is visible and removes detail. The camera allows you to get quite close to the subject. Images did seem a bit soft - and benefitted from sharpening. You'll need to be careful when / if using the flash, to ensure the picture is correctly exposed.

Movie: The movie mode on this camera is very good with VGA at 30fps, with sound. The camera also has a 320x240 video mode with sound. The camera did well even in low light. Videos are recorded as .MOV files (requiring Apple Quicktime for playback).

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality is good to very good, the images have very good colour (especially outdoors), with good saturation, contrast and detail - although with higher than average noise. The camera did a good job focusing even in low light thanks to the focus-assist lamp. I did not notice vignetting in photos, nor did I notice barrel or pincushion distortion. There is a very good range of image sizes, thanks to the multiple choices regarding aspect ratio, and a good choice of compression options. The macro mode is good, and provides good detail and colour. Auto white balance and metering seemed to be very good the majority of the time. Red-eye was a problem in some of the photos, and purple fringing was visible in some photos. The movie mode choices are good, providing 640x480 and 30 frames per second with sound. "Mega Optical Image Stabilisation" means more photos should be blur free even when taking photos with zoom or in low-light. The most noticable image quality problem was high noise in most photos, even when low ISO settings were used. When higher ISO settings, ISO200, ISO400, were used automatic noise reduction came into effect and removed a lot of detail.

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is very compact, very stylish with a high quality screen, and fits easily into trouser pockets. The camera feels well built. The camera is easy to use, the menu system is easy to use and there is a very good layout of buttons and controls, with the majority on the outside of the camera (rather than hidden in menus). The camera speed is good, with a good switch on time, good focusing time, good shutter response, good flash recharge time, quick playback mode, quick menus, and very quick continuous shooting.

Value for Money: The Panasonic Lumix FX9 is good to very good value for money for an ultra compact 6 megapixel digital camera. Alternative 6 megapixel digital cameras worth considering include the Fujifilm FinePix F10 with high ISO settings, the ultra compact Pentax Optio S6, and the weatherproof Olympus Mju Digital 600. See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: The Panasonic Lumix FX9 is a very stylish ultra compact digital camera that provides very good 6 megapixel images. The camera improves on the FX7 with a high resolution screen, much better battery life, more megapixels, and much better video mode, yet is available for less that the FX7 was. The camera is very good, with good image quality and very good features. There are only one or two problems that may put you off buying this otherwise excellent camera - they are: high noise and high noise reduction that reduces details, and higher than average purple fringing. However, the positives far outweigh the negatives and I would definitely recommend this digital camera!

Panasonic Lumix DMC FX9 Rating: Recommended
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What I like:

  • Very good image quality
  • Very compact and stylish with a solid metal body (will easily fit in pockets)
  • Built in "Mega Optical Image Stabilisation" allows blur free low-light photos.
  • 2.5" screen is good with a high resolution (207,000 pixels)
  • 16:9 aspect ratio available
  • Fast continuous shooting mode
  • Good detail
  • Good movie mode
  • Good macro mode

What I don't like:

  • High noise (ISO200 and above looses detail)
  • Flash can over-expose images
  • Small memory card
  • Purple fringing slightly higher than average

Remember to have a look at the test photos in the Panasonic Lumix FX9 Sample Photo Gallery.