DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC33
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: July 20, 2003
Last Updated: July 22, 2003

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After a slow start, Panasonic is finally making some compelling digital cameras, most recently with their Lumix DMC-FZ1 model (see our review). Now they've got two interesting point-and-shoot models, namely the DMC-LC33 ($299) and its 4 Megapixel sibling, the DMC-LC43 ($399). I'll be covering the LC33 in this review -- the LC43 is identical, except for the higher resolution and different body color.

There are a lot of 3 Megapixel, 3X zoom cameras out there, with the best one probably being the Canon PowerShot A70 (see our review). How does the DMC-LC33 compare? Find out in our review!

What's in the Box?

The DMC-LC33 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.2 (effective) Mpixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC33 camera
  • 16MB Secure Digital card
  • Two AA alkaline batteries
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring ArcSoft Camera Suite and USB drivers
  • 103 page manual (printed)

The included 16MB Secure Digital (SD) card is a good place to start, but you'll probably want a larger one soon after purchasing the LC33. The camera can use SD or MultiMedia (MMC) cards, though Panasonic says performance is better with SD cards. SD cards are now available as large as 512MB as of this writing.

The LC33 uses two AA batteries, and Panasonic includes two non-rechargeable alkalines with the camera. They'll last for a few shots and then will end up in the trash can. I highly recommend picking up a four-pack of NiMH rechargeable batteries (1850 mAh or greater), and save the alkalines for emergencies only. Panasonic estimates that you can spent 120 minutes taking pictures, or 4 hours reviewing them in playback mode, with NiMH rechargeables.

As you can see, the LC33 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no lens cap to worry about.

I could only hunt down one accessory for this camera: an AC adapter ($50). And good luck finding one, as I can't seem to find them for sale anywhere except direct from Panasonic.

Panasonic includes a whole bunch of ArcSoft's software with the LC33. 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 for Windows are also included. When connected, the camera mounts on the Mac OS X desktop -- it is also compatible with iPhoto.

The LC33's manual is much like the one included with your DVD player - detailed, but confusing, with lots of "notes" in small type on each page. I can say that its better than Panasonic's camcorder manuals, though.

Look and Feel

The DMC-LC33 is a compact camera made mostly of plastic. It's not going to be as durable as a metal camera, but it does feel pretty solid overall. It's easy to hold, with all important controls within easy reach of your fingers.

The dimensions of the camera are just 3.8 x 2.5 x 1.3 inches (W x H x D, excluding protrusions), with a mass of just 215 grams empty. Compare that with the PowerShot A70's numbers of 4.0 x 2.5 x 1.2 inches and 215 grams.

Okay, let's begin our tour of the camera now.

The DMC-LC33 has an F2.8, 3X optical zoom lens, manufactured by Leica. The lens has a focal range of 5.8 - 17.4 mm, which is equivalent to 35 - 105 mm. The lens is not threaded.

To the upper-right of the lens is the built-in flash, which seems rather small to me. The flash has a working range of 0.3 - 2.4 m at wide-angle, and 0.5 - 1.4 m at telephoto. I guess the small flash equals a small range! You cannot add a flash to this camera.

Immediately below the flash is the microphone, flash sensor, and self-timer lamp.

Sadly, there's no AF illuminator on the DMC-LC33.

Moving on to the back of the camera, we can see the LC33's 1.5" LCD display. While it's a little on the small side, the LCD is bright, images are fluid, and the resolution is fairly high. Viewing it outdoors can be difficult, as is the case with nearly all LCDs. Brightness is adjustable via the setup menu.

Directly above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which is average-sized. There's no diopter correction wheel, which you can use to focus the image in the viewfinder.

To the right of that is the power switch.

Now looking at the items to the right of the LCD, we find the display (toggles LCD and its info on/off), menu, and photo delete buttons, as well as the four-way controller.

In addition to its duties as menu navigator, the four-way controller also does the following:

  • Up - Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments) + auto bracketing (three shots in a row with different EV values)
  • Right - flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, forced on, slow sync, forced off)
  • Down - Review (quickly jumps to playback mode)
  • Left - Self-timer (2 or 10 second)

Up on top of the LC33, you'll find the mode wheel, zoom controller, shutter release button, and continuous shooting button.

The mode wheel has the following 8 options:

  • Playback mode
  • Simple mode
  • Normal (record) mode
  • Macro mode
  • Portrait
  • Landscape
  • Night portrait
  • Movie mode

Regular menu

Simple menu

Most of those items are self-explanatory (and I'll get to some of them later). What is this "simple mode"? Well, it's just as it sounds -- you get a smaller menu that is easier to comprehend. You also don't get very many settings -- what you see above right is all there is in simple mode.

The zoom controller, which is wrapped around the shutter release button, smoothly moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in under 2 seconds.

The last thing to see on the top of the camera is the continuous shooting button. There are two continuous modes available, high speed and low speed. High speed will take photos at 4 frames/sec, while low speed is at 2 frames/sec. You can record up to 5 shots at the high quality setting, or 8 shots at low quality.

On this side of the camera you'll find the I/O ports, which include USB, A/V out, and DC-in (for optional AC adapter). The ports are protected by a fairly flimsy plastic door.

On the other side of the LC33, also behind a plastic door, is the SD/MMC card slot.

On the bottom of the LC33, you'll find the battery compartment and plastic tripod mount. The cover over the battery compartment is the most sturdy of the three on the camera. The tripod mount is located in-line with the lens.

Using the Panasonic DMC-LC33

Record Mode

The DMC-LC33 takes under four seconds to extend the lens and "warm up" before you can start shooting.

In good lighting, the camera focused in under a second, which is about average. The camera did an okay job of focusing in dim light, but don't expect miracles. On a side note, cranking up the ISO is a way to make it easier to compose images on the LCD in low light.

When it comes to shutter lag, the LC33 fares well. The lag is barely noticeable, even at slower shutter speeds.

Shot-to-shot speed is excellent, with a one second delay between shots (assuming the post-shot review feature is off). You cannot delete a shot as it's being recorded to memory, but you can enter review mode (by pressing down on the four-way controller) to do so.

There aren't many image resolution and quality choices on the LC33 -- Panasonic has chosen to keep it simple. Here they are:

Image Size # photos on included 16MB SD Memory card
Fine Quality Standard Quality
2048 x 1536 10 20
1600 x 1200 17 34
1280 x 960 22 43
640 x 480 69 129

There is no TIFF or RAW image format on the LC33.

The file numbering system on the LC33 is simple. Files are named Pxxxyyy.JPG, where x = 001 - 999 and y = 0001 - 9999. The numbering is maintained as you erase and swap memory cards.

As I mentioned before, the LC33 has two menu systems: a regular one (shown here) and the simple one. The options in the regular menu are:

  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, halogen, manual)
  • Picture size (see chart)
  • Quality (see chart)
  • Spot mode (on/off) - focus and metering measured in the center of the frame
  • ISO sensitivity (Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400)
  • 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
  • Color effect (Off, cool, warm, black & white)
  • Picture adjustment (Natural, standard, vivid) - see below

The only manual control on the LC33 is white balance. There's no control over shutter speed, aperture, or focus.

The picture adjustment feature is a little confusing. The manual describes it as a sharpness adjustment, but they're discussing it in terms of color (whose ever heard of "vivid sharpness"?). It does adjust the sharpness, and if you choose vivid, the image gets noisier.

There is also a setup menu on the LC33, which is another "tab" in the record and playback mode menus. The setup options are:

  • Monitor brightness (-3 to +3)
  • Auto review (Off, 1, 3 sec)
  • Power save (Off, 2, 5, 10 min)
  • Economy (on/off) - when on, LCD turns off after 15 secs of inactivity
  • Beep (Off, low volume, high volume)
  • File number reset (on/off)
  • Reset settings
  • Clock set
  • Language (English, Japanese)
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL) - item only shown in playback mode

Okay, enough about menus. Let's take a look at some photo samples now.

The LC33 turned in a sharp, and somewhat noisy night shot taken at Twin Peaks. The slowest shutter speed available on the camera is 8 seconds, although you can't select it manually. The night portrait mode is one way to get the slow shutter speed (be sure to turn off the flash).

The LC33 did an excellent job with the macro test shot, producing a sharp subject with accurate color. In macro mode, can get as close as 10 cm at wide-angle, and 50 cm at telephoto.

Not surprisingly, there's quite a bit of redeye on this compact camera. It's fairly easy to remove in software.

The redeye test shot was taken at Auto ISO (actually 200) and was quite noisy.

The distortion just shows very little barrel distortion, and just a slight hint of vignetting (dark corners). I didn't see any vignetting in my real world photos.

Overall, the LC33's photo quality was right in line with the rest of the 3MP cameras. Exposure was generally good (except in our purple fringing torture shot), colors were nice, and images were sharp. Noise levels are higher than I'd like, which is often the case with high in-camera sharpening. Purple fringing was minor.

Don't just take my word for it though -- have a look at the gallery and judge for yourself.

Movie Mode

The DMC-LC33 has an above average movie mode. You can record 320 x 240 video until your memory card is full. In the case of the included 16MB card, that's about 80 seconds. But move up to a 64MB card and you can record 350 seconds of continuous video. Sound is recorded as well.

You cannot use the zoom during filming, but you can position it wherever you want before you begin filming.

Movies are saved in QuickTime format, using the M-JPEG codec. The camera also saves the first frame of the movie as a 320 x 240 JPEG.

Here's an unexciting sample movie for you from Sonoma:


Click to play movie (1.5MB, QuickTime format)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The LC33 has a nice playback mode as well. Panasonic covers all the basic features, including slide shows, DPOF print marking, thumbnail mode, image protection, and zoom and scroll.

The zoom and scroll feature lets you zoom 2, 4, 8, or 16 times into your photo, and then scroll around. This feature is well-implemented, though I wish you had more zoom choices and that the scrolling was faster.

There are a few advanced features as well, including image 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.

The LC33 shows a decent amount of information about your photos, as you can see above. There's no histogram, but then again, do buyers of the LC33 really want one?

The camera moves through high res photos in about one second.

How Does it Compare

While I still think that the Canon PowerShot A70 is the best camera in this class, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC33 holds its own. (The Canon's full manual controls + support for add-on lenses gives it the edge). The LC33 has very good photo quality, a nice design, good performance, and above average movie and playback modes. It's a total point-and-shoot camera, with white balance being the only manual control available. The simple mode is a new one for me, and those who are really beginners may appreciate it. My only other complaints are the lack of an AF illuminator, the higher-than-average noise and redeye, and the flimsy plastic doors over the I/O and memory card compartments. The DMC-LC33 is definitely worth considering, especially with a street price of well under $300. If you want more pixels, check out the similar DMC-LC43.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality
  • Responsive performance
  • Compact body
  • Nice movie, playback modes
  • Interesting "simple mode" for beginners
  • Good continuous shooting mode for a point-and-shoot

What I didn't care for:

  • No manual controls, except for white balance
  • Noise levels a little high
  • No AF illuminator
  • Redeye
  • Poor flash range
  • Cheesy plastic doors over SD slot, I/O ports

Some other 3 Megapixel, 3X zoom cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot A70, Casio Exilim EX-Z3 and QV-R3, Fuji FinePix A303, HP Photosmart 735, Kodak EasyShare DX4330, Kyocera Finecam L3v, Minolta DiMAGE Xt, Nikon Coolpix 3100, 3500, and SQ, Olympus D-560Z and Stylus 300, Panasonic DMC-F1, Pentax Optio 33L and S, Samsung Digimax V3, Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P72 and DSC-P8, and the Toshiba PDR-3310 and PDR-3320. It's a long list, so you need to do your homework!

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the DMC-LC33 and it's 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?

Check out the review of the LC33 at Steve's Digicams!

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.

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