The matt surface has an almost velvety texture, making the FX700 very pleasant to handle. Unlike some touch-screen cameras this one does have some conventional controls on the back, consisting of two small buttons for mode and menu and a slider switch to select between shooting and playback mode. Above these is a small textured area that provides space for the thumb, while the chrome wrist strap lug on the front provides some purchase for the fingers, giving the camera a comfortable and secure grip. On the down-side, the shooting/playback switch does mean that the FX700 does not have “shooting priority”, in other words tapping the shutter button in playback mode does not activate shooting mode as it does in most compacts.
The main control interface is of course the touch-screen. The screen is very responsive and the menus operate quickly and smoothly, but it does have a few oddities. There is a row of icons permanently displayed down the right of the screen which one might expect would include the most often-used shooting settings. It does include exposure compensation, flash mode, self timer and macro mode, but other useful adjustments such as focus and exposure modes, white balance and picture quality are relegated to a separate quick menu. Meanwhile there is a side bar panel for an alternate on-screen touch-controlled zoom. The FX700 has a perfectly good zoom control as a bezel around the shutter button, so there seems to be little point in duplicating its function using the touch screen. Similarly many of the functions of the quick menu are duplicated in the conventional main menu. This is really an unnecessary complication on what is already a pretty complex camera.
One unexpected highlight is the option of aperture priority, shutter priority and full manual exposure control. These are very well implemented, with a nice clear graphical touch interface that adjusts exposure settings by dragging a pair of horizontal sliders. Unlike some “manual” compacts the FX700 does allow full aperture control, with a full three stops of adjustment at wide angle. Shutter speeds from eight seconds to 1/2000th can also be selected.
Like all of Panasonic’s compact cameras the FX700 has an iAuto (Intelligent Auto) mode, and in this case it includes some pretty sophisticated automation. As well as the usual scene recognition, automatic ISO control and auto exposure, it also incorporates Panasonic’s “intelligent zoom”, which enhances detail and edge definition in digital zoom shots. It also includes Motion Deblur, a feature which attempts to set an appropriate shutter speed to capture a moving subject, based on the subject’s speed. As far as it is possible this does appear to work, although it doesn’t completely eliminate movement blur on fast moving subjects.
The FX700’s stand-out feature is of course its Full HD video mode. It shoots at a maximum resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, at a frame rate of 60i (sensor output 30p) for the NTSC version, or 50i (sensor output 25p) for the PAL version. Not too surprisingly the video quality in AVCHD mode is excellent, maybe not quite up to dedicated camcorder standard but much better than the vast majority of other compacts. Audio quality is also very good, with excellent stereo separation from the pair of microphones set on the top panel, although they’re not terribly directional. Full optical zoom is also available while recording, and the zoom motor is so quiet it can barely be heard on the soundtrack