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9/10

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Over the past few years I've watched the development of Panasonic's range of digital cameras with interest. Panasonic was a relatively late entrant into the camera market, launching its first models in September 2001. Its progress since then has been one of quality over quantity, and even today its digital camera range consists of only 16 models, including the L10 digital SLR and the new G1 interchangeable lens camera system. However those 16 cameras are some of the best you can get, and as a result Panasonic's share of the digital still camera market has grown to the point where, at least in Europe, it is now second only to Canon overall, and is actually the market leader in digital compacts. When you consider innovative, high quality products like the Lumix DMC-FX500 this really isn't at all surprising.

The FX500 is a 10.1-megapixel ultra-compact camera featuring a 5x zoom lens with a 25mm-equivalent wide angle and optical image stabilisation, and a three-inch LCD monitor with a touch-screen interface. Currently selling for just under £190 the FX500 is an expensive camera, but it does offer a lot of quality and performance for the money. The body is mostly aluminium, with a hard-edged shape that is unlike other models in Panasonic's range. Build quality is exemplary, and the camera feels extremely strong and well made. It is available in black or silver, with both colours finished in an attractive brushed texture.

Unusually for a camera with a touch-screen interface the FX500 also has a complete set of conventional controls. This is because the touch-screen is only used for functions where it is actually an advantage, such as large buttons for main mode selection, fast and responsive sliders for aperture and shutter speed control, and the touch-operated AF/AE system. This is an extremely useful function, in which any object in the frame can be selected by touching the screen, and the camera then tracks the object if the camera moves, adjusting focus and exposure accordingly. If the object moves out of the frame, the camera remembers what it looks like for a few seconds and picks it up again if it comes back in. It is very impressive technology and works extremely well, even in quite low light.

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