Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 Review

Review Date: August 12th 2008
Author: Mark Goldstein

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Page 1
Introduction / Ease of Use
Page 2
Image Quality
Page 3
Sample Images
Page 4
Design
Page 5
Specifications
Page 6
Conclusion

Conclusion


Ratings (out of 5)
Design
4.5
Features
5
Ease-of-Use
4.5
Image Quality
4.5
Value for Money
4

As the bottom continues to fall out of the compact camera market, with fierce competition resulting in more features being available for less money, the manufacturers are having to become much more inventive to both retain interest and maintain a profit margin in their products. This is especially true of companies like Panasonic, who can't rely on healthy DSLR sales higher up the food chain. Enter stage right, "premium" compact cameras like the LX3, which attempt to appeal to more experienced photographers looking to buy into a system, usually as a pocketable alternative to their existing DSLR, or in some cases their main camera. A relatively tiny company by the name of Ricoh have led the way in this sector, selling premium cameras for premium prices and then upselling optional accessories like convertor lenses, external viewfinders and fancy camera cases. They may only sell in relatively small volumes, but Ricoh UK recently told us that the average spend on the GR II Digital was around 700 in the UK, despite the actual camera only costing 400.

So now Panasonic have joined in with the introduction of the LX3, a rather radical update of the now ageing, but still popular LX2 model. The LX3 ticks all the boxes that any serious photographer is looking for - "sensible" megapixel count, a very fast lens, RAW file support, and a full range of creative shooting modes - whilst throwing a few curveballs into the mix, notably the 2.5x zoom lens. The limited focal length of 24-60mm isn't going to be to everyone's liking, clearly suiting landscape and street photographers far better than other subject matter, and could be seen by some as a backwards step from the 4x, 28-112mm zoom that the LX2 offered. Panasonic told us that the reduction in focal length was the only way to maintain image quality - you'll have to decide if this sacrifice suits your way of working.

Speaking of image quality, Panasonic have made some incredibly bold claims about the LX3, which unfortunately are a little off the mark. We found that the new 10 megapixel sensor does deliver better image quality than all other current Panasonic compacts (and much better than the LX2), but only marginally so, despite the physically bigger sensor and pixels. Once again noise is the main problem. I'd be happy to use ISO 100-400 for most photos, with ISO 800 reserved for low-light situations. ISO 100-400 isn't a particularly versatile range, but the usual excellent optical image stabilisation system means that the DMC-LX3 is still an adaptable camera, as you can take a photo at a faster ISO speed and therefore a slower shutter speed, and still get sharp results, without adversely affecting the battery life too much. The fastest speeds of 1600 and 3200 are only worth using for very small prints. Another issue that I noticed was over-saturation of reds and oranges, with mid-orange flowers in one picture taking on an almost red appearance, when using the Standard film mode setting in both JPEG and RAW mode. In all other aspects, the LX3 certainly delivers on its promise, with virtually no signs of chromatic aberrations, accurate white balance (you can even set the exact colour temperature in Kelvin), superb macro and low-light capabilities, and an effective pop-up flash.

Panasonic have focused on making the DMC-LX3 appeal to as wide an audience as possible, with an enhanced Intelligent Auto mode that achieves great results in most situations with very little input required from the user. This is backed up by the usual extensive range of scene modes and handling that won't scare the inexperienced user away. One of the successes of the LX3 is that it will suit both the avid snapper and the more cautious members of your family. HD video is less of a success. While it sounds great on paper and fits in well with Panasonic's vision of an HD-enabled home, the DMC-LX3 is no match for an entry-level dedicated video camcorder, and also suffers from muffled sound-quality and huge file sizes that quickly fill your memory card. 720p HD video in a pocketable camera is still a nice-to-have feature, but don't buy the DMC-LX3 solely because of this feature alone, especially as you'll have to buy the optional component cable to link up the LX3 to your high-def TV.

In summary the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 certainly fulfills its remit of being a premium system camera which challenges the likes of the Ricoh GR and GX series cameras, the Canon Powershot G9 and the Sigma DP1. The LX3 is a beautifully made and designed product that instantly makes your friends envious, but which importantly doesn't forget to be an effective photographic tool. It also manages to pull off the difficult task of appealing to a diverse range of users, from complete beginners to pro photographers alike, making it perfect for the 1-camera family. On the downside, the maximum telephoto setting of 60mm will doubtless put some prospective buyers off, simply because it won't suit their photography, especially as there's no telephoto conversion lens available at launch. Image quality is better, but not that much better, than other Panasonic compacts, and the Sigma DP1 with its APS-C sized sensor still retains the crown of best image quality from a compact camera. Looking to the future, there are also dark clouds on the horizon for the LX3, with similar cameras from Nikon (the P6000) and probably Canon (the G10?) on the way, as well as a whole new kind of compact camera based on the recently announced Micro Four Thirds system (which ironically Panasonic themselves are heavily involved with). The LX3 is an excellent compact camera that we can easily Highly Recommended, but you may be wise to wait until after the Photokina show at the end of September before splashing out your credit-crunched income...

Page 1
Introduction / Ease of Use
Page 2
Image Quality
Page 3
Sample Images
Page 4
Design
Page 5
Specifications
Page 6
Conclusion

DIWAPhotographyBLOG is a member of the DIWA organisation. Our test results for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 have been submitted to DIWA for comparison with test results for different samples of the same camera model supplied by other DIWA member sites.

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