At first glance, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37 doesn't exactly jump out at you. The design is handsome but conservative, and its 10.1-megapixel sensor is fairly standard. What makes this point-and-shoot special is that it packs a wide-angle 5X zoom lens into a compact body. To boot, it delivers good image quality, thanks to Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode, along with 720p video recording. Unfortunately, the FX37 lags when it comes to action photography.
The first thing you'll notice about the FX37 is that, despite its wide 5X lens, it's surprisingly compact. At 3.2 ounces, it weighs less than even the 4.5-ounceCasio Exilim EX-Z9, which says a lot because Casio excels in making slim, lightweight cameras--especially the Z9 with its shallower 4X lens.
The downside to having such a small camera (the FX37 is only 3.7 x 2.0 x 0.9 inches) is that the LCD is more cramped than those of larger point-and-shoots: It's just 2.5 inches, as opposed to a 2.7-inch screen or larger on competing models. Additionally, it's full-frame (4:3), even though users have the option of shooting with a 16:9 aspect ratio.
The FX37's design is handsome and minimal. It has a matte silver body (it also comes in black, blue, or white), and the wide lens takes up a good chunk of the front face. On the back, lining the right side of the LCD, is a five-way navigation pad, whose controls double as exposure, self-timer, Macro, and flash controls. Using it to navigate menus was a cinch. Below the pad are display and menu buttons, the latter of which doubles as a delete button.
Also on the back side is a switch to toggle between playback and shooting modes and--we love this detail--a dial tucked discreetly underneath the top surface of the camera, which contains the various scene modes. These include Intelligent Auto, Movie, Regular Auto, and the Scene menu. On top are a small power switch, and a shutter with attached zoom controls, which we found handy.
One of the biggest selling points for the FX37 is that packed inside its compact body is a wide-angle lens with a powerful 5X zoom. While it might not seem like an impressive zoom factor--given that almost every camera maker has a super-zoom digicam with a factor of at least 12X--5X is more than enough for most shooting situations. Standing on ground level, we were able to fill our frame with the top of a skyscraper. Our cityscape shots, taken with the lens set to its widest point, had a broad, cinematic look.
In addition to 25 scene modes, the FX37 is endowed with Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode (iA), a suite of features including Intelligent Exposure, red-eye correction, Mega O.I.S. (optical image stabilization), face detection, and quick autofocus. Like other companies'smart auto modes, iA detects the shooting environment and chooses the appropriate scene mode and settings accordingly.
Inside and out, all of our shots showed vibrant but accurate colors. Our Macro shots of flowers showed plenty of detail, but when we had the camera set to iA, it was sometimes slow to switch to Macro mode and adjust the focus. Speaking of slow, the FX37's biggest weakness is its action performance. Although all of our shots of moving objects looked sharp, they were useless because of the two-second shutter lag; by the time the camera captured an image, the frame we really wanted was long gone.
Another gripe: the FX37 didn't perform as well as we would have liked in harshly backlit shots, despite having Intelligent Exposure. When we used the camera in these conditions, we couldn't make out details in the foreground because these objects looked too dark. TheFujifilm FinePix F100fd, a similar (albeit doubly heavy) point-and-shoot with 5X zoom, did a much better job capturing highlights and shadow detail.
The FX37 did, however, hold up well in low light. When we took some shots in a park after sundown, the camera did a good job of brightening our subjects' faces while dimming the background. Similarly, the landscape shots we took after dark didn't look unnaturally bright. Our favorite picture from this series shows a fading blue sky with lights strung from the trees, a scene that looked as lifelike as it did romantic.
HD Video Recording
Like previous Panasonic models, including the FX500, the FX37 shoots 720p video at 30 fps. It automatically shoots at a cinematic 16:9 ratio, and footage looked fluid. Unfortunately, though, the volume was weak and the sound of traffic rumbling by nearly blocked out the more subtle sound of a street musician playing the saxophone. Also, the zoom doesn't work during filming.
Slow Speeds, Long Battery Life
As we said earlier, this isn't a fast camera. It takes 2 seconds to start up, and 4 to ready itself for a consecutive shot (many of the point-and-shoots we've tested lately have taken about 3 seconds between shots). Then there's that 2-second shutter lag.
What the FX37 lacks in speed, however, it makes up for in longevity. Whereas HD recording exhausts some cameras' batteries, such as theKodak EasyShare Z1085 IS, it didn't put a dent in the FX37's. After charging the camera once, we were able to shoot several 720p videos and take dozens of photos, and still had 3 out of 3 battery bars remaining.
Because of its slow speeds, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37 isn't ideal for action photographers. At $349, it's also more expensive than many point-and-shoots, but for that price you don't have to choose between compact design and a versatile lens. It may not be as hip as the similarly pricedNikon Coolpix S60, which sports a 3.5-inch touchscreen, but it won't disappoint.