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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX150
14.7MP | 28-100mm (3.6X) ZOOM | $350 US / £230 UK

The FX150 plays big brother to the FX37 we reviewed in our slim camera roundup. The FX range is home to Panasonic's high-quality compacts (there's also the LX series for enthusiasts, the TZ range of zoom compacts and the superzoom FZs for fans of distant objects), with the FX150 at the top of the tree. It has a larger sensor than the FX35, so offers a less extensive zoom range despite its bigger body. That said, it also offers greater photographic control, including a manual mode and control over the type of metering the camera uses. Perhaps most significantly for keen photographers, it also has the ability to save the unprocessed sensor data as a RAW file. It's also one of the only cameras in this test to be able to shoot HD video, with its 720p capability (Samsung's TL34HD/NV100HD is the other).

  • 14.7MP effective Megapixels
  • 28-100mm equiv lens with 3.6x Optical zoom and up to 10x Digital Zoom
  • 2.7 inch LCD with 230,000 dot resolution
  • Optical Image Stabilizer
  • ISO sensitivity up to 6400
  • Face Detection AF
  • 5 shooting modes, 25 scene modes including Intelligent Auto Mode
  • 50MB internal memory
  • 1280 x 720p HD recording
  • Venus Engine IV processor
  • Available in Black and Silver
  • Optional Accessories available

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Overview

The FX150 resembles nothing so much as an FX37 placed on a photocopier at 110% magnification, which is no bad thing because the FX37 is a nice looking little camera. The 14.7 megapixel model has square, rather than curved buttons making up its four-way controller, but that's about it. Thankfully, this means it retains the smaller camera's button layout and the generous space and grip provided for the resting of one's thumb. It's a small blessing, but it's so much nicer to be able to use a camera without the risk of pressing a button by mistake.

The camera has only a 2.7" 230,000 dot screen - about average for this group. The result is a clear screen with a good level of detail but one that can't quite match the size or clarity offered by some of the others on test here. The user interface is standard Panasonic compact camera fare, with the useful Q.Menu available for quick settings changes.

Key Features

The FX150 at first glance appears to be of very similar design to the FX37. And it is - only bigger. This is no bad thing, since we thought the FX37 was a smart little camera.
The FX150 offers direct access to four useful settings via its four-way controller then offers Q.Menu, Display and Menu buttons. It's a good balance between giving direct access to controls and avoiding overwhelming the user.
There's also a dial to access the different shooting modes on the Panasonic. The E.Zoom button cycles between wide-angle, full optical zoom and optical plus digital zoom.
There is a Manual mode on the FX150 (though there are only ever two apertures available - fully open and open -4 stops). Other advanced features include variable Auto ISO limits, tracking AF (which works really well), multiple exposures, full control over image parameters (including noise reduction), optional record mode histogram and playback mode highlight warning, and a couple of cool special effects (pinhole camera and grainy B&W).
In the auto shooting modes, Panasonic's Q.Menu makes it very quick and simple to access and change shooting settings. The options available varies between modes.

Image quality and performance

We've rarely had cause to complain about Panasonic cameras' speed, and the FX150 is no different. It focuses fairly quickly and only slows slightly when the light starts to drop. Shot-to-shot times are in keeping with most of the other cameras in this test, with about 2.2 seconds between images (though if you press the shutter again too soon after taking the first one, it won't take another until you release and re-press). The delay increases if you need to use the flash, with a delay of about 2.7 seconds between flash shots and still more if you turn red-eye reduction on. In high-speed burst mode, the camera's shooting rate jumps to 2 frames per second but it can only sustain this for 4 frames at the highest image quality setting. There's also a Flash burst mode but only at severely restricted resolution (up to 3 megapixels).

Image quality is actually not bad at all; there are cameras here that produce sharper, cleaner images when you look at a pixel level, but we're dealing with a lot of pixels here; 14.7 million of them, and even an 8x10 inch print will only show about half the nominal resolution. For everyday uses (prints up to 5x7, full screen viewing) you simply won't be getting close enough to see what you do when zoomed in to 100% in Photoshop. Of course this raises the question, why have all those pixels in the first place? (aside from the obvious marketing advantage), but you could say that about virtually any compact camera these days.

Overall then, the FX150 impresses, particularly at lower ISO settings (where the results, even at the widest zoom setting, are sharp, colorful and appealing). The automatic exposure, focus and white balance systems are very reliable even in low light, and the image stabilization system works a treat. At higher ISOs the default settings produce noisy - but quite detailed - results, but unusually you're not stuck with the defaults; there are five levels of noise reduction available, so if you're happy to sacrifice a bit of resolution for a smoother image you can, and if you'd rather do your own noise reduction later you can (for total creative freedom the FX150 also has a raw shooting mode - a real rarity in this type of camera).

Of course there are areas which could be better; the FX150's sensor seems to have quite a tight dynamic range, meaning there's always a risk of highlight clipping on bright days (though it's not a major issue most of the time) and the combination of noise, noise reduction and lens fall-off means that the edges of the frame at the widest zoom setting can look a bit gruesome up close if they contain lots of distant detail (such as foliage).

Unsurprisingly the FX150's output is a little soft and noisy when viewed at 100% on screen, but at more reasonable magnifications the output is sharp, the color is vivid without being unnatural, and the slight edge softness at wide angles barely visible.

Noise is always going to be an issue at higher ISO's on such a densely-packed sensor, but as long as you don't expect to produce huge prints and you experiment with the noise reduction options, it's usable up to ISO 1600.

Summary

Panasonic, like Canon, has a compact camera lineup that has been allowed to slowly evolve into a mature, refined range of products with the emphasis far more on useful photographic features and reliable automatic systems than on gadgetry and novelty. The FX150 feels and acts like a camera that was built to take pictures (something you simply can't say about them all), and for the most part it does so pretty well without needing constant supervision. The headline grabbing 14.7 megapixel sensor is not only more than anyone actually needs, it simply isn't reflected in the output, which doesn't look any more detailed than cameras with, say, 10 million pixels (or fewer), and mainly serves to highlight the limitations of the lens and the struggle to keep noise at bay even at base ISO. Pixel peepers aside, this is of course irrelevant - the average user will be impressed with the color, exposure and sharpness that produces superb prints at 'normal' sizes.

This is one of those cameras that passes our most important test; it can be relied on to take a decent picture in a wide range of shooting conditions with point and shoot simplicity - crucial for the typical user of this type of product. With a price that hovers around $300 the FX150 is also pretty competitive. And even if you're paying a premium for the privilege of having more pixels than your friends - without any obvious benefit - the FX150 is a good enough camera that we'll forgive you.

  • We like: Great build quality, handling and screen, responsive, lots of features, good overall image quality, raw mode, noise reduction options

  • We don't like: Noise, low contrast detail smearing and edge softness at a pixel level, some highlight clipping in contrasty conditions
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