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DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: September 13, 2005
Last Updated: February 4, 2008
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9 ($400) may look like just another ultra-compact camera, but it's more than that. This camera actually has an optical image stabilizer inside the lens, which helps reduce the effects of "camera shake". The FX9 and its siblings plus the new Konica Minolta DiMAGE X1 are the only compact cameras on the market with this very useful feature. Other nice things about the FX9 include its 6 Megapixel CCD, large 2.5" LCD display, AF-assist lamp, and VGA movie mode.
The FX9 is the replacement for the DMC-FX7 from last year. There's also an FX8, which is sort of an in-between model. Here's how the three cameras compare:
Please note that those street prices were accurate at the time I wrote this and are subject to change. I'll compare the dimensions and weight of these cameras a bit later in the review.
If you're ready to learn about this slick little camera, I'm ready to tell you. Read on!
What's in the Box?
The DMC-FX9 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
Panasonic includes a tiny 16MB Secure Digital memory card with the DMC-FX9. That holds a grand total of four photos at the highest quality setting, so a larger card is a must. I'd suggest a 512MB SD card as a place to start. The FX9 takes advantage of high speed SD cards, so it's worth paying a little more for one of those (60X or higher is preferable).
The FX9 uses the new CGA-S005A lithium-ion battery, which allows for MUCH better battery life than the old FX7. The FX8 does a little better in this area, but both models are above average in their class. Here's a look at how the FX9 compares to other cameras in the battery life department:
As you can see, the FX9's battery life is quite a bit better than most of the competition. And that's great news, because the old FX7 was truly awful in this area when it came out.
The usual caveats about proprietary batteries apply here. First, they're really expensive -- Panasonic batteries typically cost around $50 a pop. Secondly, if you're ever in a jam, you can't just pop in some alkaline batteries to get you through the day like you could on an AA-based camera. You're pretty much stuck with these batteries if you want an ultra-compact camera, though.
When it's time to charge the battery, just snap it into the included charger. The charger plugs right into the wall -- no power cord is needed. It takes a little over two hours to fully charge the CGR-S006.
The slick design of the FX9 has a lens cover built in, so there's no clunky lens cap to worry about. As you can see, it's one of the smaller cameras out there.
Aside from extra batteries, the only accessory of note for the FX9 is an AC adapter (which will probably cost more than $60).
PhotoImpression 5 for Mac OS X
Panasonic includes ArcSoft's camera suite with the FZ-series cameras. This includes PhotoImpression 5, PhotoBase, and Panorama Maker for Mac and Windows. PhotoImpression (shown above) lets you view, enhance, and share images. The interface is unique and easy-to-use, and the whole product is well designed. PhotoBase is a less impressive product that you can use for organizing and performing basic edits on your photos. Panorama Maker will stitch together several shots into one big photo.
Lumix Simple Viewer for Windows
Windows users get two additional products on the software CD. Lumix Simple Viewer (shown above) does just what it sounds like: it imports and views photos. You can't do any editing -- just rotation, printing, and e-mailing.
PhotoFunStudio for Windows
For slightly more complex tasks there's PhotoFunStudio, again for Windows only. This can do all the things Simple Viewer can do, plus it can also resize and batch rename images.
The manual included with the FX9 isn't great. In fact, it could use a lot of work. You'll find what you're looking for, but the layout isn't terribly user friendly.
Look and Feel
The DMC-FX9 looks just like its predecessors. It's a compact metal camera that feels solid in the hand. While it's a little chunkier than some other cameras in this class, it's still small enough to go anywhere you do. The camera is easy to hold and operate with one hand.
Like many of Panasonic's cameras, the FX9 is available in your choice of silver and black bodies. A red body may be available in the U.S. one day as well.
Now, let's take a look how the FX9 compares in size to other cameras in this class:
While it's not the smallest or lightest of the bunch, the FX9 is still quite compact.
Okay, that's enough numbers -- let's start our tour of the camera now!
The DMC-FX9 has the same F2.8-5.0, 3X optical zoom Leica lens as the other cameras in the FX series. This lens has a focal range of 5.8 - 17.4 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 105 mm. The lens is not threaded.
Buried inside the FX9's lens is an optical image stabilizer which, as I mentioned, is used to counter the effects of "camera shake". You know what I'm talking about: you take a picture indoors and it's blurry. The FX9 detects this motion and actually moves a lens elements around to counteract this motion, this resulting in a more stable picture. It won't work miracles, but it certainly helps a lot. While you can't hand-hold the camera at 1 second and get a sharp picture, those taken at 1/8 sec will usually be sharp -- something that is impossible on an unstabilized camera without a tripod.
Don't believe me? Here's the first of two examples:
OIS on (mode 2), 1/8 sec
OIS off, 1/8 sec
While not the greatest picture in the world, you can see that image stabilization does indeed work. If you need further evidence, have a look at this short movie that I put together for you.
Back to the tour now. To the upper-left of the lens is the FX9's built-in flash. This flash has a working range of 0.3 - 4.0 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 2.2 m at telephoto at Auto ISO. That's about average for the ultra-compact class. You cannot attach an external flash to the FX9, which shouldn't be too much of a surprise.
On the opposite side of the lens you'll find the AF-assist lamp, which doubles as the self-timer lamp. The AF-assist lamp is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light.
Like most cameras in this class, the FX9 has a large 2.5" LCD display. This screen has a substantially higher resolution than the screen on the FX7 and FX8(207k vs. 114k pixels), and it shows. The screen is sharp and bright, and you can make it even brighter by using the Power LCD function. Hold down the Display button for one second and the screen gets even brighter, which comes in handy when shooting outdoors. In low light situations the screen "gains up" so you still see what you're shooting. It's not as bright as on the Canon SD550, but still it's way better than on the FX7.
As you can probably tell, the FX9 does not have an optical viewfinder, nor does most of the competition. Whether this is a problem is sort of a person decision -- some people want them, others do not.
I'll cover that dial at the top-right of the photo a bit later. To the right of the LCD is the four-way controller, used for menu navigation as well as:
I want to talk about the options that appear when you press the "up" button on the four-way controller. Backlight compensation is something you can toggle on and off while in the simple shooting mode: use this if your subject has a bright light source behind them. Exposure compensation is the usual -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments like on every camera. Auto bracketing takes three shots in a row with each shot having a different exposure. You can choose from ±0.3EV, ±0.6EV or ±1.0EV increments. White balance fine-tuning lets you adjust the preset or custom WB that you've selected in the red or blue direction, with a total range of ±10 (in 1-step increments).
The buttons below the four-way controller are:
The FX9 has the same "famous" burst mode as Panasonic's other recent models. There are three speeds to choose from: low speed, high speed, and infinite. At the low speed setting you can take six photos in a row (highest JPEG quality) at 2 frames/second. Moving up to high speed raises the frame rate to 2.6 frames/second, with the same number of shots. If you want to just keep shooting, try infinite mode, where the camera will keep shooting at 1.1 frames/second until the memory card is full! A high speed SD card is highly recommended for the burst modes.
On top of the FX9 you'll find the speaker, microphone, power switch, shutter release with zoom controller, and the image stabilizer mode button. At the lower-right you'll also see the mode dial the I alluded to in the previous section.
The zoom controller is wrapped around the shutter release button, and it moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in just under two seconds. I counted a whopping eighteen steps throughout the 3X zoom range -- pretty amazing.
The OIS button adjusts the image stabilizer settings. You can choose from Mode 1, Mode 2, or you can shut the thing off entirely (like when you're using a tripod). When Mode 1 is being used, the stabilizer is activated as soon as you halfway press the shutter release button. This helps you compose your image without any shaking. Mode 2 doesn't start the stabilizer until the photo is actually taken, which makes the OIS feature more effective.
The little mode dial has just a few options, which include:
The Simple mode is so easy to use that your pets can probably figure it out. It even has its own simple menu system that I'll show a little later in the review.
Part of the scene mode menu
Each item has a help screen
The FX9 has a pretty complete scene mode, including the rather silly Baby mode. In this mode you set the date of your baby's birthday and then the information is embedded in the EXIF headers for all photos taken in that mode. The baby's age at the time of the photo is shown in playback mode and in the bundled software as well. If you're into taking pictures of your food, there's a scene mode for that too.
Nothing to see here!
On this side of the FX9 you'll find its I/O ports, which are kept behind a fairly sturdy plastic door. The ports include:
The DMC-FX9 supports the USB 2.0 Full Speed protocol, which isn't the one we want: that would be USB 2.0 High Speed.
On the bottom of the FX9 you'll find the metal tripod mount (hard to see here) plus the battery and memory card compartment. This compartment is protected a very flimsy plastic door, so be careful (at least it has a lock). While it may not look like it here, you can actually swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod (well, on my at least).
As I said at the start of the review, the FX9 takes Secure Digital and MultiMediaCards. The included CGA-S005 battery is shown at right.
Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9
It takes about 1.9 seconds for the FX9 to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures, which is about the same as on the FX7.
There's a live histogram in record mode
The FX9 has the same high speed autofocus modes as the DMC-FZ5 and FZ30. While the camera didn't seem to focus as quickly as the two ultra zooms, it's still noticeably faster than most compact cameras. Typically it takes around 0.2 - 0.4 seconds to lock focus, and a little longer if the camera has to "hunt" a bit. Low light focusing was good thanks to the FX9's AF-assist lamp.
I should point out that the image on the LCD freezes briefly when you use the high speed AF modes. If that's a problem then you can use the other AF modes, which do not have that lag.
As for shutter lag, it was not noticeable, even at the slower shutter speeds in which it can sometimes occur.
Shot-to-shot speed is excellent, with a delay of a little over a second before you can take another shot, assuming the post-shot review feature is turned off.
There is no easy way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you must use the Review feature first.
Now, here's a look at the resolution and quality choices on the FX9:
See why I recommend buying a larger memory card? The 16MB one just won't cut it. There's no RAW or TIFF support on the FX9, and you won't find it on most of the competition either.
Like Panasonic's other recent introductions, the DMC-FX9 has an "extra optical zoom" feature. When you shoot at the lower resolutions, the camera uses a smaller area of the CCD sensor, which results in a smaller angle-of-view. This smaller angle-of-view boosts the focal range, allowing for a total zoom power of 4.1X. So, if you don't mind shooting at 3 Megapixel, you can get a little extra zoom out of the DMC-FX9. I should point out that the same thing can also be done in an image editing program like Adobe Photoshop -- this just saves a step.
The camera saves images with a name of PXXXYYYY.JPG, where X = 100-999 and Y = 0001 = 9999. The camera will maintain the file numbering, even as you erase and switch memory cards.
Let's move on to the menu system now.
There are actually two different menu systems on the FX9: one for simple mode, and another for the rest of the shooting modes. In simple mode you can change just four settings, and the rest are preset. The things you can change include:
Now that's what I call simple!
When you use the regular shooting modes you'll get a more traditional menu system. The options here include:
The FX9's "white set" white balance setting allows you to use a white or gray card to get perfect color even with unusual lighting setups.
Everything else up there should be self-explanatory.
There's also a setup menu, which is accessed from the record or playback menu. The items here include:
I've just about had it with menus, so let's move onto the photo quality discussion now!
The macro test was a mixed bag. The subject is nice and sharp, but it appears washed out, and the red cloak appears orange. I'm not sure what the cause of the color weirdness is, but I tried two white balance settings and got the same result. Who knows?
You can get as close to your subject as 5 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at the telephoto end in macro mode, which is about average.
The FX9 did a much better job with the night test shot. The camera took in plenty of light, the buildings are nice and sharp, and noise and purple fringing levels are reasonable. Since there's no way to manually control the shutter speed on the camera, you need to use one of the two night scene modes for long exposures.
Unfortunately the DMC-FX9 didn't do well in our redeye test, which is pretty common for ultra-compact cameras like this one. While your results may vary, I'd expect to see redeye more often than not.
There's very mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the FX9's 3X zoom lens. There's some vignetting (dark corners) seen on the test chart, but I didn't find this to be a problem in my real world photos. In addition, there's some slight blurring in the corners, and you'll find a bit of this in the sample photos as well.
Overall the DMC-FX9's image quality is good, and comparable to other ultra-compact cameras. Photos were well exposed, with accurate color and low noise levels. Images are a bit soft for my taste, and if you agree you may want to try the "vivid" setting in the record menu (or just use an image editor to sharpen things up). Purple fringing levels were higher than I'd like to have seen. The DMC-FX9 (which uses the Venus Engine Plus) does not remove purple fringing digitally, unlike some of Panasonic's other cameras. Noise levels are acceptable for a 6 Megapixel camera.
Ultimately you need to evaluate the FX9's image quality with your own eyes. Have a look at our extensive photo gallery and print the photos as if they were your own. Then decide if the photos meet your expectations!
One of the other big improvements on the FX9 is its movie mode. Now you can record video at 640 x 480 (30 frames/second) with sound until the memory card is full. It takes just a few seconds to fill up the included 16MB SD card, so you'll want to buy a larger card for longer movies. A high speed memory card with a 10MB/sec or higher transfer rate is recommended for this mode.
To record longer movies you can lower the resolution to 320 x 240, or you can reduce the frame rate to a very choppy 10 frames/second at either resolution.
You cannot use the optical zoom during filming.
Movies are saved in QuickTime format using the M-JPEG codec. A capture of the first frame of the movie is saved as JPEG along with the movie.
Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the highest quality setting. Please excuse the wind noise, it was unusually windy that day.
Click to play movie (11.5 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't play it? Download QuickTime.
The DMC-FX9 has a pretty standard playback mode. Basic playback options include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode (choose from 9, 16, and 25 photos per page), audio captions (10 seconds), and zoom and scroll. The camera is also PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.
The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom in as much as 16X (in 2X increments) into your photo, and then scroll around. This feature is well-implemented on the FX9.
You can also rotate, resize, and crop your photos in playback mode. You can also tag photos as favorites for easy viewing later on.
One feature that I always appreciate is the ability to delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all.
By default, the camera doesn't give you a lot of information about your photos. But press the display button and you'll see plenty of info, including a histogram.
The camera moves through each image in about half a second. No low resolution placeholder is shown between images.
How Does it Compare?
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9 may look like just another ultra-compact camera, but it has one feature that none of the competition has: image stabilization. Most people thing that's only useful for ultra zoom cameras, but that's not the case at all. The FX9's OIS system will give you sharper photos in lower light conditions than a camera without it. That, along with the FX9's other nice features, makes it a camera that I can definitely recommend.
The DMC-FX9 is an ultra-compact camera with a body made mostly of metal. It's well built for the most part, save for the cheap plastic door over the memory card and battery compartment. The camera fits well in the hand, and it's easy to operate. Like most cameras in this class, the FX9 features a 3X optical zoom lens. If you lower the resolution to 3 Megapixel you can take advantage of Panasonic's extended optical zoom feature, which boosts the total zoom to 4.1X. Another feature commonly found on ultra-compact cameras is a large 2.5" LCD display, and the FX9 has one of those too. The screen has been greatly improved since the FX7, with superior sharpness and low light visibility. The camera doesn't have an optical viewfinder, though, which may or may not bother you.
For the most part the DMC-FX9 is a point-and-shoot camera. The only manual control is custom white balance (with a fine-tuning feature) -- and that's a handy one to have. The camera is easy to use, with plenty of scene modes and simple menus. If you need something even easier, put the camera into "simple mode" and you're set. The FX9's burst and movie modes are quite good. The burst mode lets you take up to six photos in a row at 2 - 2.6 frames/second, or you can keep shooting until the memory card fills up at a slower 1.1 frames/second. The FX9's movie mode is much better than on the FX7, and it's now competitive with other cameras in this class.
Camera performance is above average in most areas. The camera starts up fairly quickly, autofocus speeds are snappy, and there's no noticeable shutter lag. The camera focuses well in low light situations thanks to its AF-assist lamp. Battery life is very good for a small camera. Photo quality is good, though images could be sharper. Purple fringing and redeye are also a problem.
I don't have too many additional complaints. The camera really should support the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol, as most of the competition does. Also, the included 16MB memory card is just too small to be useful.
If you want a capable and compact point-and-shoot camera, I'd recommend taking a look at the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9. It's not without its flaws, but its large screen, image stabilizer, good photo quality, fancy movie mode, and easy-to-use menu system make it well worth your consideration.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other cameras in this class worth considering include the Canon PowerShot SD550, Casio Exilim EZ-Z750, Fuji FinePix F10 and Z1, HP Photosmart R817, Kodak EasyShare V550, Konica Minolta DiMAGE X1, NIkon Coolpix S3, Olympus Stylus 600 and 800, Pentax Optio S6, Samsung Digimax i5, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T5.
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DMC-FX9 and its competitors before you buy!
Want to see how the photo quality turned on? Check out our photo gallery!
Want a second opinion?
Read another review at Digital Photography Review.
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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