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5/17/2006
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Review: Panasonic FX01

Thin, wide, fast and flexible, the 6-megapixel Panasonic FX01 digital camera is perfect for carrying everywhere. And at just $250, the price is right, too.

The FX01 from Panasonic continues the simultaneous thinning and widening of convenience-type digital cameras. With a 28mm wide angle/zoom lens and a wonderfully pocketable size, the camera's 6.0 megapixel capacity delivers great pictures wherever you happen to be.

The FX01 is slim enough to carry unnoticed in a pocket or purse. Its pop-out 3.6x optical zoom lens is protected behind sliding covers until you turn the camera on. And you can leave it turned off until just before you need to take a picture because of its impressive 2-second start-up time. Better still is the absence of noticeable shutter lag. In my tests, I was able to go from the camera in "off" mode to having already taken the picture in just three seconds.

There is unfortunately no optical viewfinder on the FX01. But the 2.5" TFT display makes up for that because it delivers a fast refresh and is visible even in bright lighting, thanks to its "Power LCD" function that adds backlighting to the LCD.

You'll find all the normal digital camera features on the FX01, including scene modes, auto focus, 4x digital zoom, red-eye reduction, and a movie mode. In addition, you'll find an image stabilization function that smoothes out shots when shooting on the run (literally) and in low light situations. The movie mode can capture 30 frames per second, giving you VGA (640x480) movie clips.

I didn't take the camera under water, but when combined with the optional case, the FX01's underwater mode compensates for the strong blue normally associated with underwater photography. Another scene mode that may find an audience is the Baby mode. Actually there are two baby mode settings. If you set the birthday for your baby, the age will be shown with each picture taken in that mode.

I've always been a fan of digital cameras with rotating lenses that let me hold the camera above my head and swivel the LCD facing down, making it possible to shoot over the heads of those inconsiderate people standing in front of me. The FX01 doesn't have a rotating lens, but it does use a trick that changes the viewing angle of the LCD so that you can hold it overhead and still see the image on the LCD. I found that same function useful for low-level shots. I turned the camera upside down and held it near the ground and could see the shot without laying down.

Another nicety is the ability to record audio notes with each shot. I always have problems remembering why I took particular shots, or where I wrote down the name of the person. By turning on the Audio Rec function, you get 5 seconds to record a comment after each shot. The comments are saved as .MOV files that include a low resolution copy of the image and five seconds of audio, and are just over 100KB each, meaning they don't take up a lot of drive space.

Picture Quality

The quality of pictures taken with this camera is very good. The combination of Leica 28-102mm equivalent lens and the 6.0 megapixel image make sure of that. You may even be tempted to use the 4x digital zoom as long as you turn on the image stabilization function. I found the auto-focus to perform quickly and accurately even in low-light situations. The camera has an auto-focus assist lamp that comes on as necessary to help with focus in dark situations.

You can find this camera for sale for as little as $250, making it a great value. Carry it with you everywhere and you'll never have an excuse for missing a shot, as long as you keep the battery charged.

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