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Back in 2004 the earlier Panasonic FX7 was “pretty close to being the Rolls-Royce of digital compacts …” That was when five megapixels and a 3X zoom was top gear!
The Panasonic DMC-FX38 (also known as the FX37 in some parts of the world) packs 10.1 megapixels onto the CCD and images with a 5x zoom lens, the wide angle end equaling a 25 mm optic on a 35 SLR. Amazingly, the new camera is a little smaller and quite a bit lighter.
Some will take issue with me on the 10.1 megapixels figure and point out that by increasing the pixel density in digicams the camera delivers more noise in the final image. True, but for the average punter, a CCD of this capacity will enable the making of really big prints (41×30 cm) from its maximum image size of 3648×2736 pixels. Few at this level of photography will quibble!
By nature is a conservative company, Panasonic rarely markets products with fripperies that add little to their practicality.
The FX38 has some really useful and practical operating features that will contribute greatly to the quality of images shot with it.
Panasonic’s intuitive Intelligent Auto suite helps greatly in the departments of autofocus and exposure. Added to this is a face detection mode that can determine correct exposure and focus on up to 15 faces.
AF tracking can ‘lock’ the focus onto a moving subject. The camera then automatically tracks the subject as it moves and holds focus; when you’re ready you hit the button and capture the shot. The camera is constantly focusing, right up to ‘shoot’ time.
Now a bit of magic: the camera adjusts aperture and shutter speed, while simultaneously brightening any dark areas by tweaking the ISO setting in that region of the CCD. Added to this is an auto backlight compensation function that kicks in when the FX38 detects a light source behind the subject.
The optical image stabiliser is now in three modes: auto plus two settings which act on jitter all the time or only when the shutter button is pressed.
There are 25 scene modes with the usual offerings for sports, portraits etc, including two novelties so you can add film grain to your picture or take shots that resemble lens-less, pinhole photography.
There is a still image setting of 1920×1080 pixels that perfectly suits HD tele viewing (via an optional component cable) and a video setting that records in HD’s 16:9 ratio and 1280 x 720 pixels at 30fps.
And a final blast: if you’ve shot some pictures a bit off level you can fix ‘em in the playback menu and straighten the errant images by up to two degrees up or down. If the pictures are tilted more than this, I suggest you see an ophthalmologist!
It took three seconds from startup to first shot, then intervals of two seconds between shots.
The Leica lens is a really solid performer and showed negligible distortion of any kind at any zoom setting. Remarkable!
Quality: in average situations the FX38 performed well but was not so happy in low light.
I had only one whinge about the camera: the four way rocker labels are virtually invisible as silver embossing on a silver background. Otherwise, the FX38 is such a terrific piece of work I should imagine it will sweep all before it. A 5x zoom in such a mini size camera is a gem.