Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 Review

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The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 has a larger than average image sensor and fast zoom lens, but it’s best to keep the ISO set on the low side.

(3.5 out of 5)

Pros

  • Fast lens
  • 11fps burst mode
  • Accessory port for optional EVF
  • Shoots in Raw
  • Short shutter lag
  • 1080p60 video

Cons

  • Limited zoom range
  • Soft images at telephoto extreme
  • Noisy images at ISO 1600 and up
  • Control buttons are difficult to read

The Lumix DMC-LX7 ($449.99 list) is Panasonic’s premiere point-and-shoot camera. It features a 1/1.7-inch image sensor with a CMOS design and 10-megapixel resolution, and a lens with a fast f/1.4 maximum aperture. The camera has some advanced features that are sure to please enthusiasts, including Raw capture and the ability to add an optional electronic viewfinder or external flash. It’s not perfect—despite a relatively low-resolution sensor, it doesn’t do that well in low light, and the decision to include a dedicated aperture ring is questionable. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 is still our Editors’ Choice when it comes to high-end compact cameras. It’s priced $200 higher than the LX7, but features a much larger 1-inch image sensor and better overall performance.

Design and Features
The design of the LX7 isn’t that far off from its predecessor, the Lumix DMC-LX5. If you’re looking around for an LX6, don’t bother—Panasonic skipped that model number. The camera is large for a point-and-shoot, measuring 2.6 by 4.4 by 1.8 inches and weighing in at 10.6 ounces. The Canon PowerShot S110, which features the same size image sensor and a fast lens, is smaller at 2.3 by 3.9 by 1.1 inches and just 7 ounces.

The camera’s lens has a modest zoom ratio of 3.8x, covering a 24-90mm (35mm  equivalent) field of view. It opens up all the way to f/1.4 at the wide end, with its aperture narrowing to f/2.3 when fully zoomed. There’s no way to set the initial focal length via the menu as there is on the Nikon Coolpix P7700, but you can set the lens to return to the last used focal length. I’m typically a 50mm shooter, so I turned this setting on and remembered to set the zoom to 2x (there’s no indication of an actual focal length equivalent displayed) prior to powering down. Even at that zoom setting the lens still manages an f/1.8 aperture. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 has a similar zoom lens in coverage—it goes from 28mm to 100mm—but its f-stop starts at f/1.8 and quickly drops to f/4.9 when zoomed all the way in. It does have a larger image sensor, which means that it can create a shallower depth of field at an equivalent f-stop and focal length distance than the LX7.

Physical controls are ample, though Panasonic made one odd choice. There’s a dedicated aperture ring around the lens, which is a bit of an old school approach—modern SLRs utilize electronic aperture control, so seeing a ring on a new lens is not common. Normally I’d be a champion of this decision, but it can be a bit misleading when shooting. The maximum aperture of the lens narrows as you zoom, so the ring may be set to f/1.4 while the best the camera can do at current settings is f/2. The ring also doesn’t work at all in Program or Shutter Priority modes. The idea of a control ring around the lens is a great one, Panasonic would have been better off making it one that has customizable functionality rather than devoting it to aperture alone.

Other controls are fairly standard—on the top plate you’ll find the mode dial, On/Off switch, zoom rocker, shutter release, and a Movie button. The rear of the camera houses a lever with a push-button functionality that has dual functions; pushing it when in autofocus mode activates the in-lens Neutral Density Filter, which is used to cut the amount of light coming in so you can shoot at a wider aperture on a bright day. In Manual Focus mode it moves left or right to change focus, and pressing it in enlarges the frame so you can focus with more accuracy.

There’s a rear control dial that adjusts the shutter speed or exposure compensation in Shutter Priority mode—you press it in to toggle between the two settings. If you’re shooting in Aperture Priority or Program mode it will always adjust EV Compensation, and it will always adjust shutter speed in Manual mode. There are buttons to engage autofocus and exposure lock, review images, adjust the amount of information shown on the rear display, and to access the software Q.Menu overlay to adjust a number of shooting settings.

One issue with the control buttons is the labeling on the rear four-way directional pad. Each button has a different function—ISO control, a customizable button, drive mode and self timer, and white balance. These buttons are silver with a brushed finish, and the function is simply printed on them in silver—just without the brushed finish. In short, they’re hard to read. You’ll likely get used to the position of each with regular use, but it’s a concern for folks who may be shooting with multiple cameras or are simply a bit fuzzy in the memory department.

The LX7 lacks some of the fancier features that set other cameras apart from the crowd. There’s no Wi-Fi—the Samsung EX2F is one to look at if a fast lens and instant sharing are what you’re looking for. The rear LCD is 3 inches and boasts a sharp 920k-dot resolution. The display is high-quality and makes it easy to confirm autofocus or to focus manually, but you can buy an add-on EVF if you prefer to use the camera at eye level. The only other cameras in this class that support an add-on EVF are the Olympus XZ-2 and the Leica D-Lux 6; the Leica is identical to the LX7 from a feature perspective—it just has a different body design and firmware.

You don’t get a built-in optical viewfinder. To compare, the Fujifilm X20 has an optical finder that is impressively big when you consider the camera’s size. The Canon PowerShot G15 and the G1 X also give you optical finders, but they aren’t as large as that of the X20.

Performance and Conclusions
The LX7 can fire the first photo a mere 1.2 seconds after you flip its power switch to the On position, and shutter lag is just 0.1 second. Burst shooting is available at up to 11 frames per second, though you’ll be limited to 12 shots at that rate. You can also shoot at 5 frames per second for a longer burst if shooting JPG—26 shots—but Raw and Raw+JPG capture are still capped at 12 shots at that rate before the camera starts to slow. It’s one of the faster cameras in this class—the Pentax MX-1 is very slow in comparison. That big-sensor camera requires 2.4 seconds to start and shoot, records a 0.3-second shutter lag, and tops out at 5 frames per second.

I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the camera’s Leica DC Vario-Summilux lens. At its widest setting the lens records an impressive 2,021 lines per picture height at f/1.4, better than the 1,800 lines required for a sharp image. Stopping down to f/2.8 improves the resolution to 2,229 lines, but stopping down further actually hurts sharpness, likely due to diffraction. Zooming to the 60mm equivalent focal length cuts the maximum aperture to f/2, and also reduces sharpness to 1,863 lines; it improves to 2,192 lines at f/2.8. The maximum 90mm focal setting is another store entirely. The images at that setting are not at all sharp—1,117 lines at f/2.8 and 1,211 lines at f/2.8. Distortion is also its most evident at the longest focal length; the camera shows a reasonable 1.1 percent at its widest, only 0.5 percent at the middle part of its zoom, and a noticeable 1.7 percent at 90mm.  The Sony RX100 does a better job with sharpness throughout its zoom range. It never dips below 2,000 lines, although its maximum aperture isn’t as ambitious as the LX7—it starts at f/1.8, but is already down to f/3.2 at the 50mm setting and f/4.9 at 100mm.

Imatest also checks images for noise, which increases along with the camera’s sensitivity to light. The LX7 produces images with less than 1.5 percent noise through ISO 800, which is an okay, but not spectacular result. Shots at ISO 1600 clock in at 1.9 percent noise, but detail suffers at that setting. This is a little surprising, as the camera has a 10-megapixel sensor and as a general rule of thumb sensors with lower pixel counts do better at higher ISO settings. The Canon PowerShot G15, which features a fast 28-140mm f/1.8-2.8 zoom lens, does a better job with noise. It keeps it under control through ISO 1600, and its images at ISO 3200 are better than those of the LX7 at ISO 1600.

Video performance is one of the LX7′s strongest points. It records footage in AVCHD format at up to 1080p60 quality; 1080i60 and 720p60 are also options. There’s an MP4 recording mode that gives you access to 1080p30, 720p30, and 480p30 recording. The quality of the AVHCD footage is excellent—it’s smooth, rich with detail, and colors are crisp. The stereo mic does pick up the sound of the lens zooming in and out; there is no standard microphone input. Ports include mini HDMI and proprietary USB, and the camera accepts standard SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 is an impressive camera, especially when you consider its size. There are a few drawbacks that keep it from getting a higher rating—images are not sharp when the lens is zoomed all the way in, the image quality at ISO 1600 and up is not as good as some others in this class. Also, a few of the control buttons are a bit hard to read. The lens does capture quite a bit of light, and it’s the least expensive camera you’ll find that works with an add-on electronic viewfinder. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 is still our Editors’ Choice for high-end compacts—at $650 it is priced a full $200 higher than the LX7, but its larger 1-inch image sensor is able to create a shallower depth of field and does better at higher ISO settings. If that’s too expensive, consider the $500 Canon PowerShot G15, it has a fast lens, and is a full f-stop better than the LX7 in terms of high ISO image quality. Another $500 camera, the Samsung EX2F is also an alternative worth consideration—its high ISO performance is in line with that of the LX7, but it does have a fast f/1.4 lens and built-in Wi-Fi.

By Jim Fisher, PCMag

Specifications

    • Dimensions: 2.6 x 4.4 x 1.8 inches
    • Type: Compact
    • Megapixels: 10 MP
    • Sensor Type: CMOS
    • Sensor Size: 7.6 x 5.7 (1/1.7") mm
    • Media Format: Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
    • Battery Type Supported: Lithium Ion
    • Maximum ISO: 12800
    • 35-mm Equivalent (Wide): 24 mm
    • 35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto): 90 mm
    • Optical Zoom: 3.8 x
    • Image Stabilization: Optical
    • Touch Screen: No
    • LCD size: 3 inches
    • LCD dots: 920000
    • LCD Aspect Ratio: 3:2
    • Viewfinder Type>: None
    • Video Resolution: 720p, 1080i, 1080p, 480p
    • Interface Ports: Proprietary, mini HDMI
    • GPS: No
    • Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated): 0 feet


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