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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX40 - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 24/04/2009
Rating: Highly Recommended
Author: Joshua Waller
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Read reviews on: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX40


Introduction: Announced on the 27th of January 2009, the Panasonic Lumix FX40 is one of Panasonic's top of the range ultra compact digital cameras, and features a 12 megapixel sensor, a 25mm wide angle lens with a 5x optical zoom, a 2.5" screen that works in the sun, 720p HD (high-definition) video recording, optical image stabilisation and a pocketable metal body. The Panasonic Lumix FX40 is available from around £249 which makes it good value for money. The camera is enclosed in a metal body and is available in black, red, and silver. The camera measures approx. 95.3 x 52.9 x 21.5 mm (excluding protrusions), and weighs approx. 128g. excluding battery and memory card.

Panasonic have this to say about the camera:

"The 12.1-megapixel high-resolution DMC-FX40 features a 25mm wide-angle 5x optical zoom f/2.8-5.9 LEICA DC VARIO-ELMARIT lens (35mm film camera equivalent: 25-125mm). The 25mm wide-angle lens has about twice the shooting area of the standard 35mm lens allowing you to capture breathtaking landscapes. Despite the ultra wide angle, DMC-FX40 features a 5x optical zoom, letting you capture distant subjects without degrading imaging quality."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Casio Exilim EX-FC100)


Front view - camera off.


Front view - camera on, flash, lens, focus assist lamp.


Top: Speaker, microphone, power switch, shutter release, zoom control, mode dial.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.


Size comparison.

Specifications / Features:

  • 12.1 megapixels 1/2.33-inch CCD Sensor
  • Leica Wide Angle 5x optical zoom lens (equivalent to 25mm to 125mm)
  • MEGA O.I.S optical image stabilization
  • 2.5" LCD Display (230K pixels)
  • Face Detection, Digital Red-eye Correctoin
  • Intelligent Auto mode with Intelligent Exposure
  • Video recording: HD 16:9 Aspect Ratio: 1280x720 30fps, 15 fps
  • Continuous shooting: 2.3 frames/sec Max. 5 images (Standard mode)
  • HD Output : Yes (HD AV Output - Component)
  • Red-Eye Reduction: Yes
  • 5cm Macro mode
  • ISO : Auto /100 / 200 / 400 / 800 / 1600 (High Sensitivity Mode : Auto (1600 - 6400))
  • Modes / Scenes: Intelligent AUTO, Normal Picture, SCN, Motion Picture, Clipboard, Scenes: Portrait, Soft Skin, Transform, Self-Portrait, Scenery, Panorama Assist, Sports, Night Portrait, / Night Scenery, Food, Party, Candle Light, Baby1, Baby2, Pet, Sunset, High sensitivity, / Hi-Speed Burst (Image Priority / Speed Priority), Flash Burst, Starry Sky, Fireworks, Beach, Snow, / Aerial photo, Pinhole, Film Grain, Underwater
  • Histogram available: In playback and record
  • Exposure bracketing: +/- 1/3 EV ~1EV step, 3 frames
  • Optical viewfinder: No
  • Manual WB: Yes

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera (with 40mb built in memory)
  • Battery Charger
  • Li-ion Battery Pack (3.6V, 940mAh)
  • Battery carrying case
  • AV Cable
  • USB Connection Cable
  • AC Cable
  • Strap
  • Software CD-ROM

Average box contents - a large memory card would be nice, as would a case and are both recommended purchases.

Menu system: The menu system is easy to use, logical, well layed out and easy to see thanks to the clear 2.5" screen. The camera has a "Quick Menu" button on the back that gived you quick access to all the most commonly used options whilst taking photos (such as burst mode, iso, white balance, image size etc), and then the Menu can be accessed when additional settings need changing such as setting manual white balance, digital zoom, colour mode, aspect ratio, etc. The playback menu gives all the usual options such as a slideshow, and lets you edit the photo title, or put a text stamp on the photo. An explanation of the scene modes can be viewed by pressing the Display / Info button.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera lets you choose the image size (12m, 8m, 5m, 3m, 2m, VGA), aspect ratio (4:3, 3:2 at 10.5m, 7m, 4.5m, and 2.5m, 16:9 at 9m, 6m, 3.5m, and 2m), and compression (Fine, Normal). Higher quality images take a large amount of memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended, unless you're prepared to sacrifice image size to fit more pictures in memory. There is a very good choice of image sizes, aspect ratios, and compression options.


Bottom - Battery (DMW-BCF10E, 3.6v, 940mAh), SanDisk Ultra II 4GB SD memory card, metal tripod mount.

Battery usage: Battery life is rated at 350 shots (according to CIPA standards) - I was able to take around 315 shots before the battery went flat, this is slightly better than average, and good for a compact.

Memory cards: A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 2gb memory card, if you intend to take fine JPEG images, and preferably a 4gb memory card, or larger. The larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. You can use SD or SDHC memory cards - I tend to use Sandisk Ultra II Plus USB SD memory cards as these let you plug the memory card straight into a USB socket making it easy to transfer images onto any computer, they are available as 1GB SD, or 2GB SD cards and 4GB SDHC cards. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Panasonic Lumix FX40:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 1gb (1000mb): £2, 2gb (2000mb): £2, 4gb (4000mb SDHC): £5, 8gb (8000mb SDHC): £10, 16gb (16000mb SDHC): £32
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera seems quite slow to switch on and take photos, from off, to taking a photo in 4.0 seconds (with Quick AF on). Focusing seemed quick, except in very low light - this takes a little longer to focus depending on the subject, and focus at the telephoto end of the zoom was slightly slower. The playback mode is quick. The camera shutter response seemed instant when pre-focused responding in 0.1 seconds or less - and shot to shot time was average, with a delay of around 2.4 seconds between shots without flash. The flash recharge time added about half a second delay allowing a shot to be taken every 3.0 seconds. Continuous shooting is quite good offering 2 fps for 5 shots at the highest resolution / standard compression. An unlimited continuous shooting mode shoots at around 1.5 fps. The cameras menus seemed quick.


Back - 2.5" screen, photo / playback switch, 4-way controller, with middle Menu / OK button, display and quick menu / delete buttons.

Ease of use: The camera is very easy to use, with a logical menu system, and easy to access features. The camera has a number of modes such as "intelligent AUTO" and numerous scene modes so that you should be able to get good shots. The face detection focus can help capture photos of people and will automatically expose the photo so they subjects face is correctly exposed. The controls on the back of the camera are straightforward, and it's easy to switch modes using the clear mode dial, and mode switch. The menus are responsive and are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy to see clearly. The modes are easy to access, and a lot of the options can be accessed using the buttons on the back. It's also easy to see when photos are in focus using the zoomed review mode. The screen is very clear, and features a bright mode so that it can also be used in bright sunlight. The camera is mostly point and shoot so should be very easy to use.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The layout of the buttons and controls are good, with all button and controls reachable with your right hand. The zoom control and shutter release is very good. The mode dial is positioned well making it easy to switch modes with your thumb, and the quick menu button gives quick access to your favourite settings. I thought the camera felt very good for a compact camera, although there is very little in the way of a hand grip at the front of the camera and I would recommend the use of the wrist strap. The camera feels well made, and quite robust. The camera is quite easy to hold despite the small size, fits very easily into pockets, and looks good, with a premium styled body available in a number of colours (black, red, or silver). The on / off and play / photo switches both felt very pleasing when used, and should mean that you don't accidentally switch the camera on in your pocket. The tripod mount is made out of metal, but is positioned right at the edge of the camera which could cause problems.

Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, such as Inside, Outside, Macro, to demonstrate the quality of pictures taken and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these photos, plus more photos are available in the Panasonic Lumix FX40 Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower (ISO200) Flash photo (ISO100)

Inside: The camera has very good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - there is some red-eye in the photo. It has a fairly good flash, and copes fairly well with group photos, although if the subject is too far away then detail can appear low if the ISO setting goes above ISO400. There is some red-eye in group photos. On AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was quite low, and noise was acceptable. The camera did a good job at focusing most of the time in low-light, the LED illuminator and face detection focus helps focus.

ISO Noise Test: Noise: Noise is generally a bad thing - it removes detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as digital camera noise is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise. Noise is most noticeable in dark areas of photos. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels (ranging from ISO 100 - ISO1600), manual ISO settings (ISO: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600), and further ISO settings upto ISO6400 in high sensitivity mode.

Below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops, viewable at 100%, from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 14.7 megapixel Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS and 12 megapixel Fujifilm FinePix F100fd.

Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS (14.7mp) Panasonic Lumix FX40 (12mp) Fujifilm FinePix F100fd (12mp)

ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS on the left, Panasonic Lumix FX40 in the middle, Fujifilm FinePix F100fd on the right. Any tonal difference is due to white balance or lighting / metering differences.

Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS (14.7mp) Panasonic Lumix FX40 (12mp) Fujifilm FinePix F100fd (12mp)
 
ISO 80 - Actual Pixels ISO 80 - Actual Pixels ISO80 - NA
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels (1s, Nightmode)
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels
ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels
ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels
ISO3200 - Actual Pixels (2mp) ISO3200 - High sensitivity mode. (3mp) ISO3200 - Actual Pixels

Noise results: Noise is noticeable on the Panasonic even from ISO100, and detail is good in these shots, with ISO100, and ISO200 showing excellent detail, it's only when you go above ISO400 where detail is smoothed away as they try and smooth away the noise as well. ISO800 and ISO1600 results show a lot of noise, and detail is blurred. Compared to the Fujifilm, the Panasonic shows more noise, however, noise levels appear roughly the same as the Canon.

Image Stabilisation: The Panasonic Lumix FX40 features real image stabilisation, called Mega Optical Image Stabilisation. This feature helps reduce image blur due to low light or long zoom photography. With image stabilisation switched on the images are much sharper and clearer, and are much more likely to come out blur free, especially in low light, when using the zoom or when using slow shutter speeds.

Outside:

Liverpool shops (ISO80) Super Lamb Banana (ISO80)

Outside: The camera has nicely saturated colours - colourful but not overly saturated. There was good detail, and the camera took a number of pleasing images outside, with good contrast. In general 'normal' quality jpeg artefacts are not easily seen, however areas with strong contrasts benefit from use of the highest quality setting. Images are slightly soft, but nothing too worrying. Noise is evident in most photos, mainly in dark areas, however, this was mainly noticeable when "pixel peeping" and viewing the images at 100% on the screen, when printed this noise was barely visible.

Zoom: This lens provides a 5x optical zoom starting at 25mm equivalent which is great for wide angle shots (useful indoors, and at parties etc), and the camera zooms to 125mm allowing photos of distant objects. I've included examples below to show what the zoom is capable of. An example of digital zoom can be seen below, digital zoom basically takes a crop of the centre of the frame and enlarges the image, degrading image quality, and is therefore best avoided.

Wide-angle Full Optical Zoom Full Optical and digital zoom

Exposure: The photos of the clock tower are exposed well with detail in the dark areas - however the clouds are slightly over exposed (it would be useful if it had a Dynamic Range mode like the Ricoh CX1) - exposure in other photos was generally very good. Vignetting was not noticed in these photos. It can be useful to under expose images with bright backgrounds (eg; sky) with use of exposure compensation.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens makes very little noise, and gives you around 15 steps between wide and telephoto - this gives very good control over how you frame your subject.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing / Chromatic aberration was occassionally seen in areas of high contrast, but was generally very low.

Macro Lens Performance:

Timex Watch Macro Actual Pixels (ISO125)

The camera can take macro photos where the subject is roughly 5 cm away from the lens in macro mode. Colour and detail is very good, and there appears to be some noise at ISO100. The camera has manual white balance which can help get better shots in artificial lighting.

Video mode: The camera features an excellent video mode - it records HD (16:9 Aspect Ratio) 1280x720 30fps videos with sound as MOV files and has fairly good compression allowing you to record long videos. The video mode does not let you use the optical zoom whilst recording.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality is very good - with excellent colour, and high levels of saturation, contrast and detail. Noise levels were average, with results good at ISO400 or below and prints made from this camera looked excellent, with very good detail. There was some red eye in group photos, and purple fringing was rarely seen. The camera did a good job focusing most of the time, even indoors, thanks to the focus assist lamp. There was no noticeable vignetting (darkened corners) despite the wide angle lens, nor did I notice barrel or pincushion distortion in photos. There is a very good range of image sizes, aspect ratios, and a good choice of compression options. Auto white balance, metering and exposure seemed to be very good, and manual white balance can help with photography in artificial lighting. Optical image stabilisation helped keep shots blur / shake free in low light helping the camera get a higher shot success rate than cameras without. The camera has an excellent 16:9 HD video mode. (8.5/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera has a compact and stylish metal body, available in a number of colours. The camera feels very well built, with pleasing switches, and is fairly comfortable to hold. It features things you may not need such as face detection, intelligent Auto, but it turns out that these can be useful features. The camera has a good 2.5" screen that works well even in the sun. The camera is easy to use, thanks to numerous scene modes, and clever auto modes, and provides quick access to the most commonly used options. The layout of buttons and controls is very good. The camera speed is good, with an average switch on time, quick focusing time, excellent shutter response, quick playback mode, quick menus, and quick continuous shooting mode, and a quick flash recharge time. The camera has a wide range of features that should suit most people, such as face detection focus, red-eye reduction, numerous scene modes, excellent video mode, very good macro mode, an ultra wide angle 4x optical zoom lens with image stabilisation, manual white balance and numerous photo options etc. The camera even has decent battery life for a compact camera. (9.5/10)

Value for Money: The Panasonic Lumix FX40 from around £249, is slightly expensive, although is comparable to much of the competition. Other cameras worth considering include the Ricoh CX1, Panasonic Lumix FX150, Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS, the waterproof Olympus Mju Stylus 1030SW, and the Fujifilm FinePix F100fd. (8/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: Panasonic have taken an already winning formula, and tweaked it, with more megapixels, all packed into the same ultra compact and stylish body. Even with more pixels, image quality is still excellent, and noise is average, with very good detail. The camera provides an abundance of features, such as the excellent ultra wide angle lens, that starts at an impressive 25mm and zooms to 125mm. The camera features a very clever "Intelligent Auto" mode and makes using the camera easy, and fun, and provides an abundance of scene modes for beginners. For those looking for more creativity the camera features manual white balance, exposure bracketing, rapid continuous shooting, a histogram, and other image options. Add in an impressive widescreen HD video mode and you have an impressive all-round package, all squeezed into a tiny, stylish, metal camera. Highly Recommended.

Panasonic Lumix FX40 Rating: Highly Recommended (8.6/10)
Available for £249 - or Get the best price below!

What I like:

  • Very easy to use
  • Very compact and stylish metal body
  • Very good build quality and switches
  • Very good image quality - excellent colour
  • Ultra wide angle 25mm 5x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilisation
  • Intelligent ISO / Exposure / Intelligent AUTO mode will automatically set ISO, Shutter speed, Subject type etc
  • Excellent 2.5" screen - works well in bright sunlight
  • Impressive detail at ISO100
  • Good macro mode
  • Good performance - 2fps continuous shooting
  • Focus assist lamp
  • Excellent video modes (16:9 aspect ratio, HD, 30fps etc)
  • Low purple fringing

What I don't like:

  • Noise visible at ISO100
  • Slightly weak flash, some red-eye
  • Tripod mount positioned to the far left.

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Panasonic Lumix FX40 Sample Photo Gallery.

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