Review Price £159.95
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX550 - Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX550
Touch screen controls are all the rage at the moment, but while they do work well for devices such as smartphones or tablet PCs they don't offer many real advantages for digital cameras. The primary purpose of a camera monitor is for image composition and review, both functions that are impaired if your screen is covered in fingermarks or large button icons. Touch screen controls also don't offer any real advantage over conventional buttons or D-pad in terms of control or performance. Fortunately the FX550 has both, with the touch-screen interface only being used for functions where it really is an advantage, such as focus and spot metering point selection, or quick mode selection via the large and accessible on-screen icons. It's a good combination and gives the FX550 a great deal of versatility.
The more conventional controls are also very good, especially the zoom control which is nice and smooth, allowing accurate framing of zoomed shots. The monitor itself is very good. It has a diagonal size of three inches, and is very clear and sharp with an exceptionally wide viewing angle. As usual with touch-screen monitors the anti-reflective coating could have been better, but the screen is bright enough to see in daylight.
In fact versatility is very much the keyword for the FX550. It is one of the few ultra-compact cameras to offer optional manual exposure control, with shutter priority, aperture priority and full manual control available. Exposure values are adjusted via large and responsive touch-screen sliders, with shutter speeds from 60 seconds to 1/2000th of a second and aperture settings from f/8.0 to f/2.8 in 1/3EV increments. This is a very good level of control by any standard. The few other compacts offering manual control usually only have a choice between minimum and maximum aperture and full-EV shutter speeds.
The FX550 has a number of other useful features including 1280 x 720 pixel resolution video recording at 30fps with mono audio. The audio quality isn't too good though, and the rather tinny internal microphone seems to be much better at picking up random noise than it is at recording speech. As is usually the case, the optical zoom cannot be used while recording. Video is recorded in Motion JPEG format.