The Panasonic FX550 - a swanky-looking touch screen compact camera with 25mm wide angle lens; it looks the part and has the specs to match. So how does the FX550 fare when put to the test? The What Digital Camera Panasonic Lumix FX550 review investigates...
Panasonic Lumix FX550 Review
The Panasonic Lumix FX550 (or FX580 as it’s known Stateside) is Panasonic’s latest 12.1 megapixel compact camera. The FX550 incorporates a 3in touch screen and wide angle 25mm lens to boot. If you’re looking to review which wide angle compact to buy this year then the Panasonic FX550 is a sure-fire contender. Read on for the What Digital Camera Panasonic FX550 review…
Panasonic FX550 Review: Features
The Panasonic FX550 is choc-full of top features. From the 3in touch-screen LCD – you can tap away with either the provided stylus pen or less dainty fingers – to the wide angle 25mm lens with 5x optical zoom; that makes the FX550 capable of 25-125mm (as a 35mm equivalent). Add Mega Optical Image Stabilisation to help avoid soft images from movement, fully manual controls (PASM) and a large array of scene modes – including Panasonic’s ‘intelligent Auto’ (iA) – to cater for the novice through to the more knowledgeable photographer: the Panasonic Lumix FX550 already sounds like a winning combination. There’s even manual ISO controls, a 720p HD video mode (1280×720), face recognition, particularly clever AF-tracking and even some panorama stitching software bundled into the box for further good measure. Those across the Atlantic may know the FX550 as the FX580 – they are one and the same camera, albeit with different names.
Panasonic FX550 Review: Design
The Panasonic FX550 comes in either black or a smart-looking silver (pseudo-brushed aluminium, as pictured). We at What Digital Camera think that either option would be a fine purchase, and at a relatively small and thin size the Lumix FX550 can easily slip into a bag, coat or pocket without excessively protruding…
By-and-large the FX550 has intuitive controls throughout use, with the notable sell-point being the inclusion of a touch screen LCD – which, at 3in, is more than large enough to fumble around with fingers or, as would be proper, use the provided stylus (though it is a bit plasticy and lacks the finish of the rest of the camera). The FX550’s semi-retro look doesn’t attempt to throw unnecessary curves or buzz-word designs into the fray either; plumping for elegant simplicity (though, sorry ladies, not available in hot pink).
If the touch screen option gets a little too much for you then the Lumix FX550 also offers quick access menu buttons too. Better still, for added ease of use, you can use the camera’s d-pad to select options or utilise the touch screen as you please – sometimes it feels easier to chop and change between the two. As Apple iPhone users (or other touch screen devices) will only be too aware, the touch screen revolution is in full swing and Panasonic fully takes charge of that technology here. However, when sliding some manual settings (such as shutter speed which varies from 60-1/12000th/sec) things can get a little fiddly to land on the precise setting of your choice.
Panasonic FX550 Review: Performance
The Panasonic FX550 is an all-round performer. The What Digital Camera Panasonic Lumix TZ7 review shows that Panasonic’s output is consistently high-calibre, and the FX550 is no washout when it comes to getting the shot.
Scene modes appear in abundance – some ‘fun’ options such as pinhole, film grain or black and white effects. Others assist with soft focus, portraiture, night shots; even ‘baby’ and ‘pet’ scene options. 720p HD video is a nice option to have and records at a good 30fps rate, only without the functionality of using the zoom whilst recording. Most notably the FX550 provides fully manual PASM options too. From manual to shutter or aperture priority, you can set up shot as you wish – the only thing really lacking here (and this is being very pernickety) is some kind of manual focus option (an electronic control via the zoom would have been nice) which would put some extra-special icing on the cake.
Panasonic’s intelligent Auto (iA) mode also features as a forefront feature of the FX550. The goal of this is to auto adjust ISO, utilise image stabilisation, face detection and intelligent scene selector (the camera ‘judges’ what you are looking at and chooses a scene accordingly) to gain the best possible shot whatever you’re up against. In practice, as with all cameras, there are limitations to how far this can be extended.
The Panasonic Lumix FX550 also makes use of AF tracking – it’s a clever mode where you can see your prime subject on the LCD screen (might be your pet dog to the left hand side, for example) and you can click to track using your finger. If successful a yellow ‘target’ will float over the subject and, should the subject move, track it around the screen to ensure that, when you do finally press the shutter, the AF tracking point will best focus and expose your target subject (assuming he’s not run out of frame). Very nifty indeed.
Lens-wise it’s fantastic to have a 25mm wide angle compact camera and the Lumix FX550 is no exception. Panasonic has been touting wide angle compacts for some time now and seems to have successfully carved its own niche into the market where other manufacturers are playing catch-up.
Panasonic Lumix FX550 Review sample image – wide angle (click for fullsize image)
Perhaps a slight, if not the only, real niggle with the Panasonic’s performance is the occasionally temperamental autofocus. It’s not inaccurate, but can be a little slow to gain focus. Also the otherwise advanced AF tracking can fail to pick up the subject you wish to track, depending on the complexity of the scene and how much subject movement there is. Finally the screen can be a little overly-reflective in bright light – particularly if you’re smudging fingers against the FX550’s touch screen.
Image Quality & Value For Money
The Panasonic Lumix FX550 utilises Panasonic’s in-house Venus Engine V – the fifth incarnation of the imaging concept that, fundamentally, is a bunch of clever algorithms to attain the best image quality possible. The FX550 houses a small 1/2.33 CCD sensor and crams 12.1 megapixel capability into that small space. Sensor nodes require as much space as possible to ‘breathe’ and let as much available light in as possible. Sometimes too many megapixels on a sensor can actually hinder the image quality, particularly when dealing with higher ISO sensitivity.
This is perhaps where the Panasonic LX550 comes a little unstuck, though not significantly – it’s more a small hurdle in an otherwise decent performance. In bright light on auto or at low ISO settings the image quality is good; it drifts somewhat at the upper echelons of ISO 800-1600, there image quality deteriorates significantly.
The Panasonic FX550 also comes with a Leica 5x optical zoom (25mm-125mm) lens which delivers quality results. Whilst, as is inherent in the small compact camera format, the aperture range is limited and depth of field widely uncontrollable due to small image size, it’s the ideal snapper for a wide range of subjects – moreso due to the built in flash for those darker moments (though the range is limited).
Panasonic FX550 Review – Value For Money
The Panasonic FX550 retails at £300, though hunt around on the web or in some high street stores and this can be cut down to as little as £240-270. Considering the rechargeable battery, wide angle lens and the touch screen, you’re picking up a lot of clout for your finest hard-earned sterling. It’s up there with the best of 25mm wide angle compact cameras.
If image quality is a real significant buy-in then you may wish to consider the Canon IXUS 990 – though this lacks the range of manual options and touch screen. Pound for pound the Panasonic FX550 has got quite the edge.
Quite simply the Panasonic FX550 (or FX580 for those across the pond) is an excellent little compact. Its simple design makes for easy functioning, further championed by the 3in touch screen, AF tracking and 25mm wide angle lens.
On occasion the autofocus may be a little slack, but with the fountain of other options that the Lumix FX550 puts on the table it’s forgivable; especially when considering the excellent AF-tracking mode to ensure your subject (however non-stationary) is in focus. Image quality is good in decent light and, although less reasonable in dimly lit conditions, there is always the flash there to save your shots.
Find the Panasonic Lumix FX550 at the right price and you’ll have a wide angle compact with manual modes to be proud of. At around the £250 mark you’ll be hard pressed to find a much better deal. In short: What Digital Camera recommends the Panasonic Lumix DMC FX550.
Quite simply the Panasonic FX550 (or FX580 for those across the pond) is an excellent little compact. Its simple design makes for easy functioning, further championed by the 3in touch screen, AF tracking and 25mm wide angle lens. On occasion the autofocus may be a little slack, but with the fountain of other options that the Lumix FX550 puts on the table it is forgivable; especially when considering the excellent AF-tracking mode to ensure your subject (however non-stationary) is in focus. Image quality is good in decent light and, although less reasonable in dimly lit conditions, there is always the flash there to save your shots.Find the Panasonic Lumix FX550 at the right price and you will have a wide angle compact with manual modes to be proud of. At around the £250 mark you will be hard pressed to find a much better deal. In short: What Digital Camera recommends the Panasonic Lumix DMC FX550.