Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course. The build quality of the FX100 is of a very high standard, with a strong metal body finished in an attractive gunmetal grey (it is also available in black). Measuring 96.7 x 54.0 x 24.5 mm and weighing 148g it’s not quite an ultra-compact, but it is small and light enough to slip into a pocket for a night out. The layout of the controls is very simple, with Panasonic’s usual slider switch for on/off, a rotary bezel around the shutter button for zoom control, and a small, recessed knurled wheel for mode selection. As with previous Panasonic cameras this is rather fiddly, and the icons representing the shooting modes are small and hard to see. The fact that you can’t see the whole wheel means that until you get used to it you will frequently turn it the wrong way trying to find the mode you want, despite the on-screen display The open mode dial found on other manufacturer’s cameras is a much better idea. The modes on offer are fairly limited, but then the FX100 is a fairly basic camera, apart from its exceptional resolution. You get a “Simple” mode, in which all but the most basic menu functions are disabled, a normal Auto mode, with all options available, and an Intelligent ISO mode, which is really just another type of auto. As well as this there is a Scene mode, with 21 scene programs covering all the usual scenarios.
There is an extra button on the top of the FX100, labelled “E. Zoom”. When pressed once it instantly moves the zoom lens to its maximum telephoto position, which could be handy, however when pressed it again and it activates a feature which Panasonic like to call “Extra Optical Zoom”. Don’t be deceived though, this is just another name for the dreaded digital zoom. At a recent launch event, a Panasonic representative tried to convince me that actually it’s not digital zoom at all, but it operates by enlarging the centre area of the sensor, which is exactly the definition of digital zoom. Yes, you get extra magnification, but at the price of greatly reduced image quality. Quite why an otherwise reputable company like Panasonic would try to pull the wool over it’s customers’ eyes in this way is hard to understand, but then I don’t understand why camera manufacturers insist on including digital zoom as a feature anyway.
On the back panel, the usual D-pad has been replaced with five small square buttons in a cross formation. These are finished in chrome with their icons engraved, which looks very nice in good light but does mean that in lower light the icons are impossible to see. Fortunately the functions are very basic, with only one per button, so remembering which button does what shouldn’t be too hard.
The FX100’s monitor is something of a weak point. It is bright enough to use in bright sunlight, and at 207k pixels it is sharp enough to check your focusing, but it has an extremely restricted angle of view, especially in the vertical plane. I tried using the camera to photograph a band on stage, holding the camera over the heads of the people in front of me, but I found that it was impossible to see what was on the monitor at any angle greater than about 45 degrees. This also makes it difficult to show your photos to more than one person at once.