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Review Panasonic LX100

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SLR has provided many years of good service, but when you're out with your camera, then such a system is big and heavy. Mirrorless system cameras are a good alternative then, even though you still can't head out without a camera bag. The search for the ideal compact camera with a large sensor and a zoom lens continues. Panasonic joins that new segment with the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX100. This is a high-end compact camera with a Micro Four Thirds sensor, bright zoom lens from Leica (24-75 mm, f/1.7-2.8), RAW, manual operation and 4K video. Wow.

LUMIX LX100

Panasonic LX100

If we were to list all the capabilities of the Panasonic LX100, then this review would surely be twice as long. If you want an overview, then look at the specifications on Panasonic's site. With modern mirrorless cameras today, you can soon wonder what they can't do, so... a short summary of the most important functions. Aside from the large MFT sensor, the bright Leica zoom lens and RAW for the highest image quality, the Panasonic LX100 gives completely manual control over exposure and—super-fast—focusing, which can also be done in an "intelligent" way automatically. In JPEG, photography and filming can be done with filters. With NFC and WiFi, you communicate directly from the camera with the "outside world", and with the Image app from Panasonic, you can use your smartphone as a remote control with Liveview for simple "remote capture." The Image app from Panasonic was judged best with the FZ-1000 and the GH4 in a recent WiFi test on the German-language Traumflieger out of 11 cameras. Unfortunately with the LX100, we could not set the shutter speed, aperture, ISO or exposure compensation from the smartphone during "remote capture," not even in the "P" mode.

Panasonic LX100 review, Panasonic Lumix LX100, Panasonic camera review

On a camera with which you can film in 4K (3840 x 2160), we naturally couldn't forget video. You can record, for example, with 1080 p and 50 fps as well as with 4K and 24/25 fps. The files will be stored in AVCHD or MP4. Focusing, image stabilization and zooming keep working silently while filming, and the Panasonic LX100 offers Peaking and Zebra in order to keep an eye on the focus and exposure while filming. It's noticeable, however, that the sound can only be recorded with the internal microphone, given that any audio input is lacking. Very unfortunate, because otherwise the LX100 can serve quite well as a video camera.

Panasonic LX100 versus Sony RX 100 III

The most obvious competitor of the Panasonic LX100 is the Sony RX100, which has more or less the same price. We have not yet reviewed the Sony RX 100 III, but from the specifications, it's a neck-and-neck race. Both are user-friendly, very well finished compact cameras with high image quality in photo and video that can compete on many fronts with SLR cameras and mirrorless system cameras. The Panasonic LX100 and its Sony counterpart are much more compact than cameras with interchangeable lenses, but they won't really fit into your pocket. The Sony RX100 has more pixels on a smaller sensor. The Panasonic LX100 beats out the Sony in the video area, with 4K video that is stored directly on the SD card. The Sony RX 100 III hits back—if you love slow-motion—with Full HD at 120 images per second. If you use the electronic viewfinder, then the battery of the Panasonic lasts longer than that of the Sony. If you do not use an electronic viewfinder, then, according to the CIPA specification, the roles are reversed. Looking at the buttons on the camera, the Panasonic appears to be targeting amateur photographers and professional photographers who always want to have a high-end compact with them. The Sony RX 100 III appears to target beginning photographers, although I do know a journalist who always carries one.

Design

zoom LX100
With a size of about 11 by 7 cm, the Panasonic LX100 has the dimensions that we are accustomed to from a high-end compact, like, for example, the Canon PowerShot G16. The 3x zoom lens of the LX100 (with image stabilization, OIS) is prominently present and also brings along the necessary weight, but with a total weight of less than 400 grams, it gives good balance and hand fit. That great hand fit also comes from the good ergonomics of the Panasonic LX100, with a grip on the front and back and sufficient space for thumb and middle finger. The index finger is free for zooming and for the release button. With the Panasonic LX100, you can thus simply photograph with one hand. If you can go unnoticed in public environments with the black, compact design of the LX100, then this "invisibility" is further strengthened by this one-hand photography and—not to forget—by it's completely silent operation (electronic shutter with a mute mode). You don't stand out at all among all the smartphone photographers, while you have a semi-professional camera with all the options and image quality of its kind in your hands.
For the initial exposure settings, the Panasonic LX100 has separate rotating knobs for aperture (on the lens), for shutter speed and for exposure compensation (on top). With the smart operation of the aperture and shutter speed rings, the P, A, S and M modes become unnecessary—more about that later. Further, the operation and functions of all buttons on the camera are reasonably obvious, and they can also be personalized. The selection wheel on the back is rather small, and with the combined function as a joystick, it requires some getting used to.
Zooming is possible with the handle on top of the camera, but can also be done during auto focus with the ring on the lens. If the focusing is on manual, then the same ring takes on a focus function. Very handy. The ring does sit quite close to the body, and its operation therefore requires some attention. That attention is also needed for switching the camera from AF to MF and to set the aspect ratio (3:2, 16:9, 1:1 en 4:3). These are two sliding buttons just behind the zoom ring against the body.
The back is largely taken up by a bright and sharp LCD screen that is even quite readable outdoors. If it is really sunny or you're looking for a more stable camera position, then you can simply switch to the electronic viewfinder, which is also bright and sharp. It's unfortunate that the LCD screen cannot be tilted or rotated, and that it has no touchscreen function. The latter would strongly improve the selection of the focal point—especially during video—and would also allow the general menu operation to go more smoothly than is the case now with the combined selection wheel–joystick.
The Panasonic LX100 is not equipped with an internal flash, and you'll miss it if you want to use a fill-in flash. The camera does have a fully-fledged hot shoe as compensation, but a separate flash is another extra accessory and not really practical on such a small body.

Screen and viewfinder

PASM LX100700

The operation of the Panasonic LX100 takes some getting used to. The buttons on such a small body are not very big, and the menu requires some scrolling. The learning curve goes quickly, though, and in the end you don't need to miss any photo moments because you're taking too long with the settings. The intuitive setting of P, A, S or M deserves separate mention. This button is namely missing, and you just choose the desired aperture. If the shutter speed is on A(uto), then you're working in the A mode. If you set the shutter speed to a fixed value and set the aperture on A(uto), then that is the S mode. If you set both to a value, then that is the M mode, and both on A(uto) is the P mode. All these combination can be used with a fixed ISO or with Auto ISO. Very handy, and in combination with the rotating knob for the exposure compensation, getting the desired exposure is rarely a problem.

Performance

While earlier compact cameras suffered from a certain "lethargy", we never caught it for a moment on the Panasonic LX100. The camera is unbelievably alert, and measurements and focusing never leave you waiting, not even in low light. Impressive. Because it can film in 4K at 25 images per second, the LX100 can process a lot of data to a fast memory card. The speed of photography profits from this as well. RAW files are written quickly, and the "motor drive" at full resolution achieves 11 images per second. Despite everything in this camera being driven electronically, the battery pack has great life. You can easily work all day without having to charge the battery pack.

Image quality Panasonic LX 100

We have few complaints about the image quality. The lens, despite its compact size, does great work. At 24 mm, we saw very little distortion, but we did see some blur in the corners and some vignetting. These lens flaws disappear quickly as you zoom in. Across the whole zoom and aperture range, we barely noticed any chromatic aberration. We do have the impression that at 75 mm, the entire image in RAW (Lightroom) is somewhat "soft". A little bit of extra sharpening, however, works wonders. At this focal length, the pincushion-shaped distortion is also negligible.

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Panasonic LX100 reviewPanasonic LX100 @ 35 mm, f/2.8, 1/30 sec, 200 ISO

On the point of dynamic range, the MFT sensor of the Panasonic LX100 does better than many APS-C sensors, and the profit is primarily in any recovery of clipped highlights. Of course, we were also curious about noise at higher ISOs, and it will not be any surprise that the 12 million pixels on such a large sensor have an outstanding signal-to-noise ratio. At ISO 3200, the noise is comparable with an SLR with an APS-C sensor with 20 megapixels. That is two stops better than a compact camera with a 1/1.7" sensor and one stop better than a 1"-type sensor camera.

Macro

The big advantage of a compact camera is that you have a macro function without needing a special lens for it. This does not loan itself to "real" macro photos, but at 24 mm, you can come within 3 cm of the subject, and a 5 cm object fills the frame. The enlargement is then approximately 0.3x.
close up700

Series shots

The LX100 in the SH mode can take 20 fps for 2 seconds (electronic shutter). The photos, however, are then just 2112 x 1408 in size. The timing in the SH mode is also a problem, because the camera is not available after a "burst" of a few seconds. A better alternative is to film the subject for a longer time and to take a frame from the full HD video in Lightroom (50 fps) or from a 4K video clip (25 fps). The "stills" are then 1920 x 1080 or 3840 x 2160 respectively. Use short shutter times (<1/250 s) for sharp results.

duif 4k frame700

Conclusion Panasonic LX100 review

LUMIX LX100 Black

Pros

  • Large sensor (small DOF, high ISOs)
  • Bright, compact zoom lens
  • RAW
  • 4K video, 4K stills
  • WiFi with app and NFC

Cons

  • Separate A(uto) mode aperture ring
  • Optical zoom only to 75 mm instead of 100 mm
  • LCD screen does not tilt and is not a touchscreen

Too long, didn't read? (TL/DR): With the LUMIX DMC-LX100, Panasonic has put an unbelievably versatile camera on the market, which is unique in its combination of compactness, image quality and functionality.

There will be few amateur photographers who cannot joyfully make use of the many options and the high image quality that the Panasonic LX100 offers. Thanks to the low-noise high ISOs, super-fast auto focus, RAW, 4K video and the option of small focal depths, the Panasonic LX100 can even go along with any professional photographer shooting documentaries without problems. The Panasonic LX100 leaves the "past" of the typical compact camera far behind, and is a direct competitor for the best mirrorless system cameras and SLRs, certainly given the favorable pricing. While earlier compact cameras suffered from a certain "lethargy", we never caught it for a moment on the Panasonic LX100. The camera is unbelievably alert, and measurements and focusing will never leave you waiting, even in low light. Impressive. We also have few complaints about the image quality. The lens, despite its compact size, does great work. If other brands follow Panasonic, then 2015 could become the year of the "large sensor" compact zoom.

Author: Bob Nieuwenhuis

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