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DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: November 3, 2005
Last Updated: February 7, 2008
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 ($599) isn't just another midsized camera. In fact, it has two features that make it stand out from most of the other digital cameras on the market: image stabilization and a 16:9 CCD (and an 8.4 Megapixel one at that). I'll take each of these separately.
The LX1 uses the same optical image stabilization system as Panasonic's other cameras. This handy features helps counter the effects of "camera shake", giving you sharper pictures at shutter speeds that are unusable without a tripod on other cameras. I'll have more on this later.
The other big feature, which you won't find on any other camera, is the camera's 16:9 CCD. Unlike most CCD sensors, which are 4:3, this one is actually "widescreen", just like the plasma TV that you're drooling over at Best Buy. This wide CCD has its benefits, as it captures a much wider area than your typical camera. See for yourself:
What a typical digital camera records (4:3 ratio)
What the LX1 records in 16:9 mode
As you can see, the LX1's 16:9 CCD captures a lot wider of an area than your typical camera. It's almost panoramic! Other features on the camera include a 28mm (at 16:9), 4X optical zoom lens, 2.5" LCD display, full manual controls, widescreen movie mode, and more.
Ready to learn more about this unique camera? Read on!
Since this camera has so much in common with the DMC-FX9 and FZ30, this review will have much in common with those two.
What's in the Box?
The DMC-LX1 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
Inside the box you'll find a 32MB Secure Digital (SD) memory card, which holds just seven photos at the highest JPEG quality setting (and just one RAW or TIFF image). So, with that in mind, you should definitely buy a larger memory card if you pick up the LX1, and I would suggest 512MB or even 1GB as a good starter size. A high speed SD card is recommended if you plan on taking advantage of the camera's continuous shooting and movie mode features. While the LX1 can also use MultiMediaCards, SD cards are preferable.
The DMC-LX1 uses the same CGA-S005 lithium-ion rechargeable battery as the new DMC-FX9 ultra-compact camera. This battery packs 4.3 Wh of energy, which is on the low end for a camera this size. That translates to 240 shots per charge (using the CIPA standard), which is neither great nor terrible. Compared to some other cameras in this class (minus the 16:9 part, of course), the LX1's battery life is a bit below average.
The usual caveats about proprietary batteries apply here. First, they're really expensive -- Panasonic batteries typically cost around $50 a pop. Secondly, if you're ever in a jam, you can't just pop in some alkaline batteries to get you through the day like you could on an AA-based camera. Several of the cameras on the above list use AA batteries.
When it's time to charge the battery, just place it into the included external charger. It takes just over two hours to fully charge the CGA-S005 battery. I should add that this is my favorite type of charger -- it plugs directly into the wall.
Panasonic includes a lens cap and retaining strap with the camera, so your nice Leica lens will be protected.
Despite being a midsize camera, the LX1 is short on accessories. In fact, the only things available include extra batteries and an AC adapter (which will cost at least $60, most likely).
PhotoImpression 5 for Mac OS X
Panasonic includes ArcSoft's camera suite with the DMC-LX1. This includes PhotoImpression 5, PhotoBase, and Panorama Maker for Mac and Windows. PhotoImpression (shown above) lets you view, enhance, and share images. The interface is unique and easy-to-use, and the whole product is well designed. PhotoBase is a less impressive product that you can use for organizing and performing basic edits on your photos. Panorama Maker will stitch together several shots into one big photo.
Lumix Simple Viewer for Windows
Windows users get two additional products on the software CD. Lumix Simple Viewer (shown above) does just what it sounds like: it imports and views photos. You can't do any editing -- just rotation, printing, and e-mailing. The version of Simple Viewer that came with my LX1 could NOT open RAW images.
PhotoFunStudio for Windows
For slightly more complex tasks there's PhotoFunStudio, again for Windows only. This can do all the things Simple Viewer can do, plus it can also resize and batch rename images, and it can also convert RAW images to JPEG format. None of the bundled software actually lets you manipulate the RAW image properties, which sort of defeats the purpose of the whole format.
Editing a RAW image in Adobe Photoshop CS2 (optional)
The RAW format, for those who don't know, is a lossless image format consisting of raw image data from the CCD. You must process it on your computer before you can convert it to other formats. Because it's raw data, you can change things like white balance, sharpness, and saturation without lowering the quality of the original image. So if you screwed up the white balance you can fix it -- it's like taking the shot all over again. At this time, the only way to manipulate the LX1's RAW images is to use the Camera Raw 3.2 plug-in for Adobe Photoshop CS2.
Panasonic's manuals leave much to be desired (just like Sony's -- consumer electronics companies just don't make good manuals). Much like the manual that came with your VCR or DVD player, there's tons of fine print and bullet points, and finding what you're looking for can be difficult.
Look and Feel
The DMC-LX1 is a midsize camera made mostly of metal. It's too big to fit in most of your pockets, but it's not as large as something like the PowerShot G6, or any of Panasonic's ultra zooms. The camera was easy to hold and operate with just one hand.
The LX1 comes in your choice of silver and black bodies.
Here's a look at how the LX1 compares to some other midsize, high resolution cameras:
This table is a bit misleading because it's excluding protrusions. The LX1's lens sticks out quite a bit, so in reality it's not as small as the numbers make it sound.
Okay, let's begin our tour of the LX1 now!
The DMC-LX1 features an F2.8-4.9, 4X optical zoom lens. The focal range of the lens is 6.3 - 25.2 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 112 mm in 16:9 mode and 34 - 136 mm in 4:3 mode. The LX1's wide lens is perfect for indoor shots where you really need some wide-angle "power". The lens isn't threaded, so conversion lenses aren't supported.
Hidden deep inside the lens is Panasonic's optical image stabilization (OIS) system. While OIS is especially useful on ultra zoom cameras, it'll also come in handy on the LX1 as well, especially in low light situations. When light levels drop, a camera is forced to use a slower shutter speed, which can result in blurry pictures due to minute movements of your hand(s). The image stabilization detects these movements and attempts to compensate for them by moving an element in the lens. While it doesn't work miracles, it allows you to use shutter speeds that wouldn't be possible on an unstabilized camera.
Don't believe me? Here's the first of two examples:
OIS on (mode 2), 1/8 sec
OIS off, 1/8 sec
While not the best example, you should be able to tell that the top photo is sharper than the bottom one. If you still don't believe me, then check out this movie that I took with and without image stabilization.
Back to the tour now. At the top-right of the photo is the LX1's pop-up flash. This flash has a working range of 0.6 - 4.1 m at wide-angle and 0.6 - 2.3 m at telephoto (at Auto ISO), which is pretty typical for a camera in this class. You cannot attach an external flash to the LX1.
Just to the upper-left of the lens it eh AF-assist lamp, which doubles as the self-timer lamp. The AF-assist lamp is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light situations.
The DMC-LX1 has a large 2.5" LCD display on the back. Unlike with some cameras, Panasonic didn't skimp on the resolution on this large screen: there are 207,000 pixels. I was surprised to see that this camera (which is famous for its 16:9 sensor) doesn't have a widescreen LCD. I know it can be done -- the Fuji FinePix F810 had one -- but Panasonic chose not to for some reason. So, when shooting at the 16:9 setting the image will be letterboxed on the LCD. In low light situations the LCD automatically brightens so you can still see what you're looking at.
As you can probably tell, there's no optical viewfinder on the LX1. Whether that's a bad thing is sort of a personal decision. Some people want them, others don't. As for me, I like having one.
Now let's look at all those buttons on the right side of the LCD. The first thing to see is the AF/AE lock button. Press it once to lock the focus and exposure, and press it again to unlock.
Below that is the joystick, which you'll use for adjusting manual controls. More on those in a bit.
Next up is another four-way controller, but this one's used for menu navigation and also:
I want to talk about the options that appear when you press the "up" button on the four-way controller. Backlight compensation is something you can toggle on and off while in the automatic shooting mode: use this if your subject has a bright light source behind them. Exposure compensation is the usual -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments like on every camera. Auto bracketing takes three shots in a row with each shot having a different exposure. You can choose from ±0.3EV, ±0.6EV or ±1.0EV increments. White balance fine-tuning lets you adjust the preset or custom WB that you've selected in the red or blue direction, with a total range of ±10 (in 1-step increments).
Below the four-way controller are two more buttons. The one of the left toggles what's shown on the LCD. Hold it down for a second and the Power LCD feature kicks in, brightening the screen considerably (which is handy when you're outdoors). The other button operates the camera's burst mode and also deletes photos while in playback mode.
Speaking of the burst modes, let's talk about those now. The LX1's burst modes are pretty nice, and there are three of them: low speed, high speed, and infinite. At the low speed setting the camera will shoot up to five photos (at the highest quality setting) at 2 frames/second. Moving up to high speed mode boosts the frame rate to 2.6 frames/second while keeping the maximum number of photos the same. The infinite setting will keep shooting at 2 frames/second until the memory card is full. Do note that a high speed memory card is required for maximum continuous shooting performance, and that you can't use the RAW or TIFF formats in any of these modes. It's also worth mentioning that the LCD doesn't "black out" between shots, which allows you to easily track a moving subject.
On top of the LX1 you'll find a whole bunch of things. I'll work my way from left to right. The first things to see include the release for the pop-up flash, the speaker, and the microphone. Just to the right of those is the mode dial, which has the following options:
As you can see, the LX1 has full manual control over shutter speed and aperture.
Part of the scene mode menu
Each item has a help screen
The camera also has plenty of scene modes for automatic shooting, including the new baby mode. For this mode you set the date of your baby's birthday and then the information is embedded in the EXIF headers for all photos taken in that mode. The baby's age at the time of the photo is shown in playback mode and in the bundled software as well.
Oh, and in case you're wondering why there are two scene mode positions on the mode dial, here's the answer: both contain the same options, and you can set a default scene for each position on the dial for faster access to your favorite scene modes.
To the right of the mode dial is the shutter release button, which has the zoom controller wrapped around it. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 2.3 seconds. I counted a whopping nineteen stops throughout the 4X zoom range.
Continuing to the right we find the OIS button and the power switch. The OIS button lets you switch the image stabilizer mode from Off to Mode 1 to Mode 2. When the "mode 1" setting is used, the stabilizer is always running, which helps you compose your photo without any camera shake. Mode 2 only activates the stabilizer when the picture is actually taken, which actually does a better job of eliminating the blurring caused by camera shake. You can also turn the whole thing off, which is advisable under certain situations, such as when you're using a tripod.
The only thing to see on this side of the camera is the focus mode switch. I should also point out that the lens is at the full wide-angle position here.
The choices on the focus switch are for autofocus, macro, and manual focusing. In manual focus mode you'll use the joystick to set the focus distance. A guide showing the current focus distance is shown on the LCD, and the center of the frame is enlarged as well.
Here's the other side of the LX1, with the lens at the full telephoto position. As you can see, the lens sticks out quite a bit!
Under a plastic door of average quality you'll find the camera's I/O ports. They include USB + A/V out (one port for both) and DC-in (for optional AC adapter). The LX1 uses the USB 2.0 Full Speed standard, which is the "slow USB 2.0". What we really want to see is USB 2.0 High Speed.
On the bottom of the LX1 you'll find a metal tripod mount plus the battery/memory card compartment. The battery and memory card slots are protected by a plastic door of decent quality. The placement of the tripod mount allows you to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.
The included CGA-S005 battery is shown at right.
Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1
When you first turn on the camera it seems like it's ready to shoot in a little over two seconds, but in reality you can't actually take a photo until 2.9 seconds (total) have elapsed, which isn't anything to write home about.
A live histogram is shown in record mode
The LX1 has inherited the two high speed autofocus modes that were first seen on the DMC-FZ5. If you've used that camera then you know just how fast it is. If you use the regular ("slow") AF modes then the LX1 focuses faster than most cameras. Select either of the high speed modes and the camera blows away the competition, with focusing times that are comparable to some digital SLRs (0.1 - 0.3 seconds).
The "catch" with the high speed modes is that the image on the LCD and EVF freezes briefly when focusing occurs. This does not happen in the regular modes, which is why they take longer
Low light focusing was very good, thanks to the LX1's AF-assist lamp.
I did not find shutter lag to be an issue on the DMC-LX1.
Shot-to-shot speed is excellent, with a delay of a little over a second before you can take another shot, assuming the post-shot review feature is turned off. Shooting in RAW or TIFF mode increases the delay to three seconds. Remember to buy a high speed SD card, as slower cards will result in much slower write times.
There is no easy way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you must use the Review feature first.
Since there are three different (and easily accessible) aspect ratios on the LX1 this chart is going to be longer than usual. Take a breath, here are the image quality choices on the camera:
That may be the most complex chart I've ever had to post! There are many choices, as you can see. You can also see that you'll want a larger memory card if you buy the LX1.
The DMC-LX1 supports the RAW image format, and I told you what's nice about that back in the first section of the review. The TIFF format is also supported -- this is a standard, lossless image format that doesn't require post-processing on your computer. Be warned that TIFF file sizes are quite large when compared to regular JPEGs.
Like Panasonic's other recent introductions, the DMC-LX1 has an "extra optical zoom" feature. When you shoot at the lower resolutions, the camera uses a smaller area of the CCD sensor, which results in a smaller angle-of-view. This smaller angle-of-view boosts the focal range, allowing for a total zoom power of 5.6X at the 3MP, 4:3 setting (the zoom is little less at other aspect ratios). I should point out that the same thing can also be done in an image editing program like Adobe Photoshop -- this just saves a step.
The camera saves images with a name of PXXXYYYY.JPG, where X = 100-999 and Y = 0001 = 9999. The camera will maintain the file numbering, even as you erase and switch memory cards.
The DMC-LX1 has the standard Panasonic menu system. Do note that some of these items are not available in the auto and scene modes. Now, here's the complete record menu:
The LX1 has the ability to store two custom white balance settings. Just go to the white balance option and choose the "custom set" option, point the camera at something white, and press the "right" button on the four-way controller. If that doesn't do the job you can use the WB fine tuning controls that I mentioned earlier.
The flip animation feature lets you take up to 100 shots in a row and then throw them together into a 320 x 240 movie up to 20 seconds long. You can choose from a frame rate of 5 or 10 frames/second. This feature can be used for making "stop motion" animation.
There's also a setup menu, which is accessed from the record or playback menu. The items here include:
That's enough for menus, let's move on to our test photos now!
The DMC-LX1 did just a so-so job with our usual macro test. While the subject is nice and sharp, the cloak is too pink (this may be a white balance issue), and there's quite a bit of noise/grain to be seen as well (this will be a recurring theme in this section).
You can get as close to your subject as 5 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at the telephoto end in macro mode, which is about average.
If I'm not mistaken this is the first widescreen night shot on this site, and I must say that I like it! Well, I like the concept -- but the actual photo isn't so hot. While the camera took in plenty of light, there's just way too much noise for ISO 80, and details are already being wiped out. Purple fringing was not a problem.
Now let's see how the LX1 does at even higher ISO sensitivities (not well):
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
While things are only marginally worse at ISO 100, image quality goes downhill rapidly at ISO 200. At ISO 400 noise is so bad that even NeatImage can't save it.
Again, more on noise below.
There's some redeye in our flash test photo, but it's not too horrible. Your results may be better or worse than mine -- redeye depends on many factors.
And here's our first wide-angle distortion test shot! There's mild to moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the LX1's lens. There's also a bit of blurriness in the corners, but I didn't find that to be a problem in my real world photos.
Image quality on the Lumix DMC-LX1 is a mixed bag. On the positive side, photos were properly exposed with accurate color and low purple fringing levels. The problem here is that, like the DMC-FZ30, noise levels are well above average, even at ISO 80. While they clean up pretty nicely using noise reduction software like NeatImage, straight out the camera you'll be disappointed with the amount of noise in the photos. Higher ISOs are even worse. If you're going to be making large prints (or enjoy viewing your images at 100% on your computer screen) you will not be pleased with what you see here. If you're making smaller-sized prints you probably won't notice the noise as long as the ISO is kept to 80 or 100.
One other thing I noticed in a few photos are some "jaggies" on edges that should be straight. For an example of this, check out the Road Work sign in this picture (which also shows the LX1's typical noise level).
Ultimately you need to decide if the LX1's photo quality is acceptable. Have a look at our photo gallery and print the photos as if they were your own. Then decide if the LX1 meets your expectations!
The DMC-LX1 doesn't just take high resolution movies -- it takes high resolution widescreen movies! That's right, it records movies at 848 x 480 (30 frames/second, with sound), which will fill up your 16:9 television screen. At that resolution it takes just 14 seconds to fill up the included 32MB memory card, so you'll want a large SD card for longer movies. A high speed (10MB/sec or faster) memory card is required for the high quality movie mode.
Two other resolutions are also available: 640 x 480 and 320 x 240. At all three resolutions you can choose frame rates of 10 or 30 frames/second. The lower the resolution and/or frame rate, the longer your movies can be.
You cannot use the zoom lens during filming. As you'd expect, the optical image stabilizer is used during movie filming.
Movies are saved in QuickTime format using the M-JPEG codec. A capture of the first frame of the movie is saved as JPEG along with the movie.
Here's a high quality (but short) widescreen sample movie for you:
Click to play movie (9.4 MB, 848 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't play it? Download QuickTime.
The DMC-LX1 has a pretty standard playback mode. Basic playback options include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode (choose from 9, 16, and 25 photos per page), audio captions (10 seconds), and zoom and scroll. The camera is also PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.
The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom in as much as 16X (in 2X increments) into your photo, and then scroll around. This feature is well-implemented on the LX1.
You can also rotate, resize, and crop your photos in playback mode. An aspect ratio conversion feature lets you change images taken at 16:9 to either 4:3 or 3:2. You can also tag photos as favorites so you can playback only your best photos.
And finally, a feature that I always appreciate is the ability to delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all.
By default, the camera doesn't give you a lot of information about your photos. But press the display button and you'll see plenty of info, including a histogram.
The camera moves through images in about half a second. No low resolution placeholder is shown between images.
How Does it Compare?
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 is an intriguing digital camera that falls short of greatness in the most important area: image quality. Still, it has some compelling features that make it worth a look if you're going to be making smaller-sized prints.
The DMC-LX1 is a fairly compact camera with a 4X zoom Leica lens that starts at 28 mm (16:9 mode only). The most notable feature on the LX1 is its 16:9 CCD, which allows for some very cool landscape shooting possibilities, not to mention widescreen movies. If you don't want to shoot at 16:9 you can select more conventional 3:2 or 4:3 aspect ratios via a handy switch on the front of the camera. It's a shame that Panasonic put a widescreen CCD in the LX1 but couldn't do the same with the LCD display on the back of the camera. Build quality is very good, and I found the LX1 easy to hold and operate with one hand.
The LX1 is packed with features. Probably the second most notable feature on the camera is its optical image stabilization system, which will let you take sharp photos at slower shutter speeds than on unstabilized cameras. The OIS system also functions in movie mode. The LX1 has a full suite of manual controls, including exposure, white balance, and focus. The camera supports the RAW and TIFF image formats, but the included RAW converter doesn't let you take advantage of the format.
Camera performance is excellent in almost all areas, save for startup speed. Like Panasonic's other recent cameras, autofocus times are superb when you use either of the two high speed AF modes. Low light focusing was good, thanks to the LX1's AF-assist lamp. Speaking of low light, the camera's 2.5" LCD display brightens automatically in those situations. The camera has a great movie mode that can record unlimited 16:9 video at 30 frames/second. In addition, the LX1's continuous shooting modes are some of the best on the market.
The area in which the LX1 really disappoints is in terms of image quality. While photos are well-exposed with accurate color, good sharpness, and very low purple fringing levels, they are way too noisy, even at ISO 80. And forget about using the higher ISOs: photos taken at ISO 200 or 400 are practically useless. It seems to me that Panasonic put a few million too many pixels on the tiny 1/1.65" CCD sensor. If you're doing prints at 8 x 10 inches or smaller, you'll be pleased with the results if you keep the ISO sensitivity as low as possible. Any larger than that and the noise will be obvious.
Two final complaints: first, the included 32MB memory card is quite small for an 8.4 Megapixel camera. Second, the LX1 doesn't support the USB 2.0 High Speed protocol, something that most cameras support these days.
I'm sort of on the fence about recommending the Lumix DMC-LX1. There is much to like about the camera, but the image noise is quite bothersome. If you're going to be printing at smaller sizes, I'd say go for it. If you plan on making larger prints, inspecting the photos at 100% on-screen, or shooting at high ISO sensitivities, I'd pass on the LX1.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
No camera on the market has a 16:9 CCD like the DMC-LX1, but here are some other cameras that may be worth considering: Canon PowerShot A620 and S80, Casio Exilim EX-P700, Fuji FInePix E900, Kodak EasyShare P880, Nikon Coolpix 8400, Olympus C-7070 Wide Zoom, and the Samsung Digimax L55W.
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DMC-LX1 and its competitors before you buy!
Want to see how the photo quality turned on? Check out our photo gallery!
Want a second opinion?
You'll find another review of the LX1 at Digital Photography Review.
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.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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