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The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX580 is a $400 point-and-shoot that brings extensive manual controls, a touch-screen interface and wide-angle lens to the table. While we were highly impressed by the level of control while shooting, the image quality was overall sub-par.
In the Box
- Battery charger
- USB cable
- AV cable
- Hand strap
Our first round of testing is for color accuracy, and like in so many of our other tests, the FX580 didn't perform very well at all. Test photos are shot under bright studio illumination, and we look at how far from the known color values of the X-rite ColorChecker chart the camera deviates. More on how we test color.
The chart below shows how each of the cameras, in their most accurate color modes, compare to the ideal values shown in the leftmost column. As the comparison graph below shows, the Panasonic was substantially less accurate than the other cameras in our comparison group. It had significant trouble dealing with blues, oranges, red and some dark greens.
Most cameras have a set of color modes, like Vivid or Soft, which change the emphasis of the colors, and often shift the saturation. The FX580 doesn't have any of these. It does let you tweak contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction, though, which mimics many of the effects of color modes.
The amount of image noise was one of the few areas the FX580 scored reasonably well, keeping undesirable speckles down until ISO 800. The FX580 is unusual for a point-and-shoot in that it allows the user to change the level of noise reduction. For this test, we left it on the default, but check out our sample photo section for some comparisons of the processing effectiveness at different settings. More on how we test noise.
Interestingly, the image noise was consistently a little lower under low light than bright light. Compared to the other cameras, the FX580 performed well at ISOs 800 and below (with ISO 200 an especially strong point). At ISO 1600, the camera spikes massively, and the noise level jumps remarkably quickly.
The table below shows examples of the noise levels, under both bright and low light, at four ISOs.
Compared to the other cameras, the image noise on the Panasonic was pretty low. It did have trouble at high ISOs, but in a more typical shooting range, it performed admirably.
The ISO range on the camera is 80-1600. In High Sensitivity scene mode, the ISO can get up to ISO 6400 (at 3 megapixel resolution or below), but in this mode, you have no control over the sensitivity and it automatically sets between ISO 1600 and 6400 . As mentioned above, it does have the rare ability to alter the level of noise reduction, which is a nice addition.
Looking at the images below, you'll see that the Panasonic's photos have an odd blue tint to them. This was due to the automatic white balance system having trouble dealing with the LED lighting array on our still life.
NOTE: The images above are not used in our testing or scoring, but are included here to show real-world examples of the differences between cameras at the various ISO settings.
The resolution test is divided into three areas: distortion, sharpness and chromatic aberration. While the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FC580 kept distortion low, the poor handling of sharpness and chromatic aberration lead to an overall low score. More on how we test resolution.
Distortion was the strong suit of the resolution testing for this camera. At 22mm and 13.2mm the distortion was kept very low, 0.7% and 0.3% respectively. However, at wide-angle, 4.4mm, it raised to 1.45% barreling.
While the wide-angle result was a little high, at the other points in the focal range it was low enough to give the Panasonic a decent score in this section.
Overall the sharpness was pretty poor. As with most cameras, the center of the lens was the sharpest, which worsened outwards, before improving at the corners. However, the drop from the center to the middle area was significantly greater than what you see with most other cameras. The overall softest results were at 22mm, and the sharpest at 13.2mm.
Chromatic Aberration ()
The chromatic aberration was very similar in performance to the sharpness result. Best in the center, then worsening outwards, before improving. It had both the best and worse results at 4.4mm, in different areas of the lens.
Quality & Size Options
Once the aspect ratio is set to 4:3, 3:2 or 16:9, the resolution can be set to a number of sizes. This is a mammoth number of sizes and shapes, and suitable for any situation. JPEG compression can be set to fine or normal quality. The only feature missing is the ability to shoot RAW.
The FX580 image stabilization system produced no noticeable improvement in our testing. This test is based around standard indoor illumination, when you would really need stabilization to help prevent blurry photos.
The chart below shows 100% crops from each of the comparison cameras, showing the improvement shown with stabilization on and off. More on how we test image stabilization.
Given that one of the hallmarks of this camera is its breadth of manual controls, its unsurprising to see many manual control options are also available while in video mode (or Motion Picture mode, as Panasonic calls it, which gives us delusions of cinematographic genius). However, while you still have choices over resolution, white balance and picture quality adjustments, there are also some controls noticeably missing. For instance, there's no direct control over the metering area, focus area or stabilization. However, if you set these in still mode, the settings seems to be retained in movie mode.
Compared to the other cameras, the FX580 had decently accurate color in video mode. It's easily on par with most other cameras that can shoot HD video, and a bit above the Sony T900. More on how we test video color.
In our test of sharpness while shooting video, the FX580 wasn't up to the same level as the Canon SD970 or Sony T900, but was comparable to the Samsung HZ15W. More on how we test video sharpness.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX580 uses a switch to go between playback and shooting, which means you're a lot less likely to accidentally toggle between modes by bumping something.
Panasonic has thrown in just about every imaginable way of viewing your images. While in Playback, the Mode button serves to change the way the photos are displayed. Of these modes (listed below), Calendar and Multi Playback can both be accessed by zooming out in Normal Play.
In normal playback, you can zoom in up to 16x times, while a handy little button in the bottom left of the touch-screen jumps you back to 1x zoom.
Oddly, given that this is a touch screen camera, there is no option to draw or paint all over the images. Frankly, we don't miss it. Rather, what you can do is resize, trim, level (rotate by up to 2° in either direction), add a title to the file, imprint information, or protect the file.
Direct Print Options
For DPOF, you can select the number of prints to make from images, with the additional option of imprinting the date. When you plug directly into a PictBridge printer, you can also change paper size and page layout.
You'll be hard-pressed to find a point-and-shoot that carries a viewfinder presently.
The LCD here is a touch screen and previously we've had issues with some touch screen based cameras (the Sony T900 and T700 spring to mind immediately). The problem with many of these screens, is that they're resistive type, which has a tendency to be slightly inaccurate. This becomes a major issue when the LCD is the only method of input. Wisely, Panasonic use the LCD in addition to standard button based controls. So while the screen might not be the most accurate method of entering settings, it bolsters the traditional controls, rather than completely replacing them.
There are a couple of features which can only be used with the touch screen. Touch to focus is one of these functions, where you tap on an area where you want the camera to focus and meter. Also, adjusting exposure compensation, ( and aperture and shutter speed, when enabled), must be done by sliding a bar on the screen. It's not the worlds most elegant way of changing settings, but it works.
Many of the menus can be browsed using either touch screen or the directional buttons. You can easily spot these, because the icons are large enough to be hit by a finger. In fact, the only situation where you can only use the four-way pad are the options that are accessed using the Menu button. The quick menu, editing controls, changing flash modes, all of those sorts of things can be changed either way.
As for looks, 230,000-dot resolution on an LCD isn't mind blowing, but it's acceptable. It's bright enough for most situations, though you'll likely have some trouble using it under the full glare of the sun.
The flash on the FX580 felt a bit under-powered, with some major light dropoff towards the edges. This may be a bit exaggerated due to the wide-angle lens, but it just didn't feel very bright.
The control for the flash are good. It can be set to Auto, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, On, Off, and Slow-Synch/Red-Eye Reduction. This last one pairs the flash with a long shutter speed to give a more even exposure across the entire frame, including the background. The flash brightness can also be adjusted in the exposure compensation controls to ±2 EV in 1/3 EV steps.
The lens on this camera is 5x zoom, 25mm wide-angle. The focal length runs 4.4-22mm (25-125mm 35mm equivalent).The aperture range is f/2.8 to f/5.9, which is just about as fast as you'll get on a point-and-shoot.
The table below gives a feel for what a 5x zoom offers.
The battery on the FX580 is a lithium ion rechargeable. Panasonic gives the number of photos recordable on a single charge as 350, which is a good lifespan for a point-and-shoot.
The FX580 uses SD and SDHC cards, which are the standard memory card for most digital cameras. They're inexpensive, and high capacity.
Jacks, Ports & Plugs
The FX580 has two I/O ports, one for AV and USB, the other for component out. The camera doesn't come with cables for the component port, but the option is there if you want to spring for high-def connectivity. Neither of these are industry standard ports, so cord replacement is expensive.
The thing we love about the FX580 is its slew of manual controls, especially in terms of shooting modes. In addition to program mode, there's aperture priority, shutter priority and manual shooting modes.
Auto Mode Features
There is no shortage of focus modes on the FX580. One of the cool features of a touch screen is the ability to tap anywhere on the LCD and have the camera focus on that point. If you want to cancel out of this focus mode, there's an appropriate button on the bottom right of the screen.
If you don't use face detection, then the focus can be set to 11-area-focusing (full frame), 1-area-focusing (center), or spot-focusing. 1-area-focusing can also be put into a high speed mode, which is meant to make focusing a bit faster, though we didn't find it too slow regardless.
With face recognition turned on, faces can be saved, with a name and birth date attached, and the camera will try and identify them. However, over the course of this review we couldn't get this function working quite right. Consider it a work in progress.
Evaluative, center weighted, or spot, plus if you touch on the screen to focus on an area, it will meter from there too.
The only timers available are the standard 10 and 2 second affairs.
Of course in addition to this is intelligent auto (where it guesses the scene mode), scene mode, my scene mode, and motion picture. My scene mode is just a shortcut to a scene mode that you've set as your favorite. Then there are 26 different scene modes, a few of which are worth discussing. Soft skin is part of a growing trend in cameras, whereby they digitally smear over your skin in an odd attempt to beautify you. Transform either stretches or squishes the image, and is all but useless. Panorama mode helps you line up pictures for a panorama, but still requires an outside program to stitch them together. Baby1 and Baby2 modes are identical, they just let you save details about a different child in each (age and name), which is then imprinted on the image. There are also two artistic filters: pin hole and film grain.
From the scene modes menu, you can add a pinhole lighting effect, or film grain to the image. The color effect menu changes the image to black and white, sepia, cool or warm. Finally, the image can be adjusted for contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction over five levels each.
Panasonic knows the way to this reviewer's heart is through manual controls. They've taken many of the exposure controls normally seen in SLRs, and tucked them into the FX580. The exposure compensation range runs ±2 EV in 1/3 EV steps, but in addition to that you can auto bracket three shots in 1/3, 2/3, or 1 EV steps. There's also color bracketing which takes the photo in normal, black and white and sepia. Finally, flash exposure compensation runs ±2 EV in 1/3 steps.
The presets on the camera run through some of the usual suspects: daylight, cloud, shade and tungsten. Strangely lacking is any sort of fluorescent preset. However, in the camera's favor, it also offers auto white balance, custom white balance, and the ability to manually enter the kelvin value of a light setup. Not only that, but any of the settings or presets can then be tweaked along the green/magenta and amber/blue axes, allowing you to fine tune them. This is something we almost never see in point-and-shoot cameras. One black mark against the camera is that its auto white balance seemed to have difficulty properly accounting for common light sources.
The maximum aperture is a speedy f/2.8, which is just about as good as you'll get on a point-and-shoot. However, the smallest aperture is only f/8, so you won't be able to get an incredibly wide depth of focus. Thanks to the manual and aperture priority shooting modes, the aperture is completely controllable, a flexibility we heartily appreciate.
The shutter speed can be manually set in manual and shutter priority modes, from 1/2000 to 8 seconds. Starry sky mode also allows settings of 15, 30 or 60 seconds.
At full resolution, the camera took two photos very quickly, then slowed down vastly, averaging only 0.4 fps over the five shots we take. However, in hi speed burst scene mode, you prioritize speed (10fps) or image quality (6fps) with 3M images.
Shot to Shot ()
The overall speed of 0.4fps over a five-shot sequence was substantially behind the other cameras.
The Lumix FX580 is an extremely boxy camera. It's all hard edges and right-angles. The chances of you slipping this into a tight pair of pants are pretty slim, though it's easily small enough to throw into a jacket or small bag. For all its blockiness, the FX580 is pretty easy to handle. It has a good weight, a solid feel, and seems like it could take a bit of a beating without dying. While it lacks grace and finesse, it's still a decent camera to sling around.
Buttons & Dials
The buttons on the FX580 are small, but hardy and well spaced. There's enough gap between each one that you're unlikely to hit the wrong button. Since each control is raised rather substantially, you can distinguish each one by touch, another nice feature. One interesting design choice is the use of switches instead of buttons for the power and playback controls. Anyone who has ever had a camera switch on in their bag, and drain the batteries, knows that a switch can stop you from spending a weekend camera-less.
As stated previously, we really like the fact that the touch-screen system augments rather than replaces the traditional controls. The vast majority of settings can be changed using either rather than requiring one input method or the other. Our only complaint is that we wish all of the controls could be used by both, so that exposure compensation, aperture, and shutter speed didn't require using the touch screen.
With the menu system on the FX580, Panasonic combined traditional and touch-based menu systems in a way that's easy to distinguish, and simple to browse through. The one addition we would have liked is descriptions or names of the various options for settings, as sometimes their icons aren't easily intelligible.
Manual & Learning
The manual for this camera is a bit of a tome, unsurprising given its breadth of manual controls. The manual has a frankly underwhelming table of contents and index (the latter a mere two pages for 140 pages of content). While it explains concepts well, it doesn't elaborate how modes and functions operate well enough. If you're using this manual to learn how to use a rather complicated camera for the first time, expect some swearing. You can grab the manual for the FX580 from here.
Samsung HZ15W Comparison
While the Canon SD970 IS and Panasonic Lumix FX580 have a similar price point, they offer very different experiences. The Panasonic is designed around user control and manual options, but had issues with image quality, where the Canon is light on controls but high on image quality.
The SD970 is easier on the eyes, and on the hands. It has a higher-resolution screen (though without touch controls), and a nicer interface. In terms of image performance it outdid the Panasonic in every metric we measure, boasting more accurate color, lower noise, sharper images, stronger image stabilization, higher speed and better video mode. When it comes to which camera takes better photos, there's absolutely no contest.
But then there's the issue of control. The FX580 is a photographer's camera. It has a slew of controls you normally only see in SLRs (like white balance microadjustments), and manual, aperture priority and shutter priority modes are a huge draw for users who want a high degree of control over the camera.
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T900 Comparison
The Panasonic and Samsung both have a decent set of manual controls, but the Samsung is a compact ultra-zoom, a camera that packs a 10x zoom into a relatively small space. This blows away the Panasonic's comparatively paltry 5x, though both are substantial wide-angles lenses.
Performance wise, the Samsung outdoes the Panasonic in most situations. The only tests where it scored lower was image noise and video color accuracy. The noise difference is due to the Samsung's noise levels massively increasing at ISOs 800 and 1600, though it was decent below that.
Both cameras have pretty good manual controls, but the Panasonic's are markedly better. The Samsung has a manual exposure mode, but this will only let you set the aperture to a maximum or minimum, and it lacks aperture- or shutter-priority modes. It also has auto exposure bracketing (like the FX580), but again with fewer options. The Samsung has some of the manual controls that we crave, but not to the same extent as the rather impressive Panasonic.
Due to its high zoom ratio and overall better performance, the Samsung is perhaps more of a multi-purpose shooter with a good amount of manual controls. However, if you want to be able to tweak and twiddle to your hearts content (which we sometimes do), then the Panasonic is decent choice.
The Panasonic and Sony provide an interesting comparison, as they're both at around the same price point, and both use touch-screens for interface. Yet these are radically different cameras. The T900 is an incredibly thin camera, that uses its 920,000-dot touch screen for just about all interface controls. It has almost no manual settings, severely limited controls, and is so small you can slip it into the tightest pair of jeans in existence. We did have issues with the touch-screen interface feeling inaccurate, once you start using it for every menu and option.
On the other hand, the Panasonic is resplendent in its manual controls, with a touch-screen that is used to augment rather than replace the traditional button based controls. Where the Sony even lacks the ability to manually white balance, the Panasonic can tweak white balance presets, or enter Kelvin values for a lighting situation.
However, as much as we love the controls on the Panasonic over the Sony, it's hard to argue against our lab results. Apart from image noise, distortion and video color, the Sony was far more competent in terms of image quality. That said, it will appeal to a very different shooter than the FX580, as it's designed to just pick up and use, where the Panasonic is aimed at a more serious photographer.
Our view on the FX580 is split. On one hand, we absolutely love the manual controls. Manual, aperture-priority, and shutter-priority shooting modes. Tweakable white balance. Auto exposure bracketing. Adjustable noise compensation, sharpness, saturation and contrast. Touch to focus. The only feature missing from making this a pro-user's dream is the ability to shoot RAW.
On the other hand, though, this is the worst camera we've tested this year in terms of image quality. The color accuracy is low, the images are soft, chromatic aberration is high, it has a slow burst mode.
It's hard for us to reconcile these issues, so we will recommend it for a very specific type of user. If you want a camera that you can just pick up and use, that will take amazing photos, then this isn't for you. It's too expensive, and requires too much tweaking. However, if you want a compact camera that has amazing manual settings, and don't mind doing some retouching in Photoshop, then have a look at the FX580. The manual controls are fantastic, and with a little editing, the images should be fine.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX580 has 5x zoom, wide-angle lens, shoots 12-megapixel images, and has a recommended price of $399.95
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