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Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX77 / FX78 Ken McMahon, July 2011
 
 

Panasonic Lumix FX77 / FX78 review

Announced in January 2011, the Panasonic Lumix FX77, or FX78 as it's known in North America, is a 12.1 Megapixel compact with a 5x stabilised zoom and a 3.5in touch-screen display. The FX77 / FX78 is slimmer and lighter than previous FX series models and has a newly designed CCD sensor with faster AF operation.

The FX77 / FX78 has all of the automated features that have become standard on Panasonic compacts as well as those from other manufacturers - face detect AF, scene recognition and a range of scene modes. It adds a new 3D still image mode and makes full use of the screen with touch-focus and touch shooting features.

There are no manual exposure modes, though Normal Picture mode (or Program auto as it's called on other compacts) provides exposure compensation and lets you set the ISO sensitivity, white balance, and a few other options. The FX77 / FX78 can shoot full HD 1080i video encoded, as you'd expect, in AVCHD format. We've compared it with two similarly priced models from Canon and Sony, The IXUS 310 HS and Lumix FX77 / FX78, with a similar range of features, but some stand-out differences too, at an equivalent price.

   
 
 

Panasonic Lumix FX77 / FX78 Design and controls

 
 

Size-wise the Lumix FX77 / FX78 is a close match for the Sony Cyber-shot TX10; it's a little bigger and marginally heavier, but the difference is barely noticeable. It's available in black, gold and white with a silver metal trim strip running along the top and down both sides. With the lens retracted it's an easy fit in a shirt or trouser pocket and though not wildly exciting or stylish, it nonetheless has an attractive and functional appearance.

The silver strip on the top is home to the on/off switch, a dedicated movie record button, an oval-shaped shutter release and on the right corner a zoom rocker. There's also a small speaker and mono mic mounted here just above the lens.

 
 

Round the back it's edge-to-edge screen, 3.5 inches diagonally - bigger than on either the Canon IXUS 310 HS / ELPH 500 HS or the Cyber-shot TX10, but with fewer - 230k - pixels. The large size and 16:9 aspect ratio make this a great screen for shooting movies, but in stills shooting modes vertical black bars appear down either side, so you actually rarely get to use the entire screen other than when shooting or playing back movies. You also can't frame up your shot when shooting video unless you activate an overlay which displays the movie area. To be fair this is a problem all 16:9 cameras have to deal with and the IXIS 310 HS / ELPH 500 HS and Cyber-shot TX10 have their own way of dealing with it.

The Lumix FX77 / FX78 screen is responsive to touch and you rarely have to press touch icons more than once, though I did continually find myself accidentally activating things while just walking along with the camera switched on. It's a bright contrasty screen and looks good straight on, but has a fairly narrow viewing angle and the Power LCD and High Angle viewing modes aren't as effective on the Lumix FX77 / FX78 as on previous Panasonic compacts.

The built-in flash has a maximum range of 5.9 Metres at the wide angle lens setting and swiftly recharges in a couple of seconds. It be forced on or off, used in Slow sync mode to provide fill in light or in Auto mode where it fires as needed. Like the Cyber-shot TX10, the Lumix FX77 / FX78 has a mini HDMI port as well as an A/V / USB port. The combined battery/card compartment in the base takes SD (HC XC) cards and the Lithium Ion battery provides enough power for 200 shots using the CIPA (Camera imaging Products Association) standard.

 

Panasonic Lumix FX77 / FX78 lens and stabilisation

The Lumix FX77 / FX78 has a 5x optical zoom with a range of 24 -120mm. The wide-angle is more or less the same as as on the IXUS 130 HS / ELPH 500 HS and Cyber-shot TX10 and it's good to see super-wide angles becoming more commonplace on these models. The wide angle view they provide is great not just for the still landscapes and interiors but for movie shooting too. The Lumix FX77 / FX78 has a little extra reach at the telephoto end of the range and 120mm gets you a little closer in, good for close-cropped portraits and tight framing generally, but not long enough for sports or wildlife shooting.

Panasonic Lumix FX77 / FX78 coverage wide
Panasonic Lumix FX77 / FX78 coverage tele
4.3-21.5mm at 4.3mm (24mm equivalent)
  4.3-21.5mm at 21.5mm (120mm equivalent)

The Lumix FX77 / FX78's lens has a maximum aperture of f2.5 at 24mm, which is quite bright, though lacking the extra light-gathering capacity of the IXUS 310 HS / ELPH 500 HS. Its low light capabilities are augmented by Panasonic's Mega O.I.S optical image stabilisation. In the Lumix FX77 / FX78 this has been further enhanced to provide an Active mode which keeps things steady for hand-held video clips.

Mega O.I.S. On the Lumix FX77 / FX78 has only two modes - on and off. The crops below are from two shots taken with it off (left) and on (right). At 1/15 the Lumix FX77 / FX78 is clearly capable of at least three stops of image stabilisation.

Panasonic Lumix FX77 / FX78 Mega O.I.S. Off / On
100% crop, 4.3-21.5mm at 21.5mm, 1/15, 100 ISO, stabiliser off.
 
100% crop, 4.3-21.5mm at 21.5mm, 1/15, 100 ISO, stabiliser on.

 

Panasonic Lumix FX77 / FX78 shooting modes

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The Lumix FX77 / FX78's intelligent Auto mode employs face detection AF and scene recognition to determine the correct exposure. Once a scene is recognised one of seven stills or four movie scene modes is selected. If the scene can't be determined the metered exposure setting is used. For a little more control you can choose Normal Picture mode which gives you access to focusing, metering, ISO sensitivity and a whole lot more, stopping short of manual exposure control, though.

 
 
 

Available focusing modes other than Face detection include 23-area, single area, spot and AF tracking and of course you can touch the screen to focus in any of these modes. Panasonic claims the Lumix FX77 / FX78 AF is a third faster than last year's FX75 / FX70 and it certainly feels fast and positive. There's a good range of scene modes, many of which, High Sensitivity and Hi Speed Burst excepted, feel increasingly redundant with the increasing sophistication of scene recognition.

A new 3D shooting mode takes 20 images while you pan the camera left to right by around 10cm. It then selects two and produces a 3D image with an accompanying MPO file which can be displayed on a Panasonic Viera or other compatible 3D TVs. Unlike the Cyber-shot TX10, the Lumix FX77 / FX78 can't display faux 3D images on the camera screen so for now at least its 3D capabilities will have limited appeal.

The FX77 / FX78 also has face recognition. Not to be confused with face detection, face recognition allows you to register up to six specific faces and store them along with name and D.O.B. When a face is subsequently recognised a custom focus icon is displayed along with the personal information and focus and exposure is prioritised for that individual.

 

Panasonic Lumix FX77 / FX78 movie mode

The Lumix FX77 / FX78 can shoot HD video at 1920 x 1080 50i (sensor output is 25 fps), and 1280 x 720p resolutions. These HD formats are encoded as AVCHD files at 17Mbps. Files can alternatively be saved using a Motion JPEG codec at 720p VGA and QVGA sizes, all at 30fps. The Motion JPEG files are easier to edit, but AVCHD allows smaller files and longer recording times in HD. You'll need a Class 4 SD card or faster to support AVCHD movies, or Class 6 or higher to support Motion JPEG.

The Lumix FX77 / FX78's Active mode stabilisation is quite effective and you can use the speed and noise-damped optical zoom during movie recording as well as take reduced resolution 16:9 stills. It's good to see a choice of scene modes available for movie recording in addition to intelligent Auto exposure, but the Lumix FX77 / FX78 doesn't go quite as far as the Canon IXUS 310 HS / ELPH 500 HS in this respect. Like the Cyber-shot TX10 there is a delay between pressing the dedicated movie button and recording starting, but in this case it's much shorter at around a second. In AVCHD modes the maximum continuous recording time is a second shy of 30 minutes, in MJPEG modes it's 2GB which for the 720p mode gives you around eight minutes.


Panasonic Lumix FX77 / FX78 sample video 1: outdoors, sunny, handheld pan with optical zoom
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Used for all these examples in the best quality 1080i SH mode, the Lumix FX77 / FX78 video quality looks very good. The 50fps interlaced video is produced from a 25fps streamr.

Panasonic Lumix FX77 / FX78 sample video 2: outdoors, sunny, tripod pan with optical zoom
Download the original file (Registered members of Vimeo only)

The focus has a tendency to wander slightly when zooming out from the full tele position. Though the zoom is noisy in stills shooting modes, for video it's much quieter and the zoom rate is slowed to a rate more suited to movie recording.

Panasonic Lumix FX77 / FX78 sample video 3: indoors, low-light, handheld pan
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Panasonic compacts are generally less responsive than other models to light changes and the FX77 / FX78 is no exception. For this interior hand-held panning shot the exposure alters with changes to the lighting conditions, but not by much. The focus is also a little soft.


Panasonic Lumix FX77 / FX78 handling

Flip the on/off switch and the Lumix FX77 / FX78 is ready to shoot in around two seconds - neither particularly fast nor sluggish. The zoom is smooth and swift and provides good nudge control but emits a pretty intrusive buzz, though when shooting video it slows to becomes miraculously quiet.

     
     

The FX77 / FX78 has a customisable touch screen - and it needs it. In the absence of Panasonic's familiar Q.Menu, navigation is slow, linear and unintuitive. Unless you place a custom button for ISO sensitivity on the home screen it takes no fewer than 6 icon touches to change the sensitivity from 100 to 400 ISO, and that tells you everything you need to know.

In High Speed Burst scene mode The Lumix FX77 / FX78 managed a burst of 36 3M (2048 x 1536) images at a little over 7fps. That's not bad, though the Lumix FX77 / FX78's inability to shoot a fast burst of full resolution images is a bit of a disappointment. At full resolution it can manage a burst of three images in just under one second.

The Lumix FX77 / FX78 has a 12.1 Megapixel 1/2.3in CCD sensor which produces images with a maximum size of 4000 x 3000 pixels at one of two selectable quality/compression settings. At the best quality setting images are around 5MB in size.

To see how the quality of the Lumix FX77 / FX78 measures-up in practice, take a look at our real-life resolution and high ISO noise results pages, browse the sample images gallery, or skip to the chase and head straight for our verdict.


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