Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 Review
Look and Feel
In terms of design, the DMC-LX3 doesn't look a whole lot different than its predecessor. There are a few new buttons, but overall, if you've used the LX1 or LX2, you'll have no problem with the LX3. The camera is what I'd consider midsize -- too big for a jeans pocket, but never a burden on your shoulder or in a small camera bag.
The LX3 is quite well put together in most areas. The body has a solid, "cut from a block of metal" feel to it. The one weak spot is the flimsy plastic door over the memory card/battery compartment. The LX3 is easy to hold, with a small, rubberized grip that you can brace your finger against. While there's a spot for your thumb on the back of the camera, I found it pretty easy to accidentally bump one of the nearby buttons. The control layout is pretty tight, and some of the buttons are quite small.
Images courtesy of Panasonic USA
The DMC-LX3 is available in two colors: silver and black.
Now, here's how the LX3 compares to similar cameras in terms of size and weight:
The DMC-LX3 finds itself right in the middle of this unusual grouping of cameras. It's both larger and heavier than its predecessor, as well.
Alright, let's start our tour of the camera now, beginning as we always do with the front view.
The most notable feature on the DMC-LX3 is its all-new lens. Previous LX-series models had 4X, F2.8-4.9, 28 - 112 mm lens -- nothing groundbreaking. On the LX3, Panasonic decided to create a wider and much faster lens, and the result is the F2.0-2.8, 24 - 60 mm Leica DC lens (the native focal length is 5.1 - 12.8 mm). The lens has less zoom power than its predecessor -- just 2.5X -- so telephoto lovers may be a bit put-off by the relatively limited focal range. But if you're a fan of wide-angle shots, whoa. While the lens itself isn't threaded, you can add a wide-angle conversion lens and 46 mm filters by purchasing the conversion lens adapter I mentioned in the previous section.
Inside the lens is Panasonic's "Mega" optical image stabilization (OIS) system. The OIS system detects the tiny movements of your hands that can blur your photos, especially in less than adequate lighting. The camera shifts a lens element to compensate for this motion, which (in theory, at least) will produce a sharp photo. Now, image stabilization won't work miracles -- it can't freeze a moving subject or allow for handheld, 1 second exposures -- but it will allow you to use slower shutter speeds than you could otherwise. Want proof? Have a look at these:
Image stabilization off
Image stabilization on (mode 2)
Both of these close-up shots were taken at a shutter speed of 1/8th of a second. As you can see, the Mega OIS system did its job, producing a noticeable sharper photo. You can use image stabilization in movie mode as well, as illustrated in this short video clip.
To the upper-right of the lens is the camera's popup flash, which is released manually. You do have to watch your fingers when it's popped up, as it's pretty easy to push it right back down. The working range of the flash is quite impressive. It's 0.8 - 8.3 m at wide-angle, and 0.3 - 5.9 m at telephoto (both at auto ISO). Should you want more flash power and less chance of redeye, then you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see in a moment.
The last thing to see on the front of the LX3 is the AF-assist lamp, located just to the right of the Lumix logo. The camera uses this lamp as a focusing aid in low light situations, and it also doubles as a visual countdown for the self-timer.
While the LX1 and LX2 had widescreen (16:9) LCDs, the one on the LX3 takes on the more familiar 3:2 aspect ratio. The screen, 3-inches in size, also sports an extra-high resolution of 460,000 pixels, so everything's sharp as a tack. I found the screen easy to see in bright outdoor light (assuming that Auto Power LCD is on), and low light visibility is quite good, as well. One thing I miss on the LX3 is the "high angle" LCD mode found on many other Panasonic cameras.
As you can see, there's no optical viewfinder on the DMC-LX3. However, you can add the one I told you about in the accessories section. It attaches via the hot shoe and gives you 82% frame coverage. Do note that the viewfinder does NOT zoom in and out along with the lens -- it's fixed at 24 mm.
Now let's talk about all those buttons and switches to the right of the LCD. The switch at the top moves the camera between record and playback mode.
Under that we have the "joystick", which is used in much the same way as the four-way controller below it. Hold it down and you'll open the Quick Menu, which has these options:
- Film mode
- Metering mode
- AF mode
- White balance
- Intelligent ISO
- ISO sensitivity
- Intelligent Exposure
- Image size
- LCD mode
I'll discuss all of those in more detail in the menu section of the review. The joystick is also used for adjusting exposure compensation, shutter speed, aperture, and manual focus.
To the right of the joystick is the AF/AE lock button. Under that is the four-way controller, used for menu navigation, reviewing photos, and also:
- Up - Backlight compensation, exposure compensation, auto bracketing, flash output adjustment) -- see below
- Down - Function (customizable)
- Left - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 secs)
- Right - Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, slow sync w/redeye reduction)
- Center - Menu/Set
I want to talk about those 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 Intelligent Auto mode. You may want to use it when your subject has a bright light source behind them. Exposure compensation and flash output adjustment both have the usual -2EV to +2EV range. Auto bracketing takes three shots in a row with each shot having a different exposure. The increment between each shot can be ±1/3EV, ±2/3EV or ±1EV. You can also bracket for aspect ratios: the camera will produce three photos, one at each of the aspect ratios (16:9, 4:3, 3:2).
The function button ("down" on the four-way controller) is customizable. By default, it enters playback mode, but there are many other functions you can assign to it. I'll cover those, plus all the menu options, later in the review.
The last two buttons on the back of the camera are for Display (which toggles what's shown on the LCD) and burst mode + delete photo. There are two burst modes to choose from: normal and unlimited. Here's how the camera performed in the continuous shooting department:
Nothing really remarkable about the LX3's continuous shooting performance. There are some faster modes that I'll mention below, but they aren't full resolution.
The first item of note on the top of the LX3 is the flash release switch on the far left side of the photo. To the right of that is the camera's hot shoe, to which you can attach an external flash or the optical viewfinder. You'll get the best results by using one of the Panasonic flashes I mentioned earlier, which sync with the camera and its metering system. If you're using a third party flash, you will have to set it up manually.
At the lower-right of the photo is the mode dial, which has these options:
The DMC-LX3 offers an innovative automatic mode, plus all the manual controls you could want. The Intelligent Auto Mode uses the following features: image stabilization, Intelligent ISO control, face detection, auto scene selection, Intelligent Exposure, and subject tracking. Thus, you can point the camera at your subject, and it'll pick the right scene mode, lock on to any faces in the scene, and brighten the dark areas of the photo. I'll cover some of the technologies that Intelligent Auto Mode uses a bit later in the review.
|Scene Menu||A help screen is available for each scene|
The Intelligent Auto Mode only has five scene modes to choose from. If you want more, you'll need to use the "regular" scene mode. Here are some of the notable scene modes:
The baby and pet modes let you set the birthday and name of your two children or one animal. When you take a picture in either of these modes, the current age of the child/pet is saved, along with their name. This information is available both in playback mode and in the PhotoFunStudio software, so you can print it on your photos.
The high sensitivity mode will boost the ISO to somewhere between 1600 and 6400. At the same time, the resolution is cut to 3 Megapixel or less. As you might expect, the resulting photos aren't great, so I'd avoid using this feature.
The hi-speed burst mode takes up to 100 photos in a row at a blazing 6 frames/second. The catch is that the resolution is lowered to just 3 Megapixels (at standard quality), and the ISO sensitivity is set to somewhere between 500 and 800. Thus, the quality of these images aren't as good as they could be. Don't worry though -- you can do full resolution continuous shooting too -- I'll tell you about that a little later.
There's also a "flash burst" mode, which takes five flash photos in a row at 0.9 seconds. Here too, the resolution is lowered and the ISO is boosted, so don't expect miraculous photo quality.
Starry sky mode lets you take super long exposures: 15, 30, or 60 seconds -- it's similar to "bulb mode" on more advanced cameras.
In terms of manual controls, you get the usual suspects. You can adjust the aperture and/or shutter speed, and there are two spots on the mode dial that can hold your favorite camera settings.
Getting back to the tour now -- the next item of note on the top of the LX3 is its shutter release button, which has the zoom controller wrapped around it. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in 1.8 seconds. I counted thirteen steps in the LX3's 2.5X zoom range, which is nice.
|Moving the focus point around in single-point mode||Selecting the focusing area in multi-point AF mode|
To the right of the zoom controller/shutter release is the power switch and focus button. When you're shooting with autofocus, pressing this button allows you to select the area of the frame on which to focus (see screenshots above). In manual focus mode, the button is used to quickly activate the AF system.
On this side of the LX3 you'll find the focus mode switch. The choices here are autofocus (50 cm minimum focus distance), autofocus w/auto macro (1 cm min distance), and manual focus.
Manual focus, with movable frame enlargement
When you're in manual focus mode, you will use the joystick to set the focus distance. The image is enlarged so you can verify focus, and the area that's blown up can be moved around. The camera shows the current focus distance on the right side of the LCD.
The lens is at the full wide-angle position here.
On the other side of the camera you'll find its I/O ports, which include:
- Component video output (cable not included)
- USB + A/V output
- DC-in (for optional AC adapter)
The plastic door covering these slots is of average quality. The LX3 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, for fast data transfer to your Mac or PC.
The lens is at the full telephoto position here (yes, the lens is retracted more than at wide-angle).
On the bottom of the DMC-LX3 are its metal tripod mount and battery/memory card compartment. The plastic door over this compartment is pretty flimsy, so be careful. You should be able to get at the compartment while the camera is on a tripod.
The included CGA-S005 lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.