The FX3’s other features are also common to most other compacts. Shooting modes are selected with a small recessed dial on the top plate, and include a 'standard' auto mode, a 'simple' mode in which most of the menu functions are disabled, and a 'scene' mode with 17 programs covering all the usual options. Unusual inclusions are a soft-focus mode, two baby photography modes and an underwater mode for use with the optional underwater housing. There’s also a high sensitivity mode, but we’ll come back to that in a moment.
Overall performance is good, in fact near enough identical to the FX9. It starts up in just under two seconds, which is about average for a modern high-spec compact. It has several continuous shooting modes, including a high speed mode that shoots a burst of up to six frames in two seconds, and an unlimited mode that can shoot at just over one frame a second until the memory card is full.
As with the FX9, the highest quality image files are fairly heavily compressed to around 2.2MB each, so a 1GB SD card will be enough for at least 334 shots. The FX3 also has a 30fps VGA movie mode, and a 1GB card provides over 11 minutes of shooting time.
The AF system is quick in all lighting conditions, and the AF illuminator has a range of at least four metres, allowing it to focus quickly and accurately even in darkness. Battery life is also good. Panasonic claims 270 shots for the hefty 1,150mAh Li-ion battery, and I have no reason to doubt this. I took well over 100 shots with it over a couple of days and the battery indicator didn’t move from reading fully charged. The FX9 has the same battery, and lasted for over 300 shots on a full charge.
The FX3’s unique selling point, and the only feature that distinguishes it from the FX9, is the availability of 1,600 ISO sensitivity. Combined with an effective image stabilisation system this should make the camera ideal for low-light hand-held flashless photography. I get the impression that Panasonic may be trying to beat Fujifilm in this respect, since Fuji has ignored image stabilisation technology in favour of superior high-ISO performance. Using a high ISO setting increases the shutter speed for a given light level, which helps to reduce blur not just from camera shake but also from the movement of your subject - something over which image stabilisers have no effect.