Until now, touchscreens have mostly been associated with Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-T300 and Cyber-shot DSC-T70. But with a new challenger on the block, the competition is heating up. Panasonic announced the Lumix DMC-FX520 in March, which recently won the prestigious TIPA (Technical Press Image Association) award for Best Compact Camera of 2008. So how does this camera fare in the contest of touchscreen compacts? Read on to see what we found.
The stylus attached to the strap with the FX520. Not exactly pretty, but we hope Panasonic will improve on it. (Click to enlarge)
The FX520 takes on a minimalist approach for its design. Encased in a sleek brushed-metal chassis, it's easy to pick out the point-and-shoot from the lot of compact cameras that have flooded the scene. Its subtle good looks and functional design almost resembles a good-looking broody actor who doesn't talk much.
The camera offers a firm grip and is complemented by a small strip of metal that runs down the right side of the shooter. Even with sweaty palms, the sturdy build of the shooter offers assurance that it won't slip out of our hands.
A stylus comes with this touchscreen device, but if you are thinking a conventional pen-shaped stick, think again. It is an oval, flat piece of plastic with a protruding side that acts as the tip of the stylus. After attaching the strap to the device as the manual instructed, we thought it looked odd even when paired with the camera. We felt it would've been better if Panasonic had used a slot for a normal stylus instead.
Tipping the scales at 175 grams with battery and memory card, this digicam is not a lightweight champion. Although this is a matter of preference as some people like their camera to have a solid feel to it.
The bottom and right slider adjust the shutter speed and aperture respectively. Tap on the AF/AE and you can choose the subject you want the camera to focus and expose on. (Click to enlarge)
The biggest selling point of the 10-megapixel FX520 is its 3-inch touchscreen. Although it is recommended to use the stylus, we found it to be more convenient to use our fingers instead. An AF/AE preference at the bottom right triggers the option for us to touch the subject we want the lens to focus on, as well as to optimise the exposure. It will also track and adjust the focus on moving subjects. This AF/AE option worked in all shooting modes, including the 21 scene modes which we will touch on a bit further on.
Unlike Sony's T300, not all the features can be accessed via touchscreen. To sift through the camera's menu, we had to use the four-directional joystick. Switching between shooting modes also required us to press the Mode button, before we could tap the screen for the touchscreen feature.
In Playback mode, we were able to zoom in to a part of the image by touching that area, which was a time-saving feature when we needed to check the sharpness of our subject.
Like most touchscreen devices, there is an option to calibrate the display. The shooter prompted us to tap on five small crosses, and for that we used the stylus instead.
The FX520 has extensive shooting modes to satisfy even the most advanced photographers.
(Click to enlarge)
What will really please advanced shutterbugs is the extensive shooting modes that Panasonic has included for the FX520. It comes with the following shooting modes: Program (P), Shutter-priority (S), Aperture-priority (A), and Manual (M). In all the modes, except Program, we were able to move the slider to select the shutter and/or aperture. In M mode, the minimum shutter speed is 60 seconds, which is suitable for night sceneries.
Like its more compact sibling, the Lumix DMC-FX36, the FX520 sports an ultra-wide-angle 25mm lens which, according to Panasonic, gives two times more view than a conventional 35mm lens. The optical zoom is rated at 5x, giving the shooter a total zoom range of 25-125mm.
Panasonic's proprietary Intelligent Auto (iA) mode is now made even more intuitive with the touchscreen. Usually, the iA mode can be easily fooled into selecting the wrong scene settings. But now, we just have to tap the subject on the screen and the camera automatically went into the appropriate scene mode. For example, when we tapped a face on the screen, the camera automatically went into Portrait scene mode. This is a good marriage of two features and we think it will assist amateurs to capture better shots.
The 21 scene modes cover a broad range of shooting conditions, but what really tickled us was the Pet and Baby mode. When set, the camera would prompt us to input the baby's or pet's age. Unfortunately we didn't have any babies or animals (not including our colleagues) in our Labs, but we figured that different age settings would affect the speed at which the camera tracks and follows the subject around.
The point-and-shoot also features 720p HD video recording. We plugged in the camera to an HDTV with a component cable provided with the review set to see how the HD video's quality fared. We recorded a short 10-second clip of moving vehicles and the playback was smooth and detailed. However, note that the visuals will differ on different televisions.
The shooter comes with 50MB of built-in memory and an expansion slot for SD/SDHC cards. HD video files are memory-intensive so you will need a flash card with a bigger capacity.
Note that there are still plenty of details in the shadow region in this high-contrast picture.
(Click to enlarge)
Like the FX36, the dynamic range on the FX520 was quite impressive with Intelligent Exposure activated. When faced with a scene of high contrast, the image captured rendered a good amount of details in the highlight and shadow regions.
Autofocus speed was acceptable, but this can be sped up by choosing the Quick AF mode. The camera will then constantly check the focus on the scene and adjust accordingly for quick snapping. Although we had some issues with the Quick AF on some of Panasonic's previous digicams, the FX520 didn't disappoint. The point-and-shoot was quick to focus when we shifted the lens from a macro subject to scenery.
Face Detection worked well, easily recognising the faces placed in front of the shooter. However, one exception was that the camera tended not to detect faces wearing spectacles.
At 2.1 seconds, the start-up time for the FX520 isn't the fastest we'd seen. It took a full second for the camera to take the first shot immediately after powering up. In terms of speed, it didn't quite make the mark. If you are looking for a speedy shooter with quick response time, Nikon's S600 might fit the bill better.
The shutter lag for the shooter clocked in at near to one second, which we felt was pretty acceptable for a compact camera.
According to Panasonic's specifications sheets, the Lithium-ion battery will give about 280 shots on a full charge. This is 10 less than the FX36, but we attribute it to the touchscreen which saps a bit more power. On this note, the battery life for digicams differs according to usage. If you activate features like the Quick AF, it will drain the battery faster due to the constant software processing and hardware shifting.
We are impressed with the image quality from the FX520. Visible noise only starts to appear at ISO 800 and above. (Click to enlarge)
We used to have gripes with Panasonic's image quality being slightly softer than we were comfortable with. For the FX520, this issue was rectified with the edges of focused objects being more well-defined. The Venus Engine IV image processing engine probably had a hand in this, and we were certainly more satisfied with the overall quality of the picture.
As we can tell from the ISO comparison chart, images captured at ISO sensitivity of 800 and below are clean and almost free of noise. Bumping it up to ISO 1,600 will produce images with slight film-like softness, but this shouldn't show up much on print.
The shooter was accurate in detecting different light sources and automatically adjusting the white balance for the picture. When we shifted the camera from a candlelight source to fluorescent, the point-and-shoot was quick to change the white balance for natural-looking colours.
The FX520 exceeded our expectations in terms of image quality and features. In the field of touchscreen shooters that was previously dominated by Sony, Panasonic has developed a shooter that can appease even advanced photographers.