We've all seen a story about a guy who has spent the last five years in his garage squashing the engine from a fighter jet into a Mini. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX100 is a bit like that.
Under its hood you'll find the equivalent of that jet engine - a pumping 12MP sensor. That's as many megapixels as you'll find in a Nikon D2X or a Canon EOS 5D, enough to produce 34MB files that will make quality A3 prints: Panasonic claims A2 prints ''with spectacular results''.
Fortunately, the FX100 doesn't look like its been knocked-up in a garage. Panasonic has been making some of the most well-built and desirable small cameras of the last few years and the FX100 is by no means an exception. The camera we tested came in gun-metal silver and oozed quality.
If you're going to squeeze this many megapixels into a tiny body you need a good lens to get the best out of it and Panasonic once again uses quality Leica glass. Even at the 28mm wide-angle end, barrel distortion is hardly noticeable.
Sharpness is excellent and the autofocus is generally good but there are two disappointing aspects to the lens. The first is the macro facility, which doesn't enable you to get very close, and the other is the plodding nature of the zoom.
Away from the lens and the megapixels, the functions of the FX100 are basic. In the 'normal' mode you can alter the ISO, use exposure compensation, set auto bracketing and change the white balance. If that level of complexity foxes you, then you can use the simple mode where even a hardened Luddite will find satisfaction. Despite this ease of operation, if you have fat fingers, this isn't the camera for you - the buttons are really tiny.
Keep the noise down
While there's been no doubt about the high build quality of the Lumix range, the images they produce haven't always been up to scratch. At sensitivities up to ISO 200, they perform perfectly well but above that horrible things begin to happen. In some models this shows itself with unacceptable amounts of noise, while in others the noise reduction is so intense that all you're left with is a mushy lack of detail.
Panasonic has taken on board the criticism and the FX100 has a new, larger 1/1.72-inch CCD that promises superior image quality. Panasonic says of the camera: ''Delicate flower petals, subtle skin textures, the changing hues of a sunset - the FX100 captures the nuances of images such as these with breathtaking clarity and detail.''
There are definite improvements here at high ISOs, but it's still a long way from the breathtaking detail promised. The FX100 takes perfectly good images at ISO 400, even up to 800, but above that noise becomes a real issue. At ISO 1600 you not only get a lot of noise in the shadows but also ugly noise in the colour.
Keep below ISO 400 and the FX100 is capable of producing excellent image quality. The ISO 80 image of the bus was printed to A3+ (13x19-inch) and the quality is quite simply stunning. This quality does pose a question; who exactly is the FX100 aimed at? Panasonic seems unsure and its competitors have tailored their cameras better to their individual markets.
The basic point-and-shoot nature of the FX100, coupled with an excellent lens and crisp LCD, makes it a perfect pocket snapper for most occasional photographers. But how many of these really need a 12MP compact when they probably never print an image larger than A5? And if you're an experienced photographer looking for a high-quality compact, then you'll find the basic nature of the FX100 a bit too limiting.
If owning one of the smallest, most stylish, megapixel-loaded cameras is important to you then you are going to love the FX100. If all you are looking for is a pocket-sized camera to take on holiday, then you're better looking elsewhere.