If you're at all interested in creative photography you'll want a camera that offers at least some degree of manual exposure control. That's no problem if you're looking at a digital SLR or super-zoom model, but if you also want your camera to be a pocket-sized ultra-compact then your choices are rather more limited. One of the better choices in this category has been the excellent Panasonic FX500, a 10-megapixel ultra-compact with a 5x zoom lens and a unique combination of touch-screen and conventional controls, featuring a range of manual exposure options.
The FX500 was launched in spring 2008, and was a very successful model, so last year Panasonic launched an upgraded model, increasing the sensor resolution to 12.1 megapixels, shaving a millimetre off the thickness and naming it with characteristic whimsy the FX550.
Currently selling for around £230 the FX550 is quite an expensive camera, but at least it also looks and feels expensive. The front half of the body is aluminium with an attractive brushed metal finish, available in either black or silver. The overall build quality is very good, with minimal panel gaps and solidly mounted controls, but the back panel is plastic and does scratch easily especially along the sharp angular corners. Handling is also very good, with a small raised feature serving as a handgrip on the front and a textured thumbgrip area on the back. The controls are sensibly placed and the camera is easy and comfortable to grip securely.