Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 Review
The Lumix DMC-LX7 is Panasonic's flagship compact camera, and the long-awaited follow-up to the popular DMC-LX5. At first glance, it's hard to tell the two apart, but look closer and you'll see some pretty big changes. The DMC-LX7 is a mid-sized camera made mostly of metal. Build quality is good in most respects, though I wasn't a fan of the cheap-feeling rear dial, which doesn't turn smoothly. As is usually the case, the plastic door over the battery/memory card compartment is flimsy, as well. The LX7 fits well in your hand, thanks to a right hand grip that's, well, just right. The biggest feature on the camera is undoubtedly its F1.4-2.3, 3.8X Leica zoom lens (equivalent to 24 - 90 mm). This is the fastest lens you'll find on a compact camera, which promises better low light photos and background blurring. Panasonic has put an aperture ring around the lens, which allows you to quickly adjust this setting when in A and M mode. The LX7 also features Panasonic's Power OIS image stabilization system, to reduce the risk of blurry photos and jumpy videos. On the back of the camera is a 3-inch LCD with 920,000 pixels (twice that of the LX5) that is easy to see both outdoors and in low light. If you want to use an electronic viewfinder, Panasonic offers a pretty nice one. An external flash and various lens filters are also available as accessories.
The LX7 has a very nice collection of features that should make just about everybody happy. If you're a "set it and forget it" kind of person, then look no further than Panasonic's great Intelligent Auto mode. It literally takes care of everything for you, whether its picking a scene mode, avoiding blur, handling back-lit situations, or intelligently sharpening an image. The LX7 has a large collection of scene modes, plus numerous special effects (known as Creative Controls). Two scene modes of note include Panorama Shot and HDR. The former will let you "sweep" the camera from side-to-side, with an automatically stitched panorama arriving a few seconds later. Unfortunately, all of my panoramas had vertical banding in them, which I hope Panasonic can fix via firmware update. The HDR feature is point-and-shoot (meaning that you can't adjust the exposure interval), but it does result in much better-looking photos when your subject is strongly back-lit.
As you'd expect from this premium compact, there are plenty of manual controls on the LX7, too. You get all the usual exposure options, RAW support, lots of white balance options, and three types of bracketing. One of those bracketing modes is for aspect ratio, which makes this a great time to point out that the LX7 is one of very few cameras that can maintain the same focal length at all of its aspect ratios. Another feature I like is called Intelligent Resolution, which I think noticeably improves the look of the LX7's already stellar images. The DMC-LX7 also has a fully loaded movie mode, which allows you to record Full HD video at 1080/60p, with stereo sound, for up to 30 minutes. You can use the optical zoom and image stabilizer while recording, and continuous autofocus is available, as well. If you to adjust the aperture, shutter speed, or ISO in movie mode, it's totally doable on the LX7.
The DMC-LX7's performance is top-notch in nearly every area. It starts up in just 1.1 seconds, focuses very quickly, and takes the photo as soon as you press the button. Shot-to-shot delays are minimal, even if you're using the RAW format or taking a flash photo. The LX7 has a variety of burst modes, with the two most notable being the 5.5 fps with continuous AF and 11 fps options. The camera has a large amount of buffer memory, so quite a few photos can be taken before things slow down. The only areas in which the camera lags are buffer flush times (30+ seconds when shooting bursts of RAW images) and zoom speed (the lens moves at a snail's pace). While battery life has dropped considerably since the LX5, it's still tied for the top spot in the premium compact group.
Photo quality on the Lumix DMC-LX7 is excellent. The camera takes well-exposed photos, without too much highlight clipping (though it will occur at times). Colors are nice and saturated, and accurate in most situations (the LX7 still struggles a bit in artificial light). The LX7's lens is definitely high quality, with good sharpness across the frame. If you want things a bit sharper than what the camera produces by default, you can use the Intelligent Resolution feature I mentioned earlier. The LX7 has very little noise and thankfully no detail smudging at low ISOs. It keeps noise levels low through ISO 400 in low light and ISO 1600 in good light, both of which are better than what you'll find on a typical compact camera. One issue that the DMC-LX7 unfortunately has is redeye, despite its two features designed to prevent it.
Overall, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 is an excellent premium compact camera. Its fast lens, performance, and manual controls will make enthusiasts drool, while those just starting out can get great results using Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode. There's very little to dislike about the LX7, with my main issues being redeye, slow buffer flush times when shooting RAW images, and vertical lines in panoramas. Aside from that, the LX7 is a first-rate camera that I can highly recommend.
What I liked:
- Excellent photo quality, with less noise than typical compact cameras
- Super fast F1.4-2.3, 3.8X optical zoom Leica lens allows for better low light shots, more background blur
- Multi-aspect sensor maintains the same focal length at all four aspect ratios
- 3-inch LCD with 920,000 pixels, very good outdoor/low light visibility
- Full manual controls with RAW support, numerous ways to adjust white balance, three types of bracketing, and a customizable button and spots on the mode dial
- Intelligent Auto mode does it all for you, including scene selection, face detection, blur reduction, HDR, and smart sharpening
- Robust performance, especially startup, focus and shot-to-shot speeds
- Super fast burst mode, with ability to shoot at 5.5 fps with continuous AF and 11 fps with single AF
- Handy aperture ring around lens
- Built-in neutral density (ND) filter
- Lots of scene modes (including HDR and Panorama Shot) and special effects
- Intelligent Resolution feature nicely sharpens photos
- Time lapse and multiple exposure options
- Records movies at 1080/60p with stereo sound, use of optical zoom/image stabilizer, and continuous autofocus; full manual controls available
- Optional electronic and optical viewfinders, external flash, and lens filters
- Above average battery life
What I didn't care for:
- Redeye a problem; no removal tool in playback mode
- Takes a long time (30+ seconds) for camera to flush the buffer after a burst containing RAW images is taken
- Vertical stripes in panoramic images
- Cheap-feeling rear dial doesn't rotate smoothly; flimsy door over battery/memory card compartment
- Full manual on CD-ROM (it's not very user-friendly, either)
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 and its competitors before you buy!
Check out our photo gallery to see how the LX7's image quality looks!