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(Pocket-lint) - At first glance the 14.1-megapixel, 5x optical zoom Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX700 “travel zoom” compact closely resembles the previously reviewed DMC-FX70, with which it shares the same sized sensor; namely it’s a conventionally boxy looking pocket snapshot from the front - albeit one with rounded edges - while being a large 3-inch touch panel-incorporating wonder from the rear.

While this means it has a paucity of actual physical controls, the ones visible, such as “mode”, “menu” plus a switch for swapping between capture and playback, aren’t given their virtual equivalents. This means that operation by necessity isn’t wholly reliant on prodding the screen. Indeed you could simply turn the camera on and start shooting using the LCD as an electronic viewfinder only, in the expected absence of an optical alternative.

There’s no dedicated iA (intelligent Auto) button here though, nor Q.Menu (Quick Menu) button as prominently featured on most Panasonic Lumix models to provide operational shortcuts. That said, the former is selectable as a virtual icon summoned up among other options with a press of the “mode” button, and the latter appears as a virtual button bottom left of the screen. So regular Panasonic users used to looking for such features will find operation reasonably intuitive.

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Powering up from cold in a couple of seconds, lens barrel extending to maximum wideangle setting with an audible whirr and rear LCD blinking into life, the FX700 is the usual stylish mix of metal and plastic construction. More unusually however, the camera is coated in a thin rubber layer at the front and back. Since there is no handgrip to speak of and the camera’s faceplate is otherwise flat, this aids grip whilst feeling enticingly tactile.

The FX700 sports conveniently slender dimensions of 103.5 x 55.8 x 24.5mm and weighs 176g with battery and SD card inserted. So with lens retracted it will slide unobtrusively into a pair of trousers, jacket pocket or handbag when you’re heading out for the day or evening and, unlike a DSLR or most compact system cameras, be instantly at hand for spur of the moment snaps.

Just like the FX70, here the FX700’s retractable Leica-branded optional zoom lens starts out at a wideangle 24mm (going up to a 120mm equivalent at the telephoto end), and it’s just as 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. In practice we found it hard to tell much difference, as shots at higher ISOs are progressively noisy anyway and low light handheld images taken with the High Sensitivity mode – selected from amongst the scene options, and maxing out at ISO 6400 equivalent - look simply terrible. The basic selectable ISO range stays within a fairly conservative ISO 100-ISO 1600.

And if the basic optical zoom is not enough for your purposes, then 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.

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Auto Focus tracking, accessible by tapping that portion of the screen where your intended subject “resides” is another feature shared with the FX70, keeping focus and exposure biased on the unruly no matter where they may move, or scamper, within the frame. You can also opt to fire the shutter simply by tapping a portion of the screen, or disable this feature in case you do so accidentally. Though the LCD has a widescreen aspect ratio, in regular 4:3 aspect ratio stills mode a thick black band appears to its right with a narrower one to the left.

Where the FX700 betters the FX70 however, is in offering Full HD 1920 x 1080 pixels video, rather than 1280 x 720, offered in Motion JPEG or AVCHD format and kicking in with a press of a standalone red record button on its top plate. Happily the optical zoom is also accessible when doing so. Also in this location we find a large and obvious shutter release button surrounded by a lever for operating the zoom, on/off switch, plus, impressively for a pocket model, built-in stereo microphones. Sound quality isn’t bad, but the microphones’ location means that they pick up the noise of the photographer handling the camera. Output here is via a combined AV out and USB port hidden under a side flap, next to a separate mini HDMI port for hooking the compact up to a flat panel TV.

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In terms of the output, as this is a Panasonic, results straight from the camera require only minimal tinkering; colours are naturalistic if slightly warm, and if you do want to add more punch, there’s a “happy” picture setting with which to do so. When there’s plenty of light around the level of detail captured impresses, and focus is well-maintained edge to edge when shooting at maximum wide angle. Okay, so familiar bugbears such as pixel fringing are there if you really want to look for them, but for general happy snapping the FX700 fits the bill. 

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To recap

A competent pocket snapshot from Panasonic’s style range that is very much a pea from the same pod as the FX70 released earlier this year. If you don’t need a zoom range beyond 5x, and will be staying away from the higher ISO settings, it’s a winner if you track down a £250 street price

Writing by Gavin Stoker.