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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7

Though some people may be disappointed by the camera's still relatively small sensor, the fast lens is arguably a more important advantage.

Lori Grunin/CNET

Panasonic is one of the veteran players in the enthusiast compact camera segment, and its LX series has quite a few fans. But it's been almost two years since the company released the DMC-LX5, and given all the activity we've seen -- Olympus, Samsung, and Sony entering the market and Canon introducing both smaller (S95) and larger (G1 X) variations on the theme -- that two years has seemed a lifetime. But the wait is over, and the LX5's replacement, the LX7, sounds pretty nice, as long as Panasonic keeps the price at LX5 level. (As usual, Panasonic isn't announcing pricing or availability yet.) Like the LX5 it will be available in black or white.

You could almost hear the disappointed sighs on the Web when word leaked that the LX7 incorporated a small 1/1.7-inch sensor; the faithful were hoping that the replacement would get a slightly less small 1-inch sensor a la the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100. But Panasonic opted to put what sounds like a significantly better lens on the LX7 than the RX100 has and I think it's the right tradeoff to make. In my opinion, good optics plus a middling sensor trump mediocre optics and a good sensor. And Panasonic did update the sensor from a CCD to an MOS, which delivers new capabilities to the series and should yield some improvements.

The lens is the big news. It covers the same focal range as the LX5 but is two stops one stop faster and stays relatively fast throughout the entire zoom range; that's where both the Canon S100 and Sony RX100 are weak. It's got a Nano Surface Coating lens element and an extralow dispersion element plus a built-in neutral-density filter, which promise to add up to a good lens, plus it's got a manual aperture ring on the lens for the experiential shooters.

Panasonic has also incorporated its Light Speed autofocus system into the LX7. The LX5 was fast for its class but faster upstarts have come along, and the LS AF system has proven to be quite fast in Panasonic's other cameras. The move to MOS from CCD brings capabilities like multishot in-camera HDR, up-to-date 1080p video capture, and a motion panorama mode (like Sony's Sweep Panorama). And the company claims the new sensor has a better signal-to-noise ratio, which promises better photo quality.

Here's the current roster of enthusiast compacts:

Canon PowerShot S100 Olympus XZ-1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 Samsung EX2F Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100
Sensor (effective resolution) 12mp CMOS 10mp CCD 10mp CCD 10.1mp MOS 12.4mp BSI CMOS 20.2mp Exmor CMOS
(7.6 x 5.7mm)
(8.07 x 5.56 mm)
(8.07 x 5.56 mm)
(13.2 x 8.8mm)
Sensitivity range ISO 80 - 6,400 ISO 100 - ISO 6,400 ISO 80 - ISO 3,200 ISO 80 - ISO 6,400 ISO 80 - ISO 3,200/ 12,800 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 25,600
Lens 24-120mm
Closest focus (inches) 1.2 0.4 0.4 0.4 0.4 1.9
Continuous shooting 2.3fps
23 JPEG/8 raw
2.5 fps
5 fps
12 JPEG/ n/a raw
(11fps without tracking AF)
n/a 2.5fps
(10fps with fixed exposure)
Viewfinder None Optional EVF Optional OVF or EVF Optional EVF None None
Autofocus n/a
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
25-area Contrast AF
Metering n/a 324-area n/a
n/a n/a
Shutter n/a 60-1/2,000 sec; bulb to 16 min 60-1/4,000 sec 60-1/4,000 sec 30-1/2,000 sec 30-1/2,000 sec; bulb
Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hot shoe No Yes Yes Yes Yes No
LCD 3-inch fixed
461,000 dots
3-inch fixed OLED
610,000 dots
3-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed
920,000 dots
3-inch articulated AMOLED
614,000 dots
3-inch fixed
921,600 dots
Image stabilization Optical Sensor shift Optical Optical Optical Optical
(best quality)
H.264 QuickTime MOV
720/30p Motion JPEG AVI
720/30p AVCHD Lite
1080/60p AVCHD @ 28Mbps; 1080/60p QuickTime MOV @ 28Mbps
H.264 MP4
1080/60p/ 50p
AVCHD Stereo
Manual iris and shutter in video Yes No Yes n/a n/a Yes
Optical zoom while recording Yes Yes n/a n/a Yes n/a
External mic support No Yes No No Yes No
Battery life (CIPA rating) 200 shots 320 shots 400 shots 330 shots n/a 330 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.1 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.7 4.3 x 2.6 x 1.7 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.8 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.1 4.0 x 2.4 x 1.4
Weight (ounces) 7 9.3 9.2 10.6 (est) 11.4 (est) 8.5 (est)
Mfr. price $429.99 $499.99 $449.99 tbd$499 $499.99 $649.99
Availability November 2011 January 2011 August 2010 tbdAugust 2012 August 2012 July 2012

I'm not a rezaholic, but I can't help wishing that the LX7 were at least 12 megapixels. With a good lens it should be able to resolve detail well, and 10 megapixels doesn't give you much leeway for cropping or if you like to print 11x16. That, plus the wish that it had a GF5-type flash (which you can tilt back to bounce) are the only two potential issues I see with this camera. Otherwise, it looks credibly competitive to the current crop of models -- provided Panasonic chooses not to price it over $499 -- and I'm looking forward to shooting with it.

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