The Panasonic Lumix LX100 II is an advanced fixed-lens compact with a Four Thirds sensor. Announced in August 2018, it joins the four year old LX100 in the Lumix range which remains on sale.
The LX100 II inherits a number of features from its predecessor including much the same body and controls, the 24-75mm (equivalent) f1.7 – 2.8 Leica DC Vario Summilux lens, the 2.7 million dot electronic viewfinder, and a Four Thirds sensor which supports multiple aspect ratios. Panasonic has however upgraded the resolution of the sensor, which allows the LX100 II to capture 17 Megapixel images in the 4:3 shape compared to 12 on the original LX100; the LX100 II actually employs the same 20 Megapixel sensor as the Lumix GX9, but due to the lens design, doesn’t exploit the full area, hence the 17 Megapixel maximum resolution (there’s a full explanation later in the review).
The screen annoyingly remains fixed which will frustrate vloggers or anyone shooting at high or low angles, but it is now at least touch-sensitive which in turn allows it to support Panasonic’s latest 4K Photo modes including Post Focus and Focus Stacking; Panasonic’s also boosted the resolution of the panel to 1240k dots. The LX100 II also supports the auto marking, sequence composition and bulk saving modes introduced on the Lumix GX9, and additionally benefits from the latest picture styles including L Monochrome and L Monochrome D, as well as Grain Effects and new focus and aperture bracketing options.
The new model retains its predecessor’s wifi capability and adds BlueTooth which can be used to fire the camera shutter remotely using the Panasonic Image App. USB charging, and live view boost mode for low light shooting complete the picture. The LX100 II will be available from October and you can expect to pay around £849 for it. Ahead of my full review, I was able to shoot with a pre-production model at a Panasonic press event and have included my first impressions and a selection of sample images below. Gordon’s also added an explanation to how the multi-aspect sensor works.
Panasonic Lumix LX100 II sensor and multi aspect ratios
The Lumix LX100 II is equipped with a Four Thirds sensor, indeed the exact same 20 Megapixel sensor employed by the Lumix GX9. This sensor measures 17.3x13mm and is therefore comfortably larger than the 1in sensors (13.2×8.8mm) used in the Sony RX100 and Canon G7X series.
But it’s important to note the Lumix LX100 II, like the original model, does not use its whole sensor. Due to the lens design, the imaging circle does not extend to the corners of the sensor, forcing Panasonic to crop the effective image area from 20 to 17 Megapixels. If the lens could have delivered an image to the entire sensor, then it would have been much larger, heavier and more expensive, so Panasonic took the decision to use a smaller lens and crop the sensor instead.
If you’ve never come across imaging circles before, then I understand if you’re a bit confused right now. Every lens produces a circle inside which the quality meets a desired standard. Outside this ‘imaging’ circle, there’s a brief transition of poor quality before darkness, so clearly camera designers need to make sure their sensors fit within the circle, or conversely, lens designers need to ensure they deliver a sufficiently big imaging circle to cover the desired sensor area.
I’ve created a diagram to illustrate what’s going on with the LX100 II. Above left is the Four Thirds sensor in black with the blue circle indicating the minimum imaging circle to cater for it; this is what you’d need for Lumix G lenses to deliver a proper image on Lumix G mirrorless bodies. Above right is the same sensor, but this time with a smaller red circle representing the actual imaging circle of the LX100 II’s lens. It’s clear how if the image must remain inside the red circle, it needs to be cropped, hence the loss of around three Megapixels around the edges.
The native 4:3 shape of the whole 20 Megapixel sensor as used on the GX9 would deliver 5184×3888 pixels, while the cropped 4:3 shape on the LX100 II delivers 4736×3552 pixels (up from 4112×3088 pixels on the original model). It’s also now clear why the LX100 II’s lens can’t be made into an interchangeable lens for Micro Four Thirds cameras, as the imaging circle isn’t big enough to cover the sensor.
While it’s a shame the LX100 II doesn’t use its entire sensor area, the first important thing to take home from this explanation is the cropped area is still larger than the full area of the 1in sensor used by the RX100 and G7X series. Even with the crop, the LX100 II still has a larger effective sensor area: 15.4×11.6mm on the LX100 II versus 13.2×8.8mm on the RX100 series.
Secondly, Panasonic’s engineers realised they could exploit unused portions of the sensor that were still within the imaging circle to capture multiple aspect ratios without reducing the diagonal field of view. Normally when you want to shoot in wide aspect ratios like 16:9, you have to crop slices from the top and bottom of the native image, reducing not just the total number of pixels, but also the diagonal field of view – in turn making your lens less wide.
But with the LX100 II, spare pixels to the side of the 4:3 image allow it to capture 3:2 and 16:9 shaped images that are actually a little wider as well as shorter. They maintain the same diagonal field of view, meaning the same 24mm wide angle coverage at any of these aspect ratios, and also lose fewer pixels in the process. So as a reminder, the LX100 II shoots 4:3 at 4736×3552 pixels, and offers 3:2 at 4928×3288 pixels and 16:9 at 4480×2520 pixels; notice how they’re getting wider as well as shorter. Compare that to the GX9 which shoots 4:3 at 5184×3888 pixels, 3:2 at 5184×3456 pixels and 16:9 at 5184×2920 pixels. You’ll notice while the GX9 of course starts with a larger image when shooting 4:3, by the time it’s cropped-down to 16:9, it’s actually coming close to the LX100 II’s resolution when shooting the same wide shape. So this multi-aspect capability is a nice spin on what could otherwise be seen as a negative side to the camera.
That said, there is one thing I’m not happy about: the 1:1 square aspect ratio. On Panasonic’s normal cameras with 4:3 shaped sensors, the 1:1 shape is a simple crop from the middle. So it shares the same pixel height as the 4:3 image, but is just narrower on the sides. For the LX100 II, Panasonic has done exactly that: taken the 4:3 image and shaved off the left and right sides, reducing a 4736×3552 pixel image to 3552×3552 pixels. Same height, but narrower.
This may seem like the natural thing to do, and indeed is the same approach as the original LX100, but look at my diagram above and see how a square crop could in fact be taller than the 4:3 shape, indeed exploiting the full height of the sensor. A full-height square fits inside the imaging circle of the LX100 II just fine, and while it can’t quite maintain the same diagonal field of view as the other shapes, it could be captured with less of a compromise. Indeed a square crop made with the LX100 II’s full sensor height would be the same as a square crop on a GX9 or other 20 MP Micro Four Thirds cameras: 3888×3888 pixels, containing 15 Megapixels to the current 12.5 on the LX100 II, and importantly, a wider field of view too. I’d love to see this resolved in a firmware update, but since it didn’t happen for the original LX100 I’m not holding out hope here. I will however suggest it to Panasonic’s engineers. Again.
Panasonic Lumix LX100 II final thoughts
The Panasonic Lumix LX100 II is a high-end compact aimed at enthusiasts. It inherits the controls, viewfinder, multi-aspect ratios and 24-75mm f1.7-2.8 lens of the original Mark I but upgrades the resolution, adds a touchscreen, Bluetooth and the latest 4K Photo modes, monochrome picture styles and USB charging. While the screen is now touch-sensitive, it remains fixed in place which will frustrate vloggers as well as those shooting at high or low angles. There’s still no built-in ND filter or popup flash, the field-sequential viewfinder technology isn’t as stable as an OLED panel, and it’s worth remembering that while the LX100 II does have a Four Thirds sensor that’s larger than 1in-type sensors in rivals, the lens design means it won’t exploit the full area. The lens range also remains unchanged from the original and can’t help feeling short compared to rivals like Sony’s (admittedly more expensive) RX100 VI, but the aperture is bright, it can focus very close and the rendering of blurred areas remains the best of its rivals. Indeed the optics remain a highlight as does the chance to capture multiple aspect ratios without the usual cropping. It’s also testament to the original design that the Mark II is a very enjoyable camera to shoot with, so while it represents a mild update, it remains a welcome one to bring the feature-set of this attractive compact up-to-date. If you’re mostly interested in the lens, you should also compare prices against the original Lumix LX100.Check prices on the Lumix LX100 II at B&H, Adorama or WEX. Or if you find this review useful, treat me to a coffee!