The pocket-sized Panasonic Lumix FX9 is a 6-megapixel point-and-shoot digital camera with a 3x Leica optical zoom lens and big, bright 2.5-inch LCD display. It also features Panasonic's 2-mode MEGA O.I.S. optical image stabilization. The camera is solidly constructed, easy to use, and feels good in the hands.
Introduction The FX9 is the first Panasonic digital camera I've had the opportunity to use. I had it for quite a while and took it everywhere. I took it mountain biking, I took it to the 2006 PMA camera tradeshow, I took it on airplanes, I took it to restaurants, I took it to a hockey game. I can't think of any kind of picture I didn't take with it. Overall it was an enjoyable camera to use, although it does a few weaknesses.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9 Features
The FX9's most notable features are the Leica DC Vario-Elmarit 3x zoom lens, a 2.5-inch LCD monitor, and Panasonic's MEGA O.I.S. optical image stabilization. You can't miss the big, bright, 2.5-inch LCD on the FX9. It's got great image quality, the information is displayed well, and it has live histogram and composition grid features that can be turned on and off.
The FX9 is a simple point-and-shoot camera and doesn't offer any exposure controls other than exposure compensation. Shooting modes are accessed via the Mode Dial, cleverly inset below the top panel. The main modes are Normal (program), "Simple," Macro, Motion picture (movie), and SCN, which gives access to the camera's 14 scene modes. Since I like as much control as possible, I mostly used the Normal mode and constantly adjusted the exposure compensation to fine-tune my photos. I also enjoyed the "Party" scene mode, which allowed me to use flash with slow shutter speeds to get some motion blur, a style I like.
The Simple mode is represented by a heart on the mode dial and is pure point-and-shoot. It has fewer shooting options and a simplified menu to make it easy for beginners to use the camera. Scene modes and the Normal mode allow use of exposure compensation to lighten or darken photos. The Scene modes help point-and-shoot photographers shoot more technical subjects like portraits, sports, and landscapes. Exposure programming and in-camera processing take care of the technique and let the photographer concentrate on their subject. The Portrait scene mode enhances skin tones and uses larger apertures to blur the background. The Sports mode uses faster shutter speeds to freeze action. If you don't know which scene mode to use you can press the left button on the four-way keypad to access descriptions and tips for each scene mode. The helpful descriptions are a nice touch. In-camera help is actually becoming a standard feature for point-and-shoot digital cameras and a camera that didn't have it would be missing the boat.
The Panasonic MEGA O.I.S. optical image stabilization is wonderful. I left it on all the time and couldn't think of any reason not to. It makes a big difference in low light. I had a lot of successful photos at 1/8th second, which is much slower than normally possible for handheld photos. The MEGA O.I.S. image stabilization has two modes and can also be turned off. Mode 1 leaves the image stabilization on all the time in order to assist with composition on the LCD as well as helping with image sharpness. Mode 2 only activates when you press the shutter release button to take a picture. There are a couple reasons why you might want to turn off the MEGA O.I.S. Using it when the camera is on a tripod will confuse the image stabilization system and may cause blurry photos. Also, if there's plenty of light and you don't need it, turning it off will save your batteries.
The Lumix DMC-FX9 has a standard f/2.8-5.0 3x optical zoom, equivalent to about 35-105mm on a 35mm camera. The "f-number" range indicates that the maximum aperture changes when you zoom the camera's lens. The f/5.0 is a bit "slow", meaning the lens lets in less light at its maximum zoom. That makes it less versatile in low light, less capable for action photos, and harder to make portraits with soft, out-of-focus backgrounds. A fixed, f/2.8 aperture Leica lens would have made the FX9 a camera that photographers would really drool over.
Vietnamese soup garnishes taken handheld at 1/8th of a second using the FX9's Food scene mode and MEGA O.I.S. image stabilization.
I'm not sold on the Leica lens making a difference with pocket-sized digital cameras. Unless there are real optical problems like vignetting, chromatic aberration, or edge distortion; the sensor and image processing contribute more (or do more damage) to the image quality of compact digital cameras than the lens. That said, the FX9 does show more contrast and a snappy brightness that I associate with Leica optics. It's hard to be sure that these qualities come from the lens and not just image processing. But I think my FX9 images have some of that "je-ne-sais-pas" Leica magic.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9 detailed playback display, with histogram
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9 record mode with live histogram
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9 playback mode menu
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9 record mode menu
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9 Design
The first thing you notice about the Lumix DMC-FX9 is its smooth, solid, metal body. Even though it's a small camera it has a heft to it that most cameras its size don't have. The FX9's substantial feel gave me extra confidence and should make the camera more stable than other camera's its size. The weight of the camera and MEGA O.I.S. image stabilization, combined with the easy-to-hold elongated body make this a great camera for getting sharp photos in low light.
The LCD excellent is an important FX9 design element because the camera has no optical viewfinder. Even though we happily use digital camera LCDs for composing most of the time, there are situations where the precision of a real viewfinder makes a difference. I find that it's next to impossible to take successful motion panning photos without an optical viewfinder. That said, the LCD is way better than average and I did take some decent panning photos with it. The display quality truly is outstanding. The camera is an attention-getter and people will look over your shoulder at the FX9's bright, saturated LCD and say, "Ooooohhhhh - let me see! What camera is that?"
Control placement is pretty much standardized on point-and-shoot cameras now. What I look for is easy access to zoom, exposure compensation, image playback, ISO, and flash control. The FX9 provides good access to all the controls that really matter. The inset Mode Dial is a really cool design element. It's effective in keeping the mode dial from accidentally being moved. However, it's a bit slow to use when you do want to change the mode or view photos. You have to rotate the camera so you can see the top of the dial and it takes a little time and attention away from taking pictures. I also found that the dial would get moved when the camera was in my pocket. So it might be better to make the mode dial a little tighter, move it, or otherwise protect it. It's a drag to pull the camera out of your pocket for a quick photo and not have the settings and options you want available.
My overall experience with the FX9 was very positive. The main word I'd use to describe it is, "fun." It's simple, easy to carry everywhere, and generally delivers photos that make me happy. The solid build meant I didn't worry about damaging the camera and was willing to carry it in my pocket almost all the time. The FX9 went with me when a lot of other cameras would have stayed at home and that meant it took more pictures. The combination of the MEGA O.I.S. image stabilization and excellent focus assist light make the FX9 an excellent low light camera. I took perfectly exposed and focused pictures in lighting situations where other cameras wouldn't even release the shutter. The bright, saturated, detailed LCD is a real pleasure to compose and share with.
When I look back over my FX9 experience, one thing that's missing is inspiration. Although the camera has all the right tools to take good pictures, it didn't make me excited to use it or make me feel like I was creating masterpieces. There's a couple of ways to look at that. On the one hand, it's a solid tool that gives confidence and delivers. On the other hand, I've used cameras that made me feel like every picture could be a masterpiece. This isn't one of those. An f/2.8 aperture on the Leica lens might have done that for me. It probably would have added at least $100 to the price of the camera, though.
Low light mountain bike photo taken in Florida. Click for full-size image.
Image Quality The FX9's metering and exposure are very good. Photos taken at ISO 80 and 100 are sharp, contrasty, and the camera's exposure is good. Most people will probably be dazzled by the color saturation and never find any fault with the camera's image quality. However, if you're the kind of person who likes to look closely you'll realize that noise is noticeable at all ISO settings, including the lowest, ISO 80. I am not that concerned about the noise. I care more about photo content than image quality. But the noise is there and it would be nice if it weren't. It's also important to remember that this is a point-and-shoot digital with a tiny little sensor. Some noise is part of the deal with a camera like this.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9's image quality depends on the subject matter. Bright, colorful, detailed subjects look great. But more neutral, less detailed subjects have obvious noise - especially color noise in the shadows. And the camera has a definite problem with purple fringing. Take a look at the trees at the top of the mountain bike photo. The problem is very obvious and even a bit disturbing. That's a shame because I really like this photo and think it had the potential to be a seller without the purple fringing.
The FX9 doesn't offer direct control of sharpness, saturation, and contrast. Instead, it has three "Picture Adjust" options: Natural, Standard, and Vivid. I used Standard for most photos. According to the EXIF data, selecting the "Natural." Picture Adjust setting adjusts saturation and sharpness from "Normal" to "Low." Photos taken using the Natural setting have a bit more detail and aren't quite as harsh. Not that they really looked harsh set to Standard. But the super-saturated color might be a bit much for some people and inappropriate for some subjects.
Click on thumbnails to view sample photos.
Click on thumbnails to view sample photos.
Conclusion I give the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9 the thumbs up. I love the size and build and the convenience of being able to take it everywhere. It provides most of the tools I require in a point-and-shoot - easy exposure compensation access, a live histogram, quick playback access, and reasonably quick shutter and start-up response. The things it's missing - an optical viewfinder, a wider lens, excellent image quality - aren't deal-killers on a point-and-shoot camera. And the MEGA O.I.S. optical image stabilization and wonderful LCD really help make the FX9 a special camera.
I think the FX9 is especially good for fun snapshots and spontaneous party photos. Keep it on the Party scene mode, with slow flash synch and you're set to take super-fun and stylish party photos. In fact, I liked to use the party mode all the time. "Party all the time" - maybe that should be this camera's motto?
Who Should Buy The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9 Like any point-and-shoot digital that's built well and can deliver quality images, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9 is a good choice for anyone who wants a good compact digital camera. If you shoot a lot in low light, then the image stabilization makes the FX9 an even better choice. The sturdy build means that people who don't want to baby their camera would do well with the FX9, too.
On the other hand, if you're looking for maximum exposure control and/or perfect image quality, you should look elsewhere. Exposure control is limited to exposure compensation, and there is noticeable noise in most photos and a problem with purple fringing. But nobody ever said it was an SLR replacement.
Strengths: Optical Image Stabilizer works as intended and I've taken a lot of pictures at 1/8s without any blur.
Very good lens without much distortion
Easy interface. People without much experience can easily use this camera.
In spite of its small size it takes good pictures.
Excellent movie mode.
Nice LCD screen
Weaknesses: Loss of detail and noisy at iso 400.
Weak flash (common for small cameras like this).
A bit expensive compared to competition but you get a very fine camera.
Only few manual adjustments but I don't care that much about that in a small camera like this.
I use it as a point-and-shooter that I always carry with me. In terms of image quality it cannot compete with a DSLR but a great picture is a great picture no matter what camera took it. What it lacks in manual adjustments it makes up in portability, ease of use and having OIS! The optical image stabilization works very well. The pictures taken at iso 400 are a tad too noisy in my taste but that's about my only complain about the camera. Highly recommended!
My fx9 gallery: http://www.pbase.com/natursyn/lumix_fx9
I've put a large (20 mb!) movie file here:
My mother's cat
My two cents on the astonishingly small DMC-FX9
This review is not about teh hardware specs found on already a dozen sites, nore on fast focussing works on this camera, or what noise qualitites to expect at different modes and lightsituations, how the image stabiliser utilizes two powerfull modes to enable 1/2 second ultra sharp and steady exposures, why the AF assistlight is an indispensible gadget and why Panasonic put 207.000 pixel in stead of the old 117.000 pixel LCD, and also i will not mention my feelings for the exquisite liveliness of the movie mode that captures in absolute realtime a high resolution movie of the atmost moments...
My full review is about the usefullness and dailylife usage of the camera
There is a possibility that this camera could be smaller than your mobile phone. Be prepared to think that now you need a smaller mobile phone, such as the MOTOROLA RAZR.
The camera fit's any pocket, on any costume, easily. It's as long as your point finger, as thick as your thumb and as dumb as a baby begging to been playing with. Nevertheless this "limitation" of customisablity of manual settings could become usefull in putting more thought in the scene/composition as opposed to scrolling in long menu's searching for whitebalance adjustments. The latter is fotunately translated in 15 different graphically iconized scenemodes; like portrait, nightscenes, party, baby, food, sports, etc, where whitebalancing adopts according to predefined settings. This makes it the perfect gift for any dum given mom or dad, in need to photograph uninteresting but normally highly adjustment requiring objects, such as babies for example.
The graphic menu makes selection for language obsolete and in my belief fastenes selection procedures. The menu is fast, quick reacting and so is the image feed. since there is no viewfinder onboard, the LCD is important and Panasonic forsaw in this. Clear crisp, live feed assures that the fast focus is shown on the screen, such that the shutter lag is minimised.
With most digital camera's, the image quality is the most important asset. Many mistakenly belief the amount of megapixel. For this latter group of stupid enthousiasts Panasonic has made this wonderful camera, boasting with 6 megapixels of image rosluition. You hopefully know that this has nothing to do with image quality, since i know a hundred qamera's with 5 megapixel resolution that perform a lot better in almost any way than the poto's captures with the FX9.
But, this camera is not like most other digital camera's. it's joy combined with snapshot photography. lomography combined with high quality stabalised lens mechanics, designed by Leica (who should now be ashamed of the poor image quality produced by all other large panasonic camera's, exhibiting such enormous amount of random nois storms, that SETI project could make UFO langind signals out of almost every single captured image)
As an enormous qiality freak, used to nothing less than the industry quality hardware such as Schneider Optics and FUJINON EBC coated lenses on my GX 617, with such a time consuming and expensive gear, in today's stressed workshemes i think it's a nice tool recording bits and pieces of visual inspirations for my work and pleasure.