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For several years now Panasonic has been trying to muscle in on the ultra-compact style camera market dominated by Casio’s Exilim range, Pentax’s Optio range and especially Canon’s very popular IXUS range. Their main weapon in this assault has been a rapidly changing series of mid-to-high level compacts including several 6-megapixel models, namely the FX9, the FX3, and this, the FX01. The three models are very similar in appearance and specification, offering sleek and elegant styling, ease of use and several advanced features, not least of which is Panasonic’s proprietary and technically sophisticated optical anti-shake system, Mega O.I.S. Anti-shake systems are becoming increasingly popular in all types of digital camera, and Panasonic was one of the first to offer this technology in an ultra-compact. The Mega O.I.S. system, which is based on moving optical elements in the lens-sensor lightpath, has proved to be effective and reliable.
The FX01 shares most of its internal components with the FX3 which I reviewed in November, and in many ways the two cameras are almost identical. The both have the same 1/2.5in CCD, 6.37 megapixels (6.0MP effective) CCD sensor, the same 2.5in, 207k pixel TFT high-angle LCD monitor, and identical control layouts. The body designs are slightly different though, with the FX01 having a more rounded shape, and less of the Leica-esque 1930’s retro look. Personally I prefer the appearance of the FX01, in fact I ‘d go as far as to say I think it’s one of the most attractively styled cameras on the market.
The good looks are more than skin deep too. Like the FX3, the FX01 has a solidly made aluminium case, solidly-mounted controls and a lens that retracts fully flush with the camera body. Measuring just 94.1 x 51.1 x 24.2 mm it’s not quite the smallest camera on the market, but it’s pretty close. It only weighs 153g including card and battery, so it’s definitely shirt pocket portable.
As with the FX3, the control layout is nice and simple, but then the FX01 is a very simple camera. Main shooting modes are selected via the small partially-covered dial on the top right. It has only six positions, including playback and movie mode. Shooting options are standard auto mode, ‘simple’ auto mode, macro focusing and scene mode, which enables the user to select from 17 scene modes including all the usual choices (portrait, landscape, sports, night portrait etc.) as well as soft-focus portrait, starry sky, two modes for photographing babies complete with imprinted age, a high-sensitivity mode and an underwater mode for use with the optional underwater housing.
The zoom control is a rotary collar around the shutter button, which I like, and the power switch is literally that – a simple slider switch, simple and easy to operate even while wearing gloves.