Aside from its 8-megapixel resolution, the compact Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 justifies its premium price with a tasty array of too-cool-for-school features, including world's first incorporation of a 16:9 CCD imager, a crisp 4X Leica zoom lens that starts at a commendably wide 28mm, and a nimble optical stabilization system that steadies your camera reliably at slow shutter speeds. It also has an enthusiast-friendly collection of features such as full manual control over focus and exposure, robust burst modes, and both TIFF and raw file formats.
Mix in a generous set of 14 scene modes and solid macro capabilities and you have a versatile camera that will appeal to photo enthusiasts looking for a full-featured totable. The only downers in this pretty picture are the lack of an optical viewfinder for backup in dim or very bright light and an otherwise brilliant 2.5-inch LCD that can be difficult to view under those challenging conditions. We'd like some provision for external flash, too. Panasonic has endowed this compact (4.2 by 2.2 by 1.4 inches, 7.5 ounces) camera with more than the usual number of buttons and dials, but the Lumix DMC-LX1 gives you a generous number of options to adjust without a visit to the menu system.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1's top panel is inhabited by a shutter release with concentric zoom lever, a sliding on-off switch, a button that cycles among two Mega OIS (optical image stabilization) options--or switches it off when not needed to improve performance--and a knurled mode dial. Modes include motion picture, picture review, and full auto, as well as two scene positions and the PASM (programmed, aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual) modes favored by photo enthusiasts. The pair of scene positions, SCN1 and SCN2, each offer the same 14 options (portrait, sports, food, scenery, night scenery, night portrait, baby, soft skin, candlelight, fireworks, party, starry sky, self-portrait, and snow), but because the LX1 remembers the last selected scene mode, you can specify two different default settings. Also tucked into the top panel is a pop-up electronic flash.
A vivid 2.5-inch LCD dominates the back panel; it boasts 207,000 pixels, which is enough to display a wealth of optional shooting information, including a live histogram and rule-of-thirds alignment grid. There's a joystick for changing shutter speed and aperture in manual or shutter/aperture priority modes, as well as for manual focus, using an enlarged center image on the LCD as a focusing aid. Pressing the joystick left or right switches among the exposure or focus options, while flicking it up or down adjusts shutter speed, the f-stop, and the focus distance. Just beneath the joystick is a more traditional four-way cursor pad with central OK/Menu button, used to navigate menus, adjust the exposure when you press up (plus or minus 2EV in 1/3EV increments), review the latest picture (down), activate a 2- or 10-second self-timer (left), or set flash options (right.) Flash settings can be changed only when the flash is popped up, which helps thwart unintended adjustments.
The back panel also includes an autoexposure/autofocus lock button, a display info key that toggles the LCD between normal and power-saving brightness modes, and a trash button that cycles among the three burst modes.
While shooting, you'll need to access the simplified menu system only for less frequently used adjustments, such as white balance, ISO, metering and autofocus modes, and image size and quality. Depending on the type of shooting you prefer, you'll probably single out one of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1's three killer features as your favorite. The 28mm-to-112mm (35mm-camera equivalent) zoom lens features a relatively wide perspective usually available only in selected EVF models and digital SLRs. The wide-angle view is perfect for indoor photography and architecture, as well as landscapes where you want to emphasize the foreground, while the telephoto range is still adequate for anything this side of wildlife or outdoor sports photography. You have a choice of apertures between f/2.8 and f/8 (adjustable in 1/3-stop increments) at the wide-angle position, and f/4.9 to f/8 at the telephoto end, and shutter speeds ranging from 8 seconds to 1/2,000 second (60 seconds to 1/2,000 second in manual mode).
Happily, the LX1 achieves its 16:9 aspect ratio by using the full 8-megapixel area of the sensor, rather than cropping the top and bottom from the frame as most cameras do to achieve this wide format. Indeed, the cropping occurs when you change to one of the other proportions; the 3:2 setting produces a 7-megapixel image, while the 4:3 ratio reduces resolution to 6 megapixels. Clearly, Panasonic wants you to use the wide-screen setting as your default image size. All three aspect ratios are also available at comparably reduced resolutions, too, with the by-product of boosting the effective optical zoom to 5X.
Those who shoot in low light or who put this Panasonic's macro capabilities to work without a tripod will favor the optical image stabilization (OIS) system. This feature shifts lens elements in response to camera shake or movement, allowing you to shoot in low light at, say, a shutter speed such as 1/8 second instead of the 1/30 second or faster that would normally be required. You can choose from Mode 1, which is active all the time, or Mode 2, which activates only when the shutter release is pressed, potentially offering a greater degree of stabilization. OIS can be disabled when the camera is mounted on a tripod or to improve performance.
A candidate for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX's fourth drop-dead-cool feature in a snapshot camera is the full range of image file formats available with this camera. The usual JPEG option, with two compression ratios, is available, along with both TIFF and raw options.
The Leica DC Vario-Elmarit lens focuses down to two inches in macro mode and can be switched from spot autofocus to single-point, three-point, or nine-point autofocus zones. The manual or automated metering systems--with evaluative, center-weighted, and spot--zero in on correct exposures.
The menus offer a decent selection of user adjustments. For example, white balance can be set to Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, or Tungsten (surprisingly, no Fluorescent options are available), but there are two user-definable settings that can be recalled at the press of a few buttons. Sensitivity can be set to ISO 80, 100, 200, or 400; and images you've shot can be resized, trimmed, or adjusted for aspect ratio in the camera. Picture review can zoom 2X, 4X, 8X, or 16X using the zoom lever, while the LCD also displays a little navigator window representing the full image area, with a scrollable outline showing the part of the picture that's currently enlarged. It's also easy to display all the images in the camera in slide-show format or switch to an array of 9-, 16-, or 25-thumbnail previews.
With ISO set to Auto, the built-in flash is good out to 13.1 feet in wide-angle mode and 7.5 feet at the telephoto position. Flash settings include fill flash, flash off, red-eye, and slow-sync, which is the perfect choice for use with image stabilization and slow shutter speeds to balance ambient light with the flash.
Minimovie fans will love the ultra-high-quality 16:19 Wide VGA film-clip capability, which captures 848x480 sound movies at a smooth 30fps. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 uses the latest Panasonic Venus II large-scale integration (LSI) image-processing chip and turned in the kind of performance figures we expected--with a few exceptions. Time to first shot was a lazy 3.8 seconds, but thereafter, the LX1 snapped off photos every 1.4 seconds and slowed to just 2.9 seconds with the flash popped up. Even TIFF shooting intervals were tolerable at 17 seconds, while it took a little more than 8 seconds to store a raw image to the SD memory card.
Two burst modes are available: a normal-speed continuous mode that captured full resolution frames in 2.1 seconds, and a high-speed mode that nearly topped 3 frames per second with 9 shots at the lowest 1-megapixel resolution. Shutter lag was minimal at 0.6 second under high-contrast lighting conditions and a commendably brief 0.8 second under low-contrast lighting when the reddish focus-assist lamp kicked in.
|Typical shot-to-shot time||Time to first shot||Shutter lag (typical)|
The electronic flash generally produced even exposures, which was a challenge given the wide 28mm view and the 16:9 aspect ratio, and we got well-illuminated flash shots even beyond the rated 13.1-foot range for the built-in unit. Although red-eye was subdued, it was still present when using the LX-1's red-eye-reduction system. It's too bad that a camera offering this much exposure control doesn't have an add-on external flash option, as well.
Noise was relatively low at ISO 80 but clearly visible as multicolored speckles at ISO 800.