In tests we timed the FS37’s start-up time – i.e how long it takes from being switched on to being ready to record images – at just over a second. Used this quickly, the autofocus emits a beep to signal that focus has been achieved, although it’ll take an additional three seconds before the display kicks into life and the focus rectangle turns green. During this time you’re also unable to access any of the menu settings.
Speaking of focus, the FS37 offers the usual array of face-detection, 11-area AF and single-point AF. They all work perfectly well and are impressively quick too. Autofocus is of the ‘always on’ variety, meaning the camera automatically hunts for focus as soon as you point it at something, before you’ve half-pressed the shutter button in the usual way. This does help to speed things up, especially if you’re poised in front of your subject with your camera, waiting for the right moment.
For moving subjects, the FS37 offers AF Tracking, whereby you use the touch-screen to nominate your chosen subject, which the camera will then maintain focus on it as it moves around the screen. In testing we found that while it works well with subtle, slow-moving subjects in good light, it does struggle to keep up with more erratic or pronounced movements, or poor light.
One other AF feature of note that’s regularly seen on other Panasonic models and makes it onto the FS37 is the Touch AF/AE function. This can be used to define a focus and metering point on any part of the screen simply by jabbing a finger exactly where you want to set it. It can be a useful tool when there are several subjects in the scene competing for focus.
The Touch AF/AE button is complimented by a separate Touch Shutter button (indicated by a small yellow icon on the monitor) that allows you to take the focus and metering aspects of Touch AF-AE one step further by automatically taking a picture after they’ve been processed.
While the touch-screen menus are easy enough to navigate we did find the screen to be occasionally unresponsive, sometimes requiring a second and/or firmer press before the camera registered our command. Given all the finger jabbing and dragging that’s required it doesn’t take long before the screen becomes covered in fingerprint marks too. An optional stylus is supplied, but we’re far from convinced about the practicalities of using this.
The 230k-dot LCD monitor isn’t the clearest or sharpest screen with which to review captured images on, and colour reproduction is rather feeble too. The optimal viewing angle is especially narrow, which makes it difficult to compose images from unusually low or high angles. Finally, the screen is hard to see in bright sunlight, even with the addition of a ‘Power LCD’ option that brightens the screen for improved visibility outdoors.
That said, there are some nice touches. We like the ‘shortcut’ option that allows you to drag and drop up to two regularly used settings, for example ISO and/or AF mode, from the main menu straight onto the main shooting screen, which saves time navigating through the menu if you regularly adjust these settings.
Overall image quality is generally quite positive, but with a few reservations. While the FS37 is capable of delivering images that initially appear to be sharp, under closer examination these same images show that a good deal of sharpening has been applied. This can sometimes result in unwanted haloing effects, especially on high-contrast borders.
Likewise, in low-light and at higher sensitivities the FS37 suffers from quite a lot of noise intrusion. This begins to assert itself at ISO 400 and above, with the debilitating effects at higher sensitivity settings even more pronounced. Aggressive noise reduction at mid to high sensitivities also results in a notable loss of detail.
The FS37’s dynamic range is somewhat limited too, meaning it struggles to retain both highlight and shadow detail in high-contrast conditions. Left to its own devices we found the FS37 showed a tendency to overexpose, thereby saving shadow detail at the expense of highlights. This can, of course, be controlled to some degree by using Exposure Compensation though.
Still, in bright and/or evenly-lit conditions the FS37 produces perfectly acceptable images with plenty of punch and immediacy. Automatic white balance didn’t cause us any major concerns either. While the FS37 isn’t really designed for making larger prints with, it will deliver perfectly good 6x4-inch prints that you can share with friends.
While the FS37 isn’t a bad little compact, there’s nothing that really elevates it above its peers, either. Easy to use and capable of good results in the right conditions, there is plenty to like about it. And with only three physical buttons, its minimalist design is sure to increase its appeal to some consumers.
However, given that the three-inch touch-screen is presented as one of the model’s major selling points, it does come as something of a disappointment to discover that it isn’t particularly responsive, displays at a fairly low resolution and has a severely limited viewing angle. Given that touch-screen technology is now used widely in other consumer electronic devices, most noticeably smartphones, its relative underperformance feels all the more noticeable.
In this respect, Panasonic’s FS35 may well prove a better bet than the FS37. It boasts exactly the same headline specifications of the FS37, only with the addition of physical controls at the expense of touch-screen functionality. At the time of writing it’s available for around £140, about £20 less than the FS37.