Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX580 Review
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
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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.