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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 review: Advanced compact hits all the right notes

The company bounces back into the enthusiast compact market with an expensive -- but worth it -- model.

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Reviews

I've been writing about and reviewing consumer technology since before the turn of the century. I'm also a photographer and cat herder, frequently at the same time.

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9 min read

Panasonic retakes the lead in the advanced compact competition with its LX100. Really good photo and video quality, a great set of features and (for the most part) class-leading performance, result in one of my favorite compact cameras ever.

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8.3

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100

The Good

The Panasonic LX100 delivers really good photo and video quality, a great set of features, and class-leading performance.

The Bad

It's got a fixed LCD and the lens really needs a hood to minimize flare.

The Bottom Line

With really good photo and video quality, a great set of features and generally class-leading performance, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 is probably one of our favorite compact cameras ever. It's not for the inexperienced, though.

Despite a full auto mode, however, newbies might face a steep climb up the learning curve. At $900 (£800, AU$1,200), it's also pretty expensive if you're just looking for an upgrade to better photo and video than whatever you're using now.

As a companion for a dSLR or an alternative to a midrange interchangeable-lens model, though, it's definitely worth considering.

Image quality

The combination of a great lens and large -- for its class -- sensor yield extremely good photo quality. JPEG images look clean as high as ISO 800 and good through ISO 1600; by ISO 3200 the JPEGs display noise reduction smearing. If you shoot raw, though, you can eke out more detail resolution as high as ISO 12800.

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The LX100's Four Thirds sensor is much bigger than the 1-inch sensor in the RX100 series, though just a hair smaller than the 1.5-inch version in Canon's higher-end PowerShot. Lori Grunin/CNET

However, there isn't a lot of recoverable detail in the highlights and shadows of the raw files, which is a typical problem in this class. Shadow detail starts to disappear at ISO 800 and dark colors start to become indistinguishable from each other at around ISO 3200 and whites/light colors at around ISO 400. Also fairly typical.

Panasonic Lumix LX100 full-resolution photo samples

See all photos

Even in its default color settings, the LX100 delivers reasonably neutral results, at least up through ISO 1600. At ISO 3200 and above the white balance gets a little inconsistent, developing a slight red cast. However, most of these cameras have a pinkish cast, at least in the JPEGs, across all or part of their ISO sensitivity range.

Its 4K video is unsurprisingly great given that it uses the same imaging engine as the GH4. There are few artifacts, and the video is sharp with a reasonable dynamic range -- it looks better than HD even when viewed on a non-4K display. At midrange ISO sensitivities (like ISO 3200), there's none of the sparkling caused by noise in motion, though like many cameras it clips the tonal range. The audio sounds fine, but this isn't the camera to buy if you're picky about sound, as there's no support for an external mic and the lens operation is a bit noisy. Keep in mind that 4K recording does require a UHS-II SD card.

There's a also a 4K Photo mode that allows you to pull decent 8MP stills from video (it differs from standard recording because it increases the frame rate off the sensor so that it can stop action better, but it also increases battery drain). It seems like an effective way to shoot action when continuous-shooting is difficult.

Analysis samples

(Unless you view the samples at their full 770-pixel width they won't look right.)

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JPEG images are extremely clean up through ISO 800, retaining a surprising amount of detail given the camera's relatively low resolution. Lori Grunin/CNET
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You can see a noticeable color shift between ISO 1600 and ISO 3200, but the images retain a respectable amount of detail in the in-focus areas up through the entire range. Lori Grunin/CNET
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The LX100 produces very natural colors, even on its default setting, though like most cameras it pushes saturation just a little. Lori Grunin/CNET
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Despite its lower resolution, the LX100 preserves a surprising amount of detail compared to competitors. Lori Grunin/CNET
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The lens displays very nice out-of-focus areas, and even on high ISO sensitivity photos they lack the graininess you tend to see in those spots. Lori Grunin/CNET

Performance

For an enthusiast compact, the LX100 performs quite well. Its only drawback is slow startup: 2.5 seconds to power on, focus and shoot. That's due in part to the leisurely pace at which the lens extends. Otherwise, the camera focuses and shoots in about 0.2 second, in both bright or dim conditions; it takes about 0.4 second to shoot two sequential JPEGs (0.5 second for raw), and enabling flash bumps that to 1.5 seconds. Those are all very good times.

My continuous-shooting performance results are tentative. A lot has been made of this camera's ability to shoot 6.5 frames per second with autofocus and autoexposure (AF/AE), but I was only able to achieve 4fps under our standard test conditions (as well as all sorts of other conditions). The only way I could get the camera to shoot faster with AF/AE was, oddly, at f1.7, and even then it only made it to to 6fps. I generally find tested performance matches the manufacturer's specifications, so I'm not confident of these results, and am waiting back to hear from a stumped Panasonic. Frankly, it doesn't affect my rating, since even 4fps for over 30 raw or JPEG shots with AF/AE is quite good for its class.

With focus and exposure fixed on the first frame, it hits 11fps, and if you don't care about mechanical vs. electronic shutter, its Super high-speed mode runs at 40fps. You can use those modes to create stop-motion animations in-camera.

While the autofocus system is fast, Panasonic's full auto suffers from the same problems as everyone else's: it focuses on the closest object in the scene, which is usually wrong. The tracking autofocus is pretty typical -- sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't -- and like most other contrast AF systems, there's a slight pulse using continuous AF while shooting video. However, the camera's Custom Multi option lets you configure an autofocus area array any way you want, such as a clump of areas in the center or even discontiguous areas. The center-area autofocus and pinpoint autofocus work quickly and accurately. Thanks to the viewfinder, focus peaking and the smooth control ring, manually focusing works well.

Typical for this type of camera, the battery life is pretty meh, especially if you use the viewfinder and Wi-Fi a lot. I had no issues with visibility of the back LCD.

Shooting speed (in seconds)

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III 0.3 0.1 0.5 0.5 2.0Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 0.2 0.2 0.4 0.5 2.5
  • Shutter lag (typical)
  • Shutter lag (dim)
  • Typical shot-to-shot time
  • Raw shot-to-shot time
  • Time to first shot
Note: Smaller numbers indicate better performance

Typical continuous-shooting speed (fps)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 4.1Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III 2.1
Note: High number indicates better performance

Design and features

It's bigger and heavier than the RX100 III, but in exchange the LX100 has an actual, usable rubberized grip that makes the camera comfortable to hold and shoot, even one-handed. It fits in a loose jacket pocket, but you won't be sliding it into your jeans the way you might with the RX100 series.

The lens is relatively large --technologically necessary for a fast, wide-angle lens on a sensor this big -- and as with previous LX series models there are aspect ratio and focus mode switches and a manual aperture ring on the lens, plus a programmable ring that's become de rigeur on advanced compacts. The aperture ring has protrusions on either side that make it easy to operate, even when wearing gloves. Note that the camera doesn't have a multi-aspect sensor: as you change aspect ratios the resolution changes, with the 4:3 aspect ratio having the highest-resolution images.

On the top sit the hot shoe, shutter speed and exposure compensation dials; zoom lever; and buttons to access complete auto mode and special-effects filter selections. As with other cameras that incorporate physical shutter speed and aperture controls, you access priority exposure modes by switching either or both dials to "A" (for example, you enter Shutter priority mode by rotating the aperture dial to A and manually selecting the shutter speed). I'd love a lock button on the exposure compensation dial for all cameras with this design, though, as I tend to rotate the dial accidentally.

The back has a typical point-and-shoot design, with a thumb-operated button/dial control for direct access to ISO sensitivity, white balance, drive mode and autofocus-area settings. The button in the center brings up the menu system, while a button above it accesses the quick menu, whose layout varies depending on the current display settings. There are also three programmable function buttons, the movie record button, and an AE/AF lock button. While I like the layout of the controls, they're a little too flat for my taste, at least for winter-glove-handed shooting.

Small, but not too small, I find the electronic viewfinder a lot more convenient than the retractable version on the RX100 III. And while it can auto-switch between the display and the EVF, you can lower the sensitivity, which makes it much more usable than other auto-switching behavior.

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Panasonic's Image App on Android Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET

Panasonic has most of the bases covered for connectivity, though I wasn't happy with the implementation. With the Panasonic Image app on you can either tap the left side of the camera to the back of your device to set up and initiate a connection via Wi-Fi, or use the app to photograph a QR code to set up the connection; the latter is the way to go for devices. With the app, you have full remote control, sort of. I found the app buggy and laggy on both the HTC One (M7) -- including the NFC and QR code connections -- and 5S. It worked okay on an Air.

You can also view and transfer photos and videos from the camera to your device, or tap to send individual photos from the camera to your phone (only on). The camera's Wi-Fi can also be used for other things including direct uploads to social networks. However, you have to sign up for a Lumix Club account and register all the services you want to use on there. Frankly, sending images from the camera direct to your device is easy enough that I would skip Lumix Club and just upload from your smartphone (or ). You can read more about the apps on Panasonic's site.

As much as I like the camera, I do have some other problems with the camera's design and operation. Most important, the camera really (really, really) needs a lens hood and a built-in a neutral density filter; it's more prone to flare than any camera I've used recently. It does accept 43mm screw-in lens filters at least. And while I like the viewfinder, I miss a tilting or articulating display. Also, Panasonic has a nice aperture-like lens cap that it offers as a $40 accessory for the LX100; for a $900 camera, it should be standard.

There are also some drawbacks with respect to video. The aperture ring feels clicky, which is great for providing feedback but not so great for changing aperture while shooting video. Lens zooming is a little noisy for video, as are the dangly strap holders which click against the body. Furthermore, some people might miss having a mic input, though that feature is pretty unusual for this class.

For a complete overview of the LX100's features and operation, download the manual.

Conclusion

There are APS-C models like the Fujifilm X100 series, the Nikon Coolpix A or the Ricoh GR that deliver better photo quality, but they also lack the features, performance and video quality that the LX100 offers.

The LX100 is far from perfect. I really miss having a tilting or articulating LCD, the camera really should come with a lens hood, the buttons feel a little too flat and a tripod plate obstructs the battery and SD card compartment.

Overall, though, it's a great package. It's not cheap, but as the price drops over time it'll be a great buy for proficient photographers.

Comparative specifications

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark II Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III
Sensor effective resolution 12.8MP HS CMOS 12.8MP MOS 20.2MP Exmor R CMOS
Sensor size 1.5-inch
(18.7 x 14mm)
Four Thirds
(17.3 x 13mm)
1-inch
(13.2 x 8.8mm)
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 12800 ISO 100 (exp)/ISO 200 - ISO 25600 ISO 80 (exp)/ISO 125 - ISO 12800
Lens (35mm equivalent) 24 - 120mm
f2-3.9
5x
24 - 75mm
f1.7-2.8
3.1x
24 - 70mm
f1.8-2.8
2.9x
Closest focus 2.0 in/5 cm 2 in/3 cm 1.9 in/5 cm
Burst shooting 3fps
(5.2fps with fixed focus)
n/a
6.5fps
n/a
(40fps with electronic shutter and fixed AF/AE)
2.5fps
(10fps with fixed exposure)
n/a
Viewfinder
(mag/ effective mag)
Optional EVF
Tilting TFT
(EVF-DC1, $299; est £284)
EVF
0.4 in/10.2 mm
2.764m dots
100% coverage
1.39x/0.7x
OLED EVF
0.4-inch/10.2mm
1.44m dots
100% coverage
Hot shoe Yes Yes No
Autofocus 31-area
Contrast AF
49-area
Contrast AF
25-area
Contrast AF
AF sensitivity n/a n/a n/a
Shutter speed 61 - 1/4,000 sec 60 - 1/4,000 sec (1/16,000 electronic shutter); bulb to 2 minutes 30 - 1/2,000 sec; bulb
Metering n/a 1,728 zones n/a
Metering sensitivity n/a n/a n/a
Best video H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/30p
MP4 UHD/30p, 25p, 24p @ 100Mbps; 1080/60p, 50p XAVC S
1080/60p, 30p, 25p, 24p @ 60Mbps; 720/120p
Audio Stereo Stereo Stereo
Manual aperture and shutter in video No Yes Yes
Maximum best-quality recording time 4GB/29:59 minutes 15 minutes 29 minutes
Optical zoom while recording Yes Yes Yes
IS Optical Optical Optical
LCD 3 in/7.5 cm
Tilting touchscreen
1.04m dots
3 in/7.5 cm
Fixed
921,000 dots
3 in/7.5cm
Tilting
921,600 dots
(plus another set of white dots for brightness)
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless connection Wi-Fi, NFC Wi-Fi, NFC Wi-Fi, NFC
Flash Yes Bundled optional Yes
Wireless flash No No No
Battery life (CIPA rating) 240 shots 300 shots 320 shots (LCD);
230 shots (Viewfinder)
Size (WHD) 4.6 x 3.0 x 2.6 inches
116.3 x 74 x 66.2 mm
4.5 x 2.6 x 2.2 in
114.8 x 66.2 x 55.0 mm
4.0 x 2.3 x 1.6 inches
101.6 x 58.1 x 41 mm
Body operating weight
19.5 oz
552 g
13.9 oz
394 g
10.2 oz
289.2 g
Mfr. price $800
£800
AU$820
$900
£800
AU$1,200
$800
£700
AU$1,100
Release date (US) April 2014 November 2014 June 2014
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8.3

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 8Image quality 8
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