Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3
Product Type: Compact Camera
Reviewed By: Paul Burrows
Magazine: Camera: November December 2009
Distributor: Panasonic (Australia) Pty Ltd
Who Sells What/Website: Panasonic
Panasonic shows the rest of the market how to make a real enthusiast's compact camera - the highly capable Lumix LX3.
You can’t help but admire how quickly Panasonic has got its head around designing compact still cameras. With very little history in 35mm to build on, Panasonic has still managed – in just a few short years – to come up with a range of models that’s certainly one of the best in the business. And in many areas, the Lumix range simply outshoots what’s on offer from the camera makers with a much more substantial photographic heritage.
Perhaps nowhere is this best exemplified than in the DMC-LX3 which is very much the thinking photographer’s digital compact camera. You’re paying close to entry-level D-SLR money for the LX3, but then you’re pretty much getting a D-SLR level of features and capabilities in return. The LX3 even looks right as far as the enthusiast shooter is concerned – classically styled (in fact, with a hint of the lovely Leica CL in its appearance) with comfortingly familiar design elements such as a hotshoe and a main mode dial with a full set of exposure control options. Now, you’re sitting up and taking notice, aren’t you? Full manual exposure control if you want it, but also aperture- or shutter-priority auto as well plus an AE lock and compensation which can be set over a range of +/-2.0 EV. Additionally, the exposure compensation setting can be translated into an auto bracketing sequence of three frames. So, if you are a D-SLR user looking for a compact camera to use for those times when the reflex is just too much trouble, the LX3 doesn’t demand that you make too many sacrifices in terms of your shooting capabilities… but it is pocket-sized.
Speed And Sharpness
And the lens is a beauty too. As with all the higher-end Lumix models, it has the Leica seal of approval, but it’s the focal range and speed that make it really appealing as it’s the equivalent of a 24-60mm with maximum apertures of f2.0-2.8. Now imagine that as a standard zoom for your D-SLR.
The wide-angle to short-telephoto range makes this lens ideal for numerous applications – landscapes, interiors, portraits, people and, of course, travel – while the f2.0-2.8 speed makes it possible to shoot in a wider variety of lighting situations. The LX3 actually has a built-in flash – it’s kept neatly tucked away in the top panel – but you won’t need to use it as much in low light situations… or switch to a higher ISO which means you can maintain the optimum image quality. And on the subject of image quality, the LX3’s zoom incorporates aspherical lens elements to correct for distortion and uses low-dispersion optical glass to minimise chromatic aberrations… all the types of correction you’d expect to find on a high-quality D-SLR lens.
Additionally – and again as you might expect to find on a D-SLR – the LX3’s autofocusing employs a total of 11 distance sensing points which gives very good subject coverage plus groups of points can be manually selected. There’s even a tracking function which switches detection points automatically when the subject moves. Alternatively, you can switch to a single focusing point and move it around virtually anywhere in the frame to focus on objects positioned near the edges or corners. And if you’re a real control freak then you’ll love the manual focusing mode which displays an enlarged section of the image in the monitor screen to assist with precise fine-tuning. A distance scale with a setting indicator is also displayed.
Of course, while the LX3 provides plenty of scope for manual control it also boasts some pretty sophisticated automation so point-and-shoot doesn’t mean point-and-miss. Select the ‘Intelligent Auto Mode’ (iA) and the camera can do some pretty smart things to make sure you get as good a result as if you were making all the decisions yourself… probably better. Intelligent Auto can select the most appropriate scene mode – for portraits, landscapes, close-ups and night photography – with the option of face detection which optimises both the focusing and exposure for any faces found in the scene. Red-eye correction is applied when the flash is used or backlight compensation if it’s needed when you’re shooting without flash. And to deal with contrasty situations in general, ‘Intelligent Exposure’ balances overall brightness levels with the holding of detail in the highlights and shadows. I.Exposure is also available in the program mode when you can adjust its effect via three settings – low, standard and high.
In between the iA mode and doing things yourself is an impressive set of 24 scene programs which modify the camera’s settings to suit the requirements of shooting everything from sunsets and snow scenes to fireworks, food and aerials. Just for fun there’s a pinhole mode – which deliberately adds vignetting – and an effect called ‘sand blast’ that creates a grainy look. It’s also possible to create multiple exposures – up to three images can be combined – with automatic exposure adjustment of each to ensure the right balance.
A set of ‘Film Modes’ – six for colour and three of B&W capture – enable the look of an image to be varied according to contrast, sharpness and noise reduction levels plus, in the colour modes, the saturation level. Each of these parameters can be fine-tuned or you can simply create two of your own Film Modes – one each for colour and B&W – plus there’s a handy function called ‘Multi Film’ which allows you to select three presets and the an image is then automatically recorded in each of them. This is particularly useful if you want to experiment, for example, with a picture in both B&W and colour or with different levels of colour saturation.
On the subject of colour reproduction, the LX3 provides the sort of white balance control options you’d also expect to find on a D-SLR, including setting the colour temperature manually across a range of 2500 to 10,000 degrees Kelvin. And a scale is provided so you can see exactly how these settings relate to the different types of lighting. You can store two custom white balance measurements and fine-tune any of the presets in both the amber-to-blue and green-to-magenta ranges.
Of course, all these settings and adjustments are previewed in the LX3’s monitor screen which has a resolution of 460,000 pixels to give nicely crisp images and displays. It can be set to provide automatic brightness adjustment according to prevailing light levels.
The viewing image can be configured in a variety of ways, including with a real-time histogram, a choice of grid patterns and selected capture-related info. The menu design looks very similar to those of many D-SLRs, but offers the convenience of continuous scrolling through each section. A ‘Quick Menu’ function provides direct access to a variety of settings including Film Modes, metering methods, ISOs, white balance presets, AF modes and even the ‘Intelligent Exposure processing’. Navigation is via joystick-type control which is the LX3’s equivalent of input dials. Aside from the ‘Q.Menu’ operations, the joystick is used for the manual exposure settings (i.e. apertures and/or shutter speeds) and also for engaging exposure compensation.
By now you won’t be surprised to learn that the LX3’s image replay functions are also numerous. Slide shows can be created with music effects or transition effects and you can vary the image display duration. You can add titles or audio grabs and, perhaps more interestingly, apply a number of editing functions, including trimming, levelling, changing the aspect ratio or resizing. Images can be tagged as ‘favourites’ and are then automatically grouped together for replay or as a slide show. In The Garden
The LX3’s 10.1 megapixels sensor enables JPEG images to be captured at a maximum size of 3648x2736 pixels, but there’s also a choice of five smaller image settings in the standard 4:3 aspect ratio. The aspect ratio be switched to either 3:2 or 16:9, while movie clips can be recorded at either 16:9 or 4:3 (and up to a resolution of 1280x720 pixels). There’s a modest 50 MB of onboard memory, but being compatible with SD/SDHC memory cards the LX3 can be loaded up with a massive 32 GB of storage capacity if necessary. Continuous shooting is possible up to a maximum of 2.5 frames per second so there really isn’t much, in terms of subject matter, this pocket-sized Lumix can’t handle.
With my garden awakening in a welcome burst of spring colour I decided to put the LX3 through it paces with the challenges of accurately reproducing nature’s palette. As it happens, there’s a Film Mode called ‘Natural’, but it doesn’t take long before you want to start experimenting with the other settings… and seeing just what this little camera is capable of. What’s immediately apparent is just how quickly it enables you to navigate around its many features. The menus are very logical, but it’s the ‘Q.Menu’ function that contributes to a high level of efficiency when it comes to changing settings in the middle of a shoot. And in bright, sunny conditions, the LCD monitor screen still remained quite legible and it was quite easy to see what was happening. Working with close-ups the ability to manually adjust the apertures in order to control depth-of-field was a godsend, particular where cluttered backgrounds were likely to be problematic. Of course, being in charge of shutter speeds has benefits too.
The overall accuracy of the colour reproduction is impressive (just check out the whiteness of those snow drops), but the ‘Dynamic B&W’ Film Mode also delivered wonderfully contrasty and crisp results which you’d swear were taken with a D-SLR with a bigger sensor. The LX3 handled both the subtle shades and the more saturated colours with equal aplomb, and the tonal gradations are wonderfully smooth. The level of detailing is also extremely good – another area where Mother Nature can often challenge a digital camera – so don’t let anybody tell you that ten megapixels isn’t enough resolution.
The Lumix LX3 very much epitomises what’s now possible in digital compact camera design. It’s comfortably pocket-sized but packed with enough features and functionality to rival a D-SLR. The high-speed, wide-angle zoom and high level of manual controllability combined with advanced automation makes this a highly capable little camera. Few other compact cameras offer quite so much potential for creative photography. Better still, it backs up all this promise by delivering superb quality images so you will be rewarded for effort.
Type: Fully automatic, fixed lens digital compact camera.
Lens: Leica/Lumix DC Vario-Summicron 5.1-12.8mm f2.0-2.8 (equivalent to 24-60mm). 4.0x digital zoom.
Focusing Range: 50 cm to infinity; macro focusing down to 5.0 cm.
Shutter Speeds: 8-1/2000 second. Metering: Multi-zone.
Exposure Control: Program, shutter- and aperture-priority AE, manual plus 24 subject/scene modes. Up to +/-2.0 EV compensation, an AE lock and auto bracketing.
Sensitivity: ISO 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600 (up to ISO 6400 in high-sensitivity mode).
Sensor: 10.5 mm CCD, 11.3 million pixels (10.1 MP effective).
Image Size: 4:3 aspect ratio – 3648x2736, 3072x2304, 2560x1920, 2048x1536, 1600x1200 and 640x480 pixels. 3:2 aspect ratio – 3648x2432, 3072x2048, 2560x1712 and 2048x1360 pixels. 16:9 aspect ratio – 3648x2056, 3072x1728, 2560x14400 and 1920x1080 pixels.
Continuous Shooting: Up to 2.5 fps for four frames (JPEG/large/fine mode). Unlimited burst length when shooting at 2.0 fps. Movie clips captured at 1280x720 pixels at 30 fps and 16:9 aspect ratio in QuickTime Motion JPEG and also 848x480 pixels. 4:3 aspect ratio = 640x480 and 320x240 pixels at 30 fps.
Formats: JPEG, Motion JPEG. PictBridge and DPOF compatible.
Flash: Built-in with auto, red-eye reduction, fill-in and slow sync modes. Flash range = 60 cm to 6.0 metres (Auto ISO). Viewfinder: 7.62 cm LCD monitor (460,000 pixels). Storage: SD/SDHC memory cards plus 50 MB of internal memory.
Interface: USB 2.0/AV composite output and component video output..
Power: Rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack.
Dimensions (WxHxD): 108.7x59.5x27.1 mm.
Weight: 227.4 grams (without battery or memory card). Price: $829.
Distributor: Panasonic Australia Pty Ltd, telephone 132 600 or visit www.panasonic.com.au