LensVid Exclusive: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 Review
In early 2015 we received one of the most anticipated compact cameras announced in recent years – the Panasonic Lumix LX100 – a large sensor camera with a fast aperture zoom lens, 4K video capabilities and lots of advanced features – so did it live up to the expectations? read on to see what we think.
Earlier this year we had a chance to spend a few weeks with the LX100. This is the first compact camera that we have reviewed here on LensVid and it was an eye opening experience. Typically we believe that the market for compact cameras is dead (just watch our “What Happened to the Photography Industry in 2014?” video to see why), however the LX100 is different – it has a micro 4/3 sensor – similar in size to what you will find on current mirrorless Panasonic/Olympus cameras and a number of advanced capabilities that very few cameras (even much more expensive than the LX100) has – first and foremost – 4K video capabilities.
The Panasonic LX100 – big expectations
- Sensor: 12.8MP micro 4/3″ Multi-Aspect MOS.
- Lens: Leica DC Vario-Summilux f/1.7-2.8 with a focal length of 24-75mm (35mm Equivalent).
- EVF: high res 2,764k dot display.
- LCD: 3.0″ 921k-dot screen.
- Video: 4K Ultra HD Video at 24 fps in MP4 (up to 60p in Full HD Video in MP4 or AVCHD).
- Manual Control Rings and dials.
- WIFI/NFC (with an app).
- External Flash (included).
- Price: $900.
Construction, ergonomics and operation
The general build quality of the LX100 is very good. It feels very solid in your hand and all the dials and bottoms feel good and nothing on the camera gives a cheap impression. The general design is a mix of modern and retro with a top plate which includes a shutter speed dial and an exposure compensation dial. For us the exposure compensation actually feels like a useful addition (although it does miss some sort of a lock and we did change it by accident more than once). The shutter dial on the other hand is a miss in our opinion. Yes, we know that there are a lot of photographers who like to control the shutter speed with a dial – we don’t. Worse yet, having a shutter dial eliminates the possibility of a conventional PASM mode dial (which we think any camera should have – even professional cameras – although Canon/Nikon think otherwise and don’t include them in pro bodies, sadly).
Panasonic LX100 Compared to the Sony RX100 (on the right)
The LX100 has a nice front grip (although we would appreciate a deeper one – even with our relatively small hands) as well as a small thump “grip” on the back of the camera. You also get quite a few switches on the lens including a switch for changing the aspect ration (a real waste of a switch if you you ask us), an AF/MF and AF macro switch and a very well made aperture rings which moves in clicks (we could only wish more modern lenses would come with this sort of aperture control). The focus ring (which also functions as a zoom ring depending on what mode you are in) feels great – it is very smooth (although it is fly by wire from the feel of it) and the only bad thing that we can say about it is that controlling when it function as a focus and when as a zoom didn’t seem completely intuitive to us (but maybe there is a way to control this from the menu.
A look at the top plate of the LX100 – lots of dials
Talking about the menus – we know that there are a lot of people who like Pansonic’s menu system – we don’t. Strangely enough we prefer Sony’s menus (which are typically not very popular) or better yet Nikon’s menus, but this could just be the force of habit. What we can say about the menus on the LX100 is that they lack clear sub menus which to us means that you will need to go over a whole lot of items before you are going to find what you are looking for (it is also much harder to remember where things are located in the menus in this way…).
Something that might help a little bit – the camera has at least 3 programmable (fn) bottoms which is a very welcome addition to such a camera. If you buy the camera it might be worthwhile to go over all the menus and see if there is some function that you need to access quickly through one or more of them.
Battery life – The LX100 doesn’t seem to have a very powerful battery (around 1000 mAh). however like most cameras, these numbers do not necessary reflect the actual performance of the battery. We discovered that on mostly stills use we can get more than the official 300 CIPA rating of the camera. It did depend on several factors – i.e. how much time we spent watching/reviewing images on the screen, how much time we spent with the viewfinder (typically not a lot) and how much time we used the WIFI (again almost not at all). 4K videos do drain the battery much quicker but this is to be expected.
LX100 – so-so battery life
Continuous shooting speed and buffer – the LX100 is pretty impressive in this department managing over 20 RAW+JPEG images at about 8 fps (plain JPEG can be shot even faster and with a much deeper buffer). This isn’t too surprising as this is a 12MP camera with relatively small files (4MB JPEG and around 14MB RAW), but is still nice to see.
Lens – As this is the first camera with a fixed lens that we are looking at here on LensVid we decided to include a few words about the lens in the performance section. On paper the LX100 has a 10.9-34mm focal range equivalent to 24-75mm on 35mm sensor (about 3.1x zoom) and an aperture of f/1.7 to f/2.8 (equivalent to around f/3.7-f/6.2 on a 35mm sensor). If you are interested in how much actual blur you can see in the image compared to other cameras (specifically the 1″ RX100 II and our D7100 – all at f/8 – look at the ISO image comparison below – you can see a clear difference).
The LX100 lens fully extended
There is an automatic lens correction feature on the LX100, however looking at the uncorrected files at the wide end show extreme amounts of barrel distortion (but most users will not see this due to the automatic correction). We also noticed a lot of softness wide open at f/1.7. We would highly recommend stopping down to f/1.8 or better yet f/2 to get a decent sharpness with the lens.
Sensitivity – As we have noted above, we have compared the LX100 to two other cameras – the Sony RX100 II and our test camera – the Nikon D7100. We took all images at around 50mm at f/8 and we reduced the size of both the Nikon and Sony to 12MP to match the Panasonic (although you still see some differences).
Base ISO results in each of the 3 cameras – The colors of the LX100 looks more faded than the Nikon/Sony
Panasonic uses some serious noise reduction algorithms at this level – the D7100 shows its age with a lot of color noise but still lots of details – the noise reduction algorithms on the RX100 II seems to work much better despite the smaller sensor
So lets some things up – up to ISO 800 the LX100 preforms O.K. (although we didn’t really love the colors which look a bit faded and the detail level seem far less than what you get from the other two cameras (not surprising when you consider the low resolution sensor on the LX100). What might be a little surprising is the fact that from this test at least the RX100 II seems to perform about the same or even better in terms of sensitivity and that is despite the smaller sensor.
EVF, LCD & Autofocus
The EVF on the LX100 is decent but small – it did not feel to be on the same level or size as the ones on more advanced mirrorless cameras (and surely no where near the amazing viewfinder of the Fujifilm X-T1 we reviewed last year) but for the most part it gets the job done (we used the screen much more as we don’t like side viewfinders that much anyway).
Viewfinder on the LX100 – good to have
Talking about the screen, it is nice and clear and although not the best that we have used it was more than adequate even in pretty bright sunlight. One of the things that we really feel that are missing from the LX100 is a touch screen which could have made the experience of using the camera that much simpler. Also missing is a tilt screen – with such a small camera shooting from very low or very high angles is something that we tried almost immediately – however without being able to see what you are shooting you are out of luck (unless you use an app – yes Panasonic has one – but you might need another person to help you shoot and hold the camera at the same time).
No tilt or touch screen
As for AF capabilities – this is definitely one of the stronger points of the LX100. Focusing for the most part was very quick (both in still and even in video) and in good lighting conditions focusing was typically almost instantaneous. The only downside to this was a strange bug which caused the camera to think that a distant object (sometimes even a hundred feet away) was less than 30cm – this resulted in a massage displayed on the screen which said that that “the subject is too close” – we hope that a firmware update will resolve this bug in the future.
Lets start with the good part – 4K on the LX100 looks amazing – just watch the image quality of the video below (we will talk about some of the other problems in this video in a second).
4K video sample with the LX100 at near the lake
Yes 4K isn’t a gimmick – it does look amazing even if you don’t have a 4K screen and you can always crop and use parts of the video and still get amazingly sharp playback – something you can’t really do with 1080p. That said 4K is still very much in its infancy and its use is limited. There are not a lot of people with 4K displays (it is growing – but slowly), editing 4K is a pain (you will need a very powerful computer and supported software (we typically use Premiere Elements which does not support 4K – one of the reasons why we are going to upgrade to Premiere Pro later this year).
General 4K drawbacks are not LX100 specific – what is specific to the LX100 is the lack of any audio features – no headphone or more importantly mic jacks make this camera a very crippled video camera despite the 4K support (yes you can use and external recorder and sync in post, but to be honest we always rather skip this phase and use our external recorder to push the sound into the camera – but this is just us and you might be different).
There is also no video mode which is a feature found on some advanced cameras which allows you to separate the settings for video and stills (something that you have on every Nikon camera above the D7xxx level and we simply can’t live without for video). Another problem is the fact that at least as far as we could find – there was only 24p mode for 4K – we are not sure why 30p was not available for us during testing.
LX100 – on the left and the huge D810 next to it
Looking at the video above you can see several other issues (some are quite common to stills cameras when shooting videos) including wind noise (which you might be able to cut down a little from the menu but is still very obvious), lens zoom motor noise and a bit of rolling shutter. The AF during video was actually pretty decent in our opinion and better than a lot of other cameras.
Panasonic Lumix LX100 – 1080p 50p video sample – Turtle
If you want the LX100 as a 4K B-roll camera maybe it can serve a purpose (it is a very inexpensive 4K camera with very good image quality) although it has limitations as we mentioned, if you just want to shoot your kids and future proof your videos in 4K – again the LX100 might be enough (although keep in mind the sound limitations), otherwise we found the video features of the LX100 to be extremely lacking on the camera.
We really wanted to love the LX100. This camera has so much going for it – it has top notch build quality, large sensor (for a compact camera) an EVF, and is one of very few cameras to have built in 4K video recording capabilities.
So why did we came out of our month+ experience with the LX100 feeling that this camera is less than what it should have been? well, probably the most frustrating thing for us was Panasonic default choices and general interface. Although we have played with Panasonic cameras in the past (many of them actually) this was the first full review that we have done on a camera from Panasonic and it simply didn’t feel good. A camera needs to feel intuitive (and there are lots of conventions in the camera industry – something that you learn after playing with dozens of different cameras from all kinds of manufacturers). When a camera deviates from the convention – you immediately feel that something is wrong – you feel like you need to fight the camera to make it do what you want it to do.
The LX100 (left) next to the smaller, simpler RX100 II from Sony
Now, if you are used to the way Panasonic is doing things – maybe you will not understand our frustration, however for us (coming from Nikon, Sony and even Fujifilm and Samsung cameras, functionality and menu systems) the logic of the engineers who made the LX100 at Panasonic didn’t add up. Is it a personal thing? maybe (judging from the some of the very positive reviews online), however we need to stay true to our own experience – and it wasn’t a positive one.
Personal dislikes aside – there are quite a few things the LX100 is lacking which are quite objective. Non of them is a deal-breaker in our opinion (every camera has drawbacks), however when you consider the competition for an advanced sub $1000 cameras these days, having so many “small” drawbacks is a problem.
The image quality and resolution in stills is below the average for its price range, the lack of microphone jack is another big disadvantage and so is the lack of a tilt screen (or touch screen for that matter).
The LX100 has quite a lot of quirks in functionality – what do we mean by quirks? well, we are talking about different functions of the camera that do not work the way we expect them to. One example has to do with the filters (which are very useful on their own and have a dedicated top bottom which is a very good idea), the problem is that when using some of them you can’t control some of the basic camera functions, also the quick menu work in a very strange way where you sometimes need to move down to change items and sometimes up (when working quickly – this is not intuitive). There are lots of other small examples of things that for us (and we have used cameras from all major camera manufacturers in recent years) have simply seen as unintuitive in nature – many of them can be easily change in firmware, however it seems that Panasonic’s engineers do not see those things as issues – and that is the real problem…
LX100 – Lots of small quirks
At the end of the day it boils down to what you are really looking from your camera. If you want a relatively small compact camera with a large sensor and 4K capability – the LX100 (currently) has no competition (at least until Sony will come out with something new – we don’t really count the Nikon J5 here). However if 4K isn’t a deal-breaker (and we don’t think it should – for most people at least), than there are simply better, cheaper options on the market. Maybe the best current option is going to be the Sony A6000 (which we tested here last year).
At about the same size (with the kit lens) you will be getting a much better image quality all around (and especially much improved sensitivity and resolution), the camera also has far less quirks and better general functionality. Finally, the A6000 also cost less (with the kit lens – around $200 less at current street prices) and offer the future option to switch lenses if you decide that you want to (something that you will never be able to do with the fixed lens on the LX100).
What we liked
- Very good build quality (and retro design for those who love that).
- Relatively compact (but feels pretty good in the hand – as long as you do not have too big ones).
- Fast lens with a useful range (as long as a 3.1x zoom is enough for you).
- Fast focusing and shooting speed.
- High image quality in video (4K looks great).
- Fun to use and easy to access filters.
What we didn’t like so much
- Lens is soft wide open (close down to f/1.8 or better yet f/2 for decent results).
- Relatively low resolution (especially for a $900 2015 camera).
- Mediocre sensitivity performance for the price range (you can get much more with less money).
- Focusing bug (the camera sometimes think distant objects are closer than the min focus distance).
- No touch/tilt screen.
- No mic/headphone jacks.
- All sort of small quirks in functionality.
All the images in the gallery were shot with the Panasonic LX100 no image was altered in any way other than cropped. Some of the images were taken using the camera’s build in filters (credit: Iddo Genuth / Merav Izhaky).
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