In my never-ending search for a high image quality compact digital camera, I came across the Panasonic DMC-FX37. This little compact caught my eye with its long list of premium features and tiny footprint. It’s got a wide-angle Leica lens, image stabilization, 720p HD video recording, and a 4x zoom. That’s a pretty compelling list of features for such a small camera.
I’m used to using a Fujifilm F30 because of its great image quality, especially in low light, but it’s getting a bit long in the tooth and I wanted a change. So, I took the little FX37 on a recent trip overseas. Well, to make a long story short, I shot 90 percent of my images on that trip with the little Panny instead of my DSLR. Its unique wide-angle lens with the optional 16:9 shooting mode provided such quick and compelling images that I found myself reaching for it over my trusty SLR.
First, the ergonomics and setup are nothing special, but the camera works as expected and the learning curve was shallow. One annoying thing is that I’m used to a shoot-priority camera, so I had to get used to flipping the play/shoot switch. I lost a few shots because I turned the camera ON while in playback mode. Otherwise, the menu buttons are fine, including the Q-menu which puts the most frequently used settings within easy reach (ISO, WB, etc.).
The lens is a 25mm (21mm equivalent in 35mm format) with a maximum aperture of f/2.8. This is a wide-angle lens and it may take some time to get used to. Although with its 4x zoom range, I never felt it wasn’t able to get to a more “normal” focal length. I happen to love super wide lenses and took to it right away though it may take others some time and experience to use it well. I coupled this with the 16:9 shooting mode to take some interesting panorama-like shots (like this one of one of the outer buildings near the Japanese imperial palace in Tokyo):
HD 720p Video
Another feature I was excited to try was its 720p HD video recording mode. I think it’s astonishing for a camera this small to have HD video recording. The format fits perfectly on today’s modern TVs and I’m sure in another year or so even middle-of-the-road digital cameras will have this feature. Video quality came out clear and crisp with a high enough framerate for most casual events. Here’s a short sample:
This camera meters and exposes very well. Even in tricky high-contrast scenes, it does a great job. Sometimes it will blow out some highlights, but only because it’s trying to balance the photo (see that first sample photo, it was a bright day). It has some pro-oriented features like automatic exposure bracketing. This is a very nice feature to have if you want to experiment with amateur HDR shots without having to use a tripod. Just lean against something to steady the camera and fire off several photos using the auto exposure bracketing mode.
And of course the FX37 has the usual plethora of scene modes. I generally never use these modes, but I took the time to peruse the huge list of available scene settings and lo and behold I found a couple that were actually useful. Or a useful novelty at least. The first is the Slim Mode. This feature will compress the image horizontally so that people appear slimmer than they actually are. It’s got a couple settings, but if you use the most subtle one it actually works without being overly apparent. The other scene mode I liked was the Nightlife Party mode. Usually you can set a camera like this manually to a higher ISO, rear-sync flash ON and shoot away to achieve good results. But this Nightlife Party mode was better than that. I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was doing, but I think it forced the shutter to stay open longer than it did when in the more manual mode. Anyway, the results were excellent.
Various and Sundry Other Cool Features
I am already pining for the new FX48. I reach for this camera more than my Fujifilm F30 or even the new F200EXR. It’s smaller, it shoots 720p video, has a wider lens, and a better viewing screen. For serious photography, I break out the DSLR. For snapshots, I absolutely love this Panny.