The FX77 then is a camera of literally two halves; conventional snapshot from the front, monolithic, state-of-the-art touch screen model at the back. Physical controls have been squeezed onto a narrow chrome strip running along the top plate of the camera, which drops down and continues along each side. Flanking the lens on the front are a self timer/AF assist lamp and integral flash.
Up top we get a conventional on/off switch, rather than button, that as a result feels distinctly retro in its surroundings, plus teeny video record button requiring fingernail precision. Next is an oval-shaped shutter release that’s the largest control here, plus, squeezed in at the camera’s outer edge, a separate raised zoom lever alongside it. The zoom control is ridged to provide some purchase for the fingertip and prevent it from slipping when toggling back and forth.
Unsurprisingly, as this camera is all about sleek minimalist styling, there’s no traditional hand grip, nor even a knurled or dotted section on the back to aid purchase for your thumb – it really isn’t the most practical camera in this regard. Whilst Panasonic hasn’t placed any virtual buttons at the top right hand corner of the screen where your thumb might inadvertently make contact, it is nevertheless possible to accidentally fire the shutter release in this manner. If you find this happening with regularity the feature can be disabled with a tap of the shutter button icon, located in the bottom right hand corner of the screen next to the control for enabling the virtual zoom control, and below two stacked icons for image capture and playback. All are given equal ‘weighting’ on screen and are of a sufficient size for your fingertip to locate easily. Spacing, whilst close, is nevertheless sufficient to avoid inadvertently selecting the option adjacent to the one you actually wanted.
Press the capture mode icon and the user is presented with six choices. We have the intelligent Auto (iA) mode familiar to long-standing Lumix users that compares common scenes and subjects with on-board parameters and automatically selects the most suitable to provide optimum results. There’s also program auto, or ‘normal picture’ mode as Panasonic refers to it here. In the latter mode greater access is provided to manually adjustable options with a press of the ‘menu’ button bottom left of screen. In capture mode, scene mode is the third icon presented, a press of which provides access to 25 pre-optimised settings covering the familiar portrait and landscape settings. It’s also here that we find High Sensitivity mode, whereby the camera’s ISO range is automatically boosted to a maximum ISO6400 if the camera determines such a setting is required, with the caveat of a resolution drop to 3 megapixels if shooting in regular 4:3 aspect ratio. So a bit of a last resort option for low light snappers.
The fourth of the capture mode icons is for 3D mode. This apes the Sweep Panorama feature of the latest Sony Cyber-shot and NEX compacts by compositing one single image from a sequence of shots. On the Panasonic this is derived from up to 20 individual frames captured when panning with the camera through a narrow 10cm arc, as advised by its on-screen text, which is far less than the 100 images utilised by the range topping Sony’s.
For narcissists, Panasonic also throws in a beauty mode among the six image capture choices, or as it calls it here, ‘cosmetic’ mode, allowing the adjustment of skin tone from the default of ‘natural’ to ‘soft’ or ‘summer’ for anyone wanting a fake tan (Or rather their subjects to have such an appearance) without having to reach for the bottle. Perhaps of greater interest for photo enthusiasts is the ever growing range of Panasonic’s ‘My Color’ modes. The choices here include a highly colour saturated pop art option, alongside retro, pure and mono choices, plus high dynamic range, silhouette, pin hole camera and film grain. These are presented four options at a time along a toolbar that runs along the bottom of the screen, rather than all at once as a series of thumbnails. Whilst arguably inessential, they’re nevertheless attractive options to have when your creativity has been exhausted shooting in ‘normal’ mode. Moreover they provide those who don’t actually want to spend ages achieving similar in Photoshop with a quick fix, and extend the camera’s user friendly ethos.