The Panasonic Lumix LX3 review: with its wideangle lens, RAW shooting and HD video capture... is there anything the LX3 can't do?

Product Overview

Overall rating:

91%

Panasonic Lumix LX3

Overall score:91%
Features:90%
Value:85%
Performance:95%
Image Quality:90%
Design:95%

Pros:

  • Solid build, Impressive image quality, Design, Great LCD screen, Impressive AF performance

Cons:

  • Ineffective grip, Limited zoom range (though potentially this is beneficial to image quality)

Product:

Panasonic Lumix LX3 review

Manufacturer:

Price as reviewed:

£380

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Judging by the number of high-end compacts currently on the market, the appetite for them is still there. Traditionally the market has comprised Canon’s G series and Ricoh’s GR and GX offerings, and though all three are still going strong it’s fair to say they are now part of a much larger crowd. Nikon’s P series has provided one alternative, as has Sigma’s DP1, though most enthusiasts will no doubt have had an eye on what the Leica/Panasonic partnership has had to offer – and with the LX3 you can see why.

Panasonic Lumix LX3 review – Features

In its own words, Panasonic has ‘boldly defied the trend to cram in the most pixels possible’, restricting the 1/1.63in CCD of the LX3 to 10.1MP. Equally bold are its claims regarding the sensor’s performance, with each pixel said to be around 45% larger than those in ‘ordinary’ 10-megapixel cameras, and an increase in both sensitivity and saturation over the LX2 predecessor. The LX2 featured a marginally smaller sensor than the LX3 (as well as a 16:9 aspect ratio), though an increase in the size of the LX3’s photodiodes and newly designed CCD circuitry are said to further minimise noise and enhance colour reproduction.

The camera’s Leica-branded 24-60mm lens boasts a maximum aperture of f/2.0 at its widest end, effectively making it almost twice as bright as that of the LX2. Options for shooting in 4:3,16:9 and 3:2 formats may be selected via the lens barrel, with Mega Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) accompanying the lens, and options for both auto and manual focusing. Autofocus tracking has been a recent addition to the Lumix line, and on the LX3 it joins an already competent list of focusing modes, including spot focus and face detection.

In terms of image capture, Panasonic has abandoned its previous Cool, Warm, Black and White and Sepia quartet in favour of a comprehensive selection of Film Modes. These range from Standard and Black and White to Vibrant and Nostalgic, with further options allowing you to define your own film modes. Individual control over contrast, saturation, sharpness and even noise reduction is offered, with images saved as either Raw or JPEG files, or one of each kind. HD-quality movie clips may also be taken, with a capture rate of 24fps, while a full set of manual controls join the auto and scene options – all of which are selectable via the mode dial.

Finally, and as with the recent Ricoh GX200, the LX3 boasts an LCD screen resolution of 460,000 dots, though the LX3’s screen is larger at three inches. A trait also shared with the model is its ability to work with a select number of accessories – these include a viewfinder, wide-conversion lens and a forthcoming flashgun which may be mounted via the hotshoe.

Panasonic DMC-LX3 review – Design

Despite a design ethos based around that of its predecessor, the LX3 has incorporated a number of new additions and changes. The most obvious is the addition of the hotshoe on the top-plate, while around the front the grip now sees its orientation along the height of the camera. It’s a shame the grip itself is plastic rather than rubber, as in use it offers little more actual grip than the rest of the body. Other than this, though, there’s little to fault with the camera’s design or handling. I admit that £380 is a pretty penny for any compact camera, but the LX3’s style and build quality do a stellar job to justify this expense.

Lumix LX3 review – Performance

Naturally, this outlay should be met with an equally impressive performance, and I have little to complain about here, too. The clarity of the LCD screen is immediately noticeable, with punchy colour rendition and a good response to changes in both light and focus. Focusing in general is swift, and even in low light it isn’t long before the focus is confirmed. Occasionally the camera mis-focuses when trying to shoot particularly close up, but manual focus is provided for situations such as this. The AF tracking function proves itself well worthy of inclusion, locking on to subjects well and diligently tracking their movements. Whether this is to be frequently used by the average photographer is a separate issue, but if you need it you can be sure it’ll do a fine job.

With the Q. menu system, all key options – sensitivity, white balance and the like – are accessible with the exception of changing from Raw to JPEG shooting and vice-versa. I’d go as far as saying that this is perhaps one of the best implementations of menu-shortcutting that I’ve seen so far from any manufacturer, with a good range of parameters available at the touch of a button. As we found with the FZ28, at times the button isn’t the most responsive to activate the menu and needs a little cajoling, but once you’re in the menu it’s plain sailing. I can’t say I’m too big a fan of joystick-orientated controls on cameras, but I found the LX3’s comfortable and effective in use.

Indeed, it’s hard to find too much to criticise with regards to performance, though the camera could do with travelling through its zoom range a bit quicker. Given the limited focal length of the lens I expected it to be better paced than usual, though I still found it a little tardy if trying to get the other extreme of the zoom in a hurry. Thankfully images did write themselves quickly, and with the new SanDisk Extreme III 8GB SDHC card, simultaneous Raw and JPEG files took little over two seconds per image to process. What’s more, you can still carry on taking images while files are being recorded, though there’s a slight slowdown as the buffer clears.

Panasonic LX3 review – Image Quality

Images from the LX3 show an overall high level of detail, and are only marred by two factors; first, the relative softness of JPEGs, and also the effects of noise and noise reduction as you climb the ISO scale. High- ISO images show little chroma noise but a slightly coarse texture that is difficult to rectify in post-processing. The camera produces balanced and even exposures, and colour is well saturated (though perhaps a bit too saturated for some). Outdoors, the camera does occasionally underexpose the odd image where skies are concerned, and so it’s a shame that no form of dynamic range optimisation is offered.You could argue that the target market would be more at home processing the camera’s Raw files and so wouldn’t need this function to a great degree, but clearly it’s not practical to do so all the time.

The lens exhibits some barrel distortion at its widest length but maintains good sharpness towards edges and corners, with just a little visible fall-off. Purple fringing is also noticeable in images, but it is overall quite well managed. Had Panasonic increased the focal range of the lens we may have expected to see slight degradation and a less-consistent performance, so it’s much to its credit that it has essentially kept things short and sweet.

Panasonic Lumix LX3 review – Value For Money

Most of the LX3’s competitors have already been on the market for a while, and as such they can be found cheaper. Canon’s G9 is now priced at under £300 and Ricoh’s GX200 also undercuts it slightly. Despite this, it represents good value for money already, and if you do a little online-digging you’ll find it advertised cheaper.

Verdict

There’s little doubt that the Panasonic LX3 is a serious alternative to any other enthusiast compact. While its retro styling appeals to the traditionalist, on the inside we see a whole heap of features to keep the discerning user happy. Panasonic has struck a fine balance between what the camera offers and what it achieves – and what it achieves are quality results.