It may look like a relatively minor update over its predecessor, but Panasonic’s latest enthusiast-focused compact is still an excellent camera
Lumix LX100 II: Features
One thing that certainly is pretty special about the LX100 II is its sensor and lens combination, and how they work together. The sensor is the same Four Thirds MOS used in the GX9, which means that it’s larger than the 1-in type sensors found in Sony’s RX100-series cameras, if only half the area of the APS-C unit in Canon’s G1 XIII. But it’s used rather differently to normal, with the same true multi aspect-ratio setup as the LX100.
A prominent switch on the lens barrel selects between 4:3, 3:2 and 16:9 settings that give a progressively-expanding horizontal angle of view. There’s also a 1:1 setting, which is simply a crop of 4:3. The highest output resolution of 17MP is achieved in 4:3 mode, using a sensor area of 15.8 x 11.9mm; 3:2 gives 16MP, 16:9 is 15MP, while 1:1 produces 12.5MP files. The sensor does away with an optical low pass filter, which should see it render slightly sharper, more detailed images at the possible expense of image artefacts such as false colour moiré and maze-like aliasing.
Equally important is the lens, which offers a useful 24-75mm equivalent range along with a fast f/1.7-2.8 aperture and optical image stabilisation. Just like the LX100, the optical construction employs 11 elements in 8 groups, including 2 ED glass and 5 aspherical elements. It’s all the glass involved in building this lens that explains – and justifies – the LX100 II’s comparative bulk. At the front of the lens you’ll find a 43mm thread, which accepts both the supplied clip-on cap and screw-in filters. In addition, a cosmetic cover in front of the aperture ring conceals a bayonet mount for the optional LFAC1 auto lens cap.
The combination of large aperture and relatively large sensor means that the LX100 II offers a greater potential for selective focus and background blur than either of its main rivals: Sony has used a similarly-fast lens but a smaller sensor, while Canon has paired its larger sensor with a relatively small-aperture f/2.8-5.6 zoom. The minimum focus distance is just 3cm at wideangle, although this increases by a factor of 10 at the long end of the zoom. A switch on the barrel limits the AF to a minimum distance of 50cm for normal shooting, or selects manual focus.
Core photographic specifications are very solid. The sensitivity range covers ISO 200-25,600, and is further expandable with an ISO 100-equivalent setting, although this presents a greater risk of clipping highlight detail. The mechanical shutter provides speeds from 60sec to 1/4000sec, but engaging the electronic shutter extends this to 1/16,000sec, which allows shooting at large apertures in bright light without the help of a neutral density filter.
Continuous shooting is available at up to 11 frames per second with focus fixed, although this drops to 7fps if you’d like to follow the action between frames using live view, or to 5.5fps if you require autofocus adjustment between shots. Shooting Raw + Fine JPEGs I was able to rattle off 36 frames in a burst at top speed with focus fixed, and 38 frames at slower speed in AF-C mode. Given the relatively short zoom I can’t imagine many photographers finding this a serious limitation. Shoot JPEG alone and you can pretty much keep going until the battery or card runs out.
There are plenty of other features for photographers to get their teeth into, too. Creative options include Time Lapse, Stop Motion and Multi Exposure modes accessed from the shooting menu, along with a suite of image-processing filters for applying different looks to your images. The drive mode button gives access to an auto-stitching panoramic mode: this is nice to have, but would be far more useful were it not limited to shooting at the wideangle position of the zoom.
Meanwhile, JPEG shooters can engage the firm’s iDynamic setting to better balance bright and dark areas of the image, while highlight and shadow tone curve settings allow users further control over tonality. Lovers of black & white photography will appreciate the L.Monochrome and L.Monochrome D modes, which give really attractive images direct from the camera. Last but not least, in-camera raw development allows you to tweak or re-interpret your images after shooting.
Lumix LX100 II: 4K video and 4K photo modes
Panasonic was one of the pioneers of adding 4K video to stills cameras, and the LX100 II follows suit. It can record in 4K at 30fps and a bit-rate of 100 Mbps, or Full HD at up to 60fps. Sound is captured using built-in stereo microphones, but with no option to add an external unit. The catch is that while Full HD recording uses the full sensor width, 4K video imposes a 1.25x crop, so the lens becomes a 30-94mm equivalent zoom. It’s possible to preview this cropped view before you start recording by changing a menu setting, but then you’re no longer seeing an accurate representation of what you’ll capture when shooting stills.
The firm has also included its usual range of 4K-based photographic modes, including 4K Photo that effectively records 8MP stills at 30 frames per second, and 4K Post Focus which racks though a series of focus positions, notionally allowing you to refocus an image after shooting. Again, both are subject to the same 1.25x crop, but this is at least previewed before you begin. These can be interesting options to experiment with, but I’m not sure they’ll be of huge interest to the kind of serious photographer the LX100 II is trying to attract.
Lumix LX100 II: Connectivity
Panasonic has built in both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for smartphone connectivity, and the LX100 II offers almost everything we’d expect in this regard. The always-on Bluetooth LE connection enables a couple of neat tricks, including the ability to browse through your pictures on your phone and copy across your favourites, even when the camera is switched off and stowed away in a pocket or bag.
It’s also possible to use your phone as a simple wireless remote control via Bluetooth alone, or turn on Wi-Fi to gain live view along with remote control of a range of settings including drive mode, ISO and white balance. The catch is that you don’t get any remote control over exposure from your phone, as the LX100 II honours the positions of the shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation dials on the camera instead.