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Overall performance is good, although the 3.5-second start-up time is a little on the slow side. The 1.8-second shut down is quick enough though, and in single-shot mode the camera can maintain a rate of one shot every 2.5 seconds, which is reasonably fast. It has two continuous shooting modes, one which takes a series of shots at just under one frame a second, although the number of shots varies depending on image size, with only four frames shot at the highest quality setting. Strangely, shooting in Unlimited mode with a fast SD card (SanDisk Extreme III), I found I was able to shoot at a slightly faster rate (approximately 1.2fps) without stopping. That's pretty fast for a compact camera.
The autofocus system is surprisingly complex for a P&S model, with six different area modes including face detection. AF is quick and accurate, and also works extremely well in low light, with an AF assist lamp that has a range of about 3m. If the AF can't get a lock, it says so very quickly rather than hunting around. The face detection system works well, as long as your subject's face is unobscured and pointing towards the camera.
Image quality is fortunately one of the areas in which Panasonic's latest generation of cameras has made a lot of progress, but for some reason the company still insists on putting tiny 1/2.5-in sensors in all its cameras, including the FX33. Many other manufacturers are moving more towards larger sensors, because of the advantages in colour depth, dynamic range and noise control. As a result, all of these factors could be better in the results produced by the FX33, but to be fair none are a real problem. Colour rendition and exposure are generally accurate, and the overall level of detail is very good, certainly on a par with other high-quality 8MP cameras. The Venus Engine III provides a noticeable improvement in noise control over previous models, but even so there is some colour speckling visible at all but the lowest ISO settings. A lot of credit goes to the excellent lens, which produces superb edge-to-edge sharpness and relatively little wide-angle distortion.
Panasonic keeps chipping away at Canon's position in the premium ultra-compact market, and with the wide-angle Lumix DMC-FX33 it has a camera that can take on the best of the IXUS range. It has style, elegance, build quality, performance and simplicity of operation, and while it is slightly lacking in picture quality it will seldom disappoint, producing good pictures in almost any situation.
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