Announced back in June 2010 but just hitting the shops now, the new Lumix DMC-FX70 "travel zoom"-style digital camera appears to be an exercise in how much up-to-the-minute specification you can cram into one device while keeping it compact enough to slide in and out of a pocket, ready for any photo opportunity.
That makes it as future proof as you could possibly hope for at this point in time. And helpfully, it's stylish in its metal and plastic combination without pushing the boat out, a curved edge to one side avoiding the boxy criticisms we usually aim at Panasonic, and reminding us of a premium Canon IXUS. The camera weighs 165g with accessories, and dimensions are only just slightly chunkier than the average mobile phone.
So what do you get for a UK price in the region of £250 that, whilst not cheap, is still perfectly reasonable? Well, Panasonic has shoehorned an optically stabilised Leica-branded 5x zoom lens with a focal range that begins at a wide angle 24mm in 35mm film terms, into a body measuring 102.5 x 55 x 22.8mm, discounting protrusions.
And if that's not enough an Extra Optical zoom function utilises the central portion of its CCD sensor, effectively performing a crop, to boost performance to an equivalent 10.5x. The knock on is a resolution drop to 3 megapixels. Otherwise the maximum effective resolution is 14.1 megapixels from its 1/2.3-inch CCD.
OK, so while that isn't as impressive as the optical spec offered by Panasonic's own larger lens-ed TZ series, it nevertheless makes the FX70 adroit at both breathtaking landscape shots and merrymaking group portraits. The lens is bright too, at F/2.2 as opposed to the usual F/2.8 variety, so it theoretically lets in more light to achieve sharper results in lower lighting conditions. Auto Focus tracking, accessible by tapping that portion of the screen where your intended subject "resides" is another bonus, keeping focus and exposure biased on the unruly no matter where they may move, or scamper, within the frame.
Along with other recent Lumix releases there's a choice of shooting 1280 x 720 pixels HD video too, in Motion JPEG or AVCHD Lite formats. Panasonic claims this makes the FX70 a "true hybrid" camera, which despite the fact that it also includes a one-touch record button for video - so that recording can instantly commence whatever setting you previously had the camera in - is a bit of a stretch.
Nevertheless, the camera's intelligent Auto function, usually reserved for stills, and whereby the camera "recognises" common scenes and subjects and automatically adjusts its exposure and focus settings to achieve optimal performance, can also be deployed when shooting video. As happily can the full extent of the camera's optical zoom, sometimes disabled on lesser compacts to avoid the built-in microphone picking up operational buzz. A "Wind Cut" option has further been provided by Panasonic to clean up any audio, and, less usually seen at this price, mini HDMI output alongside standard AV/USB connectivity - both ports hidden beneath a side flap.
The camera feels solid held in the palm, though there's not actually much to get a firm grip on - just nine small plastic nodules top right of the backplate providing a point of purchase for the thumb when using handheld.
But the real talking point here has to be the 3.0-inch touch panel LCD adorning the backplate of the FX70. Whilst it may not be the first time we've had a touchscreen on a Panasonic Lumix, this particular model is brave enough to do away with most of the attendant buttons usually ranged alongside. Here, there's just the wide-angle aspect ratio screen itself, a switch for swapping between capture and playback, separate mode and menu buttons, and that's it. Good. Yet you still do have to press the aforementioned buttons to kick-start the screen operation.
Response times are also good, and the inclusion of a new generation Venus Engine HD II processor has boosted battery life to a CIPA-accredited 360 shots per charge. Recording is to SD, SDHC or SDXC cards, via expansion slot shared with the battery at the camera's base, or there's a 40MB internal memory to fall back on.
Shame the monitor resolution here couldn't have been boosted beyond the standard 230k dots, to say, 460k, but at the end of the day this is still an unassuming pocket snapper that has to hit a certain price point.
Luckily then the FX70's on-screen virtual buttons are large and clearly marked. In point and shoot "iA" mode they're few and far between, but choose "normal" mode instead and you have four screen's worth of settings to tab through. Navigation is intuitive and you quickly get a feel for what's going on.
So should this be the camera you pocket for that short city break? If you're looking for a competent, well-featured performer at the right price, and are happy to occasionally squint at a touchscreen in the sun - then the FX70 could be the one.
In terms of picture quality, though there's a tendency to lose detail in the highlights, results are as sharp as we've previously experienced from the Lumix snapper range. So that means also plenty of warm, vibrant colours - with the option to boost this further via a "vivid" colour mode setting if you drill down into the touchscreen menus.
With little if any adjustment needing to be made to JPEGs straight out of the camera, you can be confident that the FX70, while admittedly not up there on a par with a Micro Four Thirds hybrid nor DSLR for twice the price, will nevertheless do justice to that holiday or special occasion.
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