Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX90 review

3.5 out of 5
£219

For

Touschreen-based focusing, up to date features, Wi-Fi technology, 3cm wide-angle macro mode, optical stabilisation, colourful images, small size

Against

Poor battery life, touchscreen can slow access to some settings and won’t match up to smartphone standards, zoom toggle too small and poorly placed

The Panasonic FX90 packs in many up-to-date features: there’s a 3-inch touchscreen and 24-120mm zoom lens to control all the action, met with Wi-Fi technology and 1080i HD movie capture.

Its feature set sounds impressive, but can the kind of touchscreen response and intuitive layout that Smartphones continue to provide be met in the Lumix FX90?

Touch control

Touch technology, like the FX90’s touchscreen, is all the rage at the moment. All the top smartphones make best use of it, but those devices are hundreds of pounds more than Panasonic’s £220 Lumix FX90. The gap in price is met, in some respects, by the gap in response too: the FX90 is responsive enough - and certainly way beyond the first set of compact cameras to introduce such technology - but won’t offer the same silky-smooth and heightened response of, say, an iPhone 4S. That may seem like a harsh comparison, but when a form of tech becomes so ingrained in society it’s essential for products to always meet or raise the bar. The Lumix FX90 may have its footing in the right place and is more than usable but may not meet all users’ expectations.

Then, of course, there’s the layout: the LCD screen is the gateway to almost all the camera’s controls, thanks to its virtual buttons. There are some exceptions though: the shutter release, one-touch movie and zoom toggle - which is far too small and fiddly- sit on the camera’s top, while a Wi-Fi button is tucked away to the rear. But that’s your lot – the camera’s menus are otherwise opened by pressing a virtual “menu” button on the screen itself. This is fine, but a four-way d-pad, which this camera lacks, is a tried and tested method to make light work of accessing macro, flash and other commonly used settings.

Instead of physical buttons, the FX90’s icon-based menus come arranged in groups of four per screen, though the inclusion of a “shortcut setting”, whereby a favourite option can be dragged and dropped to show to the side of the screen. This provides some respite from a system that’s otherwise not as immediate as some other compacts.

Touch focus

If you’re a point-and-shoot fanatic then the likelihood is that you won’t venture into camera menus much, and, if not, then this is where the touschscreen comes in handy. Despite some ills, the one thing the touchscreen makes extra-easy is the ability to acquire focus by using a (literal) hands-on approach. If the camera focuses on an undesirable area in a frame then simply press onto the screen (and therefore subject) and you’ll see the focus point move to its new target. There’s even a Touch Shutter option that will find focus and fire off a shot straight after. When tech makes somewhat easier to use we’re all the more for it. And it’s focusing where the FX90’s touchscreen comes into its own.

Autofocus is good too, though not the fastest that the compact market has to offer. But it’s a competent system that works well whether close-focusing for macro shots or zooming in on further away subjects.

Image Quality

The Panasonic FX90’s stills are, like its FX70 predecessor, decent shots with plenty of warm, vibrant colours. Closer inspection may not reveal them to be the most detailed around subject edges due to JPEG processing, and higher ISO settings will produce an amount of image noise that appears grain-like in the frame.

Overall the FX90 produces a solid set of results from a compact of this class. However, we will say that the screen’s colours can sometimes look a little cold compared to the final results.

Future tech

The addition of Wi-Fi to the FX90’s repertoire ensures it’s a modern day compact for up-to-date users. The feature makes it easy to upload images (or movie clips) straight from camera to Facebook, Flickr, Picassa, YouTube. You can also send shots to your Android Smartphone or direct to an enabled AV device or computer.

Although nice to have, the price premium is one downside and the battery life takes a huge knock when using connectivity features. As the FX90’s quoted 200 shots per charge is already miles behind the FX70’s 360 shots, the further reduction in longevity is a serious downside. In our test the battery jumped from a full 3/3 down to flashing red in very little time, just sorting out Wi-Fi services, not even when taking pictures.

Verdict

The FX90 isn’t so different from its FX70 predecessor. Granted there’s the inclusion of Wi-Fi that, while nice to have, isn’t as useful as it at first seems, not least due to its huge negative impact on the camera’s battery life.

The FX90’s touchscreen is good enough, but won’t compare to a Smartphone and that’s a comparison that will be made among tech-savvy users.

Of course there’re plenty of positives to sway the balance: the FX90’s touchscreen makes hands-on autofocus extra easy, the camera is small and well built, pictures are decent, and the lens is not only a wide-angle 24mm at its widest but also provides excellent image stabilisation that’s useful at the longest 120mm setting.

A good camera, but the FX90’s premier Wi-Fi feature is likely to see little use due to the impact on what is already poor battery life.