Panasonic's chosen a 'futuristic, flat' design for the Lumix DMC-FP3. It's a pocket-sized compact camera with a 4x optical zoom and 'folded' optics, which means that the lens doesn't extend in use. It's got a 14.1-megapixel sensor, 76mm (3-inch) touchscreen, Panasonic's usual barrage of 'intelligent' technologies, and 720p movie-recording capability. It'll cost you around £160.
Capture the moment
The FP3 is neat, elegant and feels well-made. It starts up in just under a second when you push down the lens cover. It focuses pretty quickly too, thanks to Panasonic's new 'Sonic speed AF', which uses faster actuators and 'parallelised processing'. In fact, it's so fast that you can just stab once at the shutter release to grab a picture when you're presented with one of those split-second photo opportunities.
The autofocus has another trick. If you need to focus on an off-centre subject, you don't need to mess around with focus modes and cursor keys -- instead, you can simply tap the screen where you want the camera to focus.
On the back, there are just five buttons, arranged vertically: playback, mode, display, menu and quick menu. Most of the work is done using the touchscreen interface, keeping the camera's external controls pleasingly simple.
But it's all pretty faint praise. The FP3 is a pleasant-enough camera on the surface, if rather unexciting. Once you start digging below the surface, it all starts to unravel.
For a start, there's that touch-sensitive screen. These types of screens are fine when they work, but this one is very slow. You'd better hope you never have to use it in a hurry. We often thought we were pressing on the wrong part of the screen, because the camera doesn't respond straight away. Also, you have to angle your thumb so that you're just using the tip, because it's too easy to press the wrong icon by mistake otherwise.
The zoom functions are another source of frustration. It's not just that the optical zoom itself is slow, but you also get a digital zoom and an 'extra optical zoom' function, which combine in ways that won't become clear until you've studied the camera and the manual for about a fortnight.
Basically, the digital zoom uses the centre of the sensor but then blows up the image to the normal resolution of 14.1 megapixels. The extra optical zoom also uses the central part of the sensor but doesn't interpolate it at all, although it only works when the camera's set to use a smaller image size. So what you get are mushy images with the digital zoom or small images with the extra optical zoom, or small, mushy images if you use them together.
In good light, when you can shoot at or near the FP3's minimum ISO, you can get pretty decent picture quality. The value of having 14.1 megapixels over 12 or 10 is debatable, but the camera's colours and definition are okay. At higher ISOs, or when using the digital and extra-optical-zoom functions, it all goes to pot pretty quickly, however.
Also, a 4x zoom range is hardly earth-shattering, even in a super-slim compact. A wide-angle zoom would be much more useful than the 35-140mm equivalent zoom provided.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP3's pictures are alright but, although its autofocus system is good, its controls are generally sluggish and irksome. Panasonic produces some ground-breaking cameras deserving of the highest-possible praise, but this isn't one of them. It fills a gap in Panasonic's compact camera line-up, and that's about it.
Edited by Charles Kloet