Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX580 Review
Look and Feel
The DMC-FX580 is an ultra-compact camera made of a mix of metal and plastic. While the design is pleasing, it definitely won't stand out in the crowd. Build quality is decent, though the plastic door over the memory card and battery compartment is very flimsy. I found the camera easy to hold and operate with one hand, and your fingers don't end up resting on anything important. Since this is a touchscreen-based camera, expect lots of fingerprints on that 3-inch LCD.
Images courtesy of Panasonic USA
It would be a travesty to have a camera available in just one color, so Panasonic produces the FX580 in both silver and black. In some countries, there is a gold model available as well.
Now, here's how the FX580 compares to similar cameras in terms of size and weight:
The FX580 is one of the larger cameras in the group, but that doesn't mean it's big -- it'll still fit into your jeans pocket with ease.
Let's start our tour of the camera now, shall we?
The DMC-FX580 features an ultra-wide 5X optical zoom lens that carries the Leica name. This F2.8-5.9 lens has been used in several other Panasonic models of late, including the FX37, FX38, and the FX500, which is the predecessor to the FX580 I'm reviewing here (a mouthful, I know). The focal length of the lens is 4.4 - 22.0 mm, which is equivalent to 25 - 125 mm. For those of you who want to capture interior scenes in their entirety, this lens is a dream come true. As with all compact cameras, it's not threaded, so you won't be able to attach conversion lenses or filters.
Inside the lens is Panasonic's "Mega" optical image stabilization (OIS) system. The OIS system detects the tiny movements of your hands that can blur your photos, especially in low light, or at the telephoto end of the focal range. The camera shifts a lens element to compensate for this motion, which (in theory, at least) will produce a sharp photo. Now, image stabilization won't work miracles -- it can't freeze a moving subject or allow for handheld multi-second exposures -- but it will allow you to use slower shutter speeds than you could otherwise. Want proof? Have a look at these:
Image stabilization off
Image stabilization on
I took each of these photos at a shutter speed of 1/6 second. As you can probably tell, the OIS system works as advertised! You can use image stabilization in movie mode as well, but since you can't turn it off, I can't show you the usual comparison video here.
To the upper-right of the lens is the camera's AF-assist lamp. The FX580 uses this lamp as a focusing aid in low light situations. It also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer.
To the left of that is the FX580's built-in flash. This flash puts up impressive numbers, but a lot of that is due to its wide-angle focal range. The working range is 0.6 - 6.0 m at wide-angle, and 1.0 - 2.8 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). As you might expect, you cannot attach an external flash to the camera.
The main event on the back of the FX580 is its 3-inch, touchscreen LCD display. This screen has 230,000 pixels, like the majority of its peers. The screen could be a bit sharper, but most folks won't mind. I found outdoor visibility to be very good, and in low light situations the screen brightens up nicely, so you can still see what you're trying to take a picture of.
The icons on the LCD in aperture priority mode; the three at the button can be touched
So what can you do with the touchscreen on the DMC-FX580? You can control menus, adjust manual controls, select the area of the frame on which to focus, browse through photos you've taken, and more. For most things, you can use the regular buttons to do these things, as well. You can use your finger, or the included stylus to make selections. I have fairly large hands, and didn't find it necessary to use the stylus.
Touch AF (with auto scene selection)
Image courtesy of Panasonic
While I'll cover the other touchscreen features throughout this review, I want to mention Touch AE/AF right now. When this feature is turned on, you simply touch your finger on the object in the frame on which you want the camera to focus. If you're in Intelligent Auto mode, the camera will select a scene mode based on whatever you touched. Regardless of the shooting mode, the camera automatically turns on AF Tracking, so if your subject moves, it'll follow them.
As you can probably tell, there's no optical viewfinder on the FX580. In fact, there aren't any compact cameras with a 3-inch screen that have one.
Now let's go over the physical buttons on the back of the camera. At the top is the switch that moves the camera between record and playback mode. Underneath that is the Mode button, which brings up the screen below:
Yes, it's a virtual mode dial of sorts, and you can select an item with your finger or the four-way controller. The options here include:
There's plenty to talk about before we can continue the tour! First I want to mention the point-and-shoot modes on the FX580. The Intelligent Auto mode does just about everything imaginable. It detects faces, tracks motion, reduces blur, brightens shadows, and even picks a scene mode for you.
Want to pick your own scene mode? There are plenty to choose from, so here are the most notable of the available scenes:
- Transform - makes people thinner or wider (oh brother)
- Panorama Assist - helps you line up photos side-by-side for later stitching into a single image
- Baby - stores the name and age of up to two children, and saves that info in the photo metadata
- Pet - same as above
- High sensitivity - cuts the resolution to 3MP and raises the ISO to 1600 - 6400; best to avoid this
- Hi-speed burst - takes anywhere from 15 to 100 photos at either 6 or 10 frames/second; resolution is lowered to 3MP or less and ISO sensitivity is increased
- Flash burst - take up to 5 flash photos in a row; resolution is lowered and ISO is boosted as high as 3200
- Starry sky - allows you to take 15, 30, or 60 second exposures
- Pin hole, film grain - Panasonic's version of Olympus' art filters
The slider on the bottom adjusts the speed speed, while the one on the right is for the aperture
One of the nicest features on the DMC-FX580 is its full manual exposure controls. These are adjusted using the touchscreen interface only, and it works fairly well. The camera puts one or two sliders (depending on the shooting mode) on the right and bottom of the screen, and you simply drag your finger to change settings.
Alright, back to the tour now. Under that Mode button is the Display button, which toggles the information shown on the LCD. Under that is the four-way controller, used for menu navigation, image playback, and adjusting most (but not all) of the settings found in the touchscreen interface. The four-way controller also lets you adjust the following:
- Up - Exposure compensation + Auto bracketing + flash exposure compensation + color bracket
- Down - Macro (Off, AF macro, macro zoom)
- Left - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 secs)
- Right - Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, slow sync w/redeye reduction, flash off)
- Center - Menu + Set
Adjusting exposure compensation is a bit of a challenge since the touchable area is small -- at least you can use the four way controller
You can adjust each of those items using either the four-way controller or the touchscreen (though my big fingers had a bit of trouble with some of these options). For both exposure and flash exposure compensation, the range is -2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments. Auto bracketing takes three shots in a row, each with a different exposure value. The interval between each shot can be 1/3EV, 2/3EV, or 1EV. Color bracketing also takes three photos: one in color, one in black & white, and the third with a sepia tone.
There's just one more thing to talk about on the back of the FX580, and it's the Quick Menu + Delete photo button. Press this in record mode and you'll get the Quick Menu, which is a shortcut menu of sorts. Panasonic had to make everything big enough for the touchscreen interface, so the menu is more cluttered than on Panasonic's more conventional cameras. Here are the options in the Quick Menu:
- Burst mode
- AF mode
- White balance
- Intelligent ISO
- ISO sensitivity
- Intelligent exposure
- Image size
- LCD mode
I'll explain all of those in more detail later in the review.
And that's all for the back of the DMC-FX580!
On the top of the FX580 you'll find its speaker, followed by the microphone. Continuing to the right we find the power switch, shutter release button, and zoom controller. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in a rather sluggish 2.6 seconds. I counted at least eighteen steps in the camera's 5X zoom range.
That last button is for the Easy Zoom feature. Press this once and the lens moves to the full telephoto position. Press it again and the camera drops the resolution to 3 Megapixel or less (depending on the aspect ratio) and uses the extended optical zoom feature to give you more zoom power. For example, at the standard 4:3 aspect ratio, you'll have 9.8X total zoom power. If you have regular (lossy) digital zoom turned on, pressing the E. Zoom button a third time will give you an additional 4X of zoom power (at the expense of image quality). Pressing the button a final time returns the lens to the wide-angle position.
Nothing to see on this side of the camera.
On the opposite side, you'll find the camera's I/O ports, which are under a plastic cover of average quality. The ports here are for component video (cable not included) and USB + A/V output (cables included).
The lens is at the full telephoto position.
On the bottom of the FX580 you'll find its metal tripod mount and the battery/memory card compartment. The plastic door (with locking mechanism) is quite flimsy, so be careful. You may be able to get at the memory card slot while the camera is on a tripod -- it really depends on your setup (it worked for me).
The included DMW-BCF10 lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.