Review and photography by Mark and Leslie Degner
Given the fact that digital camera sensors have been increasing in size at a fairly rapid pace, with 20 to 24 MP becoming the norm, the first thing that photographers might say about the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 compact camera is why does it only have a 12.8 MP sensor? Well, as the saying goes, bigger is not necessarily better. What’s more important is image quality, and the LX100 makes the most out of its 12.8 MP CMOS sensor, producing some of the highest quality images that we’ve seen from a compact camera. One of the reasons why the LX100 produces such high-quality images is because the sensor itself is a Four Thirds size (17.3 x 13 mm), which is significantly larger than the one-inch sized sensors (13.2 x 8.8 mm) found in many rival compact cameras (technically, the sensor is actually 16.8 MP, but the camera doesn’t use it all).
The LX100 uses Panasonic’s Venus image-processing engine that’s also found in other Panasonic cameras, which produces images that have excellent colour rendition and detail reproduction. It produces excellent RAW images, but we found the default JPEGs were just average; they could be improved by making custom JPEG settings. The LX100 produced excellent image quality up to ISO 800 and very good images up to ISO 1600. At ISOs higher than 1600 noise becomes progressively more noticeable.
Another one of the reasons that the LX100 is capable of producing such high-quality images is because of the relatively fast Leica DC Vario-Summilux 10.9-34mm (24-75mm equivalent 35mm focal length) f/1.7-2.8 lens; it’s a great match with the LX100’s sensor. It has a normal minimum focusing distance of 50 cm and in macro mode can focus as close as three centimetres. From our test shots we found the lens produces images that have very good edge-to-edge sharpness, essentially no distortion and almost no chromatic aberration. The lens has a nine-blade diaphragm that produces a pleasing bokeh. Another nice feature is that the lens has filter threads so that 43mm filters can be attached.
The LX100 uses a “Depth from Defocus” type of auto focus with 49 focus points, which allows the camera to focus very fast even in low light conditions. It also has built-in image stabilization and we were very was pleased with the results we got when handholding the camera at less than optimal shutter speeds.
The LX100 is large for a compact camera (115 x 66 x 55 mm with the lens retracted), but still relatively lightweight (about 395 g with the battery and card) and extremely well built with an aluminum body. The lens automatically expands and retracts, but when retracted it still sticks out significantly, which reduces its compactness. As a result the LX100 can’t be considered a pocket camera; it will only really fit in a large jacket pocket or cargo pants pocket. The upside of this being on the larger size for a compact camera is that it’s relatively comfortable to hold. Despite our differences in hand size we both found it nice to hold and work the controls. Overall the buttons and controls are well placed for ease of use, however, we both found that occasionally our right thumb would accidently push the Q.Menu button that was located just below the thumb rest.
We were both really impressed with the control over exposure and the customization of other features on the LX100. There are two dials on its top; one controlling shutter speed settings and the other is an exposure compensation dial (1/3 EV steps, +/-3 EV), and an aperture ring on the lens. Also on the side of the lens are two sliding switches, one of which allows the user to select the focus mode (AF, AF Macro and MF) and the aspect ratio (4:3, 1:1, 16:9 and 3:2). There is also a nice sized manual focusing ring. These are all features that one doesn’t expect to find on a compact camera, but they’re extremely welcome additions. There are three customizable function buttons on the rear of the camera and the Q.Menu can also be customized to some degree. The menus are fairly straightforward and logically organized.
We both really like that the LX100 has a relatively large built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF) with adjustable diopter that has excellent resolution (2.764 million dots) and brightness, with 100 percent image coverage. Being an EVF you can display information, like a live histogram or camera levels, on it while shooting, which is really handy. The large 7.5 cm (3 inch) LCD monitor has a 921,000-dot resolution that’s bright with 100 percent image coverage, a wide viewing angle and good colour rendition. Unfortunately the LCD monitor is fixed and doesn’t have touch screen capability, so you don’t have the versatility found on other compact cameras.
To accommodate the built-in EVF there’s no built-in flash on the LX100; a feature that some photographers will miss. To compensate for this, Panasonic has included a small external flash (GN 7m at ISO 100) that fits into the camera’s hot shoe.
In terms of video capability, the LX100 is capable of producing 4K video (3840×2160) at 30p and 24p and full HD videos at various resolutions up to 1920×1080 (60p/60i/24p). However, if video is your primary goal, then you would probably want to look at other cameras because the LX100 is missing some features that serious videographers would need, such as an external microphone jack or a built-in neutral density filter. Overall, we were impressed with the videos that we took with the LX100 and exceeded our video needs.
Although almost too large to be called a compact camera, the LX100 is well built, handles nicely, has great user control, is highly customizable and has lots of great features, including a lot we don’t have the space to discuss, making it a very versatile camera. Although it has a few shortcomings and is relatively expensive ($1,099.99), we were very impressed with it, and from our perspective it’s one of the best compact digital camera that’s currently available.
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