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The FX500's overall performance is just as impressive as its specification. It starts up in a little over two seconds, which is nice and quick, and shuts down again even faster. In single-shot mode at maximum image quality its shot-to-shot time is approximately two seconds, while in unlimited continuous mode it can shoot at approximately 1.3 frames per second, adjusting exposure and focus for each shot and including both an audio cue and a live monitor view, which is pretty impressive. There is also a burst mode which fires up to three shots in just under 1.5 seconds.
The FX500 has multiple focus area modes, including several that are labelled as being high speed. These modes are indeed slightly quicker, but even the non-high-speed modes are not exactly slow. Focusing is quick and accurate in good light, although it does slow down somewhat in lower light conditions. However the low light focusing is exceptionally good, and if it can't achieve focus it sets the lens to pan-focus, so that everything from about 50cm to infinity will be reasonably sharp. This is a lot better than setting focus to infinity as most cameras do in this situation.
With such excellent design and performance it would be a shame if image quality was to let the camera down, but thankfully this is not the case. The 10.1MP sensor records a good level of fine detail, and the Leica-branded lens provides plenty of it, with a minimum of wide-angle distortion and excellent corner sharpness, although some of this may be due to distortion correction by the image processor. Colour rendition in the default setting is very natural, with good detail in saturated areas. The dynamic range is also better than average for a 1/2.33-in 10MP sensor. The exposure meter tends to favour highlights, but the sensor recodes good shadow detail which can be brought out in post-processing.
Noise control has previously been Panasonic's Achilles' Heel, but the company has made a lot of progress in this area lately. The FX500 produces good clean images at 100 and 200 ISO, and at 400 ISO the noise reduction is a lot less heavy-handed than it used to be. There is even still some fine detail at 800 ISO, although image quality at the maximum 1600 ISO setting is a bit ropey.
The Panasonic FX500 is a superbly well made camera with a wide range of useful features and arguably the best implementation of touch-screen technology on any current compact camera. It looks great, performs well, and produces superior image quality. It may be expensive, but there's no doubt it's worth every penny.
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