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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

Lori Grunin
Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography, PCs and laptops, gaming and gaming accessories
5 min read

With its compact, elegant design and enthusiast-friendly feature set, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 certainly qualifies as the camera you want to carry when you need something more discreet than a dSLR. The replacement for the LX2, the LX3 has an almost identical body design, same-to-better performance, and improved photo quality. Still, to me it comes up a bit short overall compared with its main competitor, the Canon PowerShot G10.


Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

The Good

Sharp, bright lens; compact but comfortable design; broad manual shooting feature set.

The Bad

Relatively nonresponsive Quick Menu button; proprietary connectors; artifacts under certain conditions; optical viewfinder is optional.

The Bottom Line

Although the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 has its share of passionate fans, we think the JPEG quality should be more consistent for the price.

At 9.1 ounces, with dimensions of 4.3 inches wide by 2.5 inches high by 2 inches deep (with lens retracted), the relatively compact LX3 fits comfortably in a jacket pocket. There's a slightly pronounced grip up front and a small, bumpy thumb rest on the back, but neither seems quite enough. I frequently felt as if the camera was going to slip out of my hand; a firmer grip required covering all the buttons below with my thumb. The LX3 can retain its slim design because it lacks an optical viewfinder. Instead, Panasonic offers an external model, the DMW-VF1, which is quite pricey.

On top of the camera sits a hot shoe, a welcome addition that the LX2 lacked, power switch, pop-up flash, focus point selector button, zoom switch, and mode dial. In addition to the PASM, movie capture, and scene modes that were available in its predecessor, plus the update from Auto to Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode, the dial includes two slots for custom settings. Though there are only two slots, the camera can store four groups of settings; one set gets slotted in C1, while C2 stores three. This is an interesting approach that leaves one preset instantly accessible, while switching among the others requires a trip into the menus.

You can manually toggle among aspect ratios via a switch atop the lens, while the switch for the AF, AF macro, and MF modes lives on the left side of the lens. Unfortunately, the manual switch for the aspect ratio makes choosing the HD movie capture mode (up to 1,280x720 at 30fps) a bit cumbersome: when the switch is set to 4:3, HD movies aren't an option. And since the non-4:3 aspect modes are all crops below full resolution, I really don't suggest using them unless you know you'll never need the parts of the photo you're throwing away.

The rest of the controls sit adjacent to the bright, saturated wide-aspect 3-inch LCD on the camera back. Though small, the buttons, switches, and joystick are easy to feel and manipulate unless you have really big fingers. Panasonic added an AF/AE lock button over the LX2, but otherwise the layout (though not the feel) is identical. In addition, there's a capture/playback switch, Quick Menu button/joystick, display, and burst shooting buttons. I really like the joystick, but as a button it's not responsive enough; it requires multiple presses to register and pull up the menu. The four-button navigation pad that surrounds the Menu button has dedicated buttons for the self-timer, flash, and exposure compensation. The fourth button is a user-programmable function button, which you can set to quick review, film mode, ISO sensitivity, white balance, metering, AF mode, or intelligent exposure. Film mode provides a variety of preset combinations of contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction settings, and you can save two custom sets. There's also a Multi Film mode, which saves three variations of a single photo with the three user-selected film settings.

Some other notable capabilities of the LX3 include Pre AF, which locks focus when it senses the camera's at its steadiest, and selectable grouped AF points. The camera offers all the essentials, including optical image stabilization, as well. Normally I'd refer you to a downloadable manual at this point, but Panasonic doesn't have the LX3 documentation posted on its Web site. (And the printed docs don't have an index, a personal pet peeve.)

I don't understand why products in this class remain so slow; even landscapes can change if it takes long enough. Plus, the LX3 has fewer pixels to process than the G10, so I'd expect it to be faster than it is. It wakes up and shoots in just under 2 seconds, which is reasonable. But 0.6 second to focus and shoot under optimal conditions is less so, and 1.1 seconds for low-contrast scenes is a bit too high for the price. Its 1.9 seconds shot-to-shot performance is better than the G10's, but most snapshot cameras do better than both. With flash it slows to about 2.5 seconds between shots, which is typical, if not terrific. For burst shooting it manages about 1.9fps.

One of the biggest changes between the LX2 and the LX3 is the lens, which goes from a slowish 4X 28-112mm-equivalent to a faster and wider, but shorter, 2.5X f2.0-2.8 24-60mm-equivalent. Whether you want to sacrifice the flexibility of the longer lens for the brighter and sharper, but shorter one, depends on your shooting style.

Photo samples from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

One of the main complaints with the LX2 was the high noise level of its 10-megapixel sensor. According to the company, the new sensor has larger photodiodes, which boost sensitivity by almost 40 percent--maximum ISO jumps a stop to ISO 3,200 from ISO 1,600--and the sensor has increased saturation by 35 percent. In conjunction with moving to the latest version of its Venus Engine imaging processor, which Panasonic claims provides better noise reduction, Panasonic claims we should see better photo quality from the LX3. And we do. In general, its photos are sharp and saturated. There are some artifacts in CNET Labs' indoor test shots (click through the slide show for examples) that appear in the JPEG, but not raw versions of the photos, which could be by-products of the noise-reduction algorithms.

While the camera supports up to ISO 3,200, you really don't want to shoot at anything beyond ISO 800; for best results, stick to ISO 400 and below. The camera generally underexposes, which you can compensate for, and while the color is good, outdoor white balance tends to be overly cool. Movie quality is OK. Optical zoom doesn't function in movie capture, and--like many others--the camera could use a wind filter for the microphone.

While the Canon PowerShot G10 seems clunky in comparison and the lens isn't quite as nice, overall I think it delivers better photo quality and the lens provides a more flexible range. But like its predecessor, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 is a solid camera for the peripatetic photo enthusiast once you become accustomed to its quirks.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Smaller bars indicate better performance)
Canon PowerShot G10

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Image quality 7
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