Panasonic shows the rest of the market how to make a real enthusiast's compact camera - the highly capable Lumix LX3.

Lumix GH1 Main mode dial shows the scope of the LX3's control options from fully manual to Panasonic's sophisticated 'Intelligent Auto'
Lumix Built In Flash Built-in flash is fully concealed when not in use and supplemented by a hotshoe so a dedicated accessory flash unit can be fitted.

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.

Lumix Promo


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.