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Conclusion - Pros

  • High resolution, clean images
  • Excellent color - vivid but natural
  • High quality construction, lovely design
  • Highly versatile 28-102mm zoom range - smallest 28mm camera in the world
  • Reliable white balance with fine tuning
  • Feels fast and responsive
  • High speed focus near class-leading performance
  • Big, bright, high resolution screen
  • Decent movie mode with 848 x 480 pixel 30fps widescreen option
  • Reliable exposure and focus
  • Image stabilization works well
  • Good battery life
  • Histogram in record and playback mode, full on-screen exposure information
  • Excellent on-screen menus and control system
  • Easy to use

Conclusion - Cons

  • Very noisy at ISO 200-400 in low light
  • Noise reduction a bit strong at lower ISO settings for our liking - especially in low light
  • Results a little soft at F5.6 and over
  • No manual control of shutter speed or aperture
  • Occasional exposure problems and blown highlights when shooting in very bright light
  • Flash not very powerful, though fine for normal social shots
  • Easy to accidentally press buttons you don't mean to if you shoot single-handed
  • ISO 800 / 1600 mode needlessly interpolated back to 6MP

Overall conclusion

In the space of a few short years Panasonic has come from nowhere to become one of the key players in the digital camera market. And it has done so not by clever marketing or particularly aggressive pricing, but by taking risks, by going off on tangents and - crucially - by identifying gaps in the market and filling them with well-designed products that - more often than not - deliver on both image quality (where the tie-in with Leica lenses has paid off handsomely) and general consumer appeal. The industry has had to stop making jokes about microwave manufacturers not being able to do cameras and has started to sit up and take notice of the stealthy rise of Panasonic as a force to be reckoned with.

Just as the FZ series gave a much needed boost to the super zoom sector, so the FX7 and its successors have offered the first serious competition to Canon's Ixus range as the ultra-compact of choice for the style-conscious snapshooter, offering not only cool styling and big screens but the added benefit of Leica lenses and image stabilization. The DMC-FX01 goes one step further, bringing true wideangle shooting to the ultra-compact class, something many more serious users have been crying out for.

Of course the sensor has long been the Lumix's achilles heel, and noise is still enough of an issue here that some fairly harsh noise reduction is needed. But whereas other recent Lumix models have been so noisy that the problem threatened to overwhelm all the good stuff, here the noise is only a serious problem in daylight at ISO 400. That said, noise gets steadily worse as light levels drop, and I cannot recommend the output in low light at ISO 100 or above for anything over postcard-sized prints.

Noise aside, the FX01 is a real gem of a camera, and one I shall be very sorry to give back, mainly because using a compact with a 28mm equiv. lens is like a breath of fresh air compared to the 35 to 38mm wide end found on most models, which simply doesn't allow you to capture the whole scene in a single shot. Of course there are compromises; there are cameras with sharper lenses (though in the ultra-compact sector not many), the lack of real photographic control may put some off, and the low-light noise issue cannot be ignored. But in the final analysis the FX01 sits in a class of its own as a truly pocketable camera with a high quality 28mm equivalent lens, with image stabilization thrown in to sweeten the deal (although as has been pointed out to me in the forums Ricoh also sells compact cameras with 28mm zooms in some parts of the world).

If the wide lens and compact size are important to you, the FX01 is a no-brainer, and even if they aren't, this is a camera it's easy to recommend - especially if you don't really need high ISO performance. I liked the FX01 a lot - a lot more than I expected to, and it only misses a Highly Recommended thanks to the mediocre low light performance.

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