Where should we start with the all-singing, all-dancing Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX500? It's a 10.1-megapixel point-and-shoot with knobs on, plus features such as a touchscreen, wide-angle lens and HD video rammed into its blocky frame. We put this £225 snapper through its paces to see if it kept up the recent high standards of the Lumix range.
Despite the fetching brushed aluminium face available in black or silver, the FX500 looks boxy and flat at the front. It's a different story at the back, where the sleek black plastic surface is dominated by a giant 76mm (3-inch) touchscreen. Like most touchscreens, this is somewhat prone to fingerprints.
Not all of the controls are accessed via the touchscreen. A mode button, display button and handy quick menu button are arranged around a recessed mini-joystick. The joystick is too recessed for our thumbs to grip properly, although we got used to it.
Even though the back is plastic, the FX500 is an extremely well-made camera. The usual Lumix build quality is in full effect here, with no flex in the frame and sturdy doors for the battery and SD/SDHC card compartment and USB connections.
The FX500's Leica-developed lens has a 25mm wide-angle focal length equivalent to a 35mm film camera. It's also above average at the telephoto end, including a 5x optical zoom perfect for head and shoulders portraits, making this an extremely versatile lens.
It might be quicker to list the things the FX500 doesn't do: it doesn't shoot raw files. Otherwise, it boasts a feature set as long as your arm. In shooting mode, lightly tapping a point on the screen locks focus on that subject. A small box appears and that fixed point is tracked around the frame as camera or subject moves. We generally found this worked very well, although quicker movements could see the yellow box wander.
Pressing the menu button calls up the different modes. Intelligent auto, scene modes, video, program, manual, aperture and shutter priority modes can be selected by tapping the screen. The usual scene modes are available, such as landscape, portrait and, for whatever reason, food.
After selecting manual exposure mode, you can adjust aperture and shutter by sliding your fingertip -- or the provided stylus -- over handy onscreen sliders. Because the shutter and aperture increase incrementally in stops, it doesn't matter that the sliders aren't especially sensitive.
In playback mode, tapping the screen zooms in. Once zoomed in, swiping your finger around the screen whooshes the image around. It's responsive -- and a lot of fun.
The FX500 boasts a 1/2.33-inch CCD sensor. The lens is aligned by Panasonic's proven Mega OIS system to defeat the blurry effects of camera shake. Mode1 adjusts the optics continually, but we got marginally better results with mode 2, which corrects upon snapping.