The camera is only 106mm wide, 60mm tall and 42mm deep and weighs 310 grams, while switched off but ready to go. Extending the lens full in telephoto mode adds about 45mm to the depth. The rear display screen is 75mm on the diagonal, is touch sensitive, has 1040 pixels and can be tilted – being hinged at the top – by up to 180 degrees.
The lens has a built in shutter to protect it when the camera is off. It goes into its protective standby mode after a few minutes of non-use, but can be woken up almost instantly with a touch of the shutter button.
The camera switches on fast and focuses fast. It took me about two seconds to grab a shot (wide angle – the lens always opens that way) from the camera being switched off. For point and shoot work, just leaving it in Intelligent Auto mode, and manipulating the zoom with the ring around the lens produced very respectable shots. There was virtually no noticeable lens distortion across the zoom range, while Panasonic’s processing engine and sensor captured colour and brightness graduations very effectively.
The auto focus was nicely accurate, and with the macro setting could focus on objects down to 30mm from the lens (in wide angle mode). The shutter release uses the standard two level model: a gentle press for focus, and then a harder press to complete the shot. In program and more manual modes an area for focus can be chosen by touching the appropriate area on the screen.
Now a manual focus mode might seem rather pointless in a camera that is both very compact, and lacks a conventional viewfinder. But in fact it is implemented extremely effectively. First, the focus ring (the one that works as zoom in auto focus mode) is smooth and nicely balanced between providing fine graduations for precise adjustment, and quickly getting from one extreme of focus to the other.
Making things easier with the manual focus is that the centre of focus zooms in on the display for improved clarity, and by default “peaking” is added to areas that are in focus, making it very easy to get things spot on. Remember, you’re typically not using manual focus to improve on the camera’s autofocus, but to select a different thing to focus on than what the camera would prefer. A bird, for example, through the bare branches of a tree. Cameras will often focus on the twigs, not the more distant bird.
One potential issue with the lack of a viewfinder is the clarity of the view from the display screen outdoors. No problems here. I checked outside in 35 C heat and framed a few pictures with the sun beating fully onto the display screen. Initially this highlighted my fingerprints, but a quick wipe fixed that and the view was quite clear enough for accurate aiming and zooming.
The swing-up display screen proved extremely useful in getting shots from unusual angles, especially from down near the ground. The touch function was nicely sensitive and supported multi-finger touch for things like zooming a picture during playback.
If there is one real problem with this camera, it’s only that there is a lot of functionality – and, of course, controls for that functionality – spread out over quite a small surface. Sometimes those of us who might be termed “fat-fingered Australians” might have trouble holding the camera and manipulating certain controls without accidentally making other adjustments. Likewise, fairly sharp close vision is needed to properly discern the markings on some of the control buttons, although that problem would ease considerably with familiarity.