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Panasonic Lumix LX7 Ken McMahon, October 2012
 
   
 

Panasonic LX7 verdict

The Panasonic Lumix LX7 is a compact aimed at photography enthusiasts. Like the LX5 and LX3 before it, it provides DSLR-like control in a fixed lens compact format and better quality than an average point-and-shoot thanks to a bigger sensor.

Arguably the most significant new feature of the Lumix LX7 is its bright f1.4-2.3, 3.7x zoom lens. Nearly a stop brighter than the best the competition can offer, it not only provides excellent low-light performance but allows shallow depth of field effects, particularly when coupled with the LX7's excellent close focussing.

The LX7 has a larger sensor than typical point-and-shoot cameras which also goes some way to helping achieving a shallow depth of field at large apertures. Its 10 Megapixel (effective) sensor shares the same reolution as its predecessor, but the switch from a CCD to MOS chip endows the LX7 with a higher full resolution ISO sensitivity range, impressive full resolution burst shooting speeds of 11fps and a stacking modes for low light and high dynamic range shooting.

The LX7's abundance of physical controls provide it with its own unique handling charateristics that will endear it to enthusiasts. Though not everyone will make extensive use of the aspect ratio selector, the new aperture ring is a different matter. Though not as versatile as the Sony RX100's control ring, for anyone who shoots primarly in Aperture priority or Manual modes it's a godsend. Other physical characteristics that make the LX7 a pleasure to use as well as a more efficient photographic tool include the AF selector switch and the new ND/Focus lever. It's also a capable movie camera with a full HD 1080p50/60 mode, full PASM exposure control and excellent continuous AF performance. Overall it's a very satisfying camera for enthusiasts, but one that's up against a number of rivals which while maybe not quite as small, do boast much larger sensors. So before my final wrap-up, let's see how it compares to two of them.

   
 

 

Compared to Sony Cyber-shot RX100

     
 
 
     
     
The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 is likely to be a strong competitor for the Lumix LX7 as it offers a larger sensor and a similar level of control in a more compact format. Side-by-side the RX100's more compact dimensions point to a key advantage - it will fit in your shirt or trouser pocket - the Lumix LX7 is by comparison a coat pocket camera.

Compactness is an important factor, but not the only one. The RX100's sensor is significantly larger than the Lumix LX7's and it boasts a much higher 20.2 Megapixel resolution which means you can get much bigger prints from the RX100, or crop them, effectively giving the RX100 a bit of a digital zoom advantage on the LX7 with no quality loss.

The RX100's lens has a maximum aperture of f1.8-4.9 which is two thirds of a stop darker than the LX7 at the wide angle lens setting and the gap widens as you zoom in. This allows the LX7 to use lower ISOs under the same conditions with the same shutter speed, especially when zoomed-in, which while not placing them neck-in-neck in effective noise, does narrow the gap. The closer focusing distance of the LX7 also allows you to achieve a shallower depth of field in macro shots, despite the RX100's bigger sensor and longer actual focal length, although the RX100 claws back some of that when it comes to portraits at more typical distances. Either way, its not a runaway lead for either model in the shallow depth of field stakes.

Like the LX7, the RX100 has a lens ring, but it's programmable and not confined to aperture adjustment. In the LX7's favour, its dedicated aperture ring has physical 1/3 EV click stops which give it a more positive feel. Generally, the LX7 offers more physical control options than the RX100 which lacks its thumbwheel, AF selector, aspect ratio selector and ND/Focus lever. The RX100 also lacks a hotshoe and an accessory port so there's no option to fit either an optical or electronic viewfinder as there is on the Lumix LX7.

Finally, the Cyber-shot RX100 is currently around 40 percent more expensive than the Lumix LX7. While on paper the RX100's bigger sensor may seem to justify the cost, in practice some of the benefit is reduced due to the slower lens aperture, especially when zoomed-in. And as mentioned above, the RX100 may not always deliver a shallower depth of field in practice. With this in mind, much of the RX100's genuine benefit boils down to its higher resolution and smaller body. Is it worth paying for these? Only you can decide, but again don't assume the presence of a bigger sensor means an all-out win over the model with the smaller sensor.

See my upcoming Sony RX100 review for more details.

 

Compared to Canon PowerShot G1 X

     
 
 
     
     
The Canon PowerShot G1 X and Panasonic Lumix LX7 are both fixed lens compacts with lots of manual controls, but that's about as far as the similarities go. The G1 X is the current daddy of big sensor compacts with a 14.3 Megapixel sensor that's close to the size of an APS-C DSLR sensor and has similar quality and noise characteristics to boot.

It also has an articulated LCD screen with 920k pixels plus a built-in optical viewfinder and offers a high degree of physical control, including front and rear dials, a custom shortcut button, and dedicated dials for both exposure mode and compensation. Like the Lumix LX7 it has a hotshoe for connecting an external flash. These hardware features add to the bulk of the G1 X, though, and it's substantially bigger than the Lumix LX7 and nearly twice as heavy.

The PowerShot G1 X lens isn't nearly as bright as the LX7's though. There's a two stop advantage to the LX7 when both are zoomed-out and more than two stops when zoomed-in. This in turn allows the LX7 to use lower ISO values under the same conditions and shutter speeds, which reduces the benefit of the G1 X's bigger sensor. And the inability of the G1 X to focus closer than 20cm at the wide angle setting and 85cm at the telephoto makes it very difficult to achieve a shallow depth of field - one of the key advantages a large sensor and wide aperture should provide. In contrst this is one of the Lumix LX7's really strong points. Just look at the first page in this review and you may be surprised to find the LX7 with its smaller sensor delivering a much shallower depth of field then the G1 X for macro shots. Another of the G1 X's weak spots is continuous shooting - a rather pathetic 1.9fps compared with 11fps on the LX7.

In terms of video the G1 X offers 1080p24 against the LX7's 1080p50/60, and saves it files in the same folder as still images as opposed to the AVCHD files of the LX7 which are buried away in nested subfolders. And if effects filters are important to you, while both cameras have plenty to offer, Canon has been at it longer than Panasonic and the G1 X Creative Effects filters are more versatile than the LX7's Creative Control effects.

Finally, like the Cyber-shot RX100, the PowerShot G1 X costs around half as much again as the Lumix LX7. You get a lot of extras for that, but consider carefully whether the additional size and weight along with the lens limitations might make the LX7 a better bet.

See my Canon G1 X review for more details.

Also consider the Canon PowerShot S110

Arguably the closest rival to the Lumix LX7 is Canon's PowerShot S series, with the latest model being the S110. Both cameras share similar sized sensors and a wealth of manual control, but like their predecessors the LX still sports the brighter lens. Countering this is the smaller body of the S110 with the convenience of an automatic sliding lens cover, and the new benefit of built-in Wifi. I've compared these models in detail in my Canon S110 review.


Panasonic Lumix LX7 final verdict

The Lumix LX7 re-establishes the edge Panasonic gained when it launched the Lumix LX3 and ignited the interest of enthusiasts by offering the holy grail of DLSR control and decent quality in a compact form factor. Since then the World has moved on though and there's now a lot more choice, not just from other compacts, some with larger sensors, but also mirrorless compact system cameras. There's still a lot of interest in this market though, both from enthusiasts who want a truly compact advanced DSLR alternative and those looking for a first camera with advanced features, but without the bother and expense of interchangeable lenses.

Several things give the Lumix LX7 a lead in this market. Most important is the extraordinarily bright f1.4-2.3 lens. There's few models that can match its maximum aperture at the wide angle angle end of the range and the longer you zoom the bigger its advantage gets. This crucially allows the LX7 to claw back some of the noise advantage of rivals with bigger sensors as their generally slower lenses means they're forced to operate at higher ISOs than the LX7 under the same conditions. In particular the LX7 enjoys a two stop advantage over the G1 X when zoomed-out and more than two when zoomed in. In practice this means when the LX7 is working at, say, 200 ISO, the G1 X requires at least 800. And while there's a smaller 2/3 of a stop benefit against the Sony RX100 when both are zoomed-out, there's again around two stops in the LX7's favour when zoomed-in. Ultimately the bigger sensors may still deliver lower noise, but their benefit is much reduced in practice due to their often slower lenses.

You might also be surprised to discover the LX7 can in some circumstances also deliver a shallower depth of field than its big sensor rivals. The sensor and actual focal length may be smaller, but the brighter aperture coupled with a closer focusing distance allows the LX7 to deliver a more blurred background than the RX100 and especially the G1 X, at least for macro shots.

Moving on, the Lumix LX7's physical controls provide it with the kind of handling that will delight DSLR owners with its old school simplicity. In Aperture priority mode it works in the same way cameras have for 30 odd years; you turn the aperture ring, with its satisfying click stops, and the camera sets the shutter speed accordingly. There are plenty of other things to like from 11fps full resolution continuous shooting to custom buttons and full HD 1080p50/60 video. And when you don't have the time for any of that you can switch it into Intelligent Auto mode and it becomes a very capable point-and-shoot.

It's not perfect of course: the aperture ring becomes redundant in some modes when it could have been customisable, the fixed lens cap still obstructs the camera on power-up, there's no Wifi, GPS or touch-screen, and there are some situations where a bigger sensor will prove preferrable. But the positives far outweigh the negatives: the LX7 is a truly impressive advanced compact and one I have no hesitation in highly recommending. Panasonic has proven in a market filling with compacts boasting large sensors, that there's still reasons why you may prefer one with a smaller sensor - so long as it's also coupled with a nice bright zoom.



Good points
Very bright f1.4-2.3 zoom lens.
Dedicated aperture control ring.
11fps full-resolution burst shooting.
Close 1cm macro focus.
Shallow depth of field for macro shots.

Bad points
Cap obsctructs lens on power up.
Limited Creative Control effects.
Aperture ring redundant in some modes.
No Wifi, GPS or touch-screen.




Scores

(relative to 2012 advanced compacts)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

17 / 20
17 / 20
18 / 20
18 / 20
18 / 20

88%


   

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