Panasonic’s range of stylish, compact cameras features many stunning models, but none mixes classy, retro looks and dynamic, creative functions as well as the DMC-FX550.

This 12.1MP marvel, which records to SD card, isn’t the slimmest shooter on the block, but the payback comes in the form of lots of nifty toys. Built into its solid, chunky, expensive-feeling body is a 3in touchscreen LCD, optical image stabiliser, face-detection functionality and 720p high-def movies.

Creative genius

It’s the kind of compact you can imagine pro-photographers carrying around for quick, crafty shots, particularly as it comes armed with a 5x optical zoom and masses of creative modes. These include manual settings, aperture and shutter priority, and a high-speed burst mode that’ll grab 10 shots per second.

Optics-wise there’s a 25mm ultra wide-angle f/2.8 Leica lens. Ditching the jargon, this means a wider than average lens that is ideal for landscape shots. You really do notice – and benefit from – all the extra detail you squeeze in.

The big screen

Not only is the 3in touchscreen LCD perfect for framing snaps – there is no viewfinder, by the way – it’s also a great for reviewing shots and navigating the overflowing menu. Zipping through photos you can use the touchscreen’s iPod-esque ability and swipe the screen to move to the next image.

Panasonic describes the menu as a hybrid, which means sometimes you make selections using the screen and sometimes it’s a blend of screen and buttons. It’s not totally straightforward – there’s a lot to get through – but Mr Spock would be proud of its logic, and the inclusion of a Quick Menu button speeds up the simpler selections.

For lazy snappers auto modes take the strain, with our favourite being Face Recognition. When you snap the same face several times the camera detects this and allows you to ‘register’ the face. Focus and exposure will then be optimised for this mug. You can register up to six faces, and even create slideshows of just one person, which we like to call Narcissus mode.


Powerful photo performance

HD movie shooting at 1280x720 is a neat bonus, though you will need to manage expectations. There’s good detail but avoid fast pans as movement is jerky – think Peter Crouch doing the robot dance.

Photos are top-drawer, packed with fine detail and accurate colours. There’s often a tendency for compact cams to pump out shots that are incredibly vivid – too much so, in fact. The FX550 achieves a great balance between richness and healthy tones.

The best cameras offer users a challenge – get to know me, get the best from me – and the FX550 is that superb combination of immediately impressive results with a hint of mystery to explore.


Stuff says... 

Panasonic DMC-FX500 review

A sophisticated snapper in an easy-to-use package that delivers bold, bright and captivating photos every time