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Panasonic has long been known for releasing excellent advanced compact cameras, but can no longer rest on the laurels of its LX series, thanks to other manufacturers jumping into the space.
Photographers looking for manual controls in a small body and, most importantly, with good image quality, have plenty to choose from. The LX7 enters the market at a reasonable price and with a strong set of features to reinforce its stature.
The LX7 is a reasonably compact machine, though it would be remiss to call it pocket-sized. Its lens barrel protrudes just slightly out of the body, housing a f/1.4 Leica-branded lens, 24mm wide-angle.
Photographers who like to adjust settings and tweak shooting parameters will love the controls on the LX7. There's the traditional mode dial on top, which houses full PASM control. A ring around the lens barrel directly controls the aperture, with stops clicking into place nicely. Just behind this is the aspect ratio switch (you can choose 1:1, 4:3, 3:2 or 16:9) and the manual/automatic focus switch. Note that shooting in 16:9 or 3:2 reduces the resolution to 9 or 9.5 megapixels, respectively, while 1:1 is 7.5 megapixels.
Anyone familiar with previous generations of LX cameras will feel right at home with the LX7. Except when it comes to the inside, as Panasonic has replaced the CCD sensor of old with a 10.1-megapixel MOS unit, which is actually smaller than that found on the LX5.
Behind the lens, Panasonic has outfitted the camera with a 3-stop Neutral Density (ND) filter that can be selected using a dedicated ND/Focus control at the rear. The toggle also lets you tweak manual focus if it has been selected using the front switch.
Elsewhere, there are scene modes aplenty to choose from, as well as creative control covering filters such as expressive, retro, high key, high dynamic, cross process and more. An on-screen level can be switched on to help level shots, and there is a pop-up flash accessible on the top panel.
The 3-inch screen at the rear gets a bump to 920,000-dot resolution which makes viewing and composing images much more pleasurable. For video recorders, the LX7 takes footage at 1080p or 1080i (50 fps) in AVCHD, and 720p (50fps) in AVCHD Lite. When shooting in MP4, you get access to high-speed recording (120fps in NTSC and 100fps in PAL). Unfortunately, you don't seem to be able to switch between NTSC and PAL within the camera menus, so if you buy the camera in a PAL region and want to shoot 120fps, you're out of luck.
There's a hotshoe at the top, which can accept a flash, though there's no 3.5mm microphone input available for attaching an external microphone.
|Sony Cyber-shot RX100||Olympus XZ-1||Canon PowerShot S100||Panasonic LX7|
|20.2-megapixel CMOS sensor (1-inch)||10-megapixel CCD sensor (1/1.63-inch)||12.1-megapixel CMOS sensor (1/1.7-inch)||10.1-megapixel high sensitivity MOS sensor (1/1.63-inch)|
|3-inch, 1.2-million-dot (VGA resolution) LCD||3-inch, 610,000-dot OLED||3-inch, 461,000-dot LCD||3-inch, 920,000-dot LCD|
|3.6x optical zoom, 28mm wide-angle||4x optical zoom, 28mm wide-angle||5x optical zoom, 24mm wide-angle||3.8x optical zoom, 24mm wide-angle|
|Aperture range f/1.8-4.9||Aperture range f/1.8-2.5||Aperture range f/2.0-5.9||Aperture range f/1.4-2.3|
|Full HD video (AVCHD/MP4, 1080p)||HD video (Motion JPEG, 720p)||Full HD video (H.264, 1080p)||Full HD video (AVCHD/MP4, 1080p)|
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The LX7 has a number of continuous shooting modes. Using the mechanical shutter, it can shoot 2, 5 or 11 frames per second (with or without AF, except for the 11fps mode, which locks focus to the first shot). Using the electronic shutter, it can shoot 40 or 60fps at a 3.5-megapixel resolution. When shooting at the maximum 11fps setting, the LX7 can take 12 shots before stopping to process them.
Automatic bracketing is also available at intervals of +/-1/3EV. Panasonic rates the battery at 330 shots.
Focusing was quick and on par with the experience from the earlier LX5 camera. The only time the LX7 had trouble achieving focus was in particularly dark situations -- even the AF assist light didn't seem to help much here. Fortunately, switching to manual focus is easy and effective.
The LX7 delivers very good images, befitting a camera of its class. Despite the shift in sensor type and size from the earlier LX5, photo quality is reasonably similar. Colours appear natural when on standard settings, while the lens delivers sharp images towards the centre of the frame, with only a marginal drop-off towards the edges.
The maximum aperture doesn't stop down too dramatically as the zoom increases, which is good news for anyone who wants to achieve shallow depth-of-field effects or shoot in low light.
You want great dynamic range? The LX7 can do that, and there's plenty of usable detail hidden in that shadow area, which can be brought up easily when processing RAW files.
Images taken at low ISO levels (80-400) have very little evidence of noise or digital artefacts, even when long exposures are employed. The LX7 displays little difference between its RAW and JPEG files, which is good news for anyone who doesn't want to process their photos too much or needs the flexibility of RAW.
At ISO 800, photos start to show visible noise, while ISO 1600 and 3200 do get quite messy. ISO 6400 results in some colour shifting and general deterioration of detail.
We highly recommend you invest in another lens cap rather than use the default one provided with the LX7. It's far too easy to leave it on when you want to take a spontaneous shot, and the camera is not functional until you take it off and press a button. Something like this self retaining cap from eBay would do the trick nicely as a substitute.
Video quality is good, particularly given the upgrade to progressive video recording over the interlaced version on the LX5. Do make sure to turn on progressive recording in the menu, as it's not activated by default. The image is sharp and colours look good, though we would have liked to have seen an external mic jack to improve the audio. The stereo microphones are good, but are not separate enough to give decent definition and bass response. Continuous AF during video recording is reasonably smooth and doesn't cause too much lens twitching. The zoom, which is enabled during video recording, is smooth, but slow.
Exposure: 1/500, f/2.8, ISO 80
Exposure: 1/250, f/1.8, ISO 200
Exposure: 6 seconds, f/8, ISO 100
Exposure: 1/125, f/2.3, ISO 400
The LX7 is an excellent advanced compact camera that has great photo quality. We highly recommend investing in a better lens cap for a pain-free photography experience.