Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 Review
Design & Features
The Lumix DMC-LX7 is a mid-sized camera made mostly of metal. Construction is solid, save for the usual flimsy door over the battery/memory card compartment (but what else is new). I'm not a huge fan of the rear dial, either, which feels cheap and does not turn smoothly. The redesigned grip make the camera easy to hold, and the most important controls are within easy reach of your fingers. There isn't a whole lot of space for your right thumb on the back of the camera, so be careful where you put it.
Below you can see how the design has changed since the DMC-LX5:
|Images are close to scale and appear courtesy of Panasonic|
While there aren't many changes visible in the front view, the top view shows the new aperture ring and stereo microphones. Changes on the back include the use of a new accessory port, the addition of the ND filter/focus switch, and a "flip" of the Display and Q. Menu buttons. What I'm getting at is that users of the LX5 (and previous models) should feel right at home on the LX7.
The LX7 in the hand; its tiny lens cap comes with a retaining strap, though actually attaching it requires incredible dexterity
The DMC-LX7 is slightly larger and heavier than its predecessor. How does it compare with other premium compacts? Find out in the chart below:
The Lumix DMC-LX7 is one of the bulkier cameras in this group, but it's certainly not a large camera. While it probably won't fit in your jeans pocket, it will travel over your shoulder or in a small camera bag with ease.
I feel like taking a tour of the LX7 now. You can use the tabs below to flip between the various views of the camera.
The blockbuster feature on the LX7 is undoubtedly its super-fast lens. This F1.4-2.3, 3.8X optical zoom Leica lens is the fastest that you'll find in a compact camera, narrowly edging out Samsung's new EX2F. When a lens is "fast", it means that it lets in a lot of light, allowing for faster shutter speeds at lower sensitivities in low light situations. In other words, you get nicer-looking pictures in low light. In addition, the fast aperture range also allows for a better background blurring than your typical compact camera.
The focal range of the lens is 4.7 -17.7, which is equivalent to 24 - 90 mm (same as the LX5). The LX7's lens supports 37mm filters, though you'll need the optional filter adapter in order to use them.
The LX7 uses the same Power OIS image stabilization system as its predecessor. This system reduces the risk of blurry photos, and it'll smooth out the "shake" in your movies, as well. The LX7 does not have the "active" mode, used for reducing extreme shake in videos, like some of Panasonic's other cameras.
While the resolution on the DMC-LX7 is the same as it was on the LX5 (that's 10.1 Megapixel), the sensor is not the same. It's a bit smaller in size, though improvements have been made that produce photos with less noise than on the LX5. We'll look at that in more depth in the photo quality section of the review.
To the upper-right of the lens is the LX7's pop-up flash, which is released manually. The working range of the flash is 0.8 - 8.5 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 5.2 m at telephoto -- both of which are good numbers. If you want even more flash power, as well as a lower likelihood of redeye, you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see in a moment.
The only other thing to see on the front of the camera (at least from this angle) is the AF-assist lamp, which is located just to the right of the Lumix logo. In addition to helping the camera focus in low light situations, this lamp also flashes while the self-timer is counting down.
The LCD on the LX7 has double the resolution of the one on the DMC-LX5. For those who don't know camera specs off the top of their heads, that means that the resolution is now 920,000 pixels. As you'd expect, everything on the LCD is very sharp. I found outdoor visibility to be quite good, and in low light the image on the screen brightens up nicely, so you can still see your subject.
If you want to use a viewfinder, you have your choice of optical or electronic models to choose from. Both are mounted to the hot shoe, with the EVF also being plugged in to the accessory port that you see above the LCD.
Moving right from the accessory port is the new ND filter / focus switch. Pressing the switch inward turns on the neutral density filter, which reduces the amount of light coming through the lens. This will let you use slower shutter speeds or wider apertures than you could otherwise. If you're manually focusing, you can use the switch to set the focus distance.
At the upper-right of the photo is the LX7's control dial. While it can be used for menu navigation and reviewing photos, its main job is adjusting exposure (compensation, shutter speed, aperture). For some reason the dial seems really "sticky" (at least on my review camera), and doesn't turn smoothly.
Under that you'll find the four-way controller, which is surrounded by four more buttons. The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, and also offers direct controls for ISO, white balance, and the drive mode. The left directional button's function can be customized. The four surrounding buttons handle AE/AF lock, entering playback mode or the quick menu, and toggling the info displayed on the LCD.
Let's work our way from left to right on the top of the DMC-LX7. The first thing to see is the built-in flash, which is closed here. When it's popped up, there's still enough room leftover for your finger.
At the center of the photo is the hot shoe (with the stereo mic above it), which works best with the three Panasonic flashes I mentioned in the accessory section. The two higher-end models support high speed flash sync, so you can use any shutter speed that you desire. Unfortunately Panasonic doesn't say what the x-sync speed is for third party flashes.
Just above the hot shoe and stereo mic is the aspect ratio switch. The LX7 is quite unique in that the focal length remains the same regardless of the aspect ratio. In other words, you can shoot at 24mm at any aspect ratio.
Above that switch is the LX7's new aperture ring. This ring electronically sets the aperture from F1.4 to F8, though it's only usable in A and M modes.
Continuing to the right, we have the mode dial, whose contents I'll discuss after the tour. Next door to the dial is the shutter release button which has the zoom controller wrapped around it. The zoom controller moves the lens slowly from wide-angle to telephoto in about 2.8 seconds. I counted eighteen steps in the LX7's 3.8X zoom range.
The last two things to see on the top of the camera include the dedicated movie recording button and the power switch.
On this side of the LX7 you can see the focus mode selection switch. The AF and AF macro modes are similar, with the latter focusing at shorter distances In manual focus mode you use the new ND filter/focus dial to set the focus distance. A portion of the frame is enlarged, and the camera displays a distance guide on the LCD.
The only other thing to mention is that the lens is at the wide-angle position here.
On the right side of the camera we have the LX7's I/O ports, which are kept under a plastic door. They include Mini HDMI on the top, and USB + A/V output on the bottom.
The lens is at the full telephoto position.
On the bottom of the LX7 you'll find a metal tripod mount and the battery/memory card compartment. The door over this compartment is quite flimsy, which is disappointing to find on Panasonic's flagship compact camera. Thankfully the tripod mount is far away enough that you can access the memory card or battery while the camera is on a tripod.
The included DMW-BJC13 li-ion battery can be seen at right.
I'd like to tell you about features on the LX7 that are controlled by its various dials and buttons. Let's begin with the mode dial, which has these options:
In iA+ mode you can use sliders to adjust brightness, background blur, and color tone
Let's highlight the most interesting features on the mode dial:
- Intelligent Auto mode: the best auto mode in the business in my opinion -- it does everything for you, all with the push of a button; available options include automatic use of Motion Deblur, Handheld Night Shot, and HDR; there's also an iA+ mode which lets you use sliders to adjust brightness, background blur, and color tone (white balance)
- Shutter speed range: while the LX7 lacks a bulb mode, you can set the shutter speed as slow as 250 seconds (over 4 mins)
- Panorama Shot: "sweep" the camera from side-to-side and the camera will automatically stitch things together into a panorama
- Handheld night shot: the camera takes multiple exposures and combines them into what is hopefully a sharp image; don't expect miracles, though
- HDR (high dynamic range): combines three photos, taken at different exposures, into a single image with improved contrast
- Creative Control: choose from sixteen special effects, most of which can be fine-tuned to your liking; most of them can be used for videos, in addition to stills
Above you can see a panorama that I created using the aptly named Panorama Shot feature. I swept the camera from left to right and think I stopped earlier than I could have (the guide on the screen is a bit misleading). What's "off" here are the vertical stripes visible on the right side of the photo, which was visible in panoramas I took in other places, as well. That's too bad, as the image quality is otherwise pretty good.
I want to show you an example of the HDR feature in action. In HDR mode the camera will take three photos in a row, each at a different exposure (you can't choose what the interval is), and combines them into a single image with dramatically improved contrast. Take a look:
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While I'll be first to admit that the HDR shot looks a little bit over-processed, the dramatic improvement in contrast is worth it.
I want to touch on a few of the features accessed via the four-way controller:
- ISO (left direction): chose from Auto, Intelligent Auto (uses motion to set the sensitivity), and 80 - 6400 (expandable to 12800)
- White balance (right direction): you'll find the usual presets (minus florescent), two custom slots, and the ability to set the WB by color temperature; each of the options can be fine-tuned, and you can also bracket for white balance
- Drive (down direction): here are the burst modes (details later), self-timer, and AE bracketing (-3EV to +3EV range) options
That brings us to menus. Before I get into the main menu, I want to cover what you'll find in the Quick Menu, which is activated by pressing the Q. Menu button on the back of the camera. The Quick Menu has been redesigned on the LX7, and while I'm not a huge fan of the new look, I got used to it after a while. Options in the Quick Menu include Photo Style, Flash setting, movie/still quality, focus mode, metering mode, and exposure compensation. In case you're wondering, there is no way to customize the items that go on this menu.
The main menu has received a face lift as well, and it looks great on the high resolution LCD. The only thing I would've liked to see here are help screens for the various options. The menu is divided into three tabs, covering still, movie, and setup options. Here are the most interesting options from the record and setup tabs:
- Photo Style: a style contains parameters related to contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction; there are several presets plus a custom option -- all of which can be adjusted to your heart's content
- Quality: choose from normal or fine quality JPEGs, plus RAW or RAW+JPEG; a RAW file weighs in at approximately 13 MB, while a fine quality JPEG is more like 4.5 MB
- ISO options: choose the top limit for Auto ISO, the increment between each sensitivity, and whether ISO 12800 is available
- Program Diagram: choose from standard, maximum aperture (uses the ND filter for background defocusing), and MTF (for highest resolution)
- AF modes: choose from face detection, subject tracking, 23-area auto, and 1-area modes; for the last item, you can select both the position and size of the focus point; if you're using face detection, then you can also take advantage of a face recognition feature, which learns who people are, and gives them priority in the scene
- Quick AF: starts focusing when camera shake is reduced (which is supposed to be when you're about to compose a photo), which reduces focus times
- Intelligent Dynamic: attempts to improve overall image contrast by reducing highlight clipping and brightening shadows; from my own tests I've found that it does nothing for highlights and only brightens shadows in certain situations; off by default, except in iA mode
- Multiple exposure: combines up to three exposures into a single photo; auto gain adjustment is available
- Intelligent Resolution: "intelligently" sharpens photos by outlining edges, improving texture detail, and leaving things like the sky alone; off by default, except in iA mode
- Intelligent zoom: boosts the focal range by 2X (to 7.5X total), with a "minimal deterioration of image quality"; see example below
- Extra optical zoom: while not actually a menu option, you can get additional zoom power by lowering the resolution; for example, dropping down to 5 Megapixel gives you 5.4X of total zoom power; this can also be combined with Intelligent Zoom, so you'd top out at a whopping 10.7X if you used both
- Step zoom: when on, the zoom controller will jump to five preset positions (24, 28, 35, 70, and 90 mm)
- Redeye removal: in addition to using pre-flashes to shrink your subject's pupils, the LX7 can digitally remove redeye after a photo is taken; we'll see if it works later in the review
- Aspect bracket: takes a photo in each of the four aspect ratios
- Time Lapse shot: new to the LX7, this lets you set the start time, interval between shots, total number of shots, and whether an alert sound is played when each photo is taken
- Fn button set: assign a function to the customizable Fn button ("left" on the four-way controller), with three pages of options to choose from
- Lens Resume: normally I wouldn't mention a feature like this, but since I got burned a few times, I'm sharing; if you enter playback mode the camera will retract the lens after maybe 30 seconds; when you return to shooting, the lens position and focus distance have been lost; thus, turning on Zoom Resume and/or MF Resume is a smart idea
There are two features from the menu that I want to demo, with the first being Intelligent Resolution. As I wrote in the list above, the IR feature selectively sharpens an image, applying it to things that need it (like edges) and leaving alone things that don't (like the sky). It's off by default, except in iA mode, and you can choose from low, standard, or high levels in other shooting modes. Here's a crop of a larger photo that shows the IR feature in action:
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While it's not a huge change, the image above gets a bit sharper each time you crank up the level of Intelligent Resolution. For most folks, the standard setting is just fine.
The other part of the Intelligent Resolution system is Intelligent Zoom. This gives you a 2X boost in zoom power with less of a drop in image quality than traditional digital zoom. Thus, you now have a 180 mm lens at your disposal. Let's see how it looks:
|Full telephoto (90 mm)
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|Full telephoto + Intelligent Zoom (180 mm)
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I don't know about you, but there seems to be a pretty noticeable loss of image quality when using Intelligent Zoom (you'll have to view the full size images to see this). It's fine for small prints, but that's about it. If you don't mind lowering the image size, you'll get much nicer looking photos using the Extended Optical Zoom feature I mentioned in the menu discussion. And, if you're a real glutton for punishment, you can use both of these zoom-enhancing features at the same time!
The LX7's movie mode has been enhanced quite a bit since the LX5 came out. Forget 720p -- the LX7 can record Full HD video at 1080/60p with stereo sound, using the AVCHD Progressive codec. The bit rate is a whopping 28 MBps at this setting, so you'll want a large (not to mention fast) memory card if you're using this mode. If you want interlaced video for some reason, then a 1080/60i option is at your disposal. For both of these modes, you can keep recording for up to 30 minutes. You can also step down to the 720/60p resolution, which has unlimited recording times (outside of Europe).
If you want to avoid AVCHD entirely -- which you might, since it's difficult to edit and share -- then you can also use MPEG-4 (a step up from Motion JPEG used on the LX5). You can record video at 1920 x 1080, 1280 x 720, and 640 x 480, all at 30 frames/second. MPEG-4 video is much easier to work with on your computer, though note that recording stops when the file size reaches 4GB, which takes about 24 minutes at the 1080/30p setting.
As you'd expect, you can use the LX7's optical zoom while recording a movie, with continuous autofocus support. The image stabilizer is available, as well, though the LX7 does not have the "active" mode of some of Panasonic's other cameras (though it doesn't really need it). Movie recording can be a totally point-and-shoot experience (just hit the red button in any mode), or you can adjust the exposure manually. To do the latter, just put the camera into Creative Video mode, where you can adjust the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. A wind cut filter is available for shooting outdoors.
The LX7 also supports high speed 720p video recording at 120 frames/second. When played back at normal speed, everything appears to be moving in slow motion.
Still photos can be taken while recording a movie, though the resolution will be 3.5 Megapixel.
Below is a sample video that I recorded at the 1080/60p setting. I converted the video from AVCHD to H.264 using Final Cut Pro X. If you'd like to view or convert the original MTS file, you can download it using the link below.
|The LX7's two playback menus|
The LX7's playback mode has been enhanced a bit since the LX5. Some of the highlights include:
- Filtering play: view only stills, videos, 3D images, favorites, and photos taken with a specific scene mode
- Calendar view: quickly jump to photos taken on a certain date
- Title edit / text stamp: print the date and time, location, names of recognized subjects, and more on your photos
- Resize/cropping: always handy
- Leveling: for people like me who can't get their horizons level
- Auto retouch: a "quick fix" for your photos, though it often over-brightens images
- Creative retouch: apply many of the camera's Creative Filters to photos that you've taken
- Video divide: pick a spot in your video and split it two
One thing that's not here is a redeye removal tool. You'll have to accept whatever the LX7's dual redeye reduction systems come up with, which I'll share with you in a bit.
The LX7 doesn't tell you much about your photos by default. However, if you press the Display button, you'll get a bit more, including a histogram.
The camera moves between photos without delay. If you've enlarged a photo by using the zoom controller, you can switch to other photos while maintaining the same position by using the rear dial.