Originally Posted: September 5, 2009
Last Updated: September 14, 2009
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX580 ($399) may look like Just Another Ultra-Compact Camera, but it has two features that most cameras in its class do not. The first is a 3-inch touchscreen LCD display. While many camera manufacturers have touchscreen cameras, the FX580 is somewhat unique in that it doesn't force you to use the touchscreen for everything -- there are "regular" controls too. This, in my opinion, is a big plus. Naturally, you can do the usual touchscreen things too, such as Touch AE/AF and photo browsing with your finger.
But the touchscreen isn't the main reason why I chose to review the DMC-FX580. What really makes this camera stand out from the ultra-compact crowd is that it has full manual controls. I don't know who decided that ultra-compacts can't have manual controls, but kudos to Panasonic for finally breaking the mold.
Other features on the Lumix FX580 include a 5X, 25 - 125 mm zoom lens, optical image stabilization, an Intelligent Auto mode that does just about everything for you, and an HD Movie mode.
Sound appealing? Keep on reading -- our review starts right now!
The Lumix DMC-FX580 is known as the DMC-FX550 in some countries.
What's in the Box?
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX580 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 12.1 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-FX580 camera
- DMW-BCF10 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
- Battery charger
- Wrist strap
- Stylus pen
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring PhotoFunStudio 3.0, ArcSoft Media Impression and Panorama Maker
- 143 page camera manual (printed)
Like most manufacturers, Panasonic has built memory right into the DMC-FX580. It has 40MB of built in memory, which holds just 6 photos at the highest quality setting. That means that you'll want to buy a decent-sized memory card right away. The FX580 supports SD, SDHC, and MMC cards, though I'd recommend sticking with the first two. I would suggest picking up a 2GB or 4GB card for use with the camera, and it's worth spending a little extra for a high speed model, though there's no need to go overboard.
The FX580 uses the DMW-BCF10 lithium-ion battery for power. This compact battery packs 3.4 Wh into its plastic shell, which is typical for a camera in this class. Let's see how that translates into battery life:
The DMC-FX580 comes in second place here, no thanks to the impressive numbers put up by the Casio Exilim EX-Z450. In the group as a whole, the FX580's numbers are well above average.
There are a couple of issues to mention about the proprietary batteries used by the FX580, and all the cameras on the above list. First, they're pricey, with a spare FX580 setting you back at least $38. Also, you cannot use an off-the-shelf battery in emergencies, as you could with an AA-based camera. One issue specific to the FX580 is that it requires the use of Panasonic batteries -- third party models will not work!
When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the included charger. It takes about 130 minutes to fully charge the battery. This is my favorite type of charger, too -- it plugs directly into the power outlet.
As with all ultra-compact cameras, the FX580 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no lens cap to deal with.
There are just a couple of accessories available for the Lumix DMC-FX580. They include:
And that's about it! Let's talk about the FX580's software bundle now.
PhotoFunStudio 3.0 in Windows
Panasonic includes a couple of software products with the Lumix DMC-FX580. First up is PhotoFunStudio 3.0, which is for Windows only. After you've imported photos from the camera or a memory card, you'll end up with the standard thumbnail view you can see above. From here you can view a slideshow, e-mail or print a photo, and upload videos to YouTube. You can also use a new "face recognition" feature that lets you identify people in your photos, which allows for easy searches later on. Speaking of searches, PhotoFunStudio lets you search through photos by all kinds of things, whether it's by camera model, scene mode, baby name, date, and more.
Editing photos in PhotoFunStudio
Choose the "retouch" option from the toolbar and you'll get the editing window you see above. Here you can adjust things like brightness, contrast, color, and sharpness. Images can be changed to sepia, black and white, or "negative color", and redeye can be removed with the click of your mouse. There's also an auto enhancement feature, for those who want to keep things simple.
ArcSoft MediaImpression in Mac OS X
Another option for basic image editing is ArcSoft MediaImpression software, which is for both Mac and Windows. MediaImpression can be used to import photos from the camera, with the unique option of removing redeye during import. The main screen looks just like every other image browser, though you'll get to the fun stuff when you go to the edit screen.
Editing photos in MediaImpression
Here you can see the edit screen in MediaImpression, where you can adjust brightness, contrast, saturation, hue, sharpness, and color balance. You can also remove redeye, straighten photos, blur backgrounds, and touch up blemishes.
ArcSoft Panorama Maker in Mac OS X
Another piece of the ArcSoft suite is Panorama Maker, which helps you combine photos that you've taken side-by-side into a single panorama. It's easy to use, and the results can be really impressive.
The manual that comes with the DMC-FX580 is very much average. It's like a manual from any big consumer electronics company: confusing and cluttered, with lots of fine print. You'll find the answer you're looking for -- you'll just have to work harder than you should. Documentation for the included software is installed onto your computer.
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.
Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX580
The Lumix DMC-FX580 has one of the slowest startup times I've seen on an ultra-compact camera in some time. It takes the camera nearly three seconds to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. Why, I do not know.
A live histogram is available
Focus speeds were good, though not quite as fast as some other Panasonic models. For the best performance you'll want to turn on the 1-area high speed AF mode, and you can also turn on Quick (continuous) AF to reduce delays, as well. In the best case scenarios (wide-angle, good lighting, the FX580 locked focus in 0.2 - 0.5 seconds. Telephoto focus times ranged from 0.6 - 0.9 seconds, rarely breaking the full second mark. The FX580 struggled to focus in low light -- oh, and watch your fingers, as it's not that hard to block the AF-assist lamp.
Shutter lag wasn't noticeable at fast shutter speeds, and could be measured in fractions of a second at slower speeds.
Shot-to-shot speeds range from just under 2 seconds when you're not using the flash, and closer to 3 seconds with it.
There is no quick way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you'll have to enter playback mode to do that.
Now let's take a look at the image size and quality options on the FX580. Since there are three different aspect ratios available, it's a pretty lengthy list.
That's a pretty long list! I should add that the camera maintains the same focal range, regardless of the aspect ratio used.
I touched on the extended optical zoom feature earlier, but here's a recap. As you lower the resolution, you are able to use digital zoom without reducing the overall quality of the image. For example, if you drop to 3 Megapixel (still enough for a nice 4 x 6 inch print), you'll have 9.8X of total zoom power.
The DMC-FX580 does not support the RAW image format, nor would I expect it to.
The FX580 uses the standard Panasonic menu system. It's attractive, easy-to-navigate, and accessible only via the four-way controller. Keeping in mind that not all of these options will be available in each shooting mode, here's the full list of menu options:
- Picture size (see above chart)
- Quality (see above chart)
- Aspect ratio (4:3, 3:2, 16:9)
- Intelligent ISO (on/off) - see below
- ISO sensitivity (Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600)
- White balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, shade, incandescent, custom, color temperature) - see below
- Metering mode (Multiple, center-weighted, spot)
- Intelligent Exposure (Off, low, normal, high) - see below
- AF mode (Face detection, 11-area, 1-area high speed, 1-area, spot) - see below
- Quick AF (on/off) - continuous autofocus reduces focus times at the expense of battery life
- Face recognition (Off, on, set) - see below
- Burst (Off, normal, unlimited) - see below
- Digital zoom (on/off) - it's best to keep this off, since it degrades image quality
- Color mode (Off, black & white, sepia, cool, warm)
- Picture adjust
- Contrast (-2 to +2)
- Sharpness (-2 to +2)
- Saturation (-2 to +2)
- Noise reduction (-2 to +2)
- Stabilizer (Off, auto, mode 1, mode 2) - see below
- Minimum shutter speed (1/250 - 1 sec) - slowest shutter speed the camera will use in auto mode
- Audio rec (on/off) - add a 5 second audio clip to each photo
- AF-assist lamp (on/off)
- Clock set
There are a load of things to talk about before we can continue. Let's start with the Intelligent ISO feature. When this is turned on and the ISO sensitivity is set to Auto, the camera with analyze the movement in the scene. If there's little or no movement, it won't boost the ISO very much. However, if there is motion, you'll need a faster shutter speed to freeze the subject, so the ISO will get a bigger increase.
|Fine-tuning white balance||Setting the color temperature, complete with thermometer|
The FX580 has white balance controls normally reserved for digital SLRs. You've got presets, a custom mode (where you can use a white or gray card), and even the ability to set white balance by color temperature. If that's still not enough, you can even fine-tune your selected white balance setting. About the only thing missing here is white balance bracketing and (strangely) a fluorescent preset.
The Intelligent Exposure feature reduces the amount of contrast between your subject and the background. Thus, if the scene is heavily backlit, it'll brighten the shadows for you. This feature works as-needed in Intelligent Auto mode, and you have three levels of it in other shooting modes. Let's see if it does any good:
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
You can see quite a difference just going from having Intelligent Exposure turned off to the "low" setting. The trees, plants, and leaves suddenly come alive. I don't see a real reason to go above standard, as the "high" setting over does it a bit, at least for this particular scene. This feature doesn't appear to do much for improving highlight detail.
|The camera detected five of the six faces||The FX580 can recognize a face and give them focus priority|
Now let's talk about focus modes and face detection. There are several focus modes on the FX580, including multi-point, single-point (high speed and regular), and face detection. The difference between the two single-point modes is that the image on the LCD will freeze briefly while the camera is focusing -- it is noticeably faster, though. Panasonic's face recognition system can find up to fifteen faces in the frame, and make sure they're properly focused and exposed. The face recognition feature goes one step further. It can learn a face, attach a name and an age to it, and then give that person focus priority whenever they appear. For example, if you want your child to always be the one in focus, just register their face, and that's just what the camera can do. If you've got multiple faces registered, you can set the priority for each person (which may mean that you have to choose a favorite child). The camera will track whichever face is given #1 priority as they move around the frame.
There are two burst modes on the DMC-FX580: regular and unlimited. In regular mode, the camera took three photos in a row at 2.5 frames/second. That's with the JPEG quality set to fine -- you can take five photos at the normal quality setting. In unlimited mode, the camera will keep on shooting at 1.3 fps (fine quality) or 1.8 fps (normal quality) until your memory card fills up. The LCD lags a bit behind the action, though you should still be able to track a moving subject.
The last item in the record menu that I wish to cover is the image stabilizer option. Mode 1 activates the IS system as soon as you halfway-press the shutter release button. Mode 2 doesn't do that until the photo is actually taken, which results in better shake reduction. Auto mode switches between the two based on the conditions. Lastly, you can turn the whole thing off, which is a good idea if you're using a tripod.
Now let's take a look at the various items in the setup menu:
- Clock set
- World time (Home, destination)
- Travel date - saves the destination and number of days into your trip that a photo was taken
- Travel setup - set departure and return dates for your trip
- Location - enter the name of your destination
- Beep level (Off, low, high)
- Beep tone (1, 2, 3)
- Shutter volume (Off, low, high)
- Shutter tone (1, 2, 3)
- Volume (0 - 6)
- Monitor brightness (-3 to +3)
- LCD mode (Off, Auto Power LCD, Power LCD) - the last item cranks the screen brightness up all the way, while the "auto" mode does it as needed
- Display size (Standard, large) - increase the font size in menus
- Guide line
- Rec info (on/off) - display recording info when showing guide lines
- Pattern (Rule of thirds, complex)
- Histogram (on/off) - whether this is shown in record mode
- Highlight (on/off) - whether highlight clipping is shown when reviewing photos
- Power save (Off, 2, 5, 10 mins)
- Auto LCD off (Off, 15, 30 secs)
- Auto review (Off, 1, 2 secs, hold, zoom) - post-shot review; the last option enlarges the image by a factor of four
- File number reset (yes, no)
- Reset - back to default settings
- USB mode (Select on connection, PictBridge/PTP, PC)
- TV aspect (16:9, 4:3)
- Touch guide (on/off) - whether the camera shows a help screen when using Touch AE/AF or Touch Zoom
- Version display
- Format memory
- Calibration - in case your touchscreen goes wonky
- Demo mode - I guess this is for retail stores
Alright, since everything there should be self-explanatory, let's move into the photo tests!
The DMC-FX580 did a good (but not great) job with our macro test subject. Colors are pretty accurate, with just a slight brownish cast. If you really wanted to get things perfect, you could use the camera's WB fine-tuning feature. While the subject is fairly sharp at the center, it gets soft near the top and bottom. The image does have a somewhat noisy appearance, though you'll really only notice this viewing the original image on your computer screen.
There are two macro modes on the DMC-FX580, though I'd only use the "regular" one. In this mode, the minimum focus distance is 5 cm at wide-angle, and a lengthy 1 m at telephoto. The other macro mode is called "macro zoom", and it locks the lens at wide-angle, and lets you use up to 3X worth of digital zoom to get closer. Since this reduces image quality, I'd pass on it.
I wasn't thrilled with the FX580's night scene performance. Exposure was never quite right -- the photo was either too bright or too dark (I'm presenting the former). Even with my white balance setting of choice, the photo still has a noticeable color cast. While the buildings themselves are fairly sharp, it's not hard to notice both noise and noise reduction at work here, eating at fine details. One thing you won't find here is purple fringing, as the camera's Venus Engine V processor removes it automatically.
Now, let's see how the camera performs in low light situations at higher ISOs. I took the same night scene you see above at ISO 80 - 800, and here are the results:
Noise is a bit more visible at ISO 100 than it is at ISO 80. Details start to disappear even more at ISO 200, which is as high as I'd take the FX580 in very low light conditions such as these. There's very little detail left at ISO 400, and ISO 800 is a real mess.
We'll see if the FX580 fares better in normal lighting in a moment.
The DMC-FX580 uses both a preflash and software to keep redeye out of your photos. The results in our flash test were mixed -- there was clearly redeye present in the original photo, but the digital removal system was unable to get rid of it all. You may also notice that this image is fairly noisy -- the camera has to boost the ISO sensitivity to properly lighten our subject, who was about 7 feet away.
Considering how wide it is, there's not a lot of barrel distortion at the 25 mm end of the DMC-FX580's lens. I think the explanation for this is some in-camera distortion correction that is applied to photos as you take them. The distortion chart also shows a bit of vignetting (dark corners), and I saw a tiny bit of it in a few of my real world photos, as well. I also noticed some blurring in the corners, as well -- something that's quite common on ultra-compact cameras like this.
Now it's time for the second of the two ISO tests in this review. Since this test is taken under consistent lighting, you can compare these photos with other cameras I've reviewed over the years. With the usual reminder to look at the full size images in addition to the crops, let's take a look at how the FX580 performed at high ISOs:
You can see a bit of noise at the base ISO of 80, especially in the shadows. This noise increases at ISO 100 and 200, but it won't keep you from making a large print. Noise reduction really gets going at ISO 400, eating away at low contrast detail. This sensitivity is best for smaller prints. At ISO 800 we get quite a bit of noise and a slight change in color saturation, so I'd save this setting for desperation only. As you can see, it's not worth bothering to use ISO 1600.
I have to admit that I'm a little disappointed with how the Lumix DMC-FX580's photo quality turned out. It's not horrible by any means, but it's not as good as what I've come to expect from Panasonic these days. Here's why. The FX580 tends to overexpose a bit, and it really likes to clip highlights. Sometimes color looked just right, while other times it seemed a little too flat. Photos are soft, with fine and low contrast details appearing to be smudged. This is probably due to the heavy noise reduction being applied to the photos -- though at least that setting is adjustable. You'll find regular noise in the shadow areas of your photos, even at the base ISO. One thing that's fairly well-controlled is purple fringing. You may see it once in a while, but for the most part, it's not a problem.
Don't just take my word for it, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, perhaps printing a few of the pictures if you'd like, and then decide if the DMC-FX580's image quality meets your needs.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX580 features a high definition movie mode that uses the Motion JPEG codec. You can keep recording at 1280 x 720 (30 fps) with sound until you hit the 2GB file size limit, which takes roughly 8 minutes. You can, of course, have multiple 2GB movies if you have a large memory card.
Three other resolutions are also available, all of which record at 30 frames/second. If you want to stick with widescreen, there's 848 x 480, which has a recording time limit of over 20 minutes. Dropping down to VGA (640 x 480) only gives you another minute or two. For maximum recording time (and the smallest file sizes), there's a 320 x 240 resolution, which allows for over an hour of continuous video per clip. Do note that if you live in Europe, your FX580 will be limited to 15 minutes of video per clip.
As is usually the case, you cannot use the optical zoom lens once recording starts. The digital zoom is available, though the video quality may be reduced if you use it. The image stabilization is available -- in fact, you can't turn it off.
Something else to note is that the wide end of the lens isn't 25 mm when you're recording movies. Panasonic doesn't say what it becomes, but it looks like it's closer to 30 mm.
Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the 1280 x 720 (720p) setting. The FX580's movies are on the grainy side straight out of the camera, so don't expect Blu-ray quality here. Anyhow, I've got the huge 75MB version for you, or a recompressed one that'll download a whole lot faster. Here you go:
The DMC-FX580 has many of the same playback features as other ultra-compact cameras, but they take a different approach to how you get to them. The playback menu has just five items: title edit (you can print a title on your photos), whether portrait photos are automatically rotated, DPOF print marking, voice captions, and internal memory -> memory card copying.
The zoom and scroll feature is here too, and it takes advantage of the touchscreen interface. To activate this "touch zoom" feature you must first press the icon on the lower-right of the LCD that looks like a hand and a magnifying glass. Once that's done you just touch where in the image you want to enlarge, and it'll do so by 2X, 4X, 8X, or 16X. You can move around in the image by dragging or by using the arrows you see above-right.
|Scrolling through photos with your finger||Mega thumbnail view|
The camera can numerous ways to view photos, as well. If you're just going one-by-one, you can use the four-way controller to move through them, or drag your finger across the screen. There are also various thumbnail screens available, and you can touch one of those tiny images to jump to the full size version (which is a challenge for those of us with large fingers).
But, wait, there's more. From this screen you get even more ways of looking at your photos. Normal play is your everyday one photo at a time view, while multi playback is the thumbnail view I just showed you. The slideshow option features music and transitions, and you can have the camera only playback photos that are favorites or in certain categories.
|Category play||Calendar view|
The category play option lets you filter photos by, well, their category. These categories are automatically set by the camera depending on the scene mode used to take the photo or video. The calendar view should look familiar to users of other Panasonic cameras. Here you can quickly jump to photos taken on a specific date.
The dual play option lets you view two photos at the same time, one on top of the other. This feature would've been more useful had Panasonic let you zoom into both photos at the same time, for a close-up comparison.
|Easy organization mode||Editing tools|
Perhaps the most unique, touch-friendly part of the FX580's playback mode involves the Easy Organization display. Here you get a kind of lightbox view of your photos, which you can easily navigate with your finger. You can quickly tag photos as favorites, delete them, or edit then. Above-right you can see the editing tools available: resizing, trimming (cropping), leveling, text stamps (which can include all kinds of information, from date/time to baby names), and image protection.
The leveling tool is a handy one, and perfect for people like me who can't seem to get a straight horizon if their life depended on it.
One thing missing here: any kind of video editing tool.
The FX580 shows you some information about your photos, though a histogram isn't one of them. The camera moves through photos quickly, with a delay of just of a fraction of a second between each one.
How Does it Compare?
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX580 is a well-designed ultra-compact camera with an ultra-wide lens, large touchscreen LCD display, full manual controls (!), and an HD movie mode. Unfortunately, it disappoints in terms of photo and video quality, and it can be sluggish at times, as well. Panasonic clearly spent a lot of time making the touchscreen interface usable, but they need to improve the image quality before I can give the FX580 an enthusiastic recommendation. The FX580 is best for people who value manual controls over image quality -- if you can live without the former, then I think you'll do better with another camera.
The Lumix DMC-FX580 is an ultra-compact camera made of a mix of metal and plastic. Build quality is decent, with the weak spot being the flimsy plastic door over the memory card and battery compartment. The camera, which comes in silver and black, is easy to hold and operate with one hand. The FX580 features a 5X, 25 - 125 mm Leica lens, which will thrill wide-angle lovers. It also has Panasonic's reliable optical image stabilization system, usable for both still and video recording.
On the back of the camera is a 3-inch touchscreen LCD display with 230,000 pixels. I found the screen to have very good visibility, whether you're outdoors or in low light. Panasonic has done a great job with the touchscreen interface on the FX580. For the most part, the "touch buttons" are large enough so you actually press what you intended to. There are a few situations where things are a little tight, but overall, I was impressed. When shooting, you can touch the subject you want to focus on, and they'll be tracked as they move around. In playback mode you can use the screen to zoom into images, quickly tag or delete photos, or just scroll through them with a swipe of your finger. Thankfully, Panasonic doesn't require you to use the touchscreen for everything -- the adjacent four-way controller can handle nearly all of the camera's functions, too.
The FX580 has a really impressive feature set for an ultra-compact camera. For the point-and-shoot crowd, it has Panasonic's "famous" Intelligent Auto mode, which does just about everything imaginable. That includes detecting, recognizing, and tracking faces, reducing blur through both image stabilization and ISO boost, brightening shadows, and even selecting a scene mode for you. It works seamlessly, and quite well. What really drew me to the FX580 wasn't that, though -- it's the full suite of manual controls. You rarely see an ultra-compact camera with anything beyond a custom white balance setting, but the FX580 does a lot more than just that. You can control the aperture and shutter speed, fine-tune white balance, or even adjust WB by color temperature. The camera has a full featured (and touch-friendly) playback mode, with numerous ways of browsing through your photos. It also has an HD movie mode, though the 8 minute recording time limit, giant file sizes, and disappointing video quality won't earn it much acclaim, at least from me.
Camera performance was mixed. The DMC-FX580 is one of the slowest cameras to start up that I've seen in ages, taking nearly 3 seconds. I also noticed that the lens takes quite a while to move through the 5X zoom range. Focus times are average or perhaps a bit better, though the FX580 performs very poorly in low light (which is unusual for a Panasonic camera). Shutter lag was minimal, and shot-to-shot delays were brief. The FX580's continuous shooting mode won't let you take more than 3 or 5 photos at the high speed setting, but if you drop down to "unlimited" mode, you can keep shooting at 1.3 - 1.8 fps (depending on the image quality setting) until your memory card fills up. There are faster continuous modes available, but they involve lowering the resolution considerably and boosting the ISO sensitivity. The DMC-FX580's battery life is well above average for its class.
Panasonic has done a lot to improve the photo quality on their cameras, so naturally I was disappointed with the results I got from the DMC-FX580. The camera tends to slightly overexpose (which is easy to compensate for, if you know what I mean), and it clips highlights quite a bit. Color was a mixed bag: sometimes things were nice and vivid, other times they were drab, and in unusual lighting conditions there was often a yellow or brownish cast. Images have the soft and fuzzy appearance that comes from heavy noise reduction, with noticeable detail loss in fine and low contrast detail. You'll also notice some more conventional noise in shadow areas of your photos. Same goes for videos, actually: they were surprisingly grainy. If the ISO goes up, expect image quality to go downhill fairly quickly. There was some redeye in my test photos, and there's no way to remove it in playback mode. I also noticed that my flash shots were quite noisy, probably because the camera has to boost the ISO quite a bit in order to get a proper exposure. One thing that was not a problem most of the time was purple fringing, which is removed automatically by the Venus V image processor.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX580 was a camera that I really wanted to love. Not for its touchscreen interface (though Panasonic did a good job with that), but for its manual controls. Unfortunately, things didn't work out between us: the FX580's mediocre image and video quality, sluggish performance (in some areas), and poor low light focusing are leading us to part ways. The FX580 is worth considering if you really want the manual controls and don't plan on making too many large prints. If you're more of a point-of-shoot person, then I'd recommend looking at something else -- Panasonic makes plenty of other cameras which do a lot better than the FX580.
What I liked:
- 5X optical zoom lens with wide 25 - 125 mm range
- Optical image stabilization
- Ultra-compact body, comes in silver and black
- Large, 3-inch touchscreen LCD with good outdoor and low light visibility
- Well designed touchscreen UI (most of the time); nearly all functions can be controlled by the four-way controller, as well
- Full manual controls (yay!)
- Intelligent Auto mode picks a scene for you, detects (and recognizes) faces, tracks a moving subject, reduces blur, and brightens shadows, all automatically
- HD movie mode records at 720p
- Elaborate, touch-friendly playback mode
- Above average battery life
What I didn't care for:
- Noisy images, even at lowest ISO; noise reduction eats away at fine and low contrast detail
- Camera tends to overexpose, and frequently clips highlights
- Poor low light focusing
- Color cast in unusual lighting
- Slow startup and zoom speeds
- Videos tend to be grainy; limited recording time
- Some redeye
- No optical viewfinder
- Flimsy door over memory card/battery compartment
- Documentation could be better
The only other touchscreen cameras like the FX580 include the Canon PowerShot SD980 IS, GE E1250TW, Nikon Coolpix S70, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T90. A few additional cameras to consider are the Casio Exilim EX-Z450, Fuji FinePix F200EXR, and the Samsung TL320.
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the Lumix DMC-FX580 and its competitors before you buy!
Check out our photo gallery to see how the DMC-FX580's image quality looks!