A Dear John Letter to a Camera: Lumix DMC-FX75 REVIEW

Yes. I’m a geek.

I’ve waited a couple years now for this particular camera to come out, because I’ve so-loved the Lumix series from the get-go. I’ve gotten so much good use out of my old FX7, and took many fantabulous pics with that little bad boy, that, in my mind, Lumix could do no wrong.

In general, the Lumix line is very underrated, and hence a darn good value (especially compared to Canon). In fact, the FX75’s big brother, the Lumix ZS7, has become the “sleeper” hit of the year. Being generally regarded as the best, most versatile compact camera without being a full-on DSLR.

But for the FX70/75 specifically, I liked the idea of having such a wide, bright lens (a Leica @ 2.2 no less), in such a small package.

Even though Panasonic is notorious for not including even basic manual features in their ultra-compacts, I have a fancy-schmancy DSLR for the really important stuff, so a micro-snapper, albeit totally “automatic”, is a good thing to have in my workflow.

The FX75 an extremely small camera (think deck of cards), with a very sturdy build. Its pre-set “modes” are nice and varied which helps offset the lack of manual control a tiny bit. It even takes darn good “flash” pictures (for weddings, parties, etc), with a better-than-normal color/flash/exposure balance, which is something even decent DSLRs have a problem with.

The image quality of the 14-megapixel Lumix DMC-FX75 is very, very good, too. As long as you’re under IS0-800, you’re going to get a low-noise, crisp image with great, accurate color. However, the built-in “sharpening” tends to look a bit wonky on small details like leaves, or other natural elements. But, weirdly, with more man-made details (architecture, bricks, cars) that same sharpening algorithm actually helps the image. So, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. In fact, I really wish they had an option to turn this “feature” off, allowing the user to apply their own “sharpening” in post via Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture.

But no. The FX70/75 insists on doing EVERYTHING for you.

The touch screen is a welcome feature too (even if you don’t use it to “take” pictures”, you can use it to assign focus, navigate menus, etc), and the visibility of the LCD in daylight really isn’t that big of a deal.

Because of that handy Touch Screen, there are very few physical buttons on the FX75. One of them is the “MODE” button which, when pressed, presents 4 on-screen choices: “Normal Picture” (a poor man’s “manual” mode); “Intelligent Auto” (which actually does a pretty good job of guessing your needs); “Scene Mode” (which takes you to a larger scene menu: sports, landscape, candlelight, etc, etc); and… “Cosmetic Mode” (which allows you to adjust face tones).

Wait. What? Really guys? You have 4 options and one of them is a “Cosmetic Mode”? Is this supposed to be “The Fashion Camera” or something? At the very least the user should be able to assign that 4th choice, either with a commonly-used “Scene Mode” or a user-created variation for an extra “Normal Picture” mode. But if that’s an option, I haven’t found it (because the 100 page manual is a bit intimidating, and a PDF). Nevertheless, dedicating such a prominent UI element to a “Cosmetic Mode” seems, well, strange.

That said, it’s not that big of a deal.

What IS a big deal is that this camera, as noted to some degree in all the reviews so far, is that the Lumix DMC FX75 has pretty major highlight and shadow problems, especially when shooting in the “normal picture” mode. If you’re outside, on a sunny-ish day, casually shooting pics, you are going to end up with a ton of snaps that are either blown-out, or way under-exposed. And, more often than not, you’ll have both problems in one picture. Literally white-white highlights AND black-black shadows. It’s really sad, actually.


(NOTE: these 3 images are shown in their original capture state first, and then as “adjusted”: my valiant attempt to eek-down the highlights and nudge-up shadows in post. As you can see, the progress even on these non-extreme examples was minimal, at best.)

Yes: all cameras have their pluses and minuses. But this little camera has SO much going for it that these very basic exposure issues are a huge let-down. Frankly, this is an issue that feels very “2001” in terms of technical performance. The FX75 has all these wonderfully modern bells and whistles, but when you check out your pictures of that family picnic, you’ll find yourself shaking your head and asking “jeesh…really?”.

The FX75 does provide an “intelligent exposure” option, which helps this dilemma a bit, but if you have that option turned on it overrides your ISO preferences even in “normal picture” mode. So all of a sudden you may get stuck with an ISO-1600 picture (which is extremely noisy) taken in the daytime (which is crazy).

Overall, it’s almost as if they paid so much attention to the glitter and zaz of the FX75 that they glossed over the basics: ie., capturing a properly-exposed image.

They could’ve included an HDR or RAW option so at least you’d have some room to play on the back end. But, sadly, no. You’re stuck with more than an expectable number of badly exposed JPGs.

I don’t know if something like a “firmware upgrade” can fix this problem, but I certainly hope so. Because if they can find a way to fix this, they’ll have one of, if not THE best camera in its class. If not, I’ll probably have to try and sell this (quick, before word gets out!), and buy another mini-snapper. And that’s a real shame.

I’m sorry Lumix. I’m your biggest fan. But, as-is, the DMC FX75 (FX70) is a real heart breaker.


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