In addition to the auto white balance mode the FX9 offers only three presets (daylight, cloudy, and halogen). There is no preset for fluorescent lights, but there is a manual white balance mode that allows you to point the camera at a white or gray card and create a custom setting.
In use - especially when light levels are good - the FX9 delivers consistently accurate color. When light levels drop (indoors at night) you'll get very orange results under tungsten lighting unless you switch to manual WB. One nice touch (also seen on the FZ series) is a white balance 'fine tune' function (for the presets or manual WB mode), which allows you to dial in more red or blue using a sliding scale.
Outdoor - Auto WB
|Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red -0.2%, Blue 0.8%
|Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 9.3%, Blue -16.9%
No real complaints here. The range is acceptable (around 1 to 13 feet with auto ISO), and color and exposure very reliable. We did get some blown out results when shooting too close, though these were rare. The positioning of the flash so near to the lens means red-eye is fairly common unless you use the red-eye reduction system.
|Skin tone Excellent color,
very slight underexposure
|Color chart Excellent color,
The FX9 has a dedicated macro mode, accessed via the main mode dial. The macro mode works throughout the zoom range, but - as is usual on this type of camera - only gets really close when used at the widest setting. There is inevitably some distortion when you get really close, but it is nowhere near as bad as many similar models. In these test shots there is some evidence of corner softness and mild vingetting (especially at the wide end of the zoom), but this doesn't seem to have a significant effect on real-world shots.
Barrel and Pincushion Distortion
Nothing to complain about here - there is a small amount (0.7%) of measurable barrel distortion at the wide end of the zoom, though nothing you'd see in real-world pictures, and a lot better than many ultra-compacts. There is no measurable distortion at the telephoto end of the zoom. Again you can see the mild vignetting at the wide end of the zoom when shooting a white target.
|Barrel distortion - 0.7 % at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 35 mm
|Pincushion distortion - 0.0% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 105 mm
Here for visual comparison are four identical shots taken at 80, 100, 200 and 400 ISO settings in our studio. The noise levels at ISO 80 and 100 are, inevitably, very similar (though the lower setting is very slightly cleaner). Once you get over about ISO 160 the effect of Panasonic's rather heavy-handed noise reduction start to show in images viewed at 100%, with a distinctive 'watercolor' look that gets gradually worse as ISO increases, or as light levels drop and exposure times extend.
At ISO 400 luminance noise is low - thanks to the heavy noise reduction - but there is visible chroma (color) noise in shadows - something that gets worse as light levels drop. Noise has been a problem for Panasonic for as long as I can remember, and - though this is better than the FX7/FX8, it's still obviously an issue, and isn't helped by the rather strong in-camera sharpening.
|ISO 80 100% crop||ISO 100 100% crop|
|ISO 200 100% crop||ISO 400 100% crop|
Specific image quality issues
Of course all ultra-compact cameras such as this are going to present some kind of compromise when it comes to image quality. The question is how much of a compromise are we prepared to accept in image quality terms to get a camera that is truly pocket-sized?
With the FX9 I'm happy to say the answer is not a lot; exposure, sharpness, color and focus are all excellent and are unlikely to disappoint the target audience. Color is particularly vibrant (without becoming unnatural) and overall detail very good. True, the images may seem a little over-sharpened and contrasty for purists, they make very nice prints with little work and are ideal for the target market.
We did notice a significant drop-off in sharpness at the smallest apertures (particularly F8 and over), which is unfortunate as the camera offers no manual aperture control. There is little - if any - color fringing though we did find some vignetting at the wide end of the zoom when shooting at F2.8. The only other problems we encountered were very occasional focus errors when shooting indoors and one or two bad exposures (only really occurs when there is a lot of sky in the frame, and rarely). There are occasional problems with dynamic range - and fairly high contrast - which can result in blown highlights, but this chip seems marginally better than its 5MP predecessor at dealing with very bright, contrasty scenes.
The FX9 uses the new Venus PLUS engine, which uses less power than the Venus II, but doesn't have the latter's built-in chromatic aberration (CA) removal. The FX9's images do exhibit slightly more fringing than the FX7, but it's still very minimal. There is some barely visible CA at the edges of very bright areas in one or two of the 500 gallery shots I took, but it doesn't appear in many shots and simply isn't visible in prints under 8x10 inches.
|100% crop||35 mm equiv., F5.6|
Shooting at the wide end of the zoom at F2.8 (and to a lesser extent at smaller apertures) causes some mild - but visible - vignetting (darkening of the corners of the frame) in scenes with large areas of flat tone (such as blue skies).
|35 mm equiv., F2.8||35 mm equiv., F2.8|