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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37
10.1MP | 25-125mm (5X) ZOOM | $270

The Lumix FX37 is the latest in a series of small, stylish cameras Panasonic has produced in recent years. It adds a longer zoom to the preceding FX35, which itself extended the wide-angle end of the lens and added a 10MP sensor to the FX33's design (in fact the camera can trace its roots back to the 3MP FX1 in October '03). The FX37 features a 5x image stabilized zoom, starting at a commendably wide-angle 25mm (equiv.), and Panasonic has also added the ability to record 720p HD video into its little premium camera, promising a remarkably flexible creative tool. Then again, it's one of the more expensive cameras in this test, so you'd expect a premium feature set.

  • 10.1 effective Megapixels
  • 25-125mm equiv lens with 5x Optical zoom and up to 4x Digital Zoom
  • 2.5-inch LCD with 230,000 dot resolution
  • ISO sensitivity up to 6400
  • 1280x720 (720p HD) movies at up to 30fps
  • Multi-Area Autofocus
  • 5 shooting modes and 22 scene modes including Intelligent Auto mode
  • 1280 x 720p HD recording
  • 50MB internal memory
  • Available in Silver, Black, Blue and White

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Overview

The FX37 follows on from the similarly styled FX35 and FX33, both of which fitted wide-angle lenses into small, distinctive metal cases. It's small, it's snappily dressed and it's a design that deserved to last beyond the now conventional 12-month compact camera product lifecycle. A set of little dimples helps give the thumb some purchase on the back of the camera but, more importantly, show the designers have given plenty of thought to where your hands are supposed to sit (an important consideration on cameras this small and potentially slippery).

The Panasonic's lens covers an impressive 25-125mm range that, thanks to the clever processing Panasonic tends to apply, is unlikely to trouble your pictures with the drawbacks you might otherwise expect from such an ambitious optic. The small body means there's only room for a 2.5" screen but it's a high resolution 230,000 dot one, so it looks nice and detailed. The FX37 has Panasonic's 'Q.Menu' that gives quick access to key shooting settings, and a mode dial to switch between the different complexities of shooting mode (including the iAuto mode that automatically selects from portrait, scenery, macro, night portrait or night scenery modes, depending on what you point the camera at).

Key Features

The FX37 is a small camera, though it looks a little portly compared to the size-zero chic of the tiny Casio and Nikon S210. It's less tall than most of the other cameras here, so we'd be surprised to find a pocket it wouldn't slip easily into.
Panasonic's mission to ensure everybody can fit all their friends in their photos continues - The FX37 packs an astonishing 25 - 125mm equivalent lens into its miniscule body. To put this in perspective, the lenses supplied with most DSLRs offer focal lengths within the 27-88mm range.
Look at those adorable little dimples. Or, put another way - look at the fact there are no buttons where you might reasonably want to put your thumb. The mode dial is in easy reach too (though we're not sure how often you'd want to change modes while aiming the camera).
Everything else is pretty straightforward. There's a four-way controller with the traditional Exp Comp, Self-timer, Macro and Flash options on it; a menu/select button and buttons for changing the display and accessing the Q.Menu.
Panasonic's Q.Menu gives direct access to a selection of useful shooting settings. Precisely which settings you get to choose from depend in which shooting mode you're in. There's plenty for the tinkerer to choose from here.
The menus aren't the prettiest we've ever seen but no one would argue they're unclear (it's a bit like being shouted at). Just like the Q.Menu, the menu is more populous in the less automated modes.

Image quality and performance

No real complaints about the FX37's speed of operation or overall performance. Focus in optimum conditions is actually pretty fast, particularly if you turn on the high speed mode, and the clever AF tracking (common to most modern Lumix models) works very well. Focus in low light is a lot, lot slower, but it is at least accurate and reliable.

Image quality, when taken as a whole, is amongst the best here, with excellent, natural color and pleasant tonality. At a pixel level the images are quite soft, especially at the widest zoom setting, and they're not that 'clean' (noise and noise reduction smearing can be seen) but this is partly down to Panasonic's relatively light default sharpening. You don't see any of this in normal prints or when viewing on-screen unless you go to really high magnifications, when what really grabs you is the significantly wider lens and the creative and practical benefits it brings.

The FX37 uses heavy noise reduction at every setting above ISO 200, producing smooth, but rather soft results that have little fine detail - not a problem at ISO 1600 (where the FX37 actually comes near to the top of the group), but more so at ISO 400, which should really look sharper. Fine for small (6x4 inch) prints, but nothing more. Flash exposure is excellent, and very reliable, and is only let down by the slow focus in low light.

There are sharper cameras with more resolution, and there are cameras with cleaner low ISO output, but at normal viewing magnifications it's color, exposure and contrast you see; the FX37 does well on all three. It also has the only true wideangle lens in the group.

Summary

The Panasonic FX37 manages to combine cute styling, usability and an incredibly versatile 25-125mm zoom lens into a compact, well built body that, whilst a bit fatter than some of the cameras here, doesn't feel any bigger. Image quality at a pixel level isn't great - especially at higher ISO settings, but the color, exposure, contrast and focus are excellent, and for normal print sizes (say, 5x7 inches) the results look great. The inclusion of a true wideangle makes all the difference for landscapes, group shots, interiors and anything else where you need to fit a bit more into the frame, and this, combined with the subtle tonality of the shots is why we consider this the perfect 'take anywhere' camera for the photographer, as opposed to the snapshooter.

  • We like: Great lens range, responsive camera, easy to use, good range of controls, natural looking images, one of the better ISO 1600 results here
  • We don't like: Low light focus is slow, too much noise reduction in ISO 100-400 region, images lack resolution if you look too close, edge softness at wider zoom settings
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