There are tonnes of smart and dinky compact cameras around, so why buy this one, especially when it costs around £240? The 12-megapixel sensor isn't headline news, but the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX40's 5x super-wideangle lens is rather good, and, beneath that refreshingly straightforward exterior, is plenty of clever technology.
Cameras of this size usually have very plain and limited 3x zooms, but the 5x zoom on this camera goes wider and longer than the rest. The minimum focal length is equivalent to 25mm, which even beats the kit lenses on digital SLRs. And, with a maximum focal length equivalent to 125mm, the FX40's got a pretty decent telephoto capability too.
Usually, the longer the zoom range, the more compromises you'd expect in the lens quality, but this one holds up well. There's not much distortion, very little chromatic aberration and good definition near the edges, which is where many cameras turn to mush.
The FX40 is such a pleasant camera to use too. The metal body is smaller than you'd expect, and the controls are so clean and unfussy that they set this camera apart from the pack. There's a little metal switch for turning it on and off and another for swapping between record and playback mode. Around the back, you get separate navigation buttons that work ten times better than any spongy navigation pad, and a quick-menu button that activates an on-screen overlay containing just about all the everyday shooting adjustments you need to make.
As ever, Panasonic's array of 'intelligent' automation features quickly becomes unfathomable, but one in particular is worth picking out. The 'intelligent exposure' option hikes the ISO slightly to improve shadow detail, and then holds back brighter areas so that you don't get highlight blowout. It really works, and it's much more sophisticated and successful than the post-shot shadow-enhancement tools on other cameras.