The 6-megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9, available in either all-silver metal or silver metal with black accents, is a slim, beautifully built pocket camera that weighs just 150g with battery and SD card and boasts Panasonic's Mega OIS optical image stabilisation. Usually reserved for cameras with long zooms -- the FX9's is only 3x, with a 35mm-film equivalent range of just 35mm to 105mm -- the stabilisation allows you to capture sharp images at slow shutter speeds without a tripod or flash. The camera is also a snappy performer speedwise, but photographers with a critical eye will pause at the less than stellar photo quality.
The camera's stabilisation, which works using tiny mechanical sensors and lens motors that counter hand shake, really works wonders. Shots taken without a tripod or flash at 1/8-second shutter speeds were as sharp as shots taken at 1/30 or 1/60 second, the typical limits for handheld shooting. This feature, common to all current Panasonic models, is useful for indoor spaces like museums or cinemas, where tripods and flash aren't usually allowed, as well as distant landscapes where a flash wouldn't reach anyway.
While the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9 has excellent automatic white balance and solid colour rendition, including natural, pleasing flesh tones, it does suffer from noticeable lens aberrations and image-processing artefacts -- visible purple fringing in backlit and high-contrast scenes, for example. There is also significant vignetting, with not only the corners but also the sides of the image being a bit darker than the centre. This is usually only visible with uniform backgrounds such as clear skies or walls, though. While generally clean at the camera's lowest sensitivity, ISO 80, areas of uniform colour exhibit blotchiness that appears to be the result of poor blue-channel processing. At ISO 400, the camera's highest setting, a dithered fuzziness with yellowish noise patterns make some pictures look unsightly. The camera's optical stabilisation, though, should eliminate the need to use ISO 400 in most situations.
The FX9 is a snappy performer, besting many in its class in various shooting scenarios. Shutter lag, for example, is only 0.5 seconds, continuous shooting can reach more than 3fps and it takes only 2.3 seconds to take a picture when starting with the power off.
Despite its jewel-like finish and solid build quality, the FX9 does suffer from some interface quirks in which cryptic icons and features will force you to read the instruction manual -- not necessarily a bad thing. Once you're familiar with its functions, though, using the camera is a pleasure. There are 12 scene modes to help you shoot using the best settings, for example.
If you predominantly take snapshots at parties, concerts, bars, or other dimly lit indoor venues, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9's image stabilisation makes it a great choice. Daylight denizens, however, may be frustrated by the artifacts that become visible in brightly lit shots.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
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(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Additional editing by Kate Macefield