A comparative latecomer to digital stills cameras, Panasonic has been steadily producing the goods over the past couple of years, with the 10x zoom DMC-TZ3 a particular highlight. Though the 8-megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55 squeezes a more modest 3.6x optical zoom into its slender ultracompact frame, the Leica lens does go as wide as 28mm, proving very useful for group portraits and landscapes.
The recommended price of £279 is towards the higher end of the scale for its feature set. In practice, you can find the FX55 for around £230 online.
A tad taller than a credit card and the width of your thumbnail, pick the FX55 up and it immediately pulls off the trick of feeling reassuringly weighty in the palm yet at the same time lightweight enough to slide into a coat or jeans pocket without discomfort. Which is exactly what you want from a point-and-shoot camera.
Flick the simple on/off slider on top of the camera and the FX55 powers into action, taking just over a second for the lens to extend to maximum wide angle from storage flush to the body.
Keeping things simple, Panasonic has not only stripped the FX55's outer controls back to a minimum -- seven in all, though some serve a dual purpose -- it's included a new Intelligent Auto Mode setting on the mode dial, which is neatly recessed into the body to avoid it accidentally slipping on to a setting you didn't want when it's in your pocket.
The theory is that this function automatically chooses the settings that best match the scene or subject in front of the camera -- for example it automatically switches to macro mode if you point the camera at a close object, selects ISO, anti shake or alternatively activates face detection, avoiding the need for additional buttons or menu selections. In practice you simply find the subject, point the camera and take the picture -- freeing up the user to concentrate purely on composition. Best of all, it actually works.
Through a combination of optical image stabilisation and intelligent ISO, it's also harder to create a blurred image -- though it isn't infallible at avoiding camera shake, especially when shooting interiors without flash. That said, it is useful when holding the camera at arm's length, or for a shot over the heads of a crowd, for which screen visibility can be boosted by pressing the LCD mode button and selecting high angle mode.
Clear and bright even when shooting outdoors, the LCD even subtly adjusts for the ambient lighting conditions.
Once focus and exposure have been determined with a half press of the shutter button there's no delay to speak of, though writing maximum-resolution JPEGs to card does mean a 2-3 second wait between shots. That said, a burst mode delivering three frames per second at maximum resolution and unlimited consecutive shooting acts as some compensation.
Pictures themselves are notable for well-saturated colours -- with greens particularly lush -- and are evenly exposed, while instances of pixel fringing are notably absent. Edge to edge sharpness is also good though, if anything, a subtle application of un-sharp mask in Photoshop would add the finishing touch. Stick to ISO 800 or below to avoid aggressive noise.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55 does what all snapshot cameras should by virtue of being swift in operation, easy to use and delivering colour-rich, crisp aberration-free images straight out of the camera. The fact that it also features a 28mm wide-angle lens and a better than average overall range is icing on the cake. If you don't need the bells and whistles of a compact super zoom, this is a fairly priced, fully auto option.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide