The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55 compact camera has a superb 3in LCD, but the screen saps battery life, and images weren't as sharp as those of the Panasonic FX100.
Sheathed in a brushed-silver metal shell, Panasonic's 8.1-megapixel Lumix DMC-FX55 is as elegant-looking as it is functional. Although not quite small enough to slide comfortably into a shirt pocket, this point-and-shoot digital camera combines a compact size with a sharp, bright 3in LCD viewfinder and user-friendly controls.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55 also has the feel of a solidly built machine - one that will stand up to many photo-worthy travels. If silver is not your colour of choice, it also comes in black and metallic pink.
Operating the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55 is smooth and intuitive. A small switch directly in front of the camera's large, comfortable shutter release controls a precise 3.6X optical zoom that starts at a wide 28mm (35mm equivalent) - ideal for recording expansive landscapes or exceptionally vertical cityscapes.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55's over-large LCD and compact design rules out space for an eye-level optical viewfinder, but the LCD more than makes up for that lack with an especially bright display. As an added bonus, one of the FX55's settings automatically boosts the LCD brightness when you're shooting in strong light, such as outdoors - a feature still rare in digital cameras. There's also a high-angle setting that makes the LCD easier to see when you're holding the camera over your head.
Exposure controls are equally well thought out. Instead of the ubiquitous four-way thumb button for navigating settings menus, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55 has a mini-joystick that, like the four-way controls, handles multiple tasks, such as quickly changing flash settings or shifting exposure compensation. When you press the stick, you launch the well-organized main control menus.
As is becoming more common, a separate Function button also makes quick changes to key camera settings like white balance, burst shooting, ISO sensitivity, and image resolution. It also lets you turn the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55's capable optical image stabilisation on or off.
Although the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55's Function menu is valuable, it is still not quite as useful as the similarly labelled control in Canon's Digital Elph models.
Other notable features include an automatic exposure bracketing that's quick and easy to set, and a user-defined ISO sensitivity limit control - you can, for example, prevent the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55 from automatically selecting any ISO above 400, giving you a wider range of apertures and shutter speeds for different lighting conditions, while still keeping your photos sharp.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55 lacks advanced imaging controls, such as sharpening, saturation or contrast, but it does provide a variety of colour compensation options (including Vivid, Cool, Warm, and Natural), plus 21 special scene settings. Each scene selection includes a brief text description, but they are unhelpful. For example, the text for the Aerial Photo scene says: "For taking pictures through an airplane window. Please turn off the camera when taking off or landing."
Image quality is about average for 8Mp cameras we've tested recently. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55 earned middle-of-the-field scores for sharpness and for colour and exposure accuracy in the Test Centre. Scenic shots taken in bright sun had good colour saturation; wide-angle shots exhibited nice detail, but those taken at full telephoto were a little soft. That last result is somewhat surprising, given the camera's Leica-brand lens, but it is proof that more than just the lens goes into making superior digital photographs.
ArcSoft's PhotoBase image editing and management application accompanies the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX55. The Mac version is pretty useless, but the Windows app has adequate editing tools, photo-backup options, and batch-processing capabilities. ArcSoft's Panorama Maker - a great photo stitcher - is also present, but you will not get full use of it because the FX55 lacks a panorama mode.
The Panasonic DMC-FX55 has much to like: It's easy to use and well put together. For the price, though, we'd like a little better image quality.