Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500 Digital Camera Review
By Sandy Berger on October 27, 2008
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500 is a 10.1-megapixel point-and-shoot camera that has plenty of features in its arsenal. When we saw the Leica 5x zoom lens with a 25mm wide angle focal length and the large 3” touch sensitive screen, we were happy to investigate further.
As shown in Figure 1, this Lumix ships with everything you need for basic operations including the battery, battery charger, AV cable, USB cable, strap, software CD, manual, and mini-stylus. Good to note is that the USB connector is a MicroUSB rather than a MiniUSB. While more and more cameras are shipping with this interface, it is not yet terribly common. So be sure you don’t misplace the cables.
Like most other cameras of this type, there is no memory card included. However, you can get going by storing your first pictures on the 27 MB of built-in memory. The camera takes SD (Secure Digital), SDHC (High Speed Secure Digital), or MMC (Multi Media Card) memory cards. Panasonic recommends, and we concur, that using a newer SDHC card will give the best results. Movies cannot be recorded to the MMC cards.
Measuring 2.25'' x 3.74'' x 0.90'' (57x95x23 mm) and weighing in at 0.3417 lbs (155 grams) this Lumix is not the slimmest camera on the market. Nor is it the lightest. Yet it fits easily in a shirt pocket and its weight gives it stability in your hand. It comes your choice of black or silver. The silver brushed metal model that we reviewed has a nice look, an excellent build quality, and a good solid feel. As shown in Figure 2, the front of the camera sports a small vertical bar that is used as a hand grip. Although diminutive in size, this gives you an adequate area to position your index finger to take the picture.
The top of the Lumix, shown in Figure 3, sports the power on/off control, the shutter release and the zoom ring. You will immediately notice that the power control is a switch rather than a button, making it easier to control and eliminating inadvertent powering up of the camera.
Below the Display button is a joystick type of dial, which is really the main control of the camera. The joystick responds to upward, downward, left and right movements as well as a center press. Although this dial is quite small, it is quite responsive. Yet larger hands may have some difficulty using it. After using this dial for awhile, we found that we could control it fairly well, but we wished that it were a bit larger.
The last control is a small button marked “Q Menu,” which give you menu choices appropriate for the Record mode that you are shooting in. The Q Menu is used to turn on and off options like the Image Stabilization, Burst Shooting, Autofocus Mode, White Balance, Intelligent ISO, Intelligent Exposure, Picture Size, and LCD Mode. Since the Q Menu brings up the most often used functionality while shooting, it is nicely placed at the bottom where you can access it without looking.
As shown in Figure 5, the side of the camera has a small door that opens to reveal (from left to right), the DC input, a combined USB and TV output, and a port for the component HD output. The DC input and HD output cables must be purchased separately. The sturdiness of the door speaks to the quality of the whole camera build. Instead of the flimsy rubber port coverings used in some cameras, this Lumix has a fully constructed metal-clad door with a plastic insert for the port labels. The door is securely hinged to the case.
The bottom of the camera sports the tripod mount and one compartment that holds both the battery and the SD memory card. The tripod mount placement allow you to change the battery and/or memory card without disconnecting the tripod.
At a 3” diagonal size, the screen is larger than most point-and-shoot cameras of this size. The size of the screen allows menu items and choices to be larger, which is beneficial to all, and will be especially welcome to those who struggle with aging eyes or vision problems.
This Lumix has a lot of real estate dedicated to the 3” LCD screen, so it is only fitting that Panasonic made the screen sensitive to the touch so that it could be used to control some of the camera’s functionality. The screen is bright and clear even in direct sunlight and it responds well to touch.
We were happy to see that Panasonic created a good balance between the controls and the touch screen. The touch screen can be used in many circumstances, but you don’t have to rely on it. You can also use the buttons for most choices. After you use the camera for a while, you settle into using a convenient combination of the touch screen along with the buttons.
For example, use the switch to put the camera in playback mode. Then press the Mode button. As shown in Figure 7, you are then presented with the playback mode choices and you use the touch screen for your selection. If you choose Slideshow, you can choose the pictures to put in the slideshow as well as several effects and several music choices. If you want to impress someone while the pictures are still in the camera, the large LCD screen presents a nice slideshow complete with music and transitions. You can also use the touch screen to trim and resize the photos as well as add titles with an onscreen keyboard.
In the Playback mode you can scroll through the pictures that you’ve taken by using the on-screen arrows. Those of us who have been jaded by the touch screen on the iPhone will find this method inferior to the gestures of the iPhone touch screen where you can simply drag your finger across to screen to scroll. Yet, this method is quite workable.
In the Record mode you can also tap the picture anywhere and the autofocus and autoexposure systems will focus on the area you tapped. The aperture and shutter speeds can also be adjusted using on-screen sliders (shown in Figure 8).
You can also overlay graphics on the screen. For instance, you can bring up a grid overlay or a live histogram.
The LCD screen has several brightness adjustments which are welcome because there is no optical viewfinder in this camera.
As shown in Figure 9, the Lumix also comes with a small plastic key-type stylus that can be used to make choices on the touch screen. Some may prefer that over using a finger, but we found the screen large enough and responsive enough that we seldom used the stylus.
This feature-laden camera has lots of hidden talents. The 10-megapixel resolution provides room for cropping and has enough resolution for large print sizes. The Leica 5x zoom lens provides more quality zooming than most cameras of this size so you can zoom in to get the picture you want. Add that to the 25mm wide-angle capabilities of the lens which is especially good for landscapes and large group pictures, and you’ve got a good all-around camera.
The CCD image sensor has a 4:3 aspect ratio and the camera also provides a true optical image stabilization. There is a burst mode that lets you shoot quick frames. You can perform in-camera cropping. The camera has red-eye correction and built-in face detection. The camera is PictBridge compliant so if you own a PictBridge compliant printer, you can print directly to the printer without a using a computer.
The beauty of this camera is that you can manually adjust all the controls, or you can let the camera do it for you. As with other cameras of this type there are several scene modes that will adjust the camera settings for you. The scene modes include Portrait, Soft Skin, Scenery, Sports, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Self-Portrait, Food, Party, Candle Light, Fireworks, Starry Sky, Beach, Aerial Photo, Snow, High Sensitivity, Baby 1, Baby 2,, Sunset, Pet, and Hi-Speed Burst.
There is also an Intelligent Auto scene mode that automatically determines the scene you're shooting and optimizes the camera settings accordingly. In our testing, the Intelligent Auto scene mode worked quite well in most situations, but in low light the scene modes gave better results. We found that the camera had a somewhat weak flash. However, when properly adjusted, the camera was better than most of its competitors in low light situations. One thing to note is that the Intelligent Auto feature can be slow to determine the setting making it useful only in situations where you have plenty of time to frame the picture.
The Lumix 500 comes with a lithium-ion battery pack that is rated as good for 280 photos on a charge. The camera also has a date/time stamp.
Another standout for this camera is that in movie mode it can take HD movies. The HD mode records 720p video with a 1280x720 pixel frame at either 10 or 30 fps. You can also change the aspect ratio. The movies look okay on the camera screen, but it you connect the camera to a HDTV, they are surprisingly good. You can use the camera with both NTSC/PAL standard definition and component high definition video. You cannot zoom in the movie mode.
If you hook the camera up to a television, you can also display the in-camera slide shows of photos which are easy to create and quite good.
Image quality of the Lumix FX500 is good. As with most cameras of this type, noise starts to creep in at 200 ISO and above. We doubt that this can be rectified unless the manufacturers are able to build larger sensors into these cameras, which is a big challenge given their shirt-pocket size.
The camera reproduced colors very well and pictures were on the par with other camera of this type. As we noted earlier, the scene modes and Intelligent Auto mode produced nice pictures. And given the ability to manually adjust all the settings, we found that you could easily control your pictures.
Like most other cameras of this type all picture are taken in the JPEG format. The software that comes with the camera includes PhotofunStudio -viewer-, ArcSoft MediaImpression, ArcSoft Panorama Maker, QuickTime, Adobe Reader and the USB Driver.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500 main features are:
* Researched at http://www.shopping.com on the day we published this review.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500 has a wealth of compelling features, including the 5x zoom, the wide angle lens and the HD movie mode. The good color representation and these features make it a good all around camera. The combination of the touch screen and the physical controls make the camera intuitive and easy to use. The Q Menu button is good to bring up the most used functions making it easy to change things like the ISO and the number of megapixels for the photo.
Perfectionists or those who like to zoom into their pictures may be disappointed by the amount of noise at higher ISO settings, but this probably won’t disturb the average point-and-shoot photographer.