Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 First Thoughts

Discussion in 'Digital Camera News' started by David Rasnake, Jul 21, 2008.

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  1. David Rasnake

    David Rasnake News/Review Writer News/Review Writer

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    After attending a press briefing in New York last week on Panasonic's fall releases, I had the opportunity to take the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 out for a few hours of shooting from the deck of a boat cruising the East River.

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    Physically, the LX3 strays little from the formula set forth in the LX2, though the changes it does make, while subtle, are significant just the same. Most notably, the camera adds a hot shoe – a boon for serious shooters with accessory illumination aspirations. Likewise, a slightly redesigned body takes the LX3 more in the stylistic direction of cameras from Panasonic's optical partner, Leica. The all-black version with its all-metal case looks and feels fantastic: there's no mistaking this for anything but a serious camera.

    Ergonomics are excellent, balance is great, and the menu is familiar. The LX2's physical switches for focus mode and aspect ratio also return – a nice touch for making quick adjustments on the fly.

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    Out back, I was a bit surprised to note that the layout is essentially identical to the LX2, joystick and all. While the joystick arrangement – used to make adjustments to shutter speed and aperture in manual modes as well as to navigate the menus – works vastly better than the manual control arrangements on most non-DSLRs, with the LX3 generally moving in a more performance-focused direction where its physical layout is concerned, I halfway expected to find a dial for making exposure adjustments instead. In fact, the lack of a control wheel may be all that separates the LX3 from interface perfection.

    I rarely use in-camera processing options generally, and especially black and white options, preferring instead to shoot a neutral color image and handle processing later. But the LX3's film modes may make me a believer yet. The color modes are nice enough, but I was even more impressed by the camera's multiple monochrome options: if default black and white was a little watery for my taste, the higher contrast setting produced a look that I like a lot.

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    The LX3's shots in this mode are contrasty with deep black, like a good print from a roll of Tri-X.

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    Likewise, an interesting "Nostalgia" color mode duplicates the muted look of some vintage and instant-print films.

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    Obviously, Panasonic's decision to roll out a high-end Leica f/2.0 lens for this application should sit well with serious shooters. Limited telephoto range makes shooting with the LX3 a different experience from what most higher-end compacts offer: trading reach for image quality, the Summicron-badged glass proves to be impressively sharp, especially when stopped down.

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    Likewise, the camera's wide-angle coverage is nothing short of fantastic (and can be made even better with an accessory lens). There's some fairly obvious barrel distortion at 24mm, but otherwise initial impressions suggest there's little to complain about – sharpness is up to expectations, vignetting doesn't appear to be a problem, and flare is tightly controlled enough to allow for the kinds of intentionally flared-out captures usually best reserved for higher-end SLR optics.

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    With impressive city views and bridge architecture, our East River shooting tour didn't lend itself particularly well to testing the Leica lens's most impressive feature – its f/2.0 aperture at wide-angle. Likewise, I opted to stay away from the higher sensitivity settings for the time being: we'll make a thorough analysis of both noise and optical performance when we get our review unit in house and can put it through its paces in the studio. We have to have a few cliff-hangers for the full review, after all!

    Panasonic spent a lot of time at the LX3 press briefing hyping the new camera's dynamic range. While I'll need more time with the camera to make any final pronouncements, after reviewing my shots from the day with the latest Lumix, I'm impressed by how well the camera controls highlight clipping, especially: working with standard highlight control underexposure of 1/3 to 1 EV, most of my shots came out clearly underexposed, even on the highlight end of the spectrum.

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    Typical compensation for highlight control in this high-contrast situation resulted in a shot that's clearly underexposed. As it turns out, there was plenty of room left to work with on the highlight side of the spectrum had I simply trusted the camera's multi-area metering to do its thing.

    From all indications, then, the LX3 meters the sensor quite well, preserving highlights without the need for much if any negative exposure compensation – even in high-contrast situations.

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    The above shot shows off the LX3 at work with a tough subject. Although a touch of information is lost in the extreme left-hand corner of the sky, the overall range of the capture is impressive, even DSLR-like. Overall, those who've worked with small-sensor compacts will understand what a big deal this kind of range and metering accuracy is.

    In summing up the LX3, Panasonic also talked a lot about pride during the briefing – about building a camera that serious users will be proud to carry. With refinements to the LX2 formula, an exciting new sensor, and a simply phenomenal lens, it seems they've done that already, regardless of how the LX3's overall performance pans out.

    In the same vein, there was a lot of talk about focusing on basic photographic competencies in this latest release, rather than the latest gadgetry. Pretty heady stuff from an electronics giant with a bit of a bad reputation for putting technological "whiz-bang" above fundamental performance at times. I'm cautiously optimistic about how the LX3 will stack up in a final analysis; certainly initial impressions are overwhelmingly positive. Beyond this, though, if the LX3 represents a change in design ethos for the manufacturer, even more exciting things could be coming down the road from Panasonic.

    Look for a full review of the Lumix LX3 on this site next month.

    EDITOR'S NOTE: Please be aware that the shots from our LX3 First Thoughts piece are from a pre-production unit and do not necessarily represent production-version image quality.

     
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  2. AaronM

    AaronM News/Review Writer News/Review Writer

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    This looks like it'll try and fill that niche the Sigma DP1 would have fit, if it hadn't been so strange and unpleasent to use. Probably not close to the raw image quality, but......
    a
     
  3. David Rasnake

    David Rasnake News/Review Writer News/Review Writer

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    I'd say even with the redesigned sensor, the RAW image quality (when the DP1 was at its best, that is) won't come close, but it's definitely winning functionality and consistency points over the Sigma. Combined with a price tag that's a few hundred less and it could really fill that niche.

    Of course, presumably Canon will opt to replace the G9 next year if not before. It will be interesting to see if they decide to go in a similar direction to this - a slightly more focused, more advanced camera.

    dr
     
  4. AaronM

    AaronM News/Review Writer News/Review Writer

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    The question is, will the compromise on IQ be outweighted by usability.....
    a
     
  5. David Rasnake

    David Rasnake News/Review Writer News/Review Writer

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    That's fairly subjective to be sure: there are plenty of people who are perfectly happy with the DP1 (landscape shooters for instance) - who don't mind its weak AF performance and general quirkiness and love its image quality. I'm betting for most general users, though, the answer will be yes.

    dr
     
  6. bchalifour

    bchalifour New Member

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    I have been a "proud" owner of the LX1 and now LX2 and have been so convinced by these cameras in their time (by comparison to their competitors) that I have probably made another 15 to 20 people buy it (friends, family, students, acquaintances,...anyone with photo competences looking for a good digital P&S). My only point of contention with the above models has been not being able to shoot at any ISO > 200 without heavy noise. It seems that Panasonic/Leica (as I suppose Leica will come up with a Dlux 4) have listen to this problem and chosen the right way: bigger sensor without increasing pixel count, redesigned electronic components to minimize heat/noise). Have you tried the LX3 at 400, 800 or even 1600 ISO. If so, how does it behave?
    Best regards from a newcomer,
    BC
     
  7. David Rasnake

    David Rasnake News/Review Writer News/Review Writer

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    Welcome to the forum, bchalifour -

    I agree completely that noise will be the lynch-pin issue for this camera. However, I did not shoot high ISO shots for the simple reason that I prefer not to comment on noise characteristics based on a handful of photos (which would have been all I had time to shoot in my time with the camera). We'll be getting a production review unit soon, and can then do our usual testing to see how noise performance pans out.

    It's my own opinion that posting a couple of high-sensitivity photos without the benefit of a full test is not usually a good idea, bordering on irresponsible. Some who've had a chance to preview the camera have done this already, and it's already fueled rampant speculation about how the LX3 is no better than the previous generations. I thought it better to not "poison the well" as they say until we can get an in-house, production review unit.

    dr
     
  8. KCook

    KCook Well-Known Member

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    Well, nice to see the full review. Including a surprise, the Olympus C-5050 comparison! But still the question is open .... is the LX3 a Fuji killer in low light or not? (Disregarding extinct F20/30/31)

    wude Kelly
     
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