Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 Review
Review Date: December 6th 2005
Ease of Use
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 is a good-looking, understated kind of camera, with a smart silver or black all-metal body. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 is a fairly compact camera, although it is wide (over 10cms) and, more importantly, it is quite deep. The official specification for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 claims that the camera is 25.9mm deep, but this doesn't take the lens into account. The true depth of the camera is just over 45mm, which means that whilst it is still pocketable, it is more of a tight squeeze than the official figures suggest. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 is perhaps more at home in a small camera bag than in a pocket. It's a well-built camera, with a high quality body and controls. The built-in flash is particularly neat. It pops up out of the top of the body when you open it, and then is stored safely away by pushing it back down. Another feature that I really liked was the Joystick, which allows you to set apertures and shutter speeds and also controls manual focusing. It's an innovative idea that speeds up using the camera, and is something that other manufacturers will hopefully take note of.
The main quality control issue that I found was a very loose lens cap, so loose in fact that I could pull it off the lens without actually having to push in the plastic handles on the side. This resulted in the lens cap falling off in bags or pockets, and I imagine that I would probably lose it completely at some point if I owned this camera. I hope that this problem is specific to the review unit that I received from Panasonic - it's worth checking before you buy one. The other area of the camera design that slightly concerned me was the large LCD screen, which is slightly raised from the back of the camera. On my review unit, there were a few small problems. A couple of the rounded metal corners of the raised area around the LCD screen had chipped, maybe through being dropped by previous reviewers. The plastic cover which protects the LCD had a long horizontal scratch. More annoyingly, it seemed that dust had somehow got in between the LCD and the protective cover, which obviously couldn't be removed. These are probably all just issues with what is a review unit that has been used by other journalists, but they are worth checking for anyway.
|Joystick / Navigation Pad||Aspect Ratio Switch|
Despite offering a full range of manual exposure settings, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 is not an overly complex camera in terms of the number of external controls that it has. I counted 13 in total. This allows the camera to be relatively compact whilst still offering a 4x zoom lens and large 2.5 inch LCD screen. The majority of them are clearly labeled and common to most cameras. There's a traditional dial on the top of the camera that lets you select the different exposure modes; Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual. This dial is a typical feature of SLR cameras, and enables you to quickly change between the various modes. The various Scene modes and the Movie mode are also accessed via this dial. Interestingly there are two Scene modes on the dial, both of which offer exactly the same options, but which can be set independently of each other, allowing a little customization of the camera setup. The most unfamiliar controls are found on the lens barrel. The Focus switch lets you choose between normal auto-focusing, macro and manual focusing. The latter option works quite well, although it is a slow process. The centre of the LCD screen shows a magnified view, with a vertical distance scale on the right. You use the joystick to select a certain distance to achieve sharp focus.
The other control on the lens barrel is the all-important Aspect Ratio switch, which allows you to select the type of image that you want to record. 16:9 is the same as wide-angle televisions and produces a very effective panoramic effect. If you're a fan of cameras like the Hassleblad xPan series, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1's 16:9 mode is quite similar and will definitely appeal to you. All of the camera's 8 megapixel sensor is used in this mode. Disappointingly, though, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 does not have a widescreen LCD to match. Instead, it blacks out the top and the bottom of the screen to represent the 16:9 and 3:2 views. Something of a missed opportunity. 4:3 is the view that the majority of digital cameras offer and records a 6 megapixel image, whilst 3:2 is halfway between the two and records a 7 megapixel image. This ability to switch between different viewpoints makes the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 a very adaptable and creative tool, especially if you have an interest in panoramic images, and is something that no other camera currently offers.
|Mode Dial / Zoom Lever / Shutter Button / Optical Image Stabilizer Button / On/Off Button||Focusing Switch|
If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the comprehensive and easy-to-follow manual before you start is a must. Thankfully Panasonic have chosen to supply it in printed format, rather than as a PDF on a CD, so you can also carry it with you. The large 2.5 inch LCD screen is the only way of framing your shots, so if you have to have an optical viewfinder, look elsewhere now. Thankfully Panasonic haven't tried to cut costs by limiting the number of pixels - the LCD screen has a generous 207,000 pixels. The various icons used to represent the camera settings are clear and legible, although I was annoyed by the LCD brightness message along the bottom of the screen, which is displayed whenever you press the Display button.
The main menu system on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 is straight-forward to use and is accessed by pressing the Menu button in the middle of the navigation pad. There are two main menus, Record and Settings. Quite a lot of the camera's main options, such as white balance, image quality, metering mode and ISO speed, are accessed here, so the Record menu has 14 options spread over 3 screens. Something that I found slightly unintuitive was having to press the right button on the Navigation pad to select an option, rather than the center button as on most cameras. It would also have been good to see the more commonly used options, such as ISO speed, available via the press of a button, rather than having to go into the menu system. Due to the large LCD screen and restricting the number of on-screen choices to five, the various options and icons are very clear and legible.
There is one innovative feature on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 that aims to make life easier for you. This camera has an anti-shake system, dubbed Mega O.I.S - turn it on and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 automatically compensates for camera shake, which is a slight blurring of the image that typically occurs at slow shutter speeds. There are two different modes, Mode 1 is on all the time including image composition, and Mode 2 is only on when you press the shutter button. In practice I found that it does make a noticeable difference, as shown in the examples on the Image Quality page. You don't notice that the camera is actually doing anything different when anti-shake is turned on, just that you can use slower shutter speeds than normal and still take sharp photos. However, what Panasonic gives you in the form of an effective anti-shake system, it takes away by only providing a limited ISO range of 80-400. This essentially means that you really need to leave the anti-shake system turned on all the time to compensate for the slow shutter speeds (especially as ISOs 200 and 400 exhibit high levels of noise - see the Image Quality page), which kind of negates any real advantages that the anti-shake system offers. Thankfully leaving the anti-shake system on didn't negatively affect the battery-life, with the camera managing over 200 shots before the battery needed to be recharged.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
The start-up time from turning the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 on to being ready to take a photo is fairly quick at around 1 second, although zooming from the widest focal length to the longest takes a pedestrian 3 seconds. Focusing is very quick in good light and the camera happily achieves focus most of the time indoors or in low-light situations, helped by the focus-assist lamp. Note that the camera does struggle to lock onto the subject sometimes at the tele-photo end of the lens. The visibility and refresh rate of the 2.5 inch LCD screen are perfectly acceptable. It takes about 0.5 second to store a JPEG image, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card - there is no LCD blackout between each image. RAW mode is a completely different kettle of fish. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 takes over 10 seconds to store a RAW image, during which you can't take another shot or operate the menu system. Shooting in TIFF mode is even slower. In the fastest Continuous mode the camera takes 3 frames per second for up to 5 images at the highest JPEG image quality, which is above average for this class of camera given the large 8 megapixel images. Note that the camera does lock-up for around 10 seconds after the sequence is finished while it stores the images. All in all the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 is average in terms of operational speed.
Once you have captured a photo, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 has a good range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view thumbnails, zoom in and out up to 16x magnification, view slideshows with audio, delete, protect, trim, resize and rotate an image. You can also select favourite images, add a sound clip to an image, set the print order and change the aspect ratio after the picture has been taken. The Display button toggles detailed settings information about each picture on and off, such as the ISO rating and aperture / shutter speed, and there is a small histogram available during both shooting and playback. When taking a photo, pressing the Info button toggles between the detailed information, the histogram and gridlines to aid composition.
In summary the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 is a stylish, fairly responsive, quite compact camera that offers something different to the norm, and which will particularly appeal to fans of panoramic images.
PhotographyBLOG is a member of the DIWA organisation. Our test results for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 have been submitted to DIWA for comparison with test results for different samples of the same camera model supplied by other DIWA member sites.