DCRP

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 Review

How Does it Compare?

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 is a unique, fixed-lens camera for wide-angle enthusiasts. It offers very good photo quality (though there's room for improvement), a fast, ultra-wide lens, full manual controls, a sharp 3-inch LCD display, and support for all kinds of optional extras. It's not for everyone -- I think many people will be put off by its limited zoom range -- but if you like what the LX3 has to offer, then it's well worth a look.

The DMC-LX3 is a midsize camera made of a solid metal body. It's very well put together, save for the flimsy plastic door over the battery/memory card compartment. Controls are well placed, though the buttons on the back of the camera are a bit small and cluttered. The most notable feature on the LX3 is its fast, F2.0-2.8, 24 - 60 mm lens. That's as wide as you'll find these days, and that maximum aperture range is way better than what you'll find elsewhere. Unfortunately, there's not really any telephoto power here, so fans of "zoom" may be disappointed. With the appropriate adapter, you can attach both a wide-angle conversion lens and numerous filters to the camera. The LX3 also supports a fixed optical viewfinder as well as an external flash, both of which attach to the hot shoe. Like all of Panasonic's cameras, the DMC-LX3 features an optical image stabilization system, which does an effective job of reduces blurry photos. On the back of the camera you'll find a large and very sharp 3-inch LCD display. The screen, which has 460,000 pixels, has great outdoor and low light visibility.

The LX3 has a nice collection of automatic features, plus numerous manual controls. The camera's Intelligent Auto mode is one of the most advanced point-and-shoot modes out there right now. It will select a scene mode for you, detect faces, track a moving subject, brighten shadows, and more -- without you having to do anything. The camera's face detection system works very well, easily finding all six faces in our test scene. If you want to select a scene mode yourself, there are plenty to choose from. In terms of manual controls, the DMC-LX3 lets you adjust aperture, shutter speed, white balance, and focus. White balance can be set by color temperature or a white/gray card, and can be fine-tuned, though there's no WB bracketing or a fluorescent preset. The manual focus feature is well-implemented, with a movable frame enlargement feature that helps you verify proper focus. The LX3 supports the RAW image format, and Panasonic includes a capable (but clunky) RAW editor in the box. The Film Mode feature, typically found on digital SLRs, allows you to have various sets of color/contrast/sharpness settings. Power users will also appreciate the two custom spots on the mode dial, and the custom function button ("down" on the four-way controller). I think everyone will appreciate the camera's 720p movie mode, which allows for up to ten minutes of continuous recording at 1280 x 720 (at 24 fps). I'm a fan of the photo straightening tool in playback mode, as well.

Camera performance was very good in most respects. The DMC-LX3 turns on and is ready to take the first shot in around 1.8 seconds -- not terribly quick. Focus speeds are snappy, hanging around 0.3 seconds in the best case scenarios, to under a second in the worst. The LX3 was a capable performer in low light, focusing quickly and accurately. I didn't find shutter lag to be a problem, and shot-to-shot delays were minimal, even when shooting RAW+JPEG. There's a bit of a delay when you use the flash (around two seconds), but it's minimal. The LX3's continuous shooting mode is nothing to write home about. It can shoot at 2.5 frames/second, but only for 3 or 4 shots. For unlimited shooting (available only for JPEGs), the frame rate is 1.9 fps. There are faster burst modes available on the camera (in the scene menu), but they lower the resolution and increase the ISO, which may not be desirable. Battery life was a bit above average for the LX3's class (whatever that is).

While it certainly doesn't rival a digital SLR, the DMC-LX3 does deliver very good quality images for a compact camera. They have vibrant, saturated color, pleasing sharpness, low noise, and minimal purple fringing. The camera did tend to underexpose by around 1/3 stop, but that's easy enough to fix. While Panasonic has backed off considerably on noise reduction on their most recent cameras, you will still see smudged details, even at ISO 80. That noise reduction does keep noise in check, until you get to ISO 800 in good light, and ISO 400 in low light. There's a slight advantage to shooting RAW at high ISOs, but you don't get that much detail back. Purple fringing wasn't a problem, as the camera's image processor removes it automatically. The LX3's white balance system struggled a little bit with our studio lights, though I don't think that will be an issue for most people. Also, redeye was a bit of a problem, though your results may vary.

If you want a fairly compact camera with a host of manual controls, good photo quality, a very wide-angle lens, and a high definition movie mode, then the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 is absolutely worth checking out. If you're a fan of telephoto shooting then it's not a great choice, but for everyone else, the DMC-LX3 is a camera I can recommend.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality, low noise though ISO 800 in good light
  • Fast, ultra-wide 24 - 60 mm lens
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Fairly compact, well-built metal body; comes in silver and black
  • Very sharp and bright 3-inch LCD display
  • Full manual controls
  • RAW image format supported, powerful (but clunky) editing software included
  • Intelligent Auto mode picks a scene for you, detects faces, tracks a moving subject, and brightens shadows, all automatically
  • Well-implemented face detection feature
  • Auto redeye reduction (though it only worked "okay" here)
  • Custom spots on mode dial, customizable function button
  • Handy photo straightening tool in playback mode
  • Lots of optional extras: wide-angle lens, filters, external flash, optical viewfinder, HD video cable
  • High resolution 720p movie mode
  • Above average battery life

What I didn't care for:

  • Noise reduction smudges details, even at low ISOs (though better than previous models)
  • Camera tends to underexpose
  • Some redeye
  • No real telephoto power
  • No fluorescent white balance preset, or WB bracketing feature
  • No optical viewfinder; optional one is fixed at 24 mm
  • Small, cluttered buttons on back of camera
  • Flimsy door over memory card/battery compartment

Some other wide-angle cameras with manual controls include the Canon PowerShot G10, Nikon Coolpix P6000, Ricoh GR Digital II, and the Samsung NV24 HD.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the Lumix DMC-LX3 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Want to see how the photo quality turned out? Check out both our standard and Maui photo galleries!

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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.