Once the stuff of science fiction movies, touch screens have gradually worked their way into our everyday lives to such an extent that we would hardly bat an eyelid at finding one incorporated into the latest pair of Nike's, let alone feel the warm glow anticipation at finding one on a digital camera. That said, it's still something of a rarity to see a camera with almost not physical controls, as here with the new 12.1 megapixel Panasonic DMC-FX77: the larger-than-average 3.5-inch screen swallows up the entire backplate of the camera, in iPhone fashion.
While, when viewed from the rear, this means the FX77 doesn't obviously resemble a camera - it could indeed be a sleek phone - from the front and top it's very much business as usual. Specifically it measures 99.7 x 55.2 x 20.6mm, which makes it about the height of a business card if broader in width and inevitably depth. In other words, it's an entirely average ultra compact in this regard and will comfortably fit in the average pocket. It's also lightweight enough â€“ even with lithium ion rechargeable battery and removable SD media inserted â€“ for you to almost forget it's there.
With near total reliance on the touch screen, Panasonic has thrown the kitchen sink at it in terms of touch panel technology. We get the ability to bias focus and exposure to a particular subject by touching it on screen, fire the shutter release with a subsequent touch, and even zoom in or out with a semi-circular swipe of a finger tip. In playback mode images can also be scrolled through by intuitively dragging the finger across the screen.
In terms of specification, the FX77 initially seems modest, coming after we have reviewed the toughened, almost destruction proof, Lumix DMC-FT3 and 16x optical zoom DMC-TZ20, both of which appeared to be pushing the envelope in terms of capability for their class. That said, the FX77 does offer the versatility of a relatively bright f/2.5 lens, theoretically allowing for better results when attempting low light photography. The focal range also starts out at an impressively wide 24mm equivalent (in 35mm film terms) to enable those landscape shots and group portraits, plus boasts a 5x optical zoom to pull the action closer, going up to 120mm equivalent at the telephoto end. If that's not enough, its maker provides the 'extra optical zoom' option to extend this to a 9.8x reach, as long as you don't mind resolution dropping to three megapixels as only the central portion of the CCD sensor is utilised; the camera in effect making a crop.
In terms of ticking boxes for the latest must haves, its maker also adds the rapid fire 3D shooting mode seen on its latest raft of Lumix compacts, whereby you pan the camera across the scene and the 3D image is automatically put together from the combination. As with most such cameras that have this feature, you do require a 3D TV to view the resultant MPO file generated. Further bolstering the package are Full HD video recording, 3.7 frames per second continuous capture at full resolution, or 10fps at a reduced three megapixels. For that, a street price of around Â£250 feels fair.
So come with us as we drill deeper into this camera's feature set, handling and performance to see if the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX77 could be the best fit for you.