Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 Review
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.