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Review: Updated: Panasonic LX100
3:08 am | October 31, 2014

Author: admin | Category: Cameras | Comments: None

Review: Updated: Panasonic LX100

Introduction and features

High-end compact cameras are very tempting if you want the power and control of a digital SLR but you also want a camera you can put in your pocket. But there’s a price to be paid. A small camera usually means a small sensor, so the image quality tends to suffer.

That’s why the Panasonic LX100 is such big news – it gives you the best of both worlds. It’s still a high-end compact camera that will fit in your jacket pocket, but it comes with a much larger Micro Four Thirds sensor. This is the type of sensor used in Panasonic and Olympus mirrorless compact system cameras.

Panasonic’s LX series of compact cameras, such as the Panasonic LX7 have found favour in the past because of their high quality build, extensive array of controls (for a compact camera) and impressive image quality. However, the arrival of cameras like the Fuji X100S and Sony RX100 III raised questions about the small size of the sensor inside the Panasonic LX7.

Panasonic’s answer is the LX100, which features a Four Thirds-type sensor instead of the 1/1.7-inch device in the LX7. That gives it an edge over the Fuji X30 announced around the same time.

Further good news is that the sensor is the same 16-million pixel device as is used in the Panasonic GX7. However, as the LX100 uses Panasonic’s Multi Aspect Ratio technology, images only ever use a maximum of 12.5 million pixels (in 4:3 mode). By comparison the LX7 (which continues in Panasonic’s range) has a 12Mp sensor, but images have a maximum size of 10.1million pixels. The Multi Aspect Ratio system means that it’s best to select the aspect ratio that you want for the image at the shooting stage rather than crop-post capture.

Front view

The increase in pixel count is pleasing, but the fact that the pixels (or more correctly, the photo receptors) have increased in size by four times in comparison with the LX7 is more so, as this should mean a significant improvement in image quality. I suspect, however, that there will be some photographers who wish Panasonic had made it possible for 16Mp images to be captured.

Naturally Panasonic has coupled the sensor with a new Venus engine and this enables a native range of ISO 200-25,600 with expansion settings taking this to ISO 100-25,600. The processor also makes it possible to shoot 4K video – which effectively means that you can have 8Mp stills images captured at 30 frames per second.

The LX7 has a Leica DC Vario-Summilux 24-90mm (equivalent) f/1.4-2.3 lens and despite the increase in sensor size, the LX100 has a Leica DC Vario-Summilux 24-75mm (equivalent) f/1.7-2.8 optic that is only a little larger. Panasonic has managed this feat by using a new construction for the lens. The optic has six groups that can all be moved independently, and five aspherical lenses created from a ‘special material’ with extra dispersion properties.

Top detail

The company has also used multiple lens centring technology to ensure that each element is precisely aligned. In addition, Panasonic has given the aperture nine blades – it would only normally use 7 in a compact camera lens – and this should ensure better bokeh (the appearance of out of focus areas).

If the company had used the same design and materials to build the LX100’s lens, the change in the sensor size would have meant a ridiculously large optic on a compact camera.

Top view

To meet the demands of photographers who want to share images quickly, the LX100 has Wi-Fi and NFC technology built-in. There’s also a QR code display to enable quick Wi-Fi connections to be made with non-NFC devices.

Although the LX100 doesn’t have a built-in flash, it is supplied with a small external flash that can be slotted into the hot-shoe.

As usual, there are a collection of autofocus options (Face/Eye Detection, Tracking, 49-Area, Custom Multi, 1-Area and Pinpoint) and it’s possible to focus manually. As is becoming common with compact system cameras, there’s a Focus Peaking display that shows the areas of highest contrast, which are also the areas of sharpest focus. In addition, there’s a zebras display that indicates areas of the scene that are close to burning out. There are two zebra pattern options available, and the user can specify the level at which they activate running in 5% increments from 50% to 105%.

Product shot

Build and handling

The LX100 is aimed at experienced photographers who want a high quality compact camera that affords plenty of control. These users are also likely to want a camera that feels good in the hand and the LX100 fits the bill nicely. It has a solid build and a comfortable, curved grip on the front, along with a small but effective thumbpad on the back.

Side on lens

Instead of the usual mode dial, Panasonic has opted for traditional controls, and in addition to the shutter speed dial there’s an aperture ring marked in whole stops (but 1/3 stop settings are possible) around the lens. This and the large sensor size may make the LX100 attractive to those disappointed that the Fuji X30 has a small sensor.

When the aperture ring and shutter speed dial are set to ‘A’ the camera is in program mode and will select the settings automatically. If either is set to ‘A’ while the other to a specific value, the camera is in aperture or shutter priority mode. Alternatively, users can set both shutter speed and aperture manually.

This is a traditional approach that has gained new fans with the arrival of cameras such as the Fuji X-Pro1, Fuji X-E2, Fuji X-T1 and Nikon Df.

Helpfully, the aperture ring clicks from one setting to another so you always know when an adjustment has been made. Although the resistance of the ring isn’t especially high, I didn’t find it clicked out of position very often. The shutter speed dial takes a little more effort to adjust than the aperture ring and although it doesn’t have a lock, it stayed in place while I was using the camera.

Exposure compensation can also be set to +/-3EV via a traditional control, as there’s a dedicated dial on the top-plate within easy reach of the right thumb and index finger. This moves more easily than the shutter speed dial and can be knocked off the selected setting relatively easily when pulling the camera out of a bag.

Asliding switch on the lens barrel enables image aspect ratio to be switched between 4:3, 1:1, 16:9, 3:2 and just in front is the manual focusing/zoom ring. This ring moves smoothly and easily, but because it’s electronic rather than mechanical it has no fixed end point and it won’t adjust when the camera is turned off. If ‘Zoom Resume’ is selected via the Custom menu, the camera will automatically zoom the lens the focal length it was at when it was turned off.

In manual focus mode, a half turn of the ring is enough to take the lens through its entire focus range. As soon as the ring is moved a simple focus scale appears in the main screen or electronic viewfinder (EVF) and a magnified section appears to make is easier to see the target. The focus peaking display can be very effective and makes manual focusing easy in some situations, but it’s no use in low contrast situations when you just have to rely on traditional means and judge if the subject looks sharp.

Top view

As with many compact cameras, there’s also a sprung lever around the shutter release which can be used as the zoom control. This feels a little small and inconsequential under your index finger, but it responds well enough. It takes a little under three seconds (but more than 2.5 seconds) to zoom from one end of the lens to the other using this control. It also affords a greater number of steps in the adjustment than the lens ring which only operates in steps equivalent to 24, 28, 35, 50, 70 and 75mm.

Focus mode is set via a switch on the side of the lens barrel, which falls conveniently under my left thumb as I hold the camera. As the screen on the back of the LX100 isn’t touch-sensitive the AF point must be set using buttons. The easiest way to do this is to assign the option to the Fn1 button on the back of the camera. Once this is done this button is pressed before the navigation keys are used to select the desired point.

It’s possible to use the navigation keys to set the AF point directly, but this means sacrificing their shortcut functions.

LCD screen

Not wishing to abandon inexperienced photographers who want a high quality camera (and experienced users who want an easy ride), there’s an iA button on the top-plate to activate Panasonic’s Intelligent Auto mode so exposure and white balance is handled by the camera. I found that I accidentally activated the iA button on a few occasions, so I set it to activate with a press and hold (instead of just a press) via the Custom menu.

Menu screen

On the top of the camera there’s a button marked ‘Filter’, which provides a quick route to the 22 filter effects available. These can be used when shoot raw and JPEG files simultaneously so you have a clean files for post-capture processing as well as a JPEG with the effect applied.

As mentioned earlier, in addition to the 3-inch 921,000-dot screen on the back of the camera there’s a 2,764,000-dot electronic viewfinder (EVF) built-in for composing images. This provides a clear, detailed view and should make the LX100 much easier to use in bright ambient conditions than compact cameras without an EVF.

I found I used the EVF for the vast majority of shots, only using the screen when shooting from awkward angles. In these situations it would be nice if the electronic level could be made a bit clearer as it can be hard to see.

Connecting the LX100 to a smartphone via Panasonic’s free Image App is easy even if you don’t have an NFC enabled device as it’s possible to display a QR code that provides all the necessary information. Unlike some other manufacturers, Panasonic allows you lots of remote control over the camera, it’s possible to adjust an extensive array of settings including focal length, Photo Style, white balance, sensitivity and focus point. However, the shutter speed dial, exposure compensation dial or aperture ring on the camera need to be rotated to adjust exposure.

Performance

While we have seen the LX100’s sensor in action before in the GX7 and GM1, we haven’t seen it working as a 12 million-pixel unit as it does in the LX100.

The results from the LX100 are impressive, and shots taken in daylight have plenty of detail, pleasant colour and a natural level of sharpening. One of the benefits of having a Four Thirds type sensor instead of a 1/1.7-inch device is that there’s much greater control over depth of field so it’s possible to isolate the subject more effectively than with compact cameras with smaller sensors.

As usual, pushing up the sensitivity level reduces image quality and images taken at the maximum setting (ISO 25,600) are best viewed at a fairly small size.

At the default settings the noise reduction that’s applied to JPEGs taken at ISO 25,600 gives out of focus details a rather ‘splodgy’ appearance. Even at around 8×10 inches they have a slight watercolour look to them – but that’s not unusual. Raw files that have been processed to find a balance between noise reduction and detail look better, but the more granular quality to the noise makes it more visible. Switching off noise reduction completely results in images that have coloured speckling visible at normal viewing sizes.

But that’s at ISO 25,600. Drop down to ISO 6400 and the situation is much improved. I’d still recommend shooting raw files so that you can perform bespoke processing, but that’s the same with every camera. The results at ISO 1600 and below are very good indeed.

Menu overlay

Even in fairly low light, the LX100’s autofocus system gets subjects sharp quickly and accurately. It’s only in very low light that it starts to struggle. The Tracking mode also does a decent job of following subjects around the frame and, when Continuous AF mode is selected, it manages to keep it sharp when the focus distance changes – even in quite poor light.

Although the LX100’s Intelligent Multiple metering system performs well in many situations, I found that it tends towards quite bright images and on more occasions than I have in recent times with other cameras, I reduced the exposure by 1/3 or 2/3EV to preserve more of the highlights or produce more saturated colours.

I also noticed that when the Zebra display was set to 100% to indicate areas that will be white, it quite often overstated the case, making it look like larger areas of the scene will be white than actually are.

Lens detail 2

Panasonic has invested a lot of effort in getting the LX100’s lens down to an acceptable size for a compact camera. It’s a high quality optic, sharpness is maintained admirably across the frame and distortion is controlled well. However, it’s a shame that there’s no hood because the lens is quite prone to flare. In some cases a hand can be a sufficient shield against the sun, but it would be easier for this to be done by a hood fitted on the end of the optic. When the sun is in the frame the level of flare is really quite dramatic and lights spots and coloured patches become visible.

Lens detail

Panasonic’s automatic white balance systems are generally very good and the one in the LX100 doesn’t disappoint. It produces natural looking images that reflect the atmosphere of the scene in a wide variety of situations. However, as is often the case it tends to produce rather warm looking images in some artificial lighting and a custom setting is the best option.

Panasonic makes it very easy to set this, just access the white balance options by pressing the shortcut button (right navigation key by default) then scroll along to one of the three Custom White Balance icons and press the up navigation key as instructed by the display on the screen. This highlights a rectangle on the screen or in the viewfinder which needs to be held over a white or neutral target while the Set button is pressed.

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

These graphs compare the LX100 with the Fuji X30, Panasonic LX7 and Sony RX100 III.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

JPEG signal-to-noise

This graph indicates that the LX100 starts off very well at the lower sensitivity settings, but by around ISO800 it starts to dip below the competing cameras. This indicates that the LX100’s images have a weaker signal, or more noise. Comparing the JPEG results with those from raw files (after conversion to TIFF) and looking at real world images indicates that it is the in-camera noise reduction that is applied to JPEG images that is responsible for the lower perfromance at higher sensitivity settings.

Raw signal to noise ratio

rignal-to-noise

The LX100 is the clear winner here, showing the benefit of the larger sensor and comparatively low pixel count in comparison with the Sony RX100 III.

JPEG dynamic range

Panasonci LX100 JPEG dynamic range

Dynamic range is closely linked with image contrast. On the whole the LX100’s images have a pleasing level of contrast and a wide range of tones, though it can benefit from a little underexposure on occasion.

Raw dynamic range

Dynamic range

The LX100 has a dynamic range in excess of 12EV for most of its sensitivity range which means that its raw files (after conversion to TIFF) have a greater range of tones than the competing compact cameras.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Panasonic LX100, we’ve shot our resolution chart.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEG

ISO 100

Full ISO 160 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

ISO 100

ISO 100, Score: 24 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 200

ISO 200, Score: 24 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 400

ISO 400, Score: 24 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 800

ISO 800, Score: 22 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 1600

ISO 1600, Score: 22 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 3200

ISO 3200, Score: 22 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 6400

ISO 6400, Score: 22 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 12800

ISO 12800, Score: 20 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 25600

ISO 25600, Score: 16 Click here for full resolution image

Raw

ISO 100

ISO 100, Score: 26 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 200

ISO 200, Score: 24 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 400

ISO 400, Score: 24 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 800

ISO 800, Score: 22 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 1600

ISO 1600, Score: 22 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 3200

ISO 3200, Score: 20 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 6400

ISO 6400, Score: 20 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 12800

ISO 12800, Score: 18 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 25600

ISO 25600, Score: 18 Click here for full resolution image

Sensitivity and noise images

ISO 100

Full ISO 160 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

ISO 100

ISO 100 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 200

ISO 200 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 400

ISO 400 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 800

ISO 800 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 1600

ISO 1600 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 3200

ISO 3200 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 6400

ISO 6400 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 12800

ISO 12800 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 25600

ISO 25600 Click here for full resolution image

Raw

ISO 100

ISO 100 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 200

ISO 200 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 400

ISO 400 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 800

ISO 800 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 1600

ISO 1600 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 3200

ISO 3200 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 6400

ISO 6400 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 12800

ISO 12800 Click here for full resolution image

ISO 25600

ISO 25600 Click here for full resolution image

Verdict

I’ve been debating the issue of sensor size in a compact camera with Panasonic’s Michiharu Uematsu for some considerable time now and I’m delighted that Panasonic has put a Four Thirds sensor in the LX100. It’s clear that the company has invested a lot of effort in creating a lens that will complement the sensor and produce high quality images without being too large.

Traditional controls have also been high on my request list for Panasonic and it’s great to see an aperture ring along with shutter speed and exposure compensation dials on the LX100 – they make the camera quick and easy to use.

It’s interesting that although we are now used to the vast majority of compact cameras not having a viewfinder, as soon as one is available it is the default means of composing images. The LX100’s electronic viewfinder is a major bonus and although the main screen on the back of the camera provides a decent view I automatically used the EVF most of the time. I only used the main screen when peering into the viewfinder would be very awkward.

Hero shot

We like

Having a Four Thirds sensor inside the LX100 means that image quality is much improved over the LX7, which has a 1/1.7-inch sensor. It also means that there’s much greater ability to restrict depth of field, especially given the large maximum aperture.

The traditional controls, including a shutter speed dial, exposure compensation dial and aperture ring, allow you to make quick adjustments and also check settings at a glance. One caveat, however, is that if the lens is set to a focal length longer than the widest point the aperture will actually be narrower than the ring indicates if it is set to wide-open.

The camera also has a high quality feel and is comfortable to carry without a strap for long periods of time. The menu is also logically arranged and if the Quick Menu is set to Custom via the Custom menu, you can specify which options you want to access, cutting down scrolling time.

We dislike

Panasonic has favoured touchscreens in its G-series cameras and some compact cameras, but not the LX100. Doubtless this is to save on cost, but it’s a shame as it would provide a very quick and easy method of setting the focus point. Making the screen vari-angle would also give the camera an extra edge when it comes to composing images from unusual angles.

In some respects I like the fact that the LX100 has a multi-aspect ratio sensor that is larger than is required by each potential format. It means that 16:9 format images are actually a little longer (4480×2520 pixels) than 4:3 format (4112×3088 pixels) images instead of being cropped versions. It means that it’s best to set the aspect ratio at the point of capture and this is generally forces you to be more careful with composition. However, the knowledge that the sensor and lens are actually capable of producing images that have at least 13.8 million pixels does play on my mind a little, and I am sure there are photographers who would prefer to capture the largest images possible and then crop post-capture.

Although the lens on the LX100 is very good, it is prone to flare, and pretty extreme flare in some cases. It’s a shame that Panasonic hasn’t provided a lens hood or given the optic a bayonet fitting to attach one. It may be possible to attach one via the filter thread, but this is close to the front element and using it in such a way may cause vignetting.

Another problem with the LX100 is its size. It’s not as big as the popular Fuji X100S, but it needs a fairly large pocket or small bag to contain it. It’s not actually much smaller than the Panasonic GX7 or Olympus OM-D E-M10, and is larger than both the Panasonic GM1 and the new GM5, all of which have the benefit of accepting interchangeable lenses.

Final verdict

The LX100 is a nice solid feeling camera that produces very high quality images. It has plenty of control options and an extensive featureset including a superb viewfinder that makes composition easy even in very bright conditions. It is a real pleasure to use.

It’s traditional controls may be off-putting for novice photographers, but they are a dream for enthusiasts.

The success of the Fuji X100S and its predecessor the X100 proves that there is a desire for a larger compact camera, but the LX100 is going to see competition from quite a few Micro Four Thirds compact system cameras.

Sample images

Panasonic LX100

Click here to see full resolution image.

Despite the bright subject the LX100 got the exposure spot-on here and the level of detail in the ISO200 JPEG is superb. The edges also look nice and natural, even at 100% on-screen.

Panasonic LX100

Click here to see full resolution image.

This tricky scene required an exposure reduction of 2/3EV to be dialed in to retain the detail in the white house and post and get the sky looking as it did at the time.

Panasonic LX100

Click here to see full resolution image.

As you might expect, using the Natural Photo Style has produced the most authentic looking result here. It’s also reduced the contrast a little so that there’s more detail in the darker parts of the tree. Using the Scenery Photo Style tends to produce blues and greens that look a little over the top.

Panasonic LX100

Click here to see full resolution image.

The flare in this shot makes it pretty clear where the sun was at the time it was taken.

Panasonic LX100

Click here to see full resolution image.

Holding my hand above the lens was enough to cut out the flare.

Panasonic LX100

Click here to see full resolution image.

The LX100 is quite discreet, which makes it a good choice for street and documentary photography.

Panasonic LX100

Click here to see full resolution image.

This shot, taken using the general-purpose Multiple Metering looks about 1/3EV too bright, but there are few true blacks and nothing is burned out in either the JEPG or the raw file so there’s plenty of scope to get the image looking just right post-capture.

Panasonic LX100

Click here to see full resolution image.

I thought the LX100 might underexpose this scene, but it got the exposure and colour just right.

Filters

Panasonic LX100

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This simple scene suited the square format. Subsequent images demonstrate some of the Filter effects available.

Panasonic LX100

Click here to see full resolution image.

Panasonic LX100

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Panasonic LX100

Click here to see full resolution image.

Panasonic LX100

Click here to see full resolution image.

Panasonic LX100

Click here to see full resolution image.

Panasonic LX100

Click here to see full resolution image.

Panasonic LX100

Click here to see full resolution image.

Panasonic LX100

Click here to see full resolution image.

Panasonic LX100

Click here to see full resolution image.



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