Originally Posted: October 13, 2008
Last Updated: September 4, 2010
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 ($499) is not your typical compact camera. Other cameras offer more pixels, more zoom, and bigger LCDs. So what makes the LX3 so interesting? It has a fast, 24 - 60 mm Leica lens with optical image stabilization. Three available aspect ratios, all of which maintain the camera's 24 mm wide end. Manual controls, "film modes", and support for the RAW format. A high definition movie mode. Heck, there's even an optional viewfinder.
While the LX3 shares the general design of its predecessors (the LX1 and LX2), a few things have changed. It no longer has a CCD with a 16:9 aspect ratio, but the new sensor has more space between pixels, allowing for better sensitivity. The LCD, too, has swapped the 16:9 ratio for a more traditional 3:2. Finally, while the LX2 had a 4X zoom, the lens on the LX3 is only 2.5X (though it's much faster).
The DMC-LX3 is definitely one of the most interesting compact cameras of 2008. How does it perform? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 10.1 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-LX3 camera
- CGA-S005 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
- Battery charger
- Lens cap w/retaining strap
- Shoulder strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring PhotoFunStudio, ArcSoft Media Impression and Panorama Maker, and drivers
- 131 page camera manual (printed)
Most cameras have built-in memory these days, and the DMC-LX3 is no exception. Panasonic supplies 50MB of built-in memory on the LX3, which is quite an improvement from the 13MB offered on the LX2. Even so, you'll want to buy a memory card right away, and you can choose from SD, SDHC, and MMC cards (I'd stick with the first two). I'd recommend starting out with a 2GB card, and yes, it's worth spending a little more for a high speed model.
The LX3 uses the venerable CGA-S005 lithium-ion rechargeable battery. This battery packs 4.2 Wh of energy, which is about average for a compact camera. Here's how that translates into battery life:
One camera I really wanted to put in the above table is the upcoming Sigma DP2. Alas, I have very little information on it at this point, so that's not possible. As for battery life, the DMC-LX3's numbers are 25% higher than those on the LX2. In this rather small group, the LX3's numbers are above average.
I do want to mention the usual issues about the proprietary batteries used by the LX3 and all of the other cameras on the above list. They're expensive (a spare will cost you at least $38), and you can't use an off-the-shelf battery when the proprietary one runs out of juice.
When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the included charger. It takes approximately two hours for a full charge. This is my favorite type of charger -- it plugs directly into the wall, with no power cable needed.
Panasonic apparently lost all the lens caps for their LX3 review units, so mine didn't come with one. But rest assured, yours will, and there will be a retaining strap too. As the photo above shows, the LX3 is a fairly compact camera.
LX3 shown with optional viewfinder; image courtesy of Panasonic
The DMC-LX3 has a nice selection of accessories available, including the unique optical viewfinder you see above. I should point out that this viewfinder does not offer any zoom ability -- it's fixed at 24 mm. Here's the full list of extras that you can buy for your LX3:
Quite a list for a compact camera, if I do say so myself!
PhotoFunStudio for Windows
Panasonic includes several software applications with the DMC-LX3. First up, we have PhotoFunStudio 2.1, which is for Windows only. The first way in which you'll probably use this software is for transferring photos off of your camera. Do note that this software will not transfer RAW images to your computer!
Once on the main screen (pictured above), you'll find a familiar thumbnail view of your photos. Photos can be organized, e-mailed, printed, and rotated from this screen. Photos can be sorted by date, scene mode, keyword, and even camera model.
Editing in PhotoFunStudio
Select "retouch" and you'll get the editing window you see above. Here you can adjust things like brightness, contrast, color, and sharpness. Images can be changed to sepia or black and white, and redeye can be removed with the click of your mouse.
ArcSoft MediaImpression in Mac OS X
Another option for basic image editing is ArcSoft MediaImpression software (for both Mac and Windows). MediaImpression can be used to import photos from the camera, with the unique option of removing redeye during import. After that's done, you get the usual thumbnail view you see above. There are plenty of editing options here, including an Easy-Fix Wizard that lets you straighten, crop, sharpen, and remove redeye from a photo, with very little work on your part.
ArcSoft Panorama Maker in Mac OS X
Another piece of the ArcSoft suite is Panorama Maker, which helps you combine photos that you've taken side-by-side into a single panorama. It's easy to use, and the results can be really impressive.
SilkyPix in Mac OS X
For editing RAW images, Panasonic supplies SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.0 SE. While its interface is better than earlier versions, SilkyPix is still fairly clunky, and the poorly translated menus can confusing at times. That doesn't mean that the software isn't capable -- quite the opposite, in fact. SilkyPix is a powerful RAW editor, allowing you to adjust everything from exposure to white balance (with fine-tuning) to the tone curve. You can also adjust noise reduction, lens distortion, chromatic aberration, and much, much more. SilkyPix is fairly responsive, as bundled RAW editing software goes.
So what is RAW, anyway, and why should you care? RAW images contain unprocessed data from the LX3's image sensor. In order to do anything with this information, you must first process it on your Mac or PC, as shown above. When you do that, you can adjust white balance, exposure, and more, without reducing the quality of the image. It's as if you get to take the photo again. Do note that RAW files are larger than JPEGs, taking up more space on your memory card, and they can also reduce camera performance in certain situations.
The manual included with the LX3 gets a mixed review from me. While I appreciate its depth, it's not very user-friendly. Expect lots of fine print and confusing tables -- though you should find an answer to any question you may have about the camera. Documentation for the bundled software is installed on your computer.
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.
Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3
You'll wait about 1.8 seconds for the LX3 to extend its lens and prepare for shooting. That's pretty average.
A live histogram is available in record mode
Focusing speeds vary depending on what AF mode you have selected, but generally, they were pretty snappy. In the best case scenarios, the camera locks focus in 0.3 - 0.5 seconds. In more difficult situations, the camera took a bit longer, but still kept focus times under a second. Low light focusing was very good, thanks to the LX3's AF-assist lamp.
I didn't find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slow shutter speeds where it sometimes occurs.
Shot-to-shot delays were minimal, whether you're shooting a JPEG, or a RAW+JPEG. If you're using the flash, you can expect to wait for about two seconds while the flash recharges.
There is no quick way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you'll have to enter playback mode to do that. You can jump there quickly by pressing down on the four-way controller, unless you've redefined that button.
Now let's take a look at the image size and quality options on the LX3. Since there are three different aspect ratios available, it's a pretty lengthy list.
That's quite a list! You can take a RAW image by itself, or along with a JPEG at the size and quality of your choosing (the RAW file will always be full size). I told you the pros and cons of RAW earlier in the review.
When you lower the resolution, the DMC-LX3's extended optical zoom feature kicks in. This lets you have additional zoom power, without degrading image quality. For example, lowering the resolution to 3 Megapixels (which is still enough for a 4 x 6 inch print) will give you 4.5X worth of zoom.
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 Lumix DMC-LX3 has a attractive, and fairly easy to navigate menu system. My only wish is that there were help screens for these items, as there are for the scene mode. Now, keeping in mind that not all of these options are available in every shooting mode, here is the complete list of record menu options:
- Film mode - see below
- Picture size (see above chart)
- Quality (see above chart)
- Intelligent ISO (on/off) - see below
- Sensitivity [ISO] (Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200) - auto mode tops out at 400 without the flash, and 1000 with it
- ISO limit set (Auto, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200) - how high the ISO will go with Intelligent ISO turned on; I believe the "auto" setting tops out at 800
- White balance (Auto, outdoor, cloudy, shade, flash, incandescent, custom 1/2, color temperature) - see below
- Metering mode (Multiple, center-weighted, spot)
- AF mode (Face detection, AF tracking, multi-area, 1-area high speed, 1-area, spot) - see below
- Pre AF (Off, quick AF, continuous AF) - continuous AF is always focusing; quick AF starts continuous focusing when camera shake is minimal
- AF/AE lock (AF, AE, AF/AE) - what this button does
- Intelligent exposure (Off, low, standard, high) - see below
- Multiple exposure - combine 2 or 3 photos into one; an "auto gain" feature is available, to keep brightness consistent
- Digital zoom (on/off) - this is the "old school" digital zoom that degrades image quality
- Color mode (Standard, natural, vivid, black & white, sepia, cool, warm)
- Stabilizer (Auto, mode 1, mode 2, off) - see below
- Minimum shutter speed (1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1 sec) - slowest shutter speed the camera will use
- Audio rec (on/off) - add a 5 second audio clip to each photo
- AF-assist lamp (on/off)
- Flash synchro (1st, 2nd-curtain)
- External viewfinder (on/off)
- Conversion lens (Off, wide)
- Clock set
Adjusting a film mode
Lots to talk about here, and I'll start with the Film Mode feature. Film Modes are preset groups of color and sharpness settings, which can be tweaked further, if you wish. Here's what's available on the LX3:
For each of the film modes, you can adjust contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction. The memory option you see above lets you save the current film mode to one of those two My Film spots. A "multi film" option lets you take three shots in a row, each with a different film mode.
I want to quickly mention the Intelligent ISO feature, which is always on in Intelligent Auto mode, and is optional in the other shooting modes. The camera will take a look at what's going on in the frame, and adjust the sensitivity accordingly. If there's nothing happening, it will only boost the ISO enough to produce a sharp photo. However, if the subject is in motion, it'll boost it even higher, in order to "freeze" their motion. You can select the maximum ISO the camera will use (in some shooting modes), and I'd keep it at ISO 400 for best results.
Fine-tuning white balance
The LX3 has plenty of white balance options, though I'm a bit baffled about the lack of a fluorescent option (the rest of the usual presets are there). If you don't want to use a preset white balance setting, you can use a white or gray card as a reference, and save the results into one of two available slots. You can also set the WB by color temperature, with a range of 2500K to 10000K. If that's still not enough, you can fine-tune the white balance, using the interface you see above. About the only thing missing here is a white balance bracketing feature.
The white boxes make it difficult to see, but the camera did indeed lock onto all six faces here
The LX3 has numerous autofocus modes, and I want to mention a few of them. The face detection feature will find up to fifteen faces in the frame, making sure that they're properly focused and exposed. The face detection system performed very well, locking on to all six faces in our test scene. A related feature is called AF tracking, which allows you to pick a face, which the camera will follow as they move around the frame. There are two one-point AF modes, one regular speed and the other high speed. The high speed one freezes the image on the LCD during focusing, but as its name implies, it's a bit faster. The multi AF option lets you select which five focus points are used, and I showed you how you do that earlier in the review.
View Full SIze Image
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
View Full Size Image
The Intelligent Exposure feature automatically brightens the shadow areas of your photos. There are three levels to choose from on the LX3, or you can turn it off entirely (which is the default in most shooting modes). If you flip through the images above, you'll see that the building brightens and the sky gets some detail back, simply by turning the feature on. As you increase the Intelligent Exposure, the building gets a bit brighter, but not significantly so. If you open up the full size images you'll see that the images get noisier as you go, so keep that in mind.
There are three image stabilization modes to choose from on the LX3. Mode 1 activates OIS as soon as you halfway-press the shutter release button, so you can compose the shot without any camera shake. For more effective stabilization, you'll want to use mode 2. It doesn't activate OIS until the photo is actually taken, but it does a better job at reducing shake. A third, auto mode is new to the LX3, which picks which IS mode to use based on the zoom level (apparently). You can also turn the whole thing off, which is advisable if the camera is on a tripod.
There's also a setup menu, which is accessible via the record or playback menu. The items here include:
- Clock set
- World time (Home, travel)
- Travel date
- tell the camera where and when you're going on vacation, and it'll keep track of what day of the trip a photo was taken on
- Travel setup (Off, set)
- Location (Off, set
- Beep level (Muted, low, high)
- Beep tone (1, 2, 3)
- Shutter volume (Muted, low, high)
- Shutter tone (1, 2, 3)
- Volume (0-6)
- Custom setting memory (C1, C2-1, C2-2, C2-3) - you can save up to four sets of camera settings to the two dedicated spots on the mode dial
- Function button set (Review, film mode, sensitivity, white balance, metering mode, AF mode, Intelligent Exposure) - what the "down" button on the four-way controller does
- Monitor (1-7) - adjust the LCD brightness
- LCD mode (Off, Auto Power LCD, Power LCD) - Power LCD is great for shooting outdoors; the auto mode turns it on when needed
- Guide lines
- put a composition grid on the LCD
- Rec info (on/off)
- Pattern (3 x 3, complex)
- Histogram (on/off) - live histogram for record mode
- Highlight (on/off) - whether overexposed areas of a photo are shown in post-shot review and playback mode
- MF assist (Off, MF1, MF2) - configure the manual focus frame enlargement feature
- Power save (Off, 2, 5, 10 mins)
- Auto LCD off (Off, 15, 30 secs)
- Auto review (Off, 1 sec, 2 sec, hold, zoom) - the zoom option shows the picture for a second, then enlarges it by a factor of four for a second
- File number reset
- Reset - back to defaults
- USB mode (Select on connection, PictBridge/PTP, PC)
- Video out (NTSC, PAL)
- TV aspect (16:9, 4:3)
- m/ft (Meters, feet) - for the manual focus distance guide
- Scene menu (Off, auto) - if set to auto, scene menu opens automatically when you turn the mode dial to the scene mode position
- Version display - shows current firmware version
- Demo mode
Alright, enough about menus, let's talk about photo quality now, shall we?
The DMC-LX3 did a good job with our macro test subject, though there's a brownish color cast here. Colors are quite saturated, though Mickey's face seems a bit off, probably due to the aforementioned color cast. The camera captured plenty of detail here, with each spec of dust clearly visible. I don't see any noise or noise reduction artifacting here.
The minimum focus distance is just 1 cm at wide-angle, and 30 cm at telephoto. Do note that you need to have the focus switched to AF/Macro in order to get this close -- there's no dedicated macro button like on most cameras.
Since the LX3's lens is so wide, I can't take anything close to my usual night scene. Above is the best I can do -- still nice, but not the close-up that you may be familiar with. There's really nothing to complain about here, aside from the fact that I can't seem to take a level shot (though there's a tool in playback mode to fix that). The camera took in plenty of light, as a camera with manual controls should. Noise is minimal, and purple fringing wasn't a problem either (as the camera's Venus Engine IV removes it).
Now, let's use that same scene to see how the LX3 performs at high ISOs in low light situations:
As you'd expect, there's not much of a difference between the first two crops. We see a bit of noise creep in at ISO 200, but there's still plenty of detail intact. At ISO 400 you start to lose a bit of detail, though I'd say that you can still make a small or midsize print at this setting. I threw in a RAW conversion to show you that you really don't get that much detail back by shooting in that format. The highest I'd take the DMC-LX3 in low light is ISO 800, which has enough detail left for a small print. At ISO 1600 and especially ISO 3200, the image has a lot of staticky noise and detail loss.
We'll see how the camera performs in normal lighting in a moment.
Well here's something you don't see everyday: redeye in just one eye. The LX3 uses digital redeye removal to automatically remove this annoyance, but it looks like it only worked in one eye. Unfortunately, there's no removal tool in playback mode, so you'll have to use software on your computer to get rid of the rest of it.
Consider how wide the LX3's lens is, I was surprised to see that barrel distortion is relatively modest. If you want to see what this does to your photos in real life, have a look at the building on the right side of this photo. I didn't find corner blurriness or vignetting (dark corners) to be a problem, either. All three of these things are a testament to the quality of the LX3's lens.
And now it's time for our studio ISO test, which you can compare with other cameras I've reviewed in recent years. You can again see that brownish color cast that comes from the camera's white balance system not getting along well with my studio lights. While the crops below give you a quick idea as to the noise levels at each ISO setting, I highly recommend viewing the full size images to get the complete picture (no pun intended). Here we go:
ISO 1600, RAW -> JPEG conversion
Aside from the drab colors, the first three crops are very clean, and a bit soft. We seem some noise creep in at ISO 400, though it's not really doing much to reduce the image quality at this point. Noise levels increase at ISO 800 and start to eat away at details, so this is probably as high as I'd take the DMC-LX3. Details really start to get smudged at ISO 1600, though you can get back some of them by shooting RAW (see example above), so I'd save this setting for desperate circumstances only. I believe that ISO 3200 is too noisy to be usable for printing.
While the LX3's "large, ultra high sensitivity CCD" doesn't deliver D-SLR quality images, the camera does take very good quality photos for a compact camera. The two things I noticed right away were the really vibrant colors, and the tendency for the camera to slightly underexpose. The latter is easy enough to fix, with a third stop usually doing the trick. The camera handled highlights fairly well, though it had the usual highlight clipping in our purple fringing torture tunnel. As I said, colors were quite vivid -- perhaps too much so for some -- though I think it's just fine. Images are usually "just right" in terms of sharpness, though fine details are smudged due to noise reduction (my Maui gallery has plenty of photos to illustrate that). I should mention that, while detail smudging is still evident, it's not as bad as on previous Panasonic models, and you probably won't even notice unless you're making really large prints or viewing the images at 100% on your computer screen. Noise levels were low until ISO 400 in low light, and ISO 800 in good light, which is pretty good by compact camera standards. Purple fringing wasn't a problem, as the Venus Engine IV removes it automatically.
Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our two photo galleries -- standard and Maui -- and perhaps print a few of the photos, if you can. Then you should be able to decide if the LX3's photo quality meets your expectations!
One of the other nice features on the LX3 is its high definition (720p) movie mode. You can record movies at 1280 x 720 (at 24 frames/second) until the file size reaches 2GB. It takes around 10 minutes to reach that limit. Do note that you cannot record to the internal memory at the highest quality settings.
For longer movies, you'll have to lower the resolution. You can choose from 848 x 480, 640 x 480, and 320 x 240, all at 30 frames/second. For the 320 x 240, there's also a 10 fps option, though I'd avoid using that one, since it'll be like watching a stop motion video. You can record around 19 minutes of continuous video at 848 x 480, and 22 minutes at 640 x 480.
As is usually the case, you cannot use the optical zoom while you're recording a movie. The image stabilizer is available, though, which will reduce the "shake" in your video clips.
Movies are saved in QuickTime format, using the M-JPEG codec.
Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the highest quality setting. Be warned, it's a big download!
Click to play movie (34.4 MB, 1280 x 720, 24 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't play it? Download QuickTime.
|Playback mode||Playback menu|
The Lumix DMC-LX3 has a nice playback mode with a few unique features. The basic playback features include slideshows (now with music and special effects), image protection, voice captions, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge the image by as much as 16X (in 2X increments), and then move around the enlarged area.
|Calendar view||Selecting a category of photos to view|
Photos can be viewed one at a time, as thumbnails (in numerous sizes), and via a calendar. There's also a category view option that lets you jump directly to photos taken in certain modes (scene or movie).
Dual display feature
Want to compare images side-by-side? You can do that here using the dual play feature, though I wish you could zoom into both images and scroll around at the same time, for close-up comparisons.
Images can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. If you want to change the aspect ratio, you can do that too. There's also a handy photo straightening tool, which is perfect for people like me who can't seem to take a level shot.
If you're viewing a movie, you can grab a single frame, or create a collage consisting of nine frames. There's no way to actually edit movies on the camera, though.
|Text stamp feature||Entering a title|
The LX3 has a rather elaborate date stamp feature. You can print the date and time, the age of your baby or pet, and even a title of your choosing onto your photos, either one at a time, or in a big group. Do note that the camera will downsize the image to 3 Megapixels or less when using this feature, which is fine for what most people will be doing with them (printing them at 4 x 6).
The camera lets you delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all -- a feature I always appreciate. Lastly, as you'd expect, you can copy images between the internal memory and an optional memory card.
By default, the camera doesn't give you a lot of information about your photos. However, you can press the display button and see more info, including a histogram.
The DMC-LX3 moves though photos fairly quickly, with a delay of under one second between each photo.
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
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the Lumix DMC-LX3 and its competitors before you buy!