LX3 JPG – ISO 80 – Handheld – 250th Sec F/8 Focal Length 24mm Some Minor Corrections in Aperture.
I heard a lot of talk about Panasonic’s new 10-megapixel LX3 on the web. People seemed excited that there was actually a new digital compact that didn’t rely on megapixel madness marketing. This was interesting enough to me to buy an LX3 of my very own and here’s my initial review.
The LX3 is a well-built, solid, compact digital camera featuring a zoom lens that covers the same focal length as a first class Leica 24-60mm lens on a 35mm camera. It offers a fast F/2 – F/2.8 lens that delivers sharp, contrasty photos. The ISO works from 80-3200, but is pretty much unusable after 1600. It also features a legitimate anti-shake feature that allows me to take shots at 1/5th of a second with great results. (See the close up below of the Harmony Remote.)
The LX3 has no noticeable shutter lag and in fact offers a 2.5 image per second burst mode.
The camera shoots in RAW as well as JPG mode. I haven’t tested the RAW mode yet because so far, neither Aperture or Photoshop support the LX3 RAW format yet.
The camera is smaller than a G9 but well balanced. I probably prefer the size and heft of the G9, but this camera is small enough to fit in a pocket, so that’s a plus.
There is a hot shoe as well as physical switches that cover aspect ratio, on/off, focus and shooting mode. There is no dial for ISO as one would find on the G9, but you can program the function button on the camera to switch the ISO.
In my unscientific test, the battery lasted through 300 jpg images. Quite good for a compact camera.
The lack of a viewfinder is a real problem for me on this camera, but I have ordered the accessory viewfinder and hope that works well enough to let me compose images in bright sunlight that render the LCD useless.
Speaking of the LCD, it’s big and bright and offers a great view. It’s just like all LCDs in that it’s pretty much worthless in direct sun.
The lens performs well at all focal lengths. I saw no evidence of vignetting or flare past F/2.8. This is remarkable given that I’ve seen these problems on most compact cameras. There is no built in lens cap and that’s something I am going to miss from the G9.
The main reason I selected this camera as a keeper is it’s superior image quality. While I have always enjoyed the image quality I got out of the G9, I was blown away by the image quality of the Panasonic.
At ISO 80, the images are publication quality. I mean REALLY. I’ve never written those words in any compact camera review before. When I opened mere JPG files on my 24 ” iMac in Aperture I was literally stunned. I could not believe how well the images held up – even full screen.
There are plenty of image comparison sites online so I am not going to bother with showing you every single ISO image etc. I also don’t have any fancy test equipment so my review is based on nothing more than three plus decades of experience as a photographer. In other words, I think I know a good image when I see one.
In my opinion, the image quality on the LX3 at ISO 800 equals that of the G9 at ISO 400. In my tests with the G10 (which were not extensive) there was more detail in G10 images but also more noise.
LX3 JPG – ISO 800 – Handheld – 1/5th Sec F/8 Focal Length 24mm (Close Up Mode) Exposure only adjusted in Aperture.
There is always going to be a trade-off between noise and detail, especially when you are looking at such a small sensor.
I think the Panasonic LX3 offers the best compromise available. The image quality below ISO 400 is outstanding. The colors pop right out of the camera and even JPG files are stunning. The images are usable up to ISO 1600 (but just barely.)
LX3 JPG – ISO 1600 – Handheld – 1/2000th Sec F/8 Focal Length 60mm – Exposure and cropping along with some edge sharpening only adjusted in Aperture.
There are some little things I really appreciate about the LX3. The on/off switch is a switch, not a button. I like that. The aspect ratio control is also a switch. The joystick on the back of the camera is surprisingly easy to use. Combined with the other intuitive controls on the back of the camera, I was able to figure most of out without resorting to the manual.
I should also mention that unlike every compact camera I’ve ever used, the LX3’s auto functions are all amazing. The Intelligent ISO in particular works very well.
A big thing that I like about this camera is its dynamic range. High contrast situations can be controlled using this camera in ways that the G9/G10 cannot.
The video quality from the LX3 is superior to the G9. This also surprised me since I always thought the G9 did a great job. The G10 actually drops some video quality compared with the G9 and in a direct comparison between the LX3 and the G10, the clear winner is the LX3 when it comes to video.
I do not like having to take on and off the lens cap. I have attached it to the little strap that Panasonic includes with the camera but it’s already gotten in my way more than once.
I am looking forward to shoot this camera in RAW mode and I’ll update this review when that happens.
On balance, I think the G9/G10 is the better choice for those who have large hands or for whom ergonomics are the most important consideration. I think the LX3 is the better choice for someone who wants a camera that’s smaller and might fit in a pocket. The LX3 is also the better choice for those who think better image quality is the single most important feature in a pocket camera.
Lastly, I doubt anyone buys a compact camera just because of its video capability, but the edge goes to the LX3 there as well. The G10 now only captures in 640×480 mode while the LX3 shoots video in 720P HD format at a data rate of 25 mbp/s.
The LX3 retails for $499 and comes with a one-year warranty from Panasonic.
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