The FX37's unassuming exterior hides some very clever technology indeed and, not content with only that, Panasonic has added on a 5x optical zoom lens with an amazing 25mm equivalent minimum focal length. For £200 you will get one of the smartest cameras on the market -- and one of the most versatile.
So are these wide-angle zooms such a big deal? Yes, they are. It might be the long-range superzooms that grab the headlines, but most of the time your problem is fitting the whole subject into the frame rather than not getting close enough to your subject in the first place.
It's not just the angle of view that makes this lens interesting. We're used to seeing chromatic aberration and distortion in compact cameras, but the Panasonic shows barely any evidence of either. Whether that's the lens or the processing, it's pretty impressive.
That's just the start. Panasonic's Intelligent ISO system tackles one of the bugbears of digital cameras -- limited dynamic range. It does this by adjusting the ISO selectively in different parts of the image -- amplifying the signal in the darker parts and holding it back in the highlights. And it really does work, handling high-contrast scenes much better than other cameras.
The Intelligent Auto mode, meanwhile, takes the idea of scene modes one step further, automatically identifying the best scene mode to use for each shot. Does it work? Not every time, but often enough to leave you impressed.
This mode identifies subject movement (and not just camera movement) and increases the ISO accordingly, so that the shutter speed is raised and the movement blur is reduced. This works alongside the Mega OIS image stabilisation system, which cuts shake due to camera movement.
There's a very neat Focus Tracking mode which, once it's locked on to a subject, can follow it even if it moves away or across the frame. It needs a moment or so to lock on to it in the first place, but after that it works uncannily well.
Lastly, if you want to shoot a movie clip rather than a snapshot, the Panasonic can record high-definition 1,280x720-pixel footage at 30fps. Who needs a camcorder?
Let's not forget the pictures, though. Here, the Panasonic delivers pretty good results for a camera with a 1/2.33-inch sensor. As long as you keep the ISOs low, detail is good and there's not too much smudging of fine textures. It holds on fairly well as the ISOs go up, too, though the smudging and softening accelerates pretty rapidly.
The zooming is rather slow, it has to be said, and you'll probably want to switch to the high-speed AF mode, because the default area AF tends to take its time. And while the FX37 has some stunningly clever and successful automation, there's not much manual control on offer -- not even a choice of metering modes.
The picture quality's above average, due mostly to the lens rather than the image processing, but the FX37's real strengths are the technologies inside its neat little body. Lots of makers stuff their cameras full of gimmicks, but the features here work well and are actually useful.
Edited by Marian Smith