Top-end point-and-shoot cameras look tempting, especially if you really want manual DSLR settings in your pocket. At the same time, you will also get a significant drawback: it is very difficult to fit a normal matrix into a small camera, so the image quality, as a rule, suffers. But Panasonic has some great news: the new Panasonic LX100 takes the best of both worlds, putting the power of a Micro 4/3 sensor in a jacket pocket. Yes, yes, this is the same matrix that is used in Panasonic and Olympus mirrorless cameras. Has Panasonic succeeded in accomplishing such an ambitious task?
Design and body
As soon as you pick up the LX100, you immediately pay attention to the assembly – the camera is really strong. The design contains elements in retro style, although the novelty is still far from Fujifilm X100T in this parameter.
The weight of the camera is 393 grams, so there is no feeling of a cheap toy here, you are holding an expensive high-quality thing. Dimensions new items are 114.8 x 66.2 x 55.0 mm. There is a slightly domed grip on the body, which, although not comparable to some competitors, still adds balance when using the camera with one hand. In addition, there is a thumb ledge on the back side, so there are no complaints about ease of use, although owners of large hands may be dissatisfied.
Most of the front panel of the LX100 is occupied by an integrated lens that protrudes a few centimeters from the body. It is much larger than the lenses of other top cameras, which is quite justified given the high aperture value (f / 1.7 at the wide end) and the size of the sensor, which he has to cover. The lens wraps around the aperture ring with a crisp click that fires every 1/3 stop. Next comes the zoom / focus ring in manual mode, the picture format switch and the focus mode switch lever.
The camera is designed for advanced users, and therefore on its body there are many physical controls, the operation of which is very simple and convenient.
On the top edge of the Panasonic LX100 are located (from left to right): a “hot shoe”, right next to it a stereo microphone, shutter speed and exposure compensation selectors, as well as shutter buttons with a zoom lever, turning on the intelligent auto mode and activating color filters.
On the bottom are a tripod connector and a door behind which is hidden a slot for memory cards and batteries. The right side is equipped with an eyelet for a strap and another door, this time covering microHDMI and microUSB. The left one is a zone for connecting devices via NFC and a second eyelet for a strap.
The rear panel is equipped with an LCD display, an electronic viewfinder with a diopter correction wheel, a dedicated video recording button, an autofocus lock button, three function keys, and a standard scattering of control buttons.
The viewfinder produces a very high-quality image, its diagonal is 0.39 inches, and the resolution is 2764 thousand dots, that is, even more than in the Panasonic FZ1000 or GH4. The zoom factor is 1.39x/0.7x, the delay is almost imperceptible, the frame coverage is 100%.
The LCD display has a diagonal of 3 inches and a resolution of 920 thousand dots. It is bright enough to view the image on a sunny day, but there are clearly not enough stars from the sky. The display is non-touch and non-rotatable. If the former is generally not surprising, since advanced cameras, like the Sony Alpha 7 or Sony Alpha A6000, often do not equip touch displays, then the lack of a swivel design is depressing.
The Panasonic LX100 has a 16.84-megapixel CMOS sensor with an effective resolution of 12.8 megapixels. As mentioned earlier, the matrix format is Micro 4/3. The matrix is really large against the background of competitive soap dishes, but you should not overestimate it, it is not for nothing that it is called “micro”. Aperture is adjustable within ISO 200-25600 (100-25600 in extended mode). There is optical image stabilization.
There is no built-in flash, but an external flash is included, which is connected via a hot shoe. It provides a guide number of 7 at ISO 100. The built-in lens provides a maximum aperture ranging from f/1.7 at wide end to f/2.8 at long end. It is capable of changing the focal length within 10.9-34mm (full-frame equivalent is 24-75mm). The optical design consists of 11 elements in 8 groups, including 5 aspherical elements and 2 extra-low dispersion elements.
When shooting images, the LX100 performs admirably. While white balance and color accuracy lag behind rivals like the Sony RX100 MK3, it delivers very low noise at high ISOs and a wide dynamic range (about 12 EV). Shooting at ISO 1600 delivers more than print-worthy results. Pictures taken at ISO 3200 are also quite good, but ISO 6400 is already difficult for the camera, so you should not raise the ISO further.
The autofocus system is based on contrast technology with 49 points. Autofocus is extremely accurate and fast even when shooting through a window in a moving vehicle. Face recognition accurately tracks faces. The camera focuses correctly in most shooting scenarios.
The maximum shooting speed in full resolution is about 11 frames per second with a mechanical shutter, or up to 40 frames with an electronic one. A large buffer allows you to take about 25 shots before the speed starts to slow down.
Video recording is one of the strengths of the LX100. The camera can record 4K (3840 x 2160 pixels) videos at up to 30 frames per second. While other companies are only planning to bring 4K recording to their compacts, Panasonic is up and running. Video quality is about on par with Panasonic’s GH4 video-oriented mirrorless camera, which I talked about just a few months ago. According to this parameter, the LX100 easily outperforms all competitors in its price range and only the Panasonic FZ1000 can offer something better. And this despite the fact that this compact as a whole is not positioned as a full-fledged video camera.
There is also the ability to record 1080p (1920 x 1080 pixels) video at up to 60 frames per second, so that all movements in the frame will be smoother. Image sharpness is very high, although the clips are noisy in poor lighting conditions. The combination of lens and sensor even allows for a shallow depth of field, making it possible to record clips at the level of much more expensive camcorders.
However, the LX100’s video capabilities also have their drawbacks: autofocus jumps back and forth, the aperture ring doesn’t click, and the camera itself lacks a built-in mic or headphone jack.
The Panasonic LX100 is an excellent and very robust camera with high image quality. It comes with physical controls and an electronic viewfinder that is a real pleasure to use. The camera should be positioned solely as a tool for advanced users, so fans of auto mode should definitely not invest in it. But professionals may well think of the LX100 as a camera for filming “light”, because of the alternatives they have only a few compact mirrorless cameras.