Doesn't seem too long ago that the Panasonic LUMIX FX36 won our digital compact camera shootout in October 2008 and its update, the FX38 promptly won a HWM Gold Award in November. That sets the bar pretty high for the model's latest incarnation, don't you think?
In comparison, the new FX48 is more or less the same weight and size as the FX38 and the FX36. And similarly, it comes with a unique 25mm (35mm equivalent) lens, perfect for capturing wide shots or shooting in tight spaces. The way it looks and handles hasn't changed much at all, but since the handling of the previous models pretty much nailed it, why fix what ain't broke?
For newcomers, the FX48 is a lovely weight and size, just nice to bring around and solid-feeling enough to heft comfortably. Controls are comfortable despite the buttons being a little small.
So what's new? The resolution has been bumped up from 10MP to 12MP, but digging deeper we find that the sensor size has remained the same. That means the sensor is capturing even more information with the same tool, and higher resolution shots with smaller sensors run the problem of noisier photos, but more on that later.
The other major update is Face Recognition; a feature that remembers faces and assigns priority to them. You set a person's face and the FX48 recognizes them when you take shots in iA mode. Most of the time it works surprisingly well, even recognizing my friend from just her profile.
The colors in the FX48's photos are absolutely gorgeous and the resolution is amazing. The amount of details you can grab with this little point-and-shoot, with its wide dynamic range, is quite remarkable.
So what about the noise? Like most other compact cameras, the FX48's noise levels are acceptable until ISO400. At ISO800 you start to see visible noise and lose detail at the edges, so it's best to avoid shooting higher than that.
As we expected, when compared to an ISO400 shot from the FX38, the FX48 is just slightly noisier with fuzzier edges. At ISO800 however, the FX48 is clearly noisier than the older FX38.
Panasonic seems to have developed a habit of making incremental upgrades going from the FX36 to FX48 series. The FX38 offered upgrades like further zoom and AF tracking, but wisely stuck to 10MP. The FX48 has a range of intelligent features which makes it an even easier point-and-shoot camera to use, but we wish it did not sacrifice higher image resolution for more image noise. Whoever started the myth that more megapixels equal more quality should be roasted.
But we can't have everything, so know that every iteration of this model from the FX36, to the FX38 and now the FX48 is a worthy buy, only that each version has something the other doesn't.
The FX48 is an even smarter automatic camera than the FX38 with its face tracking and recognition feature, and while there's more image noise than its predecessors, it's still a mighty fine camera for its class.