DCRP

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 Review

Performance & Photo Quality

The Lumix DMC-LX7 is definitely a strong performer, which is what you'd expect from Panasonic's flagship compact camera. The table below summarizes how much (or rather, how little) waiting you'll do while using the LX7:

Timing Measured Performance How it Compares
Startup 1.1 sec Above average
Autofocus
(Normal light)

0.1 - 0.3 secs (W)
0.3 - 0.7 secs (T)

Above average
Autofocus
(Low light)
~ 1 sec Average
Shutter lag Not noticeable Above Average
Shot-to-shot
(JPEG, no flash)
~ 1 sec Above average
Shot-to-shot
(RAW, no flash)
~ 1 sec Above average
Shot-to-shot
(with flash)
~ 2 sec Above average

What can I say, other than "nice"!


That's a lot of burst modes!

The LX7 has a whopping eight different continuous shooting modes. On the "slower" end of the spectrum we have 2 and 5 frame/second options, with or without continuous autofocus. The fastest you can shoot at full resolution is 11 frames/second, with focus and exposure locked after the first shot. You can also switch to an electronic shutter and fire away at 40 or 60 frames/second, though the resolution drops to 5 and 2.5 Megapixel, respectively. Finally, there's a flash burst mode, which takes five flash photos in a row, albeit at 3 Megapixel.

Let's see how the DMC-LX7's two most interesting burst mode options performed in our tests!

Image quality 5.5 fps w/AF 11 fps
RAW + Large/Fine JPEG 12 shots @ 4.8 frames/sec 12 shots @ 11.3 frames/sec
RAW 11 shots @ 4.8 frames/sec 12 shots @ 11.4 frames/sec
Large/Fine JPEG 24 shots @ 4.9 frames/sec 12 shots @ 11.8 frames/sec
Tested with a SanDisk UHS-1 SDHC card

The good news: the DMC-LX7 shoots incredibly quickly in burst mode, with a fairly large amount of buffer memory. At the slower speeds, the camera will just slow down when you reach the above limits (a little bit for JPEGs, more for RAW). At 11 frames/second, the camera will stop shooting when the twelve shot burst is done. The LCD keeps up with the action, so tracking a moving subject shouldn't be a challenge.

The bad news: expect long write times if you're shooting RAW. For both of the speeds I tested, it took over thirty seconds for the LX7 to save its images to my very fast UHS-I SDHC card. During that time you can't take another high speed burst or enter playback mode.

It's finally time to talk photo quality! Let's begin with our familiar macro test subject.

Our Mickey figurine is looking very good here. Its sharp as a tack, with plenty of detail. Colors are accurate for the most part, though the whites are a little on the brown side. I looked far and wide for noise and couldn't find any -- and that's a good thing.

The minimum focus distance in macro mode is 1 cm at wide-angle an 30 cm at full telephoto. Don't forget to flip the focus switch to the Auto Macro position in order to take close-up shots!

After some big-time focusing problems with two different early production LX7's, I was finally able to get sharp photos with a production model without having to resort to manual focus. Since the DMC-LX7 "only" goes to 90 mm at its telephoto end, our night shot is quite a bit wider than usual. Exposure is generally spot-on, though there's some nasty blooming in a couple of places (and I shot this at F4). As with all recent Panasonic cameras I've tested, there's a slight yellow color cast here. The buildings are nice and sharp, from one edge of the frame to the other. Noise levels are relatively low, and purple fringing was not an issue.

Let's use that same test scene to see how the DMC-LX7 performed at higher sensitivities in low light. Here's how the noise levels looked from ISO 80 to 6400:


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

There's not a huge difference between the ISO 80 and 100 crops, as you'd expect. Noise starts to show up at ISO 200, though a mid-sized or large print is still very possible. Details start to go south at ISO 400, and I'd save this setting for small prints only (if you're shooting JPEGs). This trend continues at ISO 800, so I'd save this for desperation only. The edges of the buildings start disappearing as the sensitivity hits 1600, to the point where they're gone entirely.

I always like to see if more detail can be squeezed out of an image by using the RAW format. For the night shots, I'll try doing some easy post-processing on the ISO 800 and 1600 photos. Here are the results:

ISO 800

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 7.2 RC)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 7.2 RC)


RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

Unfortunately, you don't get a ton of detail back when shooting RAW at these sensitivities in low light. Perhaps the biggest benefit is the much improved color rendition -- goodbye ugly brown color cast!

We'll do this test again in regular light to see if it makes a more significant difference.

[Night photos and discussion updated on 9/7/12]

The DMC-LX7 takes a two-pronged approach to reducing redeye. First, it'll fire the flash a few times (before the photo is taken) to shrink your subject's pupils, which sometimes works. If any redeye remains after the photo is taken, the camera will digitally remove it automatically. Unfortunately, the LX7 produced a lot of redeye in my tests, which is the exact opposite of how the LX5 performed two years ago. While your results may vary, odds are that you'll have at least some redeye in your flash photos.

There's mild-to-moderate barrel distortion at the wide end of the LX7's 24 - 90 mm lens. If you take a look at the building on the right side of this photo, you'll see the effects of barrel distortion. Corner blurring was very minor (and only in the lower-right), and vignetting wasn't an issue.

Now it's time to see how the LX7 performed in our studio ISO test. Since these photos are taken under consistent lighting, you can compare the results with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. I've opened up the full ISO range here, though the highest sensitivity (ISO 12800) is at a much lower resolution (and uses pixel binning). With a reminder to view the original images in addition to these crops, here we go:


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

ISO 12800 (3 MP)

Everything looks nice and clean through ISO 400. At ISO 800 we get a tiny bit of noise appearing, as well as a drop in color saturation. Even so, it's still quite usable for mid-sized and large prints. That trend continues at ISO 1600, reducing your print sizes a bit. If you're shooting JPEGs, I'd probably stop there. If you're shooting RAW, you can venture onward to ISO 3200, which should clean up well enough to be used for smaller-sized prints. The ISO 6400 photo is pretty lousy, though playing with the RAW images using SilkyPix makes me think that you could squeeze out a small print with a little work. I wouldn't touch ISO 12800 with a ten-foot pole -- I don't know why camera companies even bother with settings this high.

Can we improve image quality by shooting RAW and performing some simple post-processing? Let's take the ISO 3200 and 6400 images from above and find out:

ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 7.2 RC)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 6400

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 7.2 RC)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

There's definitely an improvement to be had by shooting RAW. At ISO 3200 we get improved color reproduction and quite a bit more detail (though you get some grain-style noise in exchange). While the processed ISO 6400 image is undoubtedly better than the original, it's not going to be usable for anything but a small print.

[RAW comparison added on 9/7/12]

Panasonic claims that the new sensor on the DMC-LX7 has less noise than that of its predecessor. Let's use our test scene once again and find out:

ISO 1600

DMC-LX5

DMC-LX7
 
ISO 3200

DMC-LX5

DMC-LX7

I'd say that that Panasonic can safely say that the LX7 has less noise than the LX5. It's not a dramatic difference, but it's an improvement nonetheless.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 produces some of the best quality photos of any compact camera out there. Exposure was accurate on nearly all occasions, so you won't need to leave bracketing on all the time, as with some other cameras. The LX7 will clip highlights at times, which is the case with most cameras in its class. Colors were nice and saturated, whether they were the bright red of an Audi R8 or the green grass at Mountain View Cemetery. Subjects are quite sharp, thanks to the high quality Leica lens. That said, I do like having Intelligent Resolution set to low or standard, to apply a bit more sharpening to fine details, but that's purely a subjective thing. Detail smudging is not a problem at low ISOs, which is not the case on the majority of compact cameras these days. The LX7 keeps noise under control through ISO 400 in low light, and ISO 1600 in good light, which is certainly better than your typical compact. I did not find purple fringing to be an issue on the LX7.

Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our huge photo gallery and draw your own conclusion about the LX7's photo quality!

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