Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-LX100 combines a fast zoom lens and a four thirds sensor, in a stylish body with enthusiast-friendly controls and a built-in viewfinder. Andy Westlake finds out whether it lives up to its considerable promise
At the Lumix DMC-LX100’s core is a 16.84-million-pixel four thirds type sensor. This is larger than that used by almost any other camera with a built-in zoom lens, and should therefore offer better image quality, especially at high ISOs. The camera doesn’t actually use the entire sensor area at any given time, but instead has a multi-aspect ratio design that offers 16:9, 3:2 and 4:3 formats with the same diagonal angle of view (there’s also a 1:1 setting that’s a crop of 4:3). The effective resolution is 12.8 million pixels in 4:3 crop, and the standard sensitivity range runs from ISO 200-25,600. An ISO 100 setting is also available, but is more likely to clip highlight detail.
Continuous shooting speeds are particularly impressive, with the LX100 capable of 11 frames per second with focus and exposure fixed, or 6.5 frames per second with continuous autofocus and live view between frames. I found that these rates drop to if you shoot raw files as well as JPEGs, to around 8.7fps and 5fps respectively, but for a compact camera this is still pretty fast. Buffering is also impressive, allowing you to shoot 24 raw+JPEG frames in a burst, or to capture JPEG images indefinitely at 6.5fps.
The 24-75mm equivalent zoom range of the lens includes a very useful wideangle, but I often found that the long end was a little limiting. The remarkable f/1.7-2.8 maximum aperture, though, is a revelation – getting similar low-light capability from an interchangeable-lens camera requires either a bulky fast zoom or having to carry several primes. Combined with the LX100’s impressive optical image-stabilisation system, which I found allowed handholding at shutter speeds at least as low as 1/2 sec at wideangle, I was able to shoot handheld in low light, such as indoors or after sunset, without having to use high ISOs.
This fast lens is also good for selective focus work, allowing increased background blur when shooting portraits compared to most similar cameras. Large apertures can even be used in bright sunlight, thanks to Panasonic’s clever hybrid electronic and mechanical shutter system, which enables speeds up to 1/16,000sec. Like other lens-shutter type cameras, the LX100 is also near-silent when shooting.
For videography, the LX100 is one of a select group of cameras that offers high-resolution 4K recording. However, the camera lacks an external microphone socket for recording sound, which limits its appeal for serious video use. The LX100 does have a new ‘4K Photo’ mode that’s designed to simplify the extraction of 8-million-pixel stills from video footage, which can be a useful tool when shooting subjects that are moving unpredictably.
Panasonic has also added a range of photographic features, including panoramic shooting, high dynamic range, time-lapse movie creation and even a stop-motion animation feature. I found all these easy to use, and they worked very well. The LX100 doesn’t have a built-in flash, though. Instead, Panasonic includes a tiny unit with a guide number of 7m @ ISO 100 that slides onto the hotshoe.