Announced at the annual photo trade show PMA earlier this year, Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FX36 lets you capture more with an ultra-wide 25mm lens. This point-and-shoot not only delivers 10-megapixel images, it is also able to record video at 720p HD quality. Shutterbugs will like the new improved controls, given that switching between modes is less of a hassle now. If you travel frequently or take a lot of group shots, you might want to give this camera some consideration for its ultra wide-angle lens and HD video-recording capabilities.
As with many succeeding models, the FX36 chassis is based on the Lumix DMC-FX33. It's no wonder that a non-discerning eye may not be able to tell the difference. On the front, no changes have been made. But looking at the top of the camera, you will notice the shutter button now has a different finish. Compared to the FX33 which has a glossy-finish shutter, the shutter and power buttons on the FX36 are constructed from brushed metal, giving the camera a more expensive touch.
Previous models rely on the top dial for switching between playback and shooting mode.
We noticed the addition of a switch that toggles between playback and shooting. The top dial now rotates between normal shooting, iA, scene selection, video recording and clipboard mode. Unlike previous models, the dial on the FX36 doesn't turn 360 degrees but rather stops at the first and last function. This new interface provides a quicker way to switch between modes, without having to worry about turning the knob too much and activating a different function.
On the back of the FX36, we found the same 2.5-inch LCD as on the FX33. The four-directional button pad with the Menu button in the middle also remains the same.
The FX36 features a switch that lets you toggle between modes.
While its predecessor felt more ergonomic with its smooth-rounded edges, the FX36 takes a different approach and features a slightly boxier body. However, this does not compromise on the grip, which feels sturdy. This could also be the result of the slightly rubbery finish on the front face. At 22mm thin and 146 grams light, this shooter is slim enough not to leave a bulge or weigh you down.
An extended flap on the side of the FX36 is used to hide the additional component video-out port, on top of the DC-in and AV-out/digital. A component cable can be purchased separately and is recommended for those planning to connect the camera to an HDTV for viewing HD-quality still images and movies.
The camera comes bundled with a wrist strap, USB cable, A/V cable, rechargeable Lithium-ion battery, charger, operating instructions and ArcSoft photo-editing software.
It is a growing trend for compact cameras to sport ultra wide-angle lens, and the FX36's closest competitor would be the upcoming NV24 from Samsung which has a 24mm lens. Both models are also capable of capturing 720p HD-quality video, and the usual fare of face detection, scene selector, etc.
Ultra wide-angle 25mm view.
The 4x optical zoom lens is 25mm at its widest, which gives approximately twice as much view compared to conventional digital cameras (at 35mm wide). The 25mm lens, possibly the widest lens we've seen in a compact Lumix, proved handy when we were taking group shots and landscapes.
If you need to zoom further, you can activate the Extra Optical Zoom. This function takes the reading off the center portion of the CCD sensor to magnify the image, increasing the zoom to 7.1x. However, this extra zoom is achieved at the expense of a lower image resolution (3 megapixels and below).
Conventional 35mm view.
The consecutive burst shooting mode is great for capturing kids and sports as the camera continues to snap for as long as you hold down the shutter button. However, the camera will take the exposure for only the first shot and apply it to subsequent images. So it's something to take note of if the lighting condition tends to change.
The FX36 comes with Panasonic's new Digital Red-eye Correction which automatically removes unsightly red-eye effects from portraits after the picture is taken. Although this is not a new feature for digital cameras, it worked fine when we tested it.
The FX36 boasts an Intelligent LCD which will adjust the brightness of the screen according to its surroundings. A quick test proved that this feature worked well. Under glaring sunlight, we could still view the LCD display. There is also a High Angle LCD mode which will increase the brightness of the LCD to the maximum for optimised viewing even when the camera is held at an angle above eye level.
The FX36 has 50MB of internal memory, which is probably good for about 12 to 15 shots in the highest-resolution capture quality. Memory expansion comes in the form of SD, MMC and the higher-capacity SDHC flash media.
The FX36 features the Intelligent Exposure mode, which Panasonic claims will help prevent "blown highlights and blocked shadows". We put this mode to the test by letting it determine the settings for the image below. We were glad to see that the image retained a decent amount of information for the white shirts, while the foreground was properly exposed, too.
Note that there are still information retained at the white shirts and foreground was properly exposed.
The iA mode, which is supposed to recognise different scenes and shooting modes (like landscape or macro), didn't do quite as well. Although Panasonic claims the iA mode will automatically focus and select the most appropriate shooting mode, the FX36 didn't kick into macro mode when placed near a flower. We had to do the standard half-press to the shutter button before it focused on the petals and went into action. But when human subjects were in the frame, the portrait mode picked these up almost immediately. (Read more about the iA mode in our review of the FS3.)
The Quick AF system was a little inconsistent in its focusing in dim lighting. The focusing in a Starbucks outlet was a little bit slow to respond, but when brought outdoors the autofocus worked fine.
The face detection feature required some coaxing from us occasionally (like asking the subject to move his head a bit) before it recognised the face. But we liked it that once the camera detected a face, it would continue to track this even if the face moved.
The specifications state that a full charge on the Lithium-ion battery will give about 290 shots. We took 270 pictures and the battery still had some juice left. Compared with the FX33, whose specifications state that a full charge will let you take 280 pictures, the battery life seems to be longer for the FX36. This is probably due to the new Venus IV processor which Panasonic claims can help reduce power consumption.
The FX36 is also capable of capturing high-definition-quality video clips up to a resolution of 1,280 x 720 pixels at 30fps (frames per second). However, a 7-second clip at its highest resolution chalked up 24.5MB of space. So it is advisable to invest in a larger-capacity memory card if you intend to shoot a lot of high-resolution videos with this camera.
The startup time of the FX36 has been improved from the FX33 (which took 2.3 seconds), clocking in at 1.73 seconds. At 2.9 seconds, the time to first shot remained the same as its predecessor. In Hi-Speed Burst scene mode, the shutter rattled off an impressive 6fps, although it was restricted to taking 2-megapixel pictures only.
Shot-to-shot (with flash off) was decent. With the flash turned on, the time between each shot increased slightly. This is dependent on the flash output, and the test we ran showed an acceptable shot-to-shot time even with the flash on.
Regardless of the ISO setting, images captured had a very slight hint of softness around the edges. This seems to be a common issue with Panasonic's point-and-shoot models, such as its new FS3. This is negligible if you are not looking to make large prints.
Below you can see a comparison of the images taken with various ISO settings. At ISO 800 and above, images become slightly blotchy but still acceptable.
The FX36 sports a reborn image processor -- Venus Engine IV -- and at low ISO (400 and below), we could tell that the images produced by the FX36 looked a little bit cleaner than those taken by the FX33. However, at ISO 1,600, there wasn't much of a difference.
The white balance was accurate at differentiating various light temperatures. Even when faced with a mixture of tungsten and fluorescent light sources, the FX36 managed to produce natural-looking colours.
For taking pictures at night, it is advisable to switch to the appropriate night scene mode. This is because the iA mode tends to favour higher ISO settings which will generate a fair amount of noise. In Starry Sky mode, you have the option of choosing a shutter speed and the ISO is kept low to prevent digital artifacts from popping up.