Externally the FX9 is almost identical to the FX7 and FX8 that preceded it, save for a few (very) minor styling details. The body is made from metal with a fashionable (if less than practical) chrome band wrapping the rounded sides and camera top.
The rear of the camera is dominated by a huge 2.5-inch LCD monitor, which takes up around two thirds of the surface area. It's nice to see that despite its tiny dimensions the designers have managed to retain plenty of external controls (which follow the now well established Panasonic layout), though they are inevitably a touch on the small side.
In your hand
Despite its diminutive proportions the FX9 does actually work quite well in your hand, with the textured thumb grip on the rear ensuring a fairly steady hold. We found it fairly easy to shoot single handed and still get good results. The combination of metals used give the camera a 'quality' feel, and it really is truly pocketable. It's light (155g), but well balanced. The only handling problem we found was that it's a little too easy to accidentally press the controls (changing the flash mode, for example) with your thumb when using the camera - an inevitable consequence of such a tiny body. The design and size of the body and positioning of the shutter release also makes camera shake more of an issue than it would be in a larger camera, so it's a good job Panasonic included image stabilization!
The combined battery and SD storage compartment is found in the base of the camera on the right side under a hinged cover (one of the only bits of plastic on the body). The battery is held in place by a secondary spring clip.
The battery is a 3.7 V 1150 mAh Lithium-Ion unit and is charged by the dedicated charger. In an improvement first seen on the FX8, battery life is much better than the FX7 (thanks to the bigger, more powerful battery) - around 270 shots per charge (CIPA standard testing).
On the right side of the camera (from the rear) is a plastic-hinged compartment cover which has a chrome finish so that when closed it blends neatly into the rest of the camera styling. Behind it is the combined AV/USB connector and DC-IN connector.
The 207,000-pixel, 2.5-inch LCD screen is bright and clear, and has a high enough refresh rate to appear virtually lag-free. It's also a LOT better than the low resolution screen used on the FX8 and FX7 before it. It works well in practically every situation - though (as with all screens) it can be a little difficult to see in very bright direct sunlight.
The 35-105mm equiv. lens retracts almost completely flush into the body and extends by around 18mm when powered up. That Panasonic has managed to squeeze an optical stabilization system into such a tiny lens on a tiny camera is a tribute to the skills of the designers involved. Of course, this being a Lumix camera, the lens proudly sports the Leica name (it's a 7-element Elmarit with 3 aspherical elements for those who are interested in that kind of thing).
Despite filling over two-thirds of the rear of the camera with that huge 2.5-inch screen Panasonic's designers resisted the temptation to move the majority of the FX9's controls into menus. The small, but perfectly usable, buttons give direct access to most of the everyday shooting controls (flash, AE compensation, self-timer, review).
The top plate also has its fair share of controls. The shutter release sits inside the zoom rocker, both of which have a nice positive action. In a first for Panasonic the O.I.S gets its own dedicated button. To the left of the shutter release is the power switch.
Recessed into the rear of the camera is the main mode dial, which has positions for record, simple mode, play, macro, scene mode and movie mode.
The small flash is more powerful than you'd expect, but still only reaches about 13 feet at the wide end of the zoom (auto ISO). It's a little too close to the lens for our liking, meaning red-eye is a fairly common unless you use the anti-red eye setting. The pre-flash delays things by just under a second, meaning there's a risk your subject will move before the picture is taken.