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DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55  

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: November 26, 2007
Last updated: February 4, 2008

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The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55 ($349) is a midrange camera in Panasonic's ultra-compact camera lineup. It features an 8 Megapixel CCD, wide-angle 3.6X optical zoom lens, optical image stabilization, 3-inch LCD display, widescreen movie mode, and superb battery life. It's closest competition is undoubtedly the Canon PowerShot SD870 IS, which I just reviewed.

Panasonic's current FX-series is a little confusing, so I created this table to help you figure out which model does what:

Feature Lumix DMC-FX10 Lumix DMC-FX12 Lumix DMC-FX33 Lumix DMC-FX55 Lumix DMC-FX100
Street price
(at time of posting)
$174 $192 $272 $322 $341
Resolution 6.0 MP 7.2 MP 8.1 MP 8.1 MP 12.2 MP
Optical zoom 3X 3X 3.6X 3.6X 3.6X
Lens max. aperture F2.8 - F5.0 F2.8 - F5.0 F2.8 - F5.6 F2.8 - F5.6 F2.8 - F5.6
Focal length (35 mm equiv.) 35 - 105 mm 35 - 105 mm 28 - 100 mm 28 - 100 mm 28 - 100 mm
LCD size 2.5" 2.5" 2.5" 3.0" 2.5"
LCD resolution 115,000 pixels 115,000 pixels 207,000 pixels 230,000 pixels 207,000 pixels
ISO range 100 - 1250 100 - 1250 100 - 1600 80 - 1600 80 - 1600
Intelligent Auto Mode No No Yes Yes No
Face detection No No Yes Yes No
Metering Multi Multi Multi Multi Multi, center, spot
Battery used CGA-S005 CGA-S005 DMW-BCE10 DMW-BCE10 CGA-S005
Battery life (CIPA standard) 370 shots 350 shots 280 shots 280 shots 320 shots
Dimensions (W x H x D) 3.7 x 2.0 x 1.0 in. 3.7 x 2.0 x 1.0 in. 3.7 x 2.0 x 0.9 in. 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 3.8 x 2.1 x 1.0 in.
Weight 125 g 125 g 132 g 143 g 148 g
Available colors Silver, blue, pink Black, silver Black, silver, blue, brown Black, silver, pink Black, silver

I hope that makes your camera shopping just a little bit easier!

Ready to learn more about the Lumix DMC-FX55? Then keep reading, our tour starts right now!

What's in the Box?

The DMC-FX55 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 8.1 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-FX55 camera
  • DMW-BCE10 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Lumix Simple Viewer, PhotoFunStudio, ArcSoft Photo Suite, and drivers
  • 127 page camera manual (printed)

Like most cameras in the ultra-compact class, the FX55 has built-in memory instead in lieu of having a memory card included in the box. The camera has 27MB of memory, which holds just six photos at the highest quality setting. Therefore, you'll want to get a memory card right away, and I'd suggest picking up a 1GB card to start with. The FX55 supports SD, SDHC, and MMC cards, and it's worth spending the extra dollars for a high speed card.

The FX55 uses an all new lithium-ion battery known as the DMW-BCE10. This battery packs 3.6 Wh of energy, which is on the lower end of the scale. Still, Panasonic's engineers managed to squeeze pretty good battery life out of it, as this chart illustrates:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot SD870 IS */**/*** 270 shots
Casio Exilim EX-S880 220 shots
Fuji FinePix F480 ** 150 shots
HP Photosmart R847 *** 210 shots
Kodak EasyShare M883 *** 200 shots
Nikon Coolpix S51 */*** 150 shots
Olympus FE-290 */*** 175 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55 */**/*** 280 shots
Pentax Optio V10 *** 200 shots
Samsung L74 Wide **/***/**** 200 shots
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T70 */*** 270 shots

* Has image stabilization
** Has wide-angle lens
*** Has 3-inch LCD
**** Number not officially calculated with CIPA standard

Battery life numbers are provided by the camera manufacturers

As you can see, the FX55 has the best battery life in its class. Way to go, Panasonic!

I should mention a couple of "gotchas" regarding the proprietary battery used by the DMC-FX55 (and every other camera on that list). For one, they're fairly expensive -- an extra battery will set you back around $45. Secondly, if that battery dies, you can't use an off-the-shelf battery like you could on a camera that uses AAs. That said, you won't find a camera this size that uses AAs.

When it's time to charge the battery, just place it into the included external charger. It takes about two hours to fully charge the battery. I should add that this is my favorite type of charger -- it plugs directly into the wall.

As is the case with all ultra-compact cameras, the FX55 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no clumsy lens cap to deal with.

There aren't many accessories available for the DMC-FX55. Aside from extra batteries, the only other options that I can find include the DMW-AC5 AC adapter (priced from a whopping $65) and color-coordinated leather carrying cases (priced at around $17). If you're interested in underwater photography, then you'll have to step down to the DMC-FX33 and its smaller LCD.

Lumix Simple Viewer for Windows

Panasonic includes several software products with the camera, and the first one is Lumix Simple Viewer, which is for Windows only. This does just what its name implies: it imports photos from the camera and then lets you view, e-mail, or print them. And that's it.

PhotoFunStudio for Windows - main window

PhotoFunStudio for Windows - edit window

Next up we have PhotoFunStudio, which is again Windows-only. This adds a few basic editing features, including brightness, contrast, color, and sharpness adjustment, plus redeye removal. There's also a one-touch image enhancement option.

ArcSoft PhotoImpression for Mac

Another photo editing tool included with the camera is ArcSoft PhotoImpression, which is for Mac and Windows. While it has a rather quirky interface, this software can do just about everything. You can edit photos (adjusting color/sharpness/lighting), reduce redeye, design creative projects (making calendars, photo books, etc), and more.

Another piece of the ArcSoft suite is PanoramaMaker, 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. Just a tip for those of you interested in panoramic shooting: use a tripod.

I've never been impressed with the quality of Panasonic's manuals, whether for televisions or digital cameras. The one included with the FX55 is detailed, but you can expect a confusing layout and lots of "notes" on each page. You'll get your question answered -- you'll just have to work for it.

Look and Feel

If you've seen other recent members of the Lumix FX family, then you'll feel right at home with the DMC-FX55. It's an ultra-compact metal camera that's well put together, save for the cheesy plastic memory card/battery compartment door. The camera is easy to hold, with the important controls in the right places. The only design-related thing I wasn't a fan of was the four-way controller, which was awkward. The camera can be operated comfortably with just one hand.

Images courtesy of Panasonic

It's practically a requirement for ultra-compact cameras to come in multiple colors. Panasonic knows this, and produces the FX55 in silver, black, and pink.

Now, here's a look at how the FX55 compares to other compact cameras in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SD870 IS 3.7 x 2.3 x 1.0 in. 8.5 cu in. 155 g
Casio Exilim EX-S880 3.7 x 2.4 x 0.7 in. 6.2 cu in. 128 g
Fujifilm FinePix F480 3.8 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.5 cu in. 140 g
HP Photosmart R847 3.9 x 2.5 x 1.1 in. 10.7 cu in. 204 g
Kodak EasyShare M883 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.3 cu in. 116 g
Nikon Coolpix S51 3.6 x 2.3 x 0.8 in. 6.6 cu in. 125 g
Olympus FE-290 3.9 x 2.2 x 1.0 in. 8.6 cu in. 142 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.7 cu in. 143 g
Pentax Optio V10 2.3 x 0.7 x 3.8 in. 6.1 cu in. 119 g
Samsung L74 Wide 4.1 x 2.4 x 0.9 in. 8.9 cu in. 174 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T70 3.5 x 2.2 x 0.8 in. 6.2 cu in. 128 g

The DMC-FX55 is right in the middle of the group in terms of size and weight. It's an ultra-portable camera, able to fit into your smallest pockets with ease (just don't sit on it!).

Enough about all that, let's move onto the tour portion of the review now.

The DMC-FX55 features a F2.8-5.6, 3.6X optical zoom Leica Vario-Elmarit lens. The focal length of the lens is 4.6 - 16.4 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 100 mm. This wide-angle lens comes in handy for shooting interiors or architecture, where you need to fit as much into the frame as possible. You are stuck with that focal range, as Panasonic does not offer any conversion lenses for the FX55.

Inside the lens is Panasonic's "Mega" optical image stabilization (OIS) system. Tiny movements of your hands can blur your photos, especially in low light situations. Sensors inside the camera detects these movements, and one of the lens elements is shifted to compensate for it. The OIS system won't work miracles (so you won't be taking 1 second handheld photos) and it won't stop a moving subject, but it will allow you to use slower shutter speeds than you could otherwise. Want proof? Look at this:

Image stabilization off

Image stabilization on (mode 2)

I took both of the above photos at a shutter speed of 1/3 sec -- pretty slow. As you can see, without OIS, the photo is on the blurry side. Turn on image stabilization, though, and you'll get a perfectly usable photo. Image stabilization works in movie mode too, and you can see how well by viewing this short movie clip.

To the upper-right of the lens you'll find the camera's AF-assist lamp, which is used as a focusing aid in low light situations. This same lamp is used as a visual countdown for the self-timer.

The FX55's built-in flash can be found to the upper-left of the lens. The built-in flash is quite powerful, with a working range of 0.6 - 6.3 m at wide-angle, and 0.3 - 3.1 m at telephoto. Do note that these numbers are with the ISO set to Auto (as they usually are), which can result in some pretty noisy images. If you're using a low, fixed ISO (highly recommended) then the range will be considerably smaller. You cannot attach an external flash to the FX55.

It's hard to miss the LCD on the back of the DMC-FX55, as it takes up most of the available real estate. The LCD, 3 inches in size, is about as large as you'll find these days, with only the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T200 having a larger one. While the screen is large, the 230,000 pixel resolution isn't any better than what you'll find on a typical 2.5" display. While I certainly noticed the lack of resolution, it didn't particularly bother me. Outdoor visibility is excellent if you're using the Power LCD function, which cranks up the screen brightness (automatically, if you like). Low light visibility is very good as well, with the screen brightening automatically in those situations.

In case you didn't notice, there's no optical viewfinder on the FX55. In fact, none of Panasonic's compact cameras have one. Whether this is a problem is up to you: some people require a viewfinder, while others could care less.

At the top-right of the photo you'll find a "rest" for your right thumb. Under that we have the Display/LCD mode button, which toggles what's shown on the screen, and also turns on the Power LCD and High Angle features. The Power LCD feature brightens the screen with the push of a button, and you can have it turn on automatically if you desire. The High Angle feature comes in handy for situations when you're holding the camera above your head -- the camera can make the LCD visible in those situations.

Below that button, we find the joystick-style four-way controller. I wasn't a huge fan of it, as it's pretty small, and can be pushed in the wrong direction fairly easily. You'll use this controller for menu navigation, as well as:

  • Up - Backlight compensation, exposure compensation, auto bracketing, white balance fine-tuning -- see below
  • Down - Review (quickly jumps to playback mode)
  • Left - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 secs)
  • Right - Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, slow sync w/redeye reduction, flash off)
  • Center - Menu/Set

I want to talk about those 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 Intelligent Auto mode. You can use it 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 ±1/3EV, ±2/3EV or ±1EV increments.

White balance fine-tuning

The white balance fine-tuning feature lets you adjust the WB in the blue or red directions. This is in addition to the custom white balance feature that I'll discuss later in the review.

Quick Setting menu

There's one final button on the back of the DMC-FX55, and that's the Function/Delete photo button. In record mode, you can press this button to open up the Quick Setting menu, which has these options:

  • Image stabilizer
  • Burst mode
  • White balance
  • ISO sensitivity
  • Picture size
  • Quality

I'll discuss all of those in more detail when we get to the menu discussion later in the review.

The first things to see on top of the FX55 are the speaker, microphone, and power switch.

Next to that, we have the zoom controller, which is wrapped around the shutter release button. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in 1.9 seconds. I counted a total of twenty steps in the 3.6X zoom range.

The mode dial, which is recessed into the body of the camera, has the following options:

Option Function
Print mode For when you're connected to a Pictbridge-enabled photo printer
Clipboard mode A place to quickly store and retrieve low resolution photos; Panasonic suggests using it for maps, timetables, etc.
Movie mode More on this later
Scene mode You choose the situation and the camera uses the proper settings. Choose from portrait, soft skin, self-portrait, scenery, sports, night portrait, night scenery, food, party, candle light, baby, pet, sunset, high sensitivity, hi-speed burst, starry sky, fireworks, beach, snow, aerial photo
Macro mode For close-up shooting; more on this later
Normal picture mode Standard record mode, with full menu access
Intelligent Auto mode Point-and-shoot, automatic scene detection mode; most menu options locked up; see below for more
Playback mode More on this later

Like the other FX-series cameras, there are no "real" manual exposure controls on the DMC-FX55. You will, however, find plenty of automatic modes.

One of the notable new features on the camera is called Intelligent Auto mode. The camera will automatically select a scene mode for you (based on what's in the frame), selecting between portrait, scenery, macro, night portrait, and night scenery. Being an auto mode, most of the camera settings are locked up. One thing you can adjust (sort of) is the ISO sensitivity, using the Intelligent ISO feature. This feature analyzes subject motion, and boosts the ISO as needed, in order to get a sharp photo. The more movement, the higher the ISO will go. You can set the top limit that the camera will use, and it's best to keep this as low as possible to preserve image quality. The face detection system is also active here, and I'll tell how well it works later in the review.

Scene Menu Help screen

The FX55 has a ton of scene modes, some of which are a bit unusual. The high sensitivity mode boosts the ISO to anywhere between 1600 and 6400, and I would avoid using it, as the photos produced in this mode are low resolution and lacking in detail. The baby and pet modes let you set the birthday of your child or animal, and their current age is recorded along with a photo. Starry sky mode lets you select super long exposures: 15, 30, or 60 seconds -- it's similar to "bulb mode" on more advanced cameras. The hi-speed burst mode takes up to 100 photos in a row at a blazing 6.6 frames/second. The catch is that the resolution is lowered to just 2 Megapixels. If you want to do full resolution continuous shooting, then keep reading.

If you're confused about what any of the scene modes do, you can press the Display button to see a help screen.

Nothing to see here.

On the other side of the camera you'll find the FX55's I/O ports, which are protected by a plastic cover. The ports here include USB+A/V out (one port for both) plus DC-in (for the optional AC adapter). For some reason, Panasonic refuses to support the USB 2.0 High Speed standard on any of their cameras. What this means to you is that data transfer to your computer will be quite slow, so you may want to consider buying a card reader.

The lens is at the full telephoto position here.

We end our tour of the FX55 with a look at its bottom. Here you'll find a metal tripod mount, and the battery/memory card compartment. The latter is protected by a very flimsy plastic door, so be careful with it. You should be able to get at the memory card slot while the camera is on a tripod.

The included DMW-BCE10 lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.

Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55

Record Mode

The DMC-FX55 takes about 1.7 seconds to extend its lens and prepare for shooting, which is about average.

A live histogram is shown in record mode

Focusing speeds are very good, which is typical of Panasonic cameras. In the "regular" AF modes, expect to wait around 0.3 - 0.5 seconds in the best case scenarios, and around a second in the worst. If you're using one of the high speed modes, focus times are nearly instant, except if the camera really has to "hunt". If that's the case, you'll still wait about a second for focus lock. Low light focusing won't break any speed records, but it was accurate.

I did not find shutter lag to be an issue on the FX55, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes crops up.

Shot-to-shot delays were fairly short. You'll wait about 1.5 seconds before you can take another shot without the flash, and just a tiny bit longer with it.

There is no quick way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you'll have to enter the Quick Review mode first by pressing down on the four-way controller.

Now let's take a look at the image size and quality options on the FX55. Since there are three different aspect ratios available, it's a pretty lengthy list.

Aspect ratio Resolution Quality # images on 27MB onboard memory # images on 1GB SD card (optional)
4:3 8M
3264 x 2448
Fine 6 240
Standard 12 480
2560 x 1920
Fine 10 390
Standard 21 770
2048 x 1536
Fine 16 600
Standard 32 1180

1600 x 1200

Fine 26 970
Standard 52 1880
640 x 480
Fine 130 4640
Standard 210 7550
3:2 7M
3264 x 2176
Fine 7 270
Standard 14 530
2560 x 1712
Fine 11 440
Standard 23 860
2048 x 1360
Fine 18 680
Standard 36 1310
16:9 6M
3264 x 1840
Fine 8 320
Standard 17 630
2560 x 1440
Fine 14 520
Standard 28 1020
1920 x 1080
Fine 25 910
Standard 48 1720

As you can see, that built-in memory doesn't hold many photos, so do yourself a favor and buy a memory card right away (if you don't already have one).

The FX55 doesn't support the RAW or TIFF formats, nor would I really expect it to.

Like all of Panasonic's cameras, the FX55 has an "extended optical zoom" feature. By lowering the resolution, you can use digital zoom without reducing the image quality. The lower the resolution goes, the more zoom you can use. For example, if you select the 3 Megapixel setting, you can get a total zoom power of 5.7X.

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.

The DMC-FX55 uses the standard Panasonic menu system. It's attractive, fast, and easy-to-navigate. Keeping in mind that not all of these options are available in every shooting mode, here's the full list of record menu items:

  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, shade, halogen, white set) - see below
  • Intelligent ISO (Off, max 400, max 800, max 1250) - an auto ISO mode that boosts the sensitivity based on subject motion
  • Sensitivity [ISO] (Auto, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1250, 1600) - the auto mode is different than the one above; it tops out at 200 without the flash, and 1000 with it
  • Aspect ratio (4:3, 3:2, 16:9)
  • Picture size (see chart)
  • Quality (see chart)
  • Audio recording (on/off) - record a 5 sec audio clip with each picture
  • AF mode (Face detection, 5-area, 3-area high speed, 1-area high speed, 1-area) - see below
  • Stabilizer (Mode 1, mode 2, off) - see below
  • Burst (Off, normal, infinite) - see below
  • AF-assist lamp (on/off)
  • Slow shutter (1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1 sec) - slowest shutter speed the camera will use
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - this is not the same as extended optical zoom; best to keep it turned off
  • Color effect (Standard, vivid, black & white, sepia, cool, warm)
  • Clock set

The DMC-FX55 has just one manual control, and its for white balance. The "white set" option lets you use a white or gray card for accurate color in unusual lighting conditions. If that's still not accurate, you can use the fine-tuning feature which I mentioned earlier to tweak things a bit further. One strange omission in the white balance menu is a option for fluorescent light.

Another option that's missing completely is any kind of metering control. The FX55 uses multi-pattern metering, with no option for center-weighted or spot metering. This won't bother the typical shooter, but there are times when having the other options is nice. And, since nearly all of the competition has it (not to mention previous FX-series cameras), it's worth pointing out.

The camera has locked onto five of the six faces

There are numerous autofocus modes on the FX55. The camera offers 2007's most overhyped feature, face detection. The camera will find up to 15 faces in the frame, and make sure that they're properly focused and exposed. Panasonic's implementation of this feature is very good -- the camera had no trouble finding 5 of the 6 faces in my test scene. Oh, about those high speed AF modes: the "catch" is that there's a brief freeze on the LCD while the camera is locking focus. I think that tradeoff is worth the noticeable improvement in focus performance.

There are two image stabilization modes to choose from on the FX55. Mode 1 activates OIS as soon as you halfway-press the shutter release button, so you can compose the shot without any camera shake. For more effective stabilization, you'll want to use mode 2. It doesn't activate OIS until the photo is actually taken, but it does a better job at reducing shake. You can also turn the whole thing off, which is advisable if the camera is on a tripod.

While there's a hi-speed (and low resolution) burst mode in the scene menu, the real continuous shooting modes can be found here in the record menu. There are two speeds to choose from: regular and infinite. In regular mode, the camera took four photos in a row at 2.8 frames/second. If you want to take more than four shots, you'll need to use infinite mode. There, the FX55 will keep shooting at 1.8 frames/second until your memory card fills up. That's pretty good, though keep in mind that a high speed memory card is required for unlimited shooting. Regardless of the chosen speed, the LCD freezes briefly between each shot, but you should still be able to follow a moving subject.

There's also a setup menu, which is accessible via the record or playback menu. The items here include:
  • Clock set
  • World time (Home, travel)
  • Monitor brightness (-3 to +3 in 1-step increments) - these can be set separately
  • Guide lines - put a composition grid and more on the LCD
    • Rec info (on/off)
    • Histogram (on/off)
    • Pattern (3 x 3, complex)
  • Travel date (on/off) - when set, records what day of your vacation a photo was taken (e.g. day two)
  • Auto review (Off, 1 sec, 3 sec, zoom) - the zoom option shows the picture for a second, then enlarges it by a factor of four for a second
  • Power save (Off, 1, 2, 5, 10 mins)
  • Economy (Off, level 1, level 2) - how quickly the LCD turns off
  • Beep sound
    • Beep level (Off, low, high)
    • Beep tone (1-3)
  • Shutter sound
    • Shutter volume (Off, low, high)
    • Shutter tone (1-3)
  • Volume (0-6)
  • File number reset
  • Reset camera settings
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
  • TV aspect (16:9, 4:3)
  • Scene menu (Off, auto) - if set to auto, scene menu opens automatically when you turn the mode dial to the scene mode position
  • Dial display (on/off) - whether a "virtual" mode dial is shown on the LCD as you rotate the real one
  • Language

All of those should be self-explanatory, so let's move on to our photo tests now, shall we?

The DMC-FX55 did a pretty good job with our macro test subject. Colors are mostly spot-on, though the reds could be punchier. The subject is super sharp, and a little "grainy" actually. I'm getting ahead of myself, though -- more on noise in a bit.

The FX55's minimum focus distances are 5 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at telephoto, both of which are pretty normal for an ultra-compact.

Now onto the night scene. Since there's no way to set the shutter speed manually on this camera, you'll have to use the night scenery mode. Here, the camera used a shutter speed of 8 seconds (a bit longer than I'd normally use), and thankfully kept the ISO fixed at 100. While slightly overexposed, the resulting photo is still pretty nice for a point-and-shoot camera. It's a little on the soft side, but not enough to concern me. Noise levels are low, and there's no purple fringing to be found (as the camera's Venus Engine III digitally removes it).

Since I can't control the shutter speed and ISO at the same time, I was unable to do our low light ISO test. I'll have the studio ISO test for you in a bit.

Nearly all ultra-compact cameras have big problems with redeye, and the FX55 is no exception. Unfortunately, Panasonic doesn't offer a redeye removal tool on their cameras (aside from the preflash, which didn't help here), so expect to spend some time on your computer getting rid of this annoyance.

There's fairly mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the FX55's lens -- an impressive feat, considering its focal range and compact size. The chart shows slight vignetting (which is barely visible in a few real world photos), and some corner blurriness (which is more apparent).

Here's that studio ISO test I promised you. Since this test is taken under controlled lighting, it can be compared with cameras that I've reviewed over the years. While the crops below give you a decent idea as to the noise levels at each settings, viewing the full size images is always a good idea.

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1250

ISO 1600

Looking at the ISO 100 and 200 shots, it appears that Panasonic has eased off just a bit on the noise reduction compared to their other models. There's some noise/grain visible at those settings, but that's better than the smudging and mottling caused by noise reduction. That doesn't last long, though, as noise reduction kicks in at ISO 400, softening details and reducing color saturation. Even so, a midsize print is very possible at that setting. Once we hit ISO 800, details start to disappear, and you're better off avoiding that setting (and those above it) unless you're absolutely desperate. The FX55's main competitor, the Canon PowerShot SD870, maintains a bit more detail at the higher ISO settings, but it's still pretty close.

Overall, the Lumix DMC-FX55 produces good quality images. Exposure was almost always accurate, and colors were generally pleasing, though a little more saturation wouldn't hurt. Photos were slightly soft, but not enough to bother me. The exception is near the corners of the frame, where things can be blurry (this is a common issue on ultra-compacts). Purple fringing was well controlled, for the most part. As for noise, it's visible starting at the lowest ISO setting, especially in shadow areas. There's a bit of detail smearing as well, though I do think that it's been toned down a bit compared to other Panasonic models. As I showed above, this changes as the sensitivity reaches ISO 800, where noise and noise reduction turn your photos into something resembling a watercolor painting. If you keep the ISO fairly low and aren't making huge prints, then you probably won't notice the issues that I just raised. However, if you want to shoot at high ISOs, make huge prints, or enjoy viewing your photos full size on your computer, these issues will be hard to miss.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, maybe printing a few of the photos if you can. Then you should be able to decide if the FX55's photo quality meets your expectations!

Movie Mode

The DMC-FX55 has the standard Panasonic movie mode. You can record videos at resolutions of 848 x 480 (16:9) or 640 x 480 (4:3), with a smooth frame rate of 30 frames/second. Naturally, sound is recorded along with the video. The camera will keep recording until your memory card fills up, or the file size hits 2GB -- whichever comes first. It takes about 19 minutes to hit the limit at 848 x 480, and 22.5 minutes at 640 x 480.

For longer movies, you can drop the resolution, frame rate, or both. At the 320 x 240 resolution, you can record for over an hour at 30 frames/second before you hit the file size limit. Dropping the frame rate will extend recording time too, but the 10 fps frame rate will result in some VERY choppy videos.

As is usually the case, you cannot operate the optical zoom while recording a movie. The image stabilizer is available, and it'll help smooth out your clips a bit.

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 the usual train station sample movie for you, which was recorded at the widescreen resolution. Be warned: it's a large download.

Click to play movie (28.8 MB, 848 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The Lumix DMC-FX55 has a nice playback mode with a few unique features. The basic playback features include slideshows, voice captions, image protection, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view (in many sizes), and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge the image by as much as 16X (in 2X increments), and then move around the enlarged area.

Images can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. If you want to change the aspect ratio, you can do that too.

Text stamp feature Entering a title to be used with the text stamp feature

The FX55 has a rather unique date printing feature. You can print the date and time, the age of your baby or pet, and even a title of your choosing onto your photos, either one at a time, or in a big group. Do note that the camera will downsize the image to 3 Megapixels or less when using this feature, which is fine for what most people will be doing with them (printing them at 4 x 6).

Calendar view Selecting a category of photos to view

The camera offers a calendar view of your photos, in addition to the usual one-at-a-time and thumbnail views. A category feature lets you jump directly to photos taken in certain modes (scene or movie), so if you want to find all your pet photos, this is the fastest way.

If you're viewing a movie, you can grab a single frame, or create a collage consisting of nine frames. There's no way to trim your movies on the camera, unfortunately.

The camera lets you delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all -- a feature I always appreciate. Lastly, as you'd expect, you can copy images between the internal memory and an optional memory card.

I love this picture!

By default, the camera doesn't give you a lot of information about your photos. But press the display button and you'll see more info, including a histogram.

The FX55 moves through photos at an average clip, with a one second delay between each image.

How Does it Compare?

Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FX55 offers some big camera features -- including image stabilization, a wide-angle lens, and a huge 3-inch LCD -- and puts them into a sleek ultra-compact body. For the most part, they've succeeded -- the FX55 is a responsive, capable camera that takes good quality photos. While there's certainly room for improvement, the Lumix DMC-FX55 earns my recommendation with ease.

From the front, the DMC-FX55 doesn't look much different than its siblings. It's compact, metal, and well built (for the most part). Flip the camera around and you can't miss its extra large 3-inch LCD display. While Panasonic bumped up the screen size on the FX55, the screen resolution (230k pixels) isn't any better than you'd find on a 2.5" display. You'll notice, but it probably won't bother you. The screen is easy to see in bright outdoor light (with the Power LCD function) and in dimly lit rooms (where it "gains up" automatically). As you might expect, the camera lacks an optical viewfinder. One of the nicest features on the camera is its lens, which has a focal range of 28 - 100 mm. If you want to pack as much as you can into the frame, then you'll like having this wide-angle lens. Inside the lens is Panasonic's optical image stabilization system, which effectively reduces "camera shake" in both stills and movies.

As is the case with all of the FX-series Lumix cameras, the FX55 is almost 100% point-and-shoot. The only manual control you'll find is for white balance, which is a good one to have around. What you will find are plenty of scene modes, covering virtually all possible shooting situations. There's even an auto mode that will pick the right scene for you, if you'd like. One of the scene modes is a "high sensitivity" mode, which boosts the ISO to somewhere between 1600 and 6400 -- it's best to leave this one alone. More useful is the Intelligent ISO feature, available in the regular automatic and macro modes. This boosts the ISO to a limit of your choosing, based on how much movement is in the frame. The FX55's movie mode is pretty nice, with the ability to record at either 848 x 480 or 640 x 480 (that's 16:9 or 4:3) until a 2GB file size is reached, which takes roughly twenty minutes. The camera's playback mode is equally impressive, with numerous ways of viewing your photos, plus a date stamp feature which lets you add titles, baby ages, and more to your pictures.

Camera performance is very good. The FX55 is ready to start taking pictures in 1.7 seconds, which is average these days. Focusing speeds are superb if you're using the high speed AF modes, and snappy without them. Low light focusing is very good, thanks to the camera's AF-assist lamp. Shutter lag wasn't noticeable, and shot-to-shot speeds were between 1.5 and 2.5 seconds, depending on whether you're using the flash. The FX55 has several continuous shooting modes, with the most notable being the infinite option. There, you can keep shooting at 1.8 frames/second until your high speed memory card fills up. There's a hi-speed burst mode buried in the scene menu which can shoot at 6.6 frames/second, though the resolution is just 2 Megapixel. The FX55's battery life was best in its class.

The FX55's photo quality was good, but not great. The FX55 takes well exposed images with accurate (though not terribly vivid) color. Images are slightly soft overall, and downright blurry around the corners of the frame. Purple fringing is well controlled by the camera's image processor. The weak spots in this department are with regard to noise and redeye. At low ISOs, it appears that Panasonic has turned down the noise reduction a bit compared to previous models, but instead of mushy details, you get noise and grain. The notorious Venus III noise reduction system kicks into high gear when you get to ISO 400, though that setting is still usable for small and midsize prints. Above that things get pretty soft and noisy, and they won't make for great prints. I think the FX55's rival (the Canon PowerShot SD870) is a little better in terms of low ISO photo quality, but as the sensitivity rises, the gap narrows. Both of these cameras have big redeye problems, but there's nothing you can do about it on the FX55 (the Canon can remove it in playback mode).

I've got a few other things to mention that didn't fit in elsewhere. First, what happened to a metering option? It's strange that this feature, found on all of Panasonic's other cameras that I can think of, is not on the FX55 (which is fixed at multi-pattern). Next, as you know, I'm not a fan of flimsy plastic doors on cameras, so I have to complain about the one that covers the battery and memory card compartment -- it seems very fragile. The final issues to cover both relate to the camera bundle. The 27MB of onboard memory isn't much considering the resolution of the camera, holding just six photos at the highest quality setting. Lastly, the included manual is pretty lousy. It's detailed, but poorly organized and difficult to read.

Although it has its share of issues, I still came away enjoying my time with the Lumix DMC-FX55. It's compact, responsive, and fun to use. So, if you're after a camera with a big screen, image stabilization, and a wide-angle lens, then it's worth having a look at the FX55.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality (by ultra-compact standards), though see issues below
  • Wide-angle, 3.6X optical zoom lens
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Ultra-compact metal body, comes in three colors
  • Huge 3-inch LCD display; screen visible outdoors and in low light; useful Power LCD and High Angle features
  • Snappy focus speeds; very good low light focusing
  • Impressive continuous shooting modes
  • Tons of scene modes; camera can automatically select a scene mode for you
  • Well implemented face detection feature
  • Nice movie mode records in widescreen format
  • Some handy features in playback mode: calendar and category view, enhanced date stamp, multi-photo delete
  • Best-in-class battery life

What I didn't care for:

  • Visible noise at lowest ISOs; noise reduction kicks in soon after, smudging details; some corner blurriness
  • Redeye a big problem
  • LCD resolution no better than smaller screens
  • No optical viewfinder
  • No metering option; more manual controls would be nice
  • High sensitivity scene mode worth skipping
  • Flimsy door over battery/memory card compartment
  • No USB 2.0 High Speed support
  • Not much built-in memory
  • Camera manual quality leaves much to be desired

Some other cameras in this class worth considering include the Canon PowerShot SD870 IS, Casio Exilim EX-S880, Fuji FinePix F480, HP Photosmart R847, Kodak EasyShare M883, Nikon Coolpix S51, Olympus FE-290, Pentax Optio V10, Samsung L74 Wide, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T70.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the Lumix DMC-FX55 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

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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 or technical support.

Want a second opinion?

You'll find another review of the DMC-FX55 at CNET.