With its compact, elegant design and enthusiast-friendly feature set, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 is certainly a viable choice of camera when you need something more discreet than a digital SLR. The replacement for the LX2, the LX3 has an almost identical body design, same-to-better performance and improved photo quality. In our opinion, however, it comes up short when compared with its main competitor, the Canon PowerShot G10.
The LX3 is available now for around £320.
At 258g, with dimensions of 109mm by 51mm by 63mm (with the lens retracted), the relatively compact LX3 fits comfortably in a jacket pocket.
There's a slightly pronounced grip up front and a small, bumpy thumb rest on the back, but neither seems quite enough. We frequently felt as if the camera was going to slip out of our hand. A firmer grip required covering some of the buttons with our thumb.
The LX3 manages its slim design because it lacks an optical viewfinder. Instead, Panasonic offers an external model, the DMW-VF1, which is quite pricey.
On top of the camera sits a hot shoe -- a welcome addition, and something that the LX2 lacked -- power switch, pop-up flash, focus point selector button, zoom switch and mode dial.
In addition to the program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority, manual, movie-capture and scene modes that are available with the LX2, plus the update from auto to Panasonic's intelligent auto mode, the dial includes two slots for custom settings. Although there are only two slots, the camera can store four groups of settings -- one set gets slotted in C1, while C2 stores three. This is an interesting approach that leaves one preset instantly accessible, while switching among the others requires a trip into the menus.
You can manually toggle aspect ratios via a switch atop the lens, while the switch for the autofocus, AF-macro and manual-focus modes lives on the left side of the lens. Unfortunately, the manual switch for the aspect ratio makes choosing the high-definition movie-capture mode (up to 1,280x720-pixel resolution at 30 frames per second) cumbersome -- when the switch is set to 4:3, HD movies aren't an option. And, since the non-4:3 aspect modes are all crops below full resolution, we really don't suggest using them unless you know you'll never need the parts of the photo that you're throwing away.
The rest of the controls sit adjacent to the bright, saturated, wide-aspect 76mm (3-inch) LCD on the camera's back. Although small, the buttons, switches and joystick are easy to feel and manipulate, unless you have really big fingers. Panasonic has added an AF/auto-exposure lock button, but otherwise the layout, although not the feel, is identical to the LX2's.
In addition, the LX3 has a capture/playback switch, quick-menu button/joystick, display and burst-shooting buttons. We really like the joystick but, as a button, it's not responsive enough -- it requires multiple presses to register and pull up the menu.
The four-button navigation pad that surrounds the menu button has dedicated buttons for the self-timer, flash and exposure compensation. The fourth button is a user-programmable function button, which you can set to quick review, film mode, ISO sensitivity, white balance, metering, AF mode or intelligent exposure.
Film mode provides a variety of preset combinations of contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise-reduction settings, and you can save two custom sets. There's also a multi-film mode, which saves three variations of a single photo with the three user-selected film settings.
Some other notable capabilities of the LX3 include 'pre AF', which locks focus when it senses the camera's at its steadiest, and selectable grouped AF points. The camera offers all the essentials, including optical image stabilisation, as well.
We don't understand why products in this class remain so slow. The LX3 also has fewer pixels to process than the G10, so we expected it to be faster than it is.
The LX3 wakes up and shoots in just under 2 seconds, which is reasonable. But 0.6 seconds to focus and shoot under optimal conditions is less so, and 1.1 seconds for low-contrast scenes is slightly too long for the price. Its 1.9 seconds shot-to-shot performance is better than the G10's, but most snapshot cameras do better than both. With flash, it slows to about 2.5 seconds between shots, which is typical, if not terrific. For burst shooting it manages about 1.9fps.
One of the biggest changes between the LX2 and the LX3 is the lens, which goes from a slowish 4x 28-112mm-equivalent to a faster and wider, but shorter, 2.5x f2.0-2.8 24-60mm-equivalent. Whether you want to sacrifice the flexibility of the longer lens for the brighter and sharper, but shorter, one depends on your shooting style.
One of our main complaints with the LX2 was the high noise level of its 10-megapixel sensor. According to Panasonic, the new sensor has larger photodiodes, which boost sensitivity by almost 40 per cent -- maximum ISO jumps a stop to ISO 3,200, from ISO 1,600 -- and the sensor's saturation has increased by 35 per cent. In conjunction with moving to the latest version of Panasonic's Venus Engine imaging processor, which the company claims provides better noise reduction, Panasonic claims we should see better photo quality from the LX3. And we do. In general, its photos are sharp and saturated. There are some artefacts in our indoor test shots that appear in the JPEG but not raw versions of the photos, which could be by-products of the noise-reduction algorithms.
While the camera supports up to ISO 3,200, you really don't want to shoot at anything beyond ISO 800. For best results, stick to ISO 400 and below. The camera generally underexposes, which you can compensate for, and, while the colour is good, outdoor white balance tends to be overly cool. Movie quality is okay. Optical zoom doesn't function in movie-capture mode, and -- like many others -- the camera could use a wind filter for the microphone.
(Smaller bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
While the Canon PowerShot G10 seems clunky in comparison to the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 and the lens isn't as good, we think it delivers better photo quality overall and the lens provides a more flexible range. Like its predecessor the LX2, however, the LX3 is a solid camera for the peripatetic photo enthusiast, once you become accustomed to its quirks.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet