The 5-megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC1 is the somewhat cheaper (by roughly $250) sister to . The LC1's appearance and exterior finish are slightly different than the Leica's, but the two cameras share the same extensive feature set; decent performance, and unique, efficient, analog-inspired design. But despite its somewhat lower price, the Lumix LC1, as with the Digilux 2, will have a tough time competing with cheaper digital SLR alternatives for the enthusiast's dollar. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC1's black finish combined with its traditional shape give it a no-nonsense, functional look. At slightly more than 1.5 pounds with battery and SD card installed, the camera is heavier than most (and more so than we'd like), but that's partly a result of its extremely solid, well-made magnesium body.
The LC-1 shares the Digilux 2's excellent analog-inspired control system--the best we've seen in a consumer digital camera. The Leica Vario-Summicron lens features three smooth, precise rings for adjusting zoom position, focus (both distance and mode), and aperture. There's also a real shutter-speed dial on the camera's top cover. It's plastic rather than metal as on the Digilux 2, and several other controls share the same change in construction material. Metering mode is also controlled by its own dedicated dial, but it's a bit too easy to accidentally adjust.
A simple spin of the lens aperture ring to its A position puts you in shutter-priority autoexposure mode; move the shutter-speed dial to A and you're in aperture-priority mode; set both for A simultaneously and you're in program mode. This is a quick, intuitive method for setting exposure mode.
Important digital settings such as white balance and ISO sensitivity are quickly accessible through the Function button on the camera's back. The menu system, which is operated by a four-way controller just below your right thumb, is also speedy to navigate and logically laid out.The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC1 proudly carries a Leica 3.2X Vario-Summicron Aspherical zoom lens that covers the range from 28mm to 90mm (35mm equivalent). We applaud the decent wide-angle capability of this sensible zoom range. The lens is also fast, opening to f/2.0 at its wide end and f/2.4 at its telephoto setting. It's threaded to accept 69mm accessories such as filters, and Panasonic offers an optional 0.82X wide-angle conversion lens (DMW-LW69) that gives the built-in optic the ability to go as wide as 23mm (35mm equivalent).
The LC1's comprehensive exposure controls include well-designed implementations of all four main exposure modes, three light meters (multiple, center-weighted, and spot), and exposure compensation to plus or minus 2EV. There's a small live image histogram; though a very useful advanced feature, it stupidly disappears when you're setting exposure compensation. White-balance options include auto, five presets, and custom. The CCD's sensitivity is adjustable from ISO 100 to ISO 400.
You can save JPEG photos in six resolutions at three compression levels, and you can record 5-second sound clips that are associated with particular photos. Adjustable image parameters include in-camera sharpening, contrast, and color saturation.
The camera will also record raw-format photos, which you can open using the included ArcSoft PhotoImpression 4.0 software--a significant departure from the Digilux 2, which supplies the excellent Silverfast. The ArcSoft software offers no raw conversion controls, so you'll need a third-party program to make the raw files useful.
In movie mode, the LC1 records 320x240-pixel QuickTime video with sound at 30fps. Clip length is limited only by your storage-card capacity.
The LC1's built-in flash uses a clever design trick to enable you to bounce the flash, a technique that can often improve flash pictures. (You can see the flash design.) It also has its own exposure compensation function (plus or minus 2EV), and there is a second-curtain synchronization option; the flash fires at the end of the exposure, rather than the beginning. Finally, the camera has a hotshoe for mounting an external flash.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC1's performance is essentially identical to that of the Digilux 2, meaning that it's good overall, but there are two areas where it disappoints. The first is start-up time, which is a subpar 4.6 seconds. Shot-to-shot times for JPEG images are decent--2.5 seconds with flash and 1.8 seconds without--but raw-capture shot-to-shot time is about 7 seconds with a 512MB SanDisk Extreme card. That's better than the Digilux's sluggish performance but still a significant obstacle to using the raw format. In continuous mode, the camera can shoot a burst of three high-resolution JPEGs at 2.7fps.