Featuring a micro four-thirds sensor, manual controls and a fast zoom lens, Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-LX100 is an ambitious compact camera. Andy Luck finds out if it meets expectations
The last Panasonic fixed-lens compact camera reviewed in OP was the LX5, in 2010 – a terrific little pocket camera that packed a lot into a tiny package. It was around 11cm wide, but it had a small 1/1.163in CCD sensor. It was, however, one of the best pocket cameras of the time, and a large part of its appeal, aside from its image quality and fast Leica zoom lens, lay in its metal build, retro looks and manual controls.
Now, five years on, Panasonic has done the seemingly impossible and squeezed a variant of their much bigger micro four-thirds sensor into a delightful metal bodied and manually controlled compact, the LX100. At 11.4cm wide, it is barely larger than the LX5 or the LX7.
To fit the image circle of the marvellous, built-in Leica DC Vario-Summilux zoom lens, Panasonic has adapted the normal output of the 16MP micro four-thirds sensor to a still respectable 12.8MP for the LX100. Any doubts about the lower resolution are soon dispelled by the excellence of the Leica zoom lens, which has an effective focal range of 24-75mm and is fast, at f/1.7-2.8. Compared to other compacts, the speed of this lens is good – not only for low light, but also for providing improved background blur. With 11 elements in eight groups, five aspherical lenses, eight aspherical surfaces and two dual-sided aspherical surface ED lenses, this is quite a special optic. True, one is giving up the flexibility of interchangeable lenses with the LX100, but if this lens could be purchased separately for one of the Panasonic interchangeable lens cameras, it would probably cost almost as much as the LX100, lens and all!
So, we have a great lens from Leica here, but there is much more to this little camera than that. It also has a built-in 2,764k-dot electronic viewfinder, Raw development in-camera, full HD 60p and 4K video, 4K photo mode and 11fps burst shooting. In addition, it has an extensive range of 22 creative filters (which can be used in JPEG, while Raw is still recorded), panorama, stop-motion and time-lapse modes and Wi-Fi/NFC connectivity.
The LX100 also has an electronic shutter option, enabling almost silent operation and, in that mode, an amazingly fast 1/16000sec shutter speed is possible. A very advanced depth-by-defocus autofocus system greatly improves autofocus speed and accuracy – this was first introduced on the top-end Panasonic GH4.
Then there is the beautifully made metal body with decent built-in grip and proper, knurled, click-stop dials for shutter speed and exposure compensation on the top plate. An aperture dial is around the lens barrel itself. If you like the feel of manual cameras and lenses from yesteryear then, like me, you’ll probably find it blissful.
Just behind the manual focusing ring is a small switch for changing aspect ratios, from 3:2, 16:9, 1:1 to 4:3. Combine this feature with the filter button near the shutter release and you can try a huge range of formats and styles without ever having to delve into menus; a nice touch.
The 3in, 921k-dot screen departs from recent Panasonic practice in that it isn’t a touchscreen. Having found this so useful while reviewing the GH4 (OP183), I did miss this feature, but many will not.
The LX100 lacks a built-in flash, too – something I found myself using a lot for social photography with the Sony RX100 III. Again, it’s a feature I would prefer to have seen included on the Panasonic, rather than the clip-on external flash bundled with the camera.
Image quality, thanks to the excellent lens and the sensible use of just over 12MP with the Venus processing engine from the GH4, is very good. Dynamic range is also pretty good for a compact, although you do have to watch for highlight clipping. I didn’t find quite the same bite as the smaller Sony RX100 III with its 21MP resolution. If background defocus is your thing, however, it is easier to achieve with the LX100.
The LX100 is clearly brimming with features, but it is probably the design and build that will win over most hearts. The camera may be bigger than its competitors, but the manual controls, combined with sensibly placed buttons, just make so much sense. Add to that the fact that a large sensor lies behind a great lens and you have a recipe for a very pleasing, uncomplicated and relatively portable camera.
Camera type Fixed lens micro four-thirds compact camera
Sensor type Micro four-thirds, CMOS 17.3x13mm, 12.8MP
Maximum resolution 4112×3088
Lens Leica DC Vario-Summilux, 3.1x optical zoom, f/1.7-2.8
Stabilisation Power OIS
Minimum focusing distance 3cm (wideangle), 30cm (telephoto)
Shutter speed 60sec to 1/16000sec (electronic shutter)
ISO sensitivity 100 to 25600
Viewfinder Electronic 0.38in LVF 2,760,000 dot
LCD 3in, 921,000 dots
Flash Detachable hotshoe only, GN7
Video 3840 x 2160 pixels, 25p (4K: 100Mbps/MP4)
Storage SD, SDHC, SDXC
Connectivity USB 2.0, micro HDMI, Wi-Fi, NFC