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xPanasonic stated that their main aim is to release a camera that can offer what all other manufacturers offer, but with something extra. Could the LX3 be the most feature rich camera available to date?
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3: Specification
- Resolution: 10.1Mp
- Sensor size: 1/1.63in
- Sensor type: CCD
- Zoom: 2.5x optical
- Sensitivity: ISO80-3200 (max ISO6400 in High ISO mode)
- Storage: Internal 50Mb, SD, SDHC, MMC
- Focus mode: Auto, macro, quick AF, continuous, manual, one shot, selective, tracking
- Focus range: 50cm - infinity
- Macro: 1cm
- Metering mode: Multi, centre-weighted, spot
- Exposure compensation: /- 2EV, 1/3 EV step
- Shutter Speed: 60sec - 1/2000sec (manual mode)
- Flash: Built-in, hotshoe for external flash
- Monitor: 3in TFT LCD, 100% coverage
- Power: Li-Ion battery
- Size: 108.7x59.5x27.1
- Weight: 290g
Enquiries online suggest prices starting from £299 for a 10Mp CCD, 2.5x optical zoom, film simulations and Leica lens. The Canon Powershot G9 is an older model at £291 with 12Mp CCD, 6x optical zoom and most other program features that the Panasonic has.
The Ricoh GRD II digital compact at £362 also offers 10Mp CCD, no zoom, magnesium alloy body and slightly larger sensor size.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3: Modes and features
The brand new Lumix from Panasonic looks every bit the prosumer that it's designed to be. It has a vintage air about it thanks to the large lens barrel on the square body which houses a rather disappointingly small lens that only has a maximum zoom of 2.5x. However, some areas of the design bring the camera back up to date such as the small area of mock leather on the grip.
The lens barrel has two switches on it. One is for the image aspect and you can choose between the standard 3:2, widescreen 16:9 or 4:3 which is the standard that has been bought into by Panasonic along with Olympus, Leica and Sigma. The other is for switching through AF, MF and macro which are the three most frequently used focusing modes.
The flash is a pop-up type on the top plate with the mechanical activation switch sat just behind it. The rest of the top plate comprises of a hotshoe for external flash, a simple mode dial, the shutter release with the zoom ring wrapped around it. There's also a focus button for adjusting the focus area to anywhere within the frame and finally the tiny power switch.
The 3in widescreen LCD overpowers the back so all the buttons are scrunched into an inch of space on the right. It also means that the buttons are quite small which some people will have difficulty with. Surprisingly, the buttons are quite well spaced apart meaning you won't have trouble pressing the wrong one by mistake.
The buttons on the back have many different functions. The most interesting one is the Q-menu button and is a quick access to your most used features. In this area, you can choose between the film types and there are some pretty neat ones in there such as nature, nostalgic, dynamic and two customisable options.
You can also change the metering, white balance, focusing, sensitivity, resolution and, oddly enough, the screen brightness. The white balance also has a manual override feature which you can access by pressing the display button while hovered over the AWB feature in the Q-menu. You can then use the joystick to adjust individual colours to get the correct balance for your shot.
Features that Panasonic are especially proud of include two new modes called pinhole and film grain mode to give an effect similar to what would be found using a pinhole camera or a high sensitivity film. They've also included an image levelling function that will scan the image taken, checking the horizon to see if it's level. If not, the camera will automatically adjust it to be level and crop the image for you. This is a neat trick similar to the horizon adjust in Lightroom and they both share the same problem of cropping pixels.
Despite its apparent high classification, the LX3 has Panasonic's iA feature to make photographing easier. Simply put it's a rebranded auto mode with the exception that you also have to set the OIS (optical image stabiliser), Intelligent ISO control, Intelligent Scene Selector, face detection and Intelligent Exposure to make sure that all you have to do is compose and press the button. This seems a long way to go to make sure you don't have to do anything. Setting the camera to iA mode and having all the other stuff defaulting would've been a lot easier and more obvious.
The main menu has even more advanced features. Going into the first option which is film mode and I expect to see a doppleganger of the Q-menu but in this menu it allows you to change the contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction. After my initial surprise, scrolling through the rest of the menu shows that it is a clone of the Q-menu.
The navigation pad around the menu can work through the menus although you'll find yourself absent-mindedly using the joystick. Luckily, that doesn't mean the arrow keys are defunct as they also double up as the self timer, bracketing, flash functions and a custom function button. This latter mentioned button is so you can set your most used feature to it from a list found in the main menu.
The display button at the bottom of the camera scrolls through your preferences of having information on screen or not and rule of thirds grid.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3: Build and handling
Panasonic have always been proud of their collaboration with Leica and rightly so. For the consumer, this allegiance means you get an excellent quality lens in the form of the DC Vario-Summicron aspherical with a bright aperture of f/2. The zoom is quite poor at only 2.5x, but I'm guessing that the people who would maybe use this the most will either not use it or actually be willing to walk to get closer to the subject.
The LCD screen needs another mention as it has 460,000 dots which equates to around 153,333 pixels. This is the highest resolution that I know of on a compact camera screen.
As you'd expect on a camera of this status, the build quality is good. The buttons are solid and I think because of this I had trouble with the joystick. Initial attempts at pressing the centre to open the Q-menu failed because it decided to move in all other directions. This could be down to the firmness of it or because it's quite small. When you're not going through the Q-menus, the joystick will adjust the shutter speed and aperture when in manual modes.
I feel a little scrunched on the right side because what grip is available is only small meaning I instinctively grip tighter.
The battery door and locking mechanism is the only thing I don't really like about the build of the Panasonic LX3. It's flimsier than I'd expect and it doesn't spring open when it's unlocked.
Regardless of all these many features that the camera has, it's easy to navigate and everything is quite user friendly. I don't like that when I'm deleting images, I can't scroll through the menu. I can only move up or down if there's a space to move into. That being said, the Q-menu does have this function which is a little odd.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3: Performance
Start up time is around two to two and a half seconds unless you're recording to internal memory then you have a two second message letting you know.
In the burst test, the Panasonic can take four JPEG's in standard continuous mode before the buffer is full and it has to download. I managed to get the four images in 1.5 seconds which is similar to Panasonic's claim of 2.5fps in this mode. The main let down of this setting is that it takes up to five seconds to download the images before it's ready to shoot again.
The infinity continuous shooting managed 19 images in ten seconds which is just under 2fps. A slower result, but constant and you get more images taken in ten seconds.
In the shutter lag test, the camera gave a constant response of 0.04 seconds which is around half the time of a normal compact. Even without the clock to time it, you can feel the quicker response in the picture taking.
The portrait image was taken in aperture-priority and the exposure is balanced with good skin tones. Sadly, the flash doesn't have compensation and has bleached out any warmth. The skin tone looks a little pale now but on the plus side, there's nice catchlights and only a faint shadow.
Decent exposure with nice skin tones. the camera has coped with the strong light rather well.
The flash has lost warmth to the image, filled in shadows nicely and added catchlights.
All the colours in the colour chart have been reproduced nicely with priority given to blue, green and red. Yellow also seems to have a nice boost to it and looks vibrant. The skin tone is a nice colour, as are the earthy colours and the mono tones.
Blue is boosted as usual but the warmer tones have also been given an increase. A nice skin tone result as well.
The camera has selected a low ISO to keep the image smooth but at the expense of depth of field.
I took the landscape test shot in landscape mode to see how the camera coped with the dull day. EXIF data shows that the camera has set the sensitivity to ISO80 and selected an aperture of f/2.2. This has given the camera a tiny focal plane and the image shows most of the scene slightly out of focus with the plane being just infront of the bars.
The only place I can look for fringing in this image is on the leaves that backdrop against the sky where it's definitely noticable.
Standard film is the default setting.
Pressing the Q-menu button will take you to a selection of quick options to adjust your images and one of these is the film simulations. I created a set of textured items such as bark and slate then set a light to one side with a snoot to create large shadows.
One of the film options is dynamic and I thought this would mean that it works in a similar way to Nikon's D-Lighting giving a wider dynamic range, but unfortunately not. Instead it increases saturation and contrast meaning the shadows are darker with less detail.
Dynamic film doesn't increase dynamic range as the name would suggest but instead increases contrast and saturation.
Natural film decreases saturation giving a paler effect which might make interesting effects on portraits.
A number of other film styles are available including standard and natural. There are also mono versions available and custom film settings.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3: Focusing and metering
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 offers six focusing modes or seven if you include manual focusing.
Three of them are found on the lens barrel for quick access while the others can be found in the Q-menu when in programmable modes such as program, shutter & aperture priority or manual. In the Q-menu, you can choose between AF area, spot, face detection, tracking or multi. While you're in this menu, you'll see a message saying AF area display. Pressing display in this menu will allow you to change the AF area box from a manoeuvrable box to a wider AF area that can be selected similar to Canon's AF points.
In macro, the camera can focus as close as 1.5cm which is ample to see every vein in my bloodshot eyes.
Macro capability is 1cm and although this is a welcome distance, beware of losing light from getting too close to the subject. If you like to use manual focus (why wouldn't you), a box will appear in the centre of the frame with a magnified version of your subject and you can use the joystick to focus with.
The Panasonic also offers multi, centre-weighted and spot metering which should cover most eventualities regardless of your preferred genre. Multi mode segments the frame into 256 separate areas and takes the best exposure from what they all say. Centre-weighted will take a general reading across the whole area but can get confused with bright areas such as lights or windows if you're inside. Spot metering will only get a reading from approximately 2% of the centre of the screen. It ignores everything else and can give some pretty cool exposures.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3: Noise test
As with all cameras these days, the Panasonic has it's own dedicated processor to make sure that colours are nice, there's good detail, pictures are taken and transferred onto the card quickly and you use less power to do it all. Panasonic say the Venus Engine IV does that and more. To create low noise results in high noise images, the Venus Engine will separate chromatic noise from luminance noise and low-frequency noise from high frequency noise. The processor will then apply noise reduction techniques to each setting. Of course the larger 1/1.63in sensor will also help matters especially as Panasonic have purposefully kept the resolution low which in turn keeps the pixels further away from each other to reduce noise from heat.
The proof will be in the results of the noise test and ISO80 looks nice a smooth with good detail in the petals. At full magnification, there's slight speckling on the grey card but this could simply be in camera sharpening because of the JPEG format.
Noise begins to rear its ugly head at ISO400, but it's manageable and it's not until ISO800 that it starts to decay the image. Detail in the petals has started to deteriorate and by ISO1600 it's hardly noticeable. I think Panasonic should've really left it there, but they've decided to stick an ISO3200 in and it's hardly worth looking at. Pruple and green blobs engulf the black and grey cards while the flower disappears into a smudgy nothing.
The ISO80 test.
The ISO100 test.
The ISO200 test.
The ISO400 test.
The ISO800 test.
The ISO1600 test.
The ISO3200 test.
DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.
Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3: Verdict
The Panasonic probably has the most creative controls I've seen on a prosumer type to date. It's absolutely loaded with stuff from the film simulations to the aspect ratios and pinhole mode.
They've done what they said and taken features of other cameras to put on the LX3. The result is a rich, diverse camera with a good build quality and excellent support from a superior lens manufacturer.
I think they could've put a slightly bigger zoom on it simply because it's expected these days. It's not really a downside but it could put people off in favour of other models with a 3x or 4x optical zoom.
Noise needs to be addressed as I don't think the processor is coping well enough. Either that or take a leaf out of Sigma's book: Put a larger sensor in there and cap it when noise is becoming an issue.
It's a great camera with a nice design and good build quality. One of my first digital compacts was a Panasonic and a lots changed in terms of layout and ease of use which shows a constantly evolving mind-set.
If you're looking for a back up and you could only see the G9, give this camera a try before you get your money out.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3: Plus points
Great vintage design
Nice colour rendition
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3: Minus points
Joystick isn't very responsive
Flimsy battery door
Noise could be better
Because of the feature-set, design and build quality, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 receives a highly recommended award.
The Panasonic Lumix LX3 costs around £339 and is available from Warehouse Express here:
Panasonic Lumix LX3