One of the key selling points of the FX33 is its sheer style. I've always thought that many of Panasonic's compact cameras have a slightly retro look about them, in some way reminiscent of vintage rangefinder cameras, with a hint of 1920s-30s art deco. Maybe I know nothing about design history, but there's no denying that the FX33 is a very pretty camera. It is available in black or the silver version I have here, and the build quality is as good as the looks. It has a strong all-metal body, finished in a smooth matt texture that doesn't mark easily, with polished metal details.
It is a very small camera, and at just 22mm thick it is one of the slimmest on the market. It is longer and lower than most other comparable cameras, which with its rounded ends and flush-folding lens makes it very easy to slip into a pocket. In fact it will fit fairly comfortably into those pockets you tend to find on almost everything these days that are designed to hold a mobile phone.
Like most compacts designed primarily for social use the FX33 isn't exactly bursting with creative options, but it does have one or two unusual features. The tiny and rather fiddly recessed mode dial has only three main shooting modes; Normal Picture, Scene Mode or Intelligent Auto. In the first you have at least some control over ISO, white balance, AF mode and a few more options. Most of these are also available in the various scene modes, but in the Intelligent Auto mode the camera takes over everything. The idea with Intelligent Auto is that it analyses the scene and selects the most appropriate scene mode or program for the circumstances, uses face detection technology to automatically focus on and expose for any people in the scene, and also controls the ISO setting to minimise the possibility of either camera shake or motion blur. If that sounds vaguely familiar then it should; it's a similar idea to the Hyper Program mode that has been a feature of Pentax cameras for years.
As well as the idiot mode, the FX33 has a good selection of scene modes, including all the usual suspects as well as soft-skin portrait, two modes for baby photos, one for shooting stars, an aerial photo mode and an underwater mode for use with an optional diving case. Other shooting options include a 5cm macro mode, a video mode that offers 848 x 480 widescreen movies at 30fps with sound (although the audio quality is rather awful), and a strange "Clipboard" mode, in which you can take a photo and review it on screen, but not write it to the memory. I suppose it could be useful if you were short on memory and wanted to check that a shot worked before committing it to the card, but when you can get gigabyte SD cards for under £20 who runs out of memory anymore?