I have previously been rather critical of some Panasonic compact cameras. The main reason for this has been their high price and relatively mediocre performance and some image quality problems. Admittedly Panasonic has made some exceptional high-end cameras, including those it makes under the Leica brand, although these tend to come with astronomical price tags.
It’s rather refreshing therefore to find that Panasonic can make a reasonably priced camera that shares some of the quality and innovation of its more expensive models. The camera in question is the DMC-FX3.
It was launched towards the end of July with a list price of £199.99 - pretty competitive for an ultra-compact six megapixel camera, especially one with the Leica brand name, 1,600 ISO performance and optical image stabilisation. It is already available online for as little as £154, which compares well with models such as the Casio Ex-Z600 (£125), Samsung Digimax i6 (£145), the Nikon Coolpix L6 (£170) or the Canon IXUS 65 (£190).
The first impression of the FX3 is overwhelmingly favourable. It’s a beautifully designed little camera with a high-quality aluminium body finished in a light brushed-metal colour with chrome trim, (a black version is also available). Measuring 24.2mm thick and weighing only 154g with card and battery on board, it is small and light enough to slip into a shirt pocket or purse. Furthermore, the lens fully retracts into the body and there are no protruding controls.
Handling is excellent for a camera this size thanks to a sensible control layout leaving plenty of room to grip the camera. As for style it shares the same vaguely art-deco retro look as most of Panasonic’s compact camera range, with a particularly close resemblance to the FX9, which I believe it replaces.
Not surprisingly the FX3 shares many of the same features as the FX9, such as its 6.37MP CCD, high quality 2.5in, 207,000 pixel LCD monitor and 35-105mm-equivalent lens. The lens is branded with the Leica name, but to be honest the performance of some previous Leica-branded Panasonic lenses has been somewhat disappointing.
It also shares Panasonic’s moving-lens Mega OIS optical image stabilisation system, and is one of the smallest cameras on the market to offer this feature. I’ve used cameras with the Mega OIS system before and I’ve found it to be quite good, giving around two stops of extra hand-held stability. It’s not the best system on the market, but it’s certainly one of the best you’ll find in a camera this small.