An ’18x’ optical zoom digital camera leads a fresh trio of Lumix models from Panasonic, all due in UK shops from September.

Designed to ?bridge the gap? between digital SLRs and high-end compacts, the DMC-FZ18 is an 8.1-million-pixel-model boasting a Leica DC Vario-Elmarit lens.

It will carry a yet-to-be-confirmed UK price of £329.

The 11-element-in-8-group optic is designed to deliver the 35mm viewing angle equivalent of a 28-504mm lens and includes three aspherical lenses, plus two ED lenses to help reduce chromatic aberration.

The camera uses the central part of the CCD imaging sensor to extend zoom magnification up to 28.7x, at a resolution of 3MP, claims Panasonic.

Features include the addition of an AF/AE lock button and an AF macro button on top of the camera.

A new High Sensitivity mode allows the user to record an equivalent ISO sensitivity of up to ISO 6400 (at a maximum 3MP image resolution), claims the company.

Heralded by Panasonic as a ?gateway to creative photography?, the newcomer borrows the manual joystick control from its sister, the DMC-FZ8, enabling photographers to manually adjust focus and exposure.

Operations include a new function called Intelligent Auto Mode. Billed as the ?ultimate auto mode? it allows the camera to automatically set Intelligent ISO, Mega Optical Image Stabiliser, Face Detection and Scene Detection, according to the scene.

Face Detection AF/AE aims to allow up to 15 human faces to be detected in a frame, to help when capturing portraits.

Powered by Panasonic?s Venus Engine III image processor, the FZ18 is claimed to be capable of shooting at ?full resolution? for up to three frames per second.

Other features include raw format recording option, a 2.5in LCD screen (207,000 pixel resolution) and 1cm macro shooting option.

Images can be recorded in 4:3, 3:2 or 16:9 formats.

The kit is expected to include SILKYPIX Developer Studio 2.0SE software, enabling the photographer to edit the camera?s raw format shots.

The FZ18 weighs 407g, including battery and SD memory card, according to the UK specifications.

The camera can record movies at a maximum resolution of 848×480 pixels, at 30 frames per second (FPS) or 10fps.

Panasonic has also announced the Lumix DMC-FX33 and FX55 ? a pair of 8.1MP models also featuring Intelligent Auto Mode.

The FX55 carries a 3in LCD monitor while the FX33 sports a 2.5in screen.

Each carries a 28-100mm equivalent zoom lens.

The backlighting on the LCD on all three new models is automatically boosted by 40% when shooting outdoors in bright sunshine, the company claims.

We understand that the FX55 will be priced at £279, while the FX33 is expected to cost around £249.

For details call Panasonic on 08705 357 357.

Click here for the full UK spec:

UK spec

Lumix DMC-FZ18