DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC1
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: May 18, 2004
Last Updated: May 18, 2004

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If a camera could be deemed worthy on looks alone, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC1 gets a perfect score from this review. Its body reminds you of the great Leica film cameras of old. The old design has been brought into the digital age, and old favorites like manual focus, zoom, and aperture rings have come along for the ride. You also get an F2.0-2.4, 3.2X Leica zoom lens, a 5 Megapixel CCD, manual controls, a hot shoe, and more.

All of this comes at a price -- $1599 -- making the LC1 a bit of a "boutique camera". It gets worse, though. There's a Leica equivalent (reviewed at DP Review) that costs even more -- a whopping $1799!

Considering that you can buy a 5MP camera with similar features for about 1/3 the price of the LC1, it had better be darn good to be worth the extra cash. Is it? Find out in our review!

What's in the Box?

The DMC-LC1 has an excellent bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 5.0 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-LC1 camera
  • 16MB Secure Digital card
  • CGA-S602A li-ion battery
  • AC adapter / battery charger
  • Lens hood
  • Hood cap
  • Lens cap
  • MC protector
  • Remote shutter release
  • Neck strap
  • USB cable
  • DC cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring ArcSoft Camera Suite and USB drivers
  • 139 page manual (printed)

An otherwise super-excellent bundle is ruined a bit by Panasonic's inclusion of a 16MB SD card with the camera. This card won't hold many 5 Megapixel photos, so consider a larger card a must-buy. I'd recommend 256MB as a good place to start. The camera can use both SD and MMC memory cards, though the former is recommended for capacity and performance reasons.

The LC1 uses a proprietary lithium-ion battery to provide power. The included CGA-S602A battery has a very impressive 10 Wh of energy, which translates to 180 minutes of photo-taking with the LCD (about 360 photos) or 340 minutes of image playback. Using the electronic viewfinder will lengthen the battery life by about 20%.

Downsides of a proprietary battery include the cost ($40 a pop), and the fact that you can't just pop in a set of AAs when you're low on juice. I recommend buying a spare battery -- you never know when you'll need it.

When it's time to recharge, just put the battery in the included external charger, and wait 110 minutes. This charger uses a power cable, rather than plugging directly into the wall.

You can also use the charger as an AC adapter to power your camera without using batteries -- something that usually costs extra on most cameras.

The DMC-LC1 includes a rather unusual lens cap that didn't seem to fit very well. It also lacks a retaining strap, which I recommend buying unless you want to lose it.

As you can see, this camera is almost the size of a brick.

The LC1 takes the cake for most bundled accessories. In the photo above you can see three pretty useful toys they throw in the box. The first is an MC protector, a filter that you screw onto the lens. This protects your lens from being scratched (it does not affect photos). Toy number two is a lens hood, which is useful when you're shooting outdoors. The final accessory is a very cool one that most cameras don't even offer as an option, and that's a remote shutter release cable. Just plug it in, and you can take pictures of things like fireworks or wildlife without setting a finger on the camera.


Optional wide-angle lens (image courtesy of Panasonic)

There are more accessories available for the LC1, but this time you'll have to pay for them. The first accessory of note is the DMW-LW69 0.82X wide-angle conversion lens. This will bring the wide end of your LC1 down to a very nice 23 mm -- great for indoor shooting. There's also a close-up lens available (model# DMW-LC69), but I don't have any more details. Fans of filters will also appreciate the FMW-LND69 neutral density filter. Since the camera has 69 mm threads, you can add any filter you'd like.

If the built-in flash just doesn't do it for you, the consider an external flash. Panasonic, of course, is more than happy to sell you one -- theirs is the DMW-FL28 ($150). Much to my surprise, they also endorse other flashes, even saying that they integrate with the LC1. These are the Metz 54MZ-3, 44MZ-2, and 70MZ-5, as well as the Leica SF-20 and SF-24D. More on this subject later.

Panasonic includes a whole bunch of ArcSoft software with the LC1. This includes PhotoImpression (for editing photos), PhotoBase (for organizing photos), PanoramaMaker (for creating panoramic images), and PhotoPrinter (for printing photos). All of these programs are Mac OS X native -- and Windows compatible too, of course. In addition to the ArcSoft software, USB drivers and an SD Viewer (both Windows-only) are also included.

You know the manual that came with your VCR? You know, the VCR that still blinks "12:00" all day? The manual included with the camera is just like that. It's complete, but poorly laid out, with lots of fine print.

Look and Feel

The LC1 is the definition of a solid camera. It looks and feels like a brick. But that's what makes it so nice -- it just feels like a real camera, and not the plastic toys that I'm used to reviewing. With a metal frame and rubberized grip, I'm confident that the LC1 can take whatever you throw at it. The important controls are easy to reach (and you'll find more of them than you're used to), and the camera is easy to hold (though I must confess, a larger right hand grip would be nice).

It's hard to find cameras to compare the LC1 against, and I've chosen the Nikon Coolpix 5400 and Olympus C-5060WZ due to their wide-angle lenses. You should also throw the Canon G5 into the pile, but do note that its focal range starts at 35 mm. Here's how the LC1 compares to those in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot G5 4.8 x 2.9 x 2.8 in. 38.9 cu in. 410 g
Nikon Coolpix 5400 4.3 x 2.9 x 2.7 in. 33.7 cu in. 320 g
Olympus C-5060WZ 4.6 x 3.4 x 2.6 in. 40.7 cu in. 430 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC1 5.4 x 3.2 x 4.0 in. 69.1 cu in. 627 g

Now you see where that "brick" comment came from. This isn't the most comfortable camera to carry around your neck all day. But it's so fun to use that I'll let it slide.

With all the boring stuff out of the way, we can begin our tour of the LC1.

The DMC-LC1 has a beautiful Leica DC Vario-Summicron lens, with the rather unusual zoom power of 3.2X. The focal range is 7 - 22.5 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 90 mm. The maximum aperture is F2.0 - F2.4, which is very fast. The lens is threaded for 69 mm accessories, which I mentioned in the previous section.

To the upper-right of the lens you'll find the external AF sensor. This helps speed up focusing in good lighting. I'm not so sure that it helps in low light, however. An AF-assist lamp does help in this area, but the LC1 does not have one.

To the upper-left of the lens you'll find the white balance sensor and self-timer lamp.

The LC1 has a really cool pop-up flash of a type that I have not seen before on a digital camera. Let's take a closer look:

As you can see from the above pictures, it's actually a two-position flash. The first position points upward at a 65° angle, giving the LC1 bounce-flash capability. I don't think I've seen a camera that can do this before. The second position is your standard "point-at-the-subject" mode.

The flash has a working range of 0.5 - 4.8 m at wide-angle, and 0.5 - 4.0 m at telephoto. You can attach an external flash to this camera, and I'll explain how in a second.

You'll find buttons, dials, and a whole lot more on the back of the LC1.

The biggest thing here is the 2.5" LCD display. Unlike some other big LCDs, this one has a high resolution to match its large size, with 210,000 pixels. The screen is bright, sharp, and motion is fluid. The screen brightness is adjustable in the setup menu.

To the upper-left of the LCD is the electronic viewfinder, or EVF. This is basically a small LCD that you view as if it were a real optical viewfinder. Unfortunately, it's not -- even the best EVF isn't as sharp as the real thing. The one here is pretty good though, with 235,000 pixels, and it's just as nice as the main LCD. A diopter correction knob on the side of the camera focuses the image on the EVF. One area in which neither the LCD or EVF are so hot is in low light -- you just can't see anything. Some cameras amplify the image on the screen in such situations, but the LC1 is not one of those.

To the right of the EVF are four buttons, which have the following functions:

  • Flash open
  • EVF/LCD - switches between the two
  • Display - toggles what is shown on EVF/LCD
  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments) + auto bracketing (see below) + flash exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)

The auto bracketing feature will take 3 or 5 shots in a row, each with a different exposure value. You can choose from exposure intervals of ±1/3EV, ±2/3EV, or ±1EV. Bracketing is a good way to ensure that your photos are properly exposed, though it takes up a lot of space on your memory card.

To the right of the LCD are three buttons, plus the four-way controller (with a dial around it). The three buttons are for function, menu, and delete photo.


Function menu

The function button opens up a customizable menu, which can hold your favorite menu items. So if you change certain settings frequently, here's an easier way to get to them. Above you can see the items that are there by default.

The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, turning on the self-timer, and entering playback mode quickly. The command dial around it is used for choosing manual settings, the "zoom and scroll" feature, and more.

The final item on the back of the camera is the power switch, which is located at the top-right.

The top of the LC1 is where you'll see its true beauty. Draw your attention to the three rings around the lens: zoom, focus, and aperture. Only the zoom ring is mechanical -- the others electronically tell the camera what to do.

The zoom ring has markings in 35mm terms -- from 28 to 90 mm. Since you control the zoom manually, you control the speed of the zooming. You can quickly move from one end to the other, or be very precise. All-in-all, this is a well-designed zoom ring that feels very natural.


Manual focus

The focus ring is what you'll use to manually adjust the focus, or to enter macro mode. As you turn the wheel, the center of the frame is enlarged on the LCD or EVF, so you can make sure your subject is sharp. You can choose (in the setup menu) to enlarge the whole frame, as well. More on macro mode later in the review.

The aperture ring lets you choose from a range of F2.0 - F11, or just let the camera decide.

At the lower-left of the above picture is the LC1's hot shoe. I already mentioned some of the flashes that are compatible back in the first section of this review. You can also use other third party flashes, but expect to set them manually.

On the opposite side is yet another way to control the camera's exposure. This time it's a shutter speed dial. As with the aperture ring, you can either manually select a shutter speed, or just let the camera decide. Choose from 8 - 1/2000 sec. A program shift mode is available when the camera is in Program mode (both the shutter and aperture dials are set to "A"). This lets you scroll through sets of shutter speed / aperture combinations, which comes in handy when you want more depth-of-field, or a faster shutter speed to stop action.

Under the shutter speed dial is a switch that moves between single-shot, continuous shooting, and playback modes. In continuous shooting mode, you can take up to 3 frames at 2.7 frames/second at the highest quality setting (you can take more photos at lower resolutions). A slower 1 frame/second burst mode is also available.

Just above-right from all that is the shutter release button, which has a dial beneath it as well. This one changes the metering mode, with multiple, center-weighted, and spot metering as options.

The final item up here is the flash button, which moves between the following: auto, auto w/redeye reduction, forced on, forced on w/redeye reduction, slow sync, and slow sync w/redeye reduction.

On this side of the LC1, you can get another look at those fabulous rings around the lens! The two-stage flash can also be seen.

Otherwise, the only things worth mentioning here are the I/O ports, which are kept behind a sturdy door. The ports include:

  • USB 2.0 high speed (don't worry, it'll work fine on your old computer too)
  • A/V out + remote control
  • DC-in (for included AC adapter)

On the other side of the camera you'll find the SD/MMC card slot, which is also under a strong door.

You can also see the included 16MB SD card, which is inexcusably small for a camera with a price this big.

Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the camera. Here you'll find a metal tripod mount (inline with the lens) and the battery compartment. The battery compartment has a reinforced door as well (with a lock) -- Panasonic hasn't cheaped out here.

The included CGR-S602 battery is shown at right.

Using the Panasonic DMC-LC1

Record Mode

With no lens to extend, it's not surprising that the DMC-LC1 starts up in just 1.3 seconds.


Record mode now features a histogram

Autofocus speeds were quite average, with a delay of around 0.6 seconds before focus is locked in most situations. If the camera has to hunt a bit, expect waits of a second or longer. The camera did an okay job of focusing in low light, but it could've been a lot better with the addition of an AF-assist lamp. The main problem I had in low light was seeing the subject on the LCD and EVF!

Shutter lag was very low, even at slower shutter speeds where it can be a problem.

Shot-to-shot speed is excellent, with a one second delay between shots (assuming the post-shot review feature is off). The one exception to this is if you're shooting in RAW mode. There you'll have a nearly six second period where the camera is locked up -- and that's with my speedy "Extreme" SD card too.

You cannot delete a shot as it's being recorded to the memory card, but you can enter review mode (using the four-way controller) to do so.

Now, here's a look at the image size/quality choices on the LC1:

Resolution Quality # Images on 16MB card
(included)
2560 x 1920 RAW 1
Superfine 3
Fine 5
Standard 11
2048 x 1536 Superfine 4
Fine 9
Standard 18
1920 x 1080
(HDTV)
Superfine 6
Fine 13
Standard 26
1600 x 1200 Superfine 7
Fine 14
Standard 29
1280 x 960 Superfine 11
Fine 22
Standard 43
640 x 480 Superfine 37
Fine 69
Standard 129

The LC1 has a RAW image mode -- problem is, Panasonic doesn't give you any way to process it into a more usable format! They recommend using Photoshop CS, which is what I used. The main benefit of the RAW format is that you can adjust various properties of an image that you just can't do with regular JPEGs. These properties include white balance, exposure, sharpness, and more. The downside is that they take up 3 times as much memory as the highest quality JPEG, and that you must post-process every image to get them into JPEG or TIFF format.

That HDTV option is an interesting one -- it's actually shoved to the back of the list in the menus. You'll essentially get a "widescreen" photo in this mode -- perfect for display on a 16:9 TV!

Files are named Pxxxyyyy.JPG, where x = 100 - 999 and y = 0001 - 9999. The numbering is maintained as you erase and swap memory cards.

Let's move on to menus now.

While not the most attractive camera menu ever, the LC1's menus are easy to navigate. Here are the options found in the record menu:

  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, halogen, flash, monochrome, white set) - the last one there is manual WB; shoot a white or gray card for perfect color in any lighting; why monochrome is here is beyond me; and where's the usual fluorescent option?
  • WB adjust (-5 to +5, increments of 1) - lets you fine-tune the white balance in the red or blue redirection
  • Picture size (see chart)
  • Quality (see chart)
  • Spot AF (on/off) - focus on the center of the frame
  • ISO sensitivity (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
  • Burst rate (Low, high) - low shoots at 1 fps, high at 2.7 fps
  • Audio recording (on/off) - record a 5 second voice clip with each photo
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - using the 3X digital zoom will reduce photo quality
  • Flash sync (1st-curtain, 2nd-curtain) - when the flash fires in slow synchro mode
  • Picture adjustment
    • Contrast (High, standard, low)
    • Sharpness (High, standard, low)
    • Saturation (High, standard, low)
  • Motion image - movie mode, described later
  • Flip animation - see below

The "flip animation" feature is rarely seen, except on some Sony cameras. It allows you to make stop-motion animation using your camera. First, you take up to 100 pictures, moving your subject a little bit each time. When you're ready to put them together, you use the "create motion image" option, choose a frame rate (5 or 10 frames/sec), and away you go. The stills are then assembled into a 320 x 240 QuickTime movie.

There is also a setup menu on the LC1, which is another "tab" in the record and playback menus. The setup options are:

  • Monitor/EVF brightness (-3 to +3) - adjusts the brightness on both screens
  • Auto review (Off, 1, 3 sec, zoom) - see below
  • Beep
    • Beep (Off, low, high)
    • Shutter sound (1, 2, 3)
  • Power save (Off, 2, 5, 10 min)
  • MF assist (Off, MF1, MF2) - MF1 enlarges just the center of the frame; MF2 enlarges the whole frame
  • Custom set - choose the items for the function shortcut menu
  • File number reset (on/off)
  • Clock set
  • Reset settings
  • USB mode (Mass Storage, PTP) - the latter is used for PictBridge
  • Language (English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese)
  • Play on LCD (on/off) - always use the LCD in playback or review mode
  • Volume (0-7)
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL)

The "zoom" option for auto review is a little bizarre. After you take a picture, it's shown normally on the LCD for about a second. But then it automatically enlarges by a power of four, and that is shown for another second. I suppose this is a way to check the focus.

Well enough about menus, let's do photo tests now.

The LC1 produced a very "smooth" reproduction of our famous macro subject. Colors are accurate, though there's not a lot of detail captured.

The camera isn't going to win any awards for its macro performance. The closest you can get to your subject is 30 cm from the end of the lens, which pales in comparison to most other cameras. Buying the close-up lens will bring this number down to 16 cm, which still is not great.

The LC1 took a very nice, sharp picture of the SF skyline. It's a tad on the noisy side, but I can live with that. Purple fringing levels are fairly low.

Thanks to the manual shutter speed control, you can take long exposures just like this. A bulb mode would've been a nice extra, especially since the camera includes a remote shutter release cable.

To give you an idea about the relationship between ISO sensitivity and noise, here's the same night shot taken at each of the available ISO values:


ISO 100
View Full Size Image

ISO 200
View Full Size Image

ISO 400
View Full Size Image

ISO 400 really isn't that bad, though it looks a bit like a watercolor painting.


Normal


Bounce flash

Oh, the joys of the bounce flash. The first shot was taken with the flash in the normal, forward-facing position. As you can see, there's a lot of redeye. But, since the flash can also be aimed upward, I took another shot, and voila -- no redeye. So this is a good way to get rid of that annoyance on the LC1. Another option is to use an external flash

The distortion test shows very mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the lens, and no vignetting (dark corners).

Overall, the image quality on the DMC-LC1 was very good, though on the noisy side. I think the noise comes from the camera's sharpening algorithm, which produces tack sharp images at the expense of some grain in the photos. I saw a few "jaggies" on edges, as well. The camera did a nice job with both color accuracy and exposure, as well. Purple fringing was not an issue.

As always, don't just take my word for it -- please view the photo gallery and see if the LC1's photos meet your expectations.

Movie Mode

Deep in the record menu, you'll find an option for "motion images", better known as movie mode! You can record 320 x 240 movies at 30 or 10 frames/second until the memory card is full. Sound is recorded as well.

The included 16MB card can hold 26 seconds of 30 frames/sec video, or 83 seconds at 10 frames/sec. A 512MB card can hold 1027 and 2989 seconds, respectively.

You can use the zoom during filming, but the noise it makes may be picked up by the microphone.

Movies are saved in QuickTime format, using the M-JPEG codec.

Here's an unexciting sample movie for you, taken at the 30 fps setting:


Click to play movie (4.2MB, QuickTime format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The LC1 has a pretty nice playback mode. Panasonic covers all the basic features, including slide shows, DPOF print marking, thumbnail mode, image protection, voice captions, and zoom and scroll. The camera is PictBridge-enabled, as well.

The zoom and scroll feature lets you zoom 2, 4, 8, or 16 times into your photo, and then scroll around. I do wish that the scrolling was faster.

There are a few advanced playback features as well, including image rotation, resizing and trimming (cropping). In both cases, you can choose to save or delete the original photo.

Deleting photos is a snap: just use the button on the back of the camera. You can delete one, multiple, or all photos. I appreciate the ability to delete a group of photos -- this is a rare feature.

At first glance, the LC1 doesn't show you much about your photos. But press the "display" button and you'll get some exposure information, including a histogram.

The camera seemed a bit slow while browsing photos, with a delay of less than two seconds between each image.

How Does it Compare

There's a whole lot to like about the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC1. It could be the stunning, retro design that's reminiscent of Leica cameras of old. Or perhaps it's the manual shutter speed, aperture, and focus rings, which make adjusting settings super-easy. The photo quality is very nice, too, but a bit on the noisy side. What's the catch? The price. With a list price of $1599, you could buy a Nikon D70 kit plus an extra lens, and you'll have better photos, performance, and expandability. You're paying a lot for nostalgia here, folks.

Still, the LC1 (and its Leica equivalent) are very cool. The body is big and bulky, and it really is built like a tank. I love the zoom, focus, and aperture rings around the lens. The camera isn't going to win any awards for performance -- it's pretty average in all areas, except for startup speed. The LC1 has a full suite of manual controls, including the ability to fine-tune white balance. The camera has a large, high resolution LCD and electronic viewfinder, but both become useless in low light situations. The camera did a fair job of focusing in low light, but an AF-assist lamp would've been helpful.

The LC1 has a pretty average movie mode -- with unlimited recording at 320 x 240, 30 frames/second. You can actually use the zoom during filming, but the sound will be picked up by the camera's microphone. Something that's not-so-hot is the LC1's macro mode, which keeps you 30 cm away from your subject. A few other things I like about the camera are the hot shoe, support for conversion lenses, two-stage flash, and nice bundle (battery, remote shutter release, MC protector). Something left out of that bundle is any kind of RAW conversion software, though.

I do like the LC1, but it's way too expensive. If you've got money to burn, then I recommend it. But you could buy three Olympus C-5060WZ's for the same price!

What I liked:

  • Great retro design; built like a tank (and heavy as one)
  • Zoom, focus, and aperture rings around lens; Shutter speed dial on top of camera
  • Very good photo quality, though noisy
  • Full manual controls
  • Histogram in both record and playback modes
  • Hot shoe
  • Supports conversion lenses and filters
  • Super-cool two-stage flash
  • Powerful battery
  • Extras in the box: remote shutter release, MC protector, lens hood
  • 30 frames/sec movie mode (though still 320 x 240)
  • USB 2.0 supported

What I didn't care for:

  • Price!
  • No AF-assist lamp
  • Images on the noisy side
  • Redeye when flash is used directly (use bounce instead)
  • EVF/LCD unusable in low light
  • Unimpressive macro mode
  • No RAW conversion software included

Other cameras worth considering include the Canon PowerShot G5, Casio Exilim EX-P600, Fuji FinePix S7000, Konica Minolta DiMAGE A1, Nikon Coolpix 5400, Olympus C-5060 Wide Zoom, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V1. Don't write off the lower-end digital SLRs, either!

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local retailer to try out the DMC-LC1 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion?

None yet!

Buy it now

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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