Conclusion - Pros
- High resolution, clean images
- Excellent color - vivid but natural
- High quality construction, lovely design
- Good edge-to-edge sharpness
- Reliable white balance
- Feels fast and responsive
- High speed focus near class-leading performance
- Big, bright, high resolution screen
- Improved movie mode, now up to the standard for this class of camera
- Reliable exposure and focus
- Image stabilization
- Good battery life
- Histogram in record and playback mode, full on-screen exposure information
- Excellent on-screen menus and control system
- Easy to use
Conclusion - Cons
- Visible noise reduction effects at ISO 160 and above
- Noisy at ISO 400 (better than previous generation, however)
- Some vignetting at F2.8
- Results a little soft at F6.3 and over
- No manual control of shutter speed or aperture
- Occasional exposure problems and blown highlights when shooting in very bright light
- Some focus problems in low light
- Size and design makes camera shake more likely
- Flash not very powerful
- Easy to accidentally press buttons you don't mean to
The DMC-FX7 (and it's minor upgrade, the FX8) were deservedly popular pocket cameras with a unique selling point; an image-stabilized Leica lens. The only serious issues we identified when reviewing the FX7, namely poor battery life and a low resolution LCD screen, have been fully addressed in this new model, and the new high speed focus system is a real improvement too. The extra megapixel means very slightly more noise at ISO 80, but noise is actually less of a problem at higher ISOs than it was in the previous models - maybe this is down to better noise reduction algorithms, maybe it's just a characteristic of the chip, we don't know. The image stabilization works well, meaning less images ruined by camera shake, and less need for flash indoors (and the option to keep the ISO setting fairly low).
It is a tribute to Panasonic's designers that they managed to squeeze as much as they did into the FX9's diminutive body, and there's no denying it is the kind of camera that simply begs to be taken everywhere you go. The screen is fantastic (and a huge improvement on it's predecessors), it's fast, fun to use and capable of surprisingly good results. The Leica lens is certainly no slouch in the resolution stakes, exposure is - though by no means perfect - as good as any other camera in this class, and the auto white balance very good indeed.
Of course it's not all a bed of roses - some kind of compromise is inevitable with this kind of camera; some blown highlights, mild vignetting, the occasional focus or exposure error and a rather underpowered flash. And noise is an issue (as it is for all small-sensor cameras) - even at ISO 160 you can see the effects of noise reduction when viewed on-screen at 100%. But weighed against the benefits of a small camera, big screen and image stabilization that works, these are fairly minor quibbles, and the FX9's 'hit rate' is very high. More importantly, the noise issue simply won't affect the majority of the target market for this camera, as it isn't really visible in 'standard' sized prints.
So, the FX9 is a fairly modest upgrade, much more evolution than revolution, but a welcome one, and one that fixes virtually all the minor problems of its predecessor (save for the noise), resulting in a pocket camera that - though not without faults - is near perfect for the casual snapshooter it's aimed at, and offers a serious - and more affordable - alternative to the various 7MP models on the market.