Panasonic Lumix LF1 verdict
The Panasonic Lumix LF1 is a very satisfying pocket camera for enthusiasts. It delivers better quality than most point-and-shoots, packs in a longer and brighter zoom than you might expect for its size, offers a full array of manual control and RAW files, features the latest in Wifi and NFC connectivity and includes the bonus of an electronic viewfinder. It all adds up to a compelling specification for anyone who wants a genuinely pocketable camera, but doesn't want to compromise on composition or control.
The electronic viewfinder is the LF1's trump card, offering an alternative means of composition without compromising the body size or cost. Before you get too excited though, the LF1's viewfinder delivers a fairly small and low resolution image that's a world apart from the size and detail offered by the viewfinders in top-end system cameras or accessories for higher-end compacts. Indeed if you were intending to use the LF1's viewfinder for the majority of your compositions, you'd almost certainly find it too basic. But the LF1's viewfinder is not designed to be the primary means of composition - it's an alternative to fall back on when the main screen becomes hard to view in bright light, or when you need the additional stability of holding a camera against your face. It's also important to remember that if the viewfinder were as good as the best around, the LF1 would be a much chunkier and more expensive camera, thereby losing its unique combination of squeezing an EVF in a genuinely pocketable body.
Indeed when comparing the LF1 against the competition, it's easy to criticise it for not having the bright aperture of the Lumix LX7, the bigger sensor of the Sony RX100 II or the superior viewfinder of the Fujifilm X20. But it is offering something none of those cameras can do: a very small body you can fit into a trouser pocket which also has the benefit of an electronic viewfinder. The model it's really going up against is Canon's S110, sharing much the same body size, but squeezing in a longer zoom range and again the built-in viewfinder. So with that all said, I'll now compare it to a selection of rivals before my final verdict.
Compared to Panasonic Lumix LX7
It's only natural to think of the LF1 as an LX7 with a longer zoom and built-in viewfinder, but they are in fact very different cameras. Indeed one of the few things they actually have in common is a 1/1.7in sensor size, which delivered similar noise levels on both models in my tests despite the LF1's additional 2 Megapixels. But that's not the whole story when it comes to image quality.
In my tests, the lower resolution Lumix LX7 actually delivered crisper results with finer details thanks to its better quality lens. Sticking with the optics, the LX7's lens is also brighter by one stop at the wide end and roughly two stops brighter when both are set to 90mm - this allows the LX7 to select lower ISOs or faster shutter speeds under the same lighting conditions, although in my tests it didn't deliver noticeably shallower depth of field effects. Some will however prefer the LX7's wider coverage of 24mm vs 28mm, and the LX7 additionally sports a built-in ND filter and has the option to mount filters, albeit via an additional accessory kit.
In addition the LX7 sports a sensor which allows multiple aspect ratios without cropping or reducing the field of view, 1080p video (vs 1080i), full manual control over exposures in video, high speed movie options, multiple exposures, timelapse shooting, a variable Program line, and a hotshoe which supports external microphones or the optional DMW-LVF2 viewfinder that delivers a bigger and sharper image than the LF1's viewfinder, but costs roughly half of the camera alone and obviously makes it considerably larger too.
That's a lot in the LX7's favour, but the battle is far from one-sided. In its favour, the LF1 is comfortably smaller, allowing you to carry it in a trouser pocket rather than a coat pocket or bag. It's also quicker to shoot with a built-in sliding lens cover versus the lens cap of the LX7. The coverage may not be quite as wide, but it's much longer at 200mm vs 90mm, giving it greater overall flexibility. It sports built-in Wifi for wireless remote control and image transfer, along with NFC to make the connection easier on compatible devices. And it features a built-in viewfinder, which may be small and low resolution, but squeezes into a body that's much smaller than the LX7.
There's a great deal to weigh-up, and while it's fairly clear that the LF1 is more of a point-and-shoot than the LX7, I'd say the major deciding factor boils down to size and what you're willing to carry around. While the LX7 is far from trouser-pocket sized, especially when fitted with its optional viewfinder, it still offers a very compelling array of features and great quality in a package that costs roughly the same as the LF1 and is still comfortably smaller than a system camera.
See my Panasonic Lumix LX7 review for more details.
Compared to Sony Cyber-shot RX100 II
For many people, the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 - and its successor, the RX100 II - have set the bar for compact cameras for enthusiasts. I'll compare the specifications of the newer RX100 II, but it's worth keeping an eye on the older RX100 in case prices drop. The RX100 II and LF1 are quite different cameras again, but have some interesting things in common, most notably the inclusion of Wifi with NFC, allowing easy wireless remote control and image transfer.
In its favour, the RX100 II features a larger 1in sensor with a higher 20 Megapixel resolution. This sensor has 2.7 times the surface area of the 1/1.7in sensor in the LF1, and in my tests (comparing the original RX100 against the LX7) allowed it to capture both finer details at low sensitivities, and suffer from less noise above 400 ISO. This time round though, Sony's claiming a new sensor will give the RX100 II even greater sensitivity, but we'll have to wait and see.
The RX100 II features 1080p video, a screen which vertically tilts up and down to allow easier composition at high or low angles, and a hotshoe which can accommodate flashguns, external mics and a superb electronic viewfinder, although the latter greatly adds to the cost and the overall size. The RX100 II also supports an optional remote control.
In its favour, the LF1 is much thinner, making it a camera you can squeeze into a trouser pocket, whereas the RX100 II is just a bit too thick for tighter pockets. The LF1 also features a longer optical range of 28-200mm compared to 28-100mm, giving it twice the reach at the telephoto end. And once again it features a viewfinder, which while not a patch on the RX100 II's accessory, is built-into a body that's also smaller. And finally, the LF1 comes in at about half to two thirds the price of the RX100 II - and that's before you've added the viewfinder to the Sony.
So there's quite a few things to weigh-up here, but again a lot boils down to how much you desire the size of the LF1 and the convenience of its built-in viewfinder. The RX100 II is also comfortably more expensive, but for many people Sony have struck the most compelling balance of sensor and body size yet, which the latest enhancements only make even more desirable.
See my Sony RX100 II review for more details.
Compared to Canon PowerShot S110
After using the LF1 for a short while, it becomes obvious its biggest rival is not the LX7, but Canon's PowerShot S110. Strangely the S110 has few decent rivals, with most manufacturers producing chunkier models when it comes to satisfying the demands of enthusiasts. Of course Canon does that too with its G15 and G1 X, but the S110 has carved a very successful niche catering for those who do want a bigger sensor and brighter lens than an average point-and-shoot, along with manual control and support for RAW in something that fits in a trouser pocket. Now with the LF1, Panasonic is going after the same market, so what do they have in common and what are the differences?
Both cameras share a 1/1.7in sensor with 12 Megapixels, along with RAW files, 3in screens, built-in Wifi and lenses that start off bright at f2.
In its favour over the LF1, the S110 sports slightly wider 24mm coverage at the wide-end, a touch-sensitive screen, a body that's a couple of millimeters smaller, support for 1080/24p video, and a lower price.
In its favour, the LF1 has a much longer telephoto reach of 200mm vs 120mm, a broader array of continuous shooting options, NFC to make the initial Wifi negotiation easier for compatible devices, and of course that small but very useful electronic viewfinder.
So while there are a number of things to weigh-up, it mostly boils down to whether you want the slightly wider lens and touch-screen of the S110 over the comfortably longer lens and electronic viewfinder of the LF1. It's something only you can decide, but the great news is there's finally some decent competition for the S110.
See my Canon PowerShot S110 review for more details.
Panasonic Lumix LF1 final verdict
When you first look at the LF1, it's hard not to compare it to the LX7 and quickly discover the older model actually out-features it in a number of respects which many enthusiasts will care about. I've detailed them above, but the more you use the LF1, the more you appreciate the things that make it different, and for many photographers, preferable.
The LF1's lens may slow down optically at the long end, but it zooms more than twice as close as the LX7, which for me gave it greater flexibility, and I also prefer automatic built-in lens covers to lens caps. I found its wireless connectivity genuinely useful for remote control and image transfer, and the viewfinder, while small and low resolution, is invaluable when the screen becomes hard to view in bright light or you need the greater stability of a camera held to your face. Sure it's only meant for occasional rather than regular use, but to have it and the longish zoom in a genuinely pocket body makes for a compelling camera.
It's not perfect of course: pros and cons of form factor and optical designs aside, I feel the LF1 should really have had 1080p video, slow motion movies, a touch-screen and built-in GPS, especially since they're all standard on the Lumix TZ40 / ZS30. Sure I know you can record a GPS log with your smartphone and sync it later over Wifi, but it's a lot more involved and time consuming than simply having it built-into the camera. It's also a shame not to have the manual movie exposures, interval timer and multiple exposure options of the LX7.
Moving on, when I keep talking about the LF1 being more pocketable than models like the LX7 and even the RX100 II, you may also think I'm dwelling on a minor difference. Surely they're so much smaller than system cameras that you could consider them all to be pocketable, but honestly they're not. This is a factor where even a couple of millimeters can make a big difference. The fact is you won't be squeezing the LX7 into a trouser or shirt pocket without a serious bulge (or tear!), whereas you can with the LF1. Meanwhile the RX100 II might fit into some pockets, but definitely not others as it's thicker than it looks. The fact is, if you can fit a camera into just about any pocket, it is something you'll be taking with you pretty much everywhere. It's the same unique selling point as the Canon S-series and they've sold bucketloads of those.
Ultimately we all want something different from a compact camera, and enthusiasts are very picky about achieving precisely the right balance of size, features, control and quality. Those who want the flexibility of a hotshoe, the quality of a bigger sensor or the benefits of a shorter but brighter lens will already be looking elsewhere to models like the LX7, RX100 II and X20.
This leaves the LF1 for those who demand true pocket size and value the addition of even a basic viewfinder. It's the same people who'd normally buy a Canon S110, but are frustrated when the screen becomes hard to view in bright light - afterall, there's no room for a hotshoe on the PowerShot S, so no chance of mounting any accessories either. So the LF1 gives you a small but useful viewfinder with the additional sweetener of a longer zoom range, without compromising on the body size and weight.
This all makes the LF1 a slightly more expensive camera than the S110, but even at its undiscounted launch price it's still comfortably cheaper than some of the more exotic options out there. So I'd say Panasonic has sensibly delivered a camera which complements its existing range and successfully goes up against the S110 which has surprisingly few decent rivals. It's therefore easy to Recommended to those who want the smallest camera with a viewfinder and enthusiast feature-set.
Genuinely pocketable body.
Built-in electronic viewfinder.
Decent 7.1x zoom range with f2.0 at wide-end.
Built-in Wifi & NFC for wireless control and image transfer.
Viewfinder image is small and low resolution.
No 1080p video, only 1080i.
No multiple exposures or timelapse mode.
No built-in GPS - have to use app on smartphone.
(relative to 2013 advanced compacts)
17 / 20
17 / 20
18 / 20
17 / 20
17 / 20