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DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2  

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: September 27, 2006
Last Updated: April 9, 2012

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The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2 ($500) is an upgrade to the DMC-LX1 from last year (read our review). That camera was unique for its 16:9, "widescreen" CCD and 28 mm lens. On the LX2 Panasonic has added several new features, some good, some not-so-good. They include:

  • 10.2 Megapixel widescreen CCD (versus 8.4 on the LX1)
  • Widescreen 2.8" LCD display (versus 2.5", 4:3 LCD on the LX1)
  • Uses new Venus III image processor (the LX1 used Venus II)
  • ISO can go up to 1600 (3200 in high sensitivity mode) compared to 400 on the LX1
  • Higher resolution movie mode (1280 x 720 vs 848 x 480)
  • Improved battery life (300 vs 240 shots)
  • Adds 13MB of built-in memory (in lieu of a bundled memory card)
  • Support for SDHC memory cards

Some features that haven't changed include the wide-angle 28 - 112 mm lens, optical image stabilizer, full manual controls, and support for the RAW image format.

Ready to see how this "wide" camera performs? Find out now in our review!

Since the two cameras share so much in common, I'll be reusing large portions of the DMC-LX1 review here.

What's in the Box?

The DMC-LX2 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 10.2 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-LX2 camera
  • CGR-S005A lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • Lens cap w/retaining strap
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Lumix Simple Viewer, PhotoFunStudio, SilkyPix Developer Studio, and drivers
  • 141 page camera manual (printed)

Keeping with the trend of late, Panasonic has built memory into the LX2 instead of bundling a memory card. The LX2 includes a paltry 13MB of onboard memory, which holds just one image at the highest JPEG quality setting. That means that you'll want to get a memory card -- and fast. The LX2 supports SD and MMC cards, plus the new SDHC format as well, and I'd suggest a 1GB card as a good starter size. A high speed card is recommended (50X or faster).

The DMC-LX2 uses the same CGA-S005A lithium-ion rechargeable battery as the LX1. This battery packs 4.3 Wh of energy, which isn't much these days. Here's how the LX2's battery life compares to some other wide-angle cameras:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot S80 200 shots
Canon PowerShot SD800 IS * 270 shots
Kodak EasyShare P880 285 shots
Olympus FE-200 290 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX07 * 320 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 * 240 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2 * 300 shots
Samsung Digimax L55W 340 shots **

* Has image stabilization
** Number not obtained using the CIPA standard

Battery life numbers are provided by the manufacturer

As you can see, the LX2's battery life numbers are 25% better than the LX1 before it. In the midsize, wide-angle class as a whole, the LX2 is above average in terms of battery life.

The usual caveats about proprietary batteries apply here. First, they're really expensive -- an extra CGA-S005 battery will set you back $50. Secondly, if you're ever in a jam, you can't just pop in some alkaline batteries to get you through the day like you could on an AA-based camera.

When it's time to charge the battery, just place it into the included external charger. It takes just over two hours to fully charge the CGA-S005 battery. I should add that this is my favorite type of charger -- it plugs directly into the wall.

Panasonic includes a lens cap and retaining strap with the camera, so that nice Leica lens will be protected from the elements.

There are just a few accessories available for the LX2, none of which are particularly exciting. The most interesting is probably the DMW-AC5 AC adapter ($70 -- ouch), which lets you use the camera without draining your battery. Otherwise it's just camera cases. Panasonic offers three (models DMW-CLXA1, DMW-CDTA1, CMW-CTH1.

Lumix Simple Viewer for Windows

Panasonic includes several software products with the camera, though only one of them is Mac compatible. The first one is Lumix Simple Viewer (Windows only), which does just what it sounds like: it imports and views photos. You can't do any editing -- just rotation, printing, and e-mailing. The version of Simple Viewer that came with my LX2 could NOT open RAW images.

PhotoFunStudio for Windows

For slightly more complex tasks there's PhotoFunStudio, again for Windows only. This can do all the things Simple Viewer can do, plus it can also resize and rename images, and it can also convert RAW images to JPEG format.

SilkyPix Developer Studio for Mac OS X

If you want to manipulate the RAW images produced by the LX2 then you'll want to use the included SilkyPix Developer Studio software. While this software won't win any awards for its user interface, it does let you edit plenty of RAW properties, including exposure, white balance, sharpness, tone and color, and noise reduction. I found its processing speeds to be quite sluggish on my dual processor Mac Pro.

The Camera Raw plug-in for Adobe Photoshop was not compatible with the LX2 at the time this review was written.

The RAW format, by the way, is a lossless image format consisting of raw image data from the CCD. Because of this, you can change things like white balance, sharpness, and saturation without lowering the quality of the original image. So if you screwed up the white balance you can fix it -- it's like taking the shot all over again. The catch is that RAW files must be first processed on your computer before you can export them into more common formats such as JPEG. In addition, RAW files are considerably larger than JPEGs, though they're smaller than TIFF files (which aren't supported on the LX2 in the first place).

I'm not a huge fan of Panasonic's camera manuals. They're not terribly easy to read, with lots of "notes" on every page. You will get your question answered -- you'll just have to work a bit to find what you're looking for.

Look and Feel

The DMC-LX2 looks exactly like its predecessor, save for the larger LCD on the back. Its a midsize camera made almost entirely of metal and, for the most part, it feels pretty solid. Despite not having much of a right hand grip, I did find it easy to hold the camera using just three fingers. The important controls are within easy reach of your fingers.

Images courtesy of Panasonic

Like so many cameras these days, the LX2 comes in multiple colors. You can choose from traditional silver or the more "pro-looking" black.

Now, here's a look at how the LX2 compares to some other cameras in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot S80 4.1 x 2.2 x 1.5 in. 13.5 cu in. 225 g
Canon PowerShot SD800 IS 3.5 x 2.3 x 1.0 in. 8.1 cu in. 150 g
Kodak EasyShare P880 4.5 x 3.8 x 3.6 in. 61.6 cu in. 500 g
Olympus FE-200 3.9 x 2.4 x 1.1 in. 10.3 cu in. 155 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX07 3.7 x 2.0 x 1.0 in. 7.4 cu in. 132 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 4.2 x 2.2 x 1.0 in. 9.2 cu in. 185 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2 4.2 x 2.2 x 1.0 in. 9.2 cu in. 187 g
Samsung Digimax L55W 3.9 x 2.2 x 1.1 in. 9.4 cu in. 169 g

The first thing to point out is that the LX1 and LX2 are the same size and practically the same weight. In terms of size, it's about average in the midsize/wide-angle class, especially if you don't count the rather bulky Kodak EasyShare P880.

Okay, let's begin our tour of the LX2 now!

The LX2's lens is unchanged from the LX1. It's an F2.8-4.9, 4X zoom Leica DC Vario-Elmarit model. The lens has as focal range of 6.3 - 25.2 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 112 mm when shooting in 16:9 mode (more on aspect ratios later). The lens is not threaded.

There are two things inside the lens that I want to talk about. First I want to mention the optical image stabilizer, a feature found on all Panasonic cameras. Sensors inside the camera detect the tiny movements of the camera that can blur your photos, especially when you're shooting indoors. The camera then moves an element in the lens to compensate for this motion, giving you a sharper image. What this means in the real world is that you can get sharp photos at shutter speeds that would require a tripod on an unstabilized camera. What OIS can't do is stop a moving subject, or take a sharp 1+ second exposure. But it does help. Want to see some examples? Here you go:

Image stabilization off

Image stabilization on (mode 2)

I took both of the above photos at a shutter speed of 1/10 second, and as you can see in the top image, results in a blurry photos in most situations. However, once you turn on the LX2's image stabilizer, you'll get much better results, as the second image illustrates.

If you need to see another example of how the OIS system works, check out this sample movie.

The next thing I want to talk about is the LX2's most unique feature: it's widescreen CCD. Let's say you're up in the Marin Headlands taking one of the world's most popular photos. Here's what your typical 4:3 ratio CCD would capture:

The LX2, on the other hand, has a Panasonic-designed widescreen CCD with a 16:9 aspect ratio -- just like that flat screen TV you've been lusting after. Here's what the same scene looks like with a 16:9 sensor:

Quite a difference eh? This isn't a digital effect like on most cameras: the sensor is really capturing a wider area. You can switch aspects ratios using a switch on top of the lens that you'll see later. There are a couple of things to watch out for with regard to the "other" aspect ratios on the camera, though. If you want to shoot in the more traditional 4:3 or 3:2 aspect ratios then you'll be lowering the resolution to 7.5MP and 8.5MP, respectively. Also, the focal range of the camera depends on what aspect ratio you're using. For 4:3 it's 34 - 136 mm, while for 3:2 it's 32 - 128 mm.

Okay, enough about that, let's get back to our tour now.

To the upper-right of the lens is the pop-up flash, which is raised manually. The flash range is a bit different than on the LX1, probably due to the higher sensitivities supported by the camera. At wide-angle the range is 0.6 - 4.9 m, while at telephoto it drops to 0.3 - 2.2 m (both at Auto ISO). You cannot attach an external flash to the DMC-LX2.

Just to the upper-left of the lens it eh AF-assist lamp, which doubles as the self-timer lamp. The AF-assist lamp is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light situations.

One of the most notable (and noticeable) changes on the LX2 is its 2.8" widescreen LCD display. The LX1 was a little strange in that it had a wide lens, widescreen CCD, but a regular 4:3 LCD. No more! The LCD here is big, bright, and sharp, with 207,000 pixels. Outdoor visibility was about average at default settings, and above average if you use the Power LCD function that I'll describe in a moment. Low light visibility was quite good, as the screen brightens automatically in those situations.

As you can probably tell, there's no optical viewfinder on the LX2. Whether that's a bad thing is sort of a personal decision. Some people want one, others don't. I am in the "want one " camp myself.

Now let's look at all those buttons on the right side of the LCD. The first thing to see is the AF/AE lock button. Press it once to lock the focus and exposure, and press it again to unlock.

Quick menu

Below that is the joystick, which you'll use for adjusting manual controls. If you hold down the joystick you'll also open the "Quick setting menu", which lets you quickly adjust the AF mode, metering mode, white balance, ISO, and picture size. More on both of these subjects later.

Next up is the four-way controller, which you'll use for menu navigation as well as:

  • Up - Backlight compensation, exposure compensation, auto bracketing, flash exposure compensation
  • Down - Review (quickly jumps to playback mode)
  • Left - Self-timer (2 or 10 seconds)
  • Right - Flash setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash on, slow sync w/redeye reduction, flash off)

I want to talk about the 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 automatic shooting mode: use this if your subject has a bright light source behind them. Exposure compensation is the usual -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments like on every camera. The flash exposure compensation option does the same thing, but for flash strength. Auto bracketing takes three shots in a row with each shot having a different exposure. You can choose from ±0.3EV, ±0.6EV or ±1.0EV increments. If you've got the space on your memory card this is a great way to ensure proper exposure every time.

Below the four-way controller are two more buttons. The Display button on the left toggles what's shown on the LCD, and also activates the Power LCD and High Angle features. The former brightens the screen considerably, which makes it easier to see outdoors. I don't know how it works exactly, but the High Angle feature lets you hold the LCD over your head and still see what's on the screen -- great for when you're shooting over a crowd.

The other button turns on the LX2's continuous shooting feature (and deletes photos in playback mode). The LX2 has three burst modes: low speed, high speed, and infinite, and you can't use the RAW image format in any of them. At the low speed setting the camera will shoot up to three photos (at the highest quality setting) at a sluggish 1.3 frames/second. Moving up to high speed mode boosts the frame rate to a more acceptable 2.4 frames/second, though you still only get 3 to 5 photos out of it (depending on the quality setting). The infinite setting will keep shooting at 1.8 frames/second until the memory card is full. Do note that a high speed memory card is required for maximum continuous shooting performance. I found that the LCD kept up well with the action, so following a moving subject should not be a problem.

On top of the LX2 you'll find a whole bunch of buttons, switches, and dials. The first things to see include the release for the pop-up flash, with the speaker and microphone to the right of that. Continuing right, we find the mode dial, which has these options:

Option Function
Scene mode You pick the scene and the camera uses the appropriate settings; choose from portrait, soft skin, scenery, sports, night portrait, night scenery, self-portrait, food, party, candlelight, fireworks, starry sky, beach, aerial photo, snow, high sensitivity, baby; see below for more info
Auto mode Point-and-shoot operation with most menu items locked up; slowest shutter speed available is 1/4 second, so this isn't for long exposures
Playback mode More on this later
Program mode Still automatic, but with full menu access; a program shift feature lets you use the joystick to select from various aperture/shutter speed combos; be warned, though: the slowest shutter speed available is 1 second
Aperture Priority mode You pick the aperture, the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed; aperture range is F2.8 - F8
Shutter Priority mode You choose the shutter speed and the camera picks the correct aperture. You can choose from a range of 8 - 1/2000 sec; Do note that the 1/1300 sec speed is only available at F4.0 or higher, 1/1600 sec at F5.6 or higher, and 1/2000 sec at F8
Full Manual (M) mode You pick the aperture and shutter speed. Shutter speed range expands to 60 - 1/2000 sec; same aperture restrictions as above
Movie mode More on this later

As you can see, the LX2 has a both auto and manual controls. Before we go on, I want to mention a few things about the scene modes on the camera.

The starry sky scene lets you choose from 15, 30, or 60 second exposure, without having to use the "M" mode. The aerial photo mode is made for taking pictures out of an airplane window. I did get a laugh after seeing "turn the camera off when taking off or landing' and "follow all instructions from camera crew" in the manual. The high sensitivity mode boosts the ISO to 3200, and if you look at this sample photo you'll see why using this mode isn't a good idea. Finally, we have the famous baby mode, which lets you input the birth dates of up to two babies into the camera. When you take a picture, the baby's age is stored in the EXIF data of the photo.

Panasonic has put a help option in the scene mode menu as well, in case you're not sure what each option does.

Let's get back to the tour now. To the right of the mode dial is the shutter release button, which has the zoom controller wrapped around it. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 2.4 seconds. I counted a whopping nineteen stops throughout the 4X zoom range.

Continuing to the right we find the OIS button and the power switch. The OIS button lets you selected from Modes 1 and 2, or just turning the whole thing off. When the Mode 1 setting is used, the stabilizer is always running, which helps you compose your photo without any camera shake. Mode 2 only activates the stabilizer when the picture is actually taken, which actually does a better job of eliminating the blurring caused by camera shake. And yes, there are situations in which you'd want to turn the OIS system off entirely, like when the camera is on a tripod.

The only thing to see on this side of the LX2 is the focus mode switch, which lets you choose from auto, auto macro, and manual focus.

Manual focus

In manual focus mode you'll use the joystick to set the focus distance. A guide showing the current focus distance is shown on the LCD, and the center of the frame is enlarged as well.

Here's the other side of the LX2, with the lens at the full telephoto position. As you can see, the lens sticks out quite a bit!

Under a plastic door of average quality you'll find the camera's I/O ports. They include USB + A/V out (one port for both) and DC-in (for optional AC adapter).

The LX2 uses the USB 2.0 Full Speed standard, which is marketing-speak for "slow". It's kind of ridiculous that in the year 2006 anyone is shipping a camera that doesn't use USB 2.0 High Speed.

On the bottom of the LX2 you'll find a metal tripod mount plus the battery/memory card compartment. The battery and memory card slots are protected by a fairly sturdy plastic door. You should be able to swap memory cards while the camera is on a tripod.

The included CGA-S005A battery is shown at right.

Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2

Record Mode

The DMC-LX2 starts up considerably faster than its predecessor, taking just 1.3 seconds to extend its lens and prepare for shooting.

A live histogram is shown in record mode

Autofocus speeds are either very good or excellent, depending on what focus mode you're using. The regular AF modes (which are listed in the menu section below) result in focus lock in 0.2 - 0.4 seconds, which is already above average. Put the camera into one of the two high speed modes and you can knock a tenth of a second off of those times, resulting in some of the fastest focusing times out there. The downside to using the high speed modes is that the LCD freezes for the fraction of a second in which the camera is focusing. I found low light focusing to be very good as well, thanks to the LX2's AF-assist lamp.

Shutter lag was barely noticeable on the LX2.

Shot-to-shot speed is excellent, with a delay of a little over a second before you can take another shot, assuming the post-shot review feature is turned off. If you're shooting in RAW mode you can expect a wait of about three seconds. By the way, the LX2 saves a fine quality JPEG along with the RAW file.

There is no easy way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you must use the Review feature first.

Now let's take a look at the image size and quality options on the LX2. Since there are three different aspect ratios available, it's a LONG list.

Aspect ratio Resolution Quality # images on 13MB onboard memory # images on 1GB SD card (optional)
16:9 10M
4224 x 2376
RAW 0 41
Fine 1 190
Standard 4 380
3840 x 2160
Fine 2 230
Standard 5 460
3072 x 1728
Fine 4 360
Standard 9 710
1920 x 1080
Fine 11 910
Standard 22 1720
4:3 7.5M
3168 x 2376
RAW 0 42
Fine 2 250
Standard 6 510
2880 x 2160
Fine 3 310
Standard 7 610
2304 X 1728
Fine 5 480
Standard 12 940
2048 X 1536
Fine 7 600
Standard 15 1180
1600 X 1200
Fine 12 970
Standard 25 1880
1280 x 960
Fine 19 1470
Standard 36 2740
3:2 8.5M
3568 x 2376
RAW 0 42
Fine 2 230
Standard 5 450
3248 x 2160
Fine 3 270
Standard 6 540
2560 x 1712
Fine 5 440
Standard 11 860
2048 x 1360
Fine 8 680
Standard 17 1310

Is that enough choices for you? I would hope so! As you can see, a large memory card is a must if you buy this camera.

As with the LX1, the DMC-LX2 has an "extended optical zoom" feature. To make a long story short, when you use lower resolutions, the camera is able to take advantage of that to provide a lossless digital zoom. The lower the resolution, the more zoom you can use, up to a maximum of 6.2X total zoom. You can do the same thing in a photo editor by cropping, but this saves a step.

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 LX2's record menu is basically the same as it was on the LX1, with just a few minor changes. Here's the full list of options that you'll find in this menu:

  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, shade, halogen, flash, white set 1/2) - see below
  • WB adjust - see below
  • Sensitivity [ISO] (Auto, Intelligent ISO, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600) - see below
  • Picture size (see chart)
  • Quality (see chart)
  • Audio recording (on/off) - record a 5 sec audio clip with each picture
  • Metering (Multiple, center-weighted, spot)
  • AF mode (9-area, 3-area high speed, 1-area high speed, 1-area, spot) - described earlier
  • Continuous AF (on/off) - camera is always focusing, which reduces AF delays; puts extra strain on batteries
  • AF-assist lamp (on/off)
  • AE/AF lock (AF, AE, AF/AE)
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - it's best to keep this off
  • Color effect (Off, cool, warm, black & white, sepia)
  • Picture adjust
    • Contrast (Low, standard, high)
    • Sharpness (Low, standard, high)
    • Saturation (Low, standard, high)
    • Noise reduction (Low, standard, high)
  • Flip animation - see below

The LX2 has the ability to store two custom white balance settings. Just go to the white balance option and choose the "custom set" option, point the camera at something white, and you're good to go. If that doesn't do the job you can use the WB fine-tuning tool pictured above. Moving along the X-axis makes the image more amber or blue. If you go up and down the Y-axis the colors lean toward green or magenta.

The camera has a unique "intelligent ISO control" option that is available in Auto and Program mode. When this is used, the camera analyzes the scene to see if the subject is moving. If so, the ISO is boosted automatically, in order to get a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the action. If there's no subject movement, the camera goes for the lowest ISO that will result in a sharp photo. More on this, plus the Noise Reduction setting, in a bit.

The flip animation feature lets you take up to 100 shots in a row and then throw them together into a 320 x 240 movie up to 20 seconds long. You can choose from a frame rate of 5 or 10 frames/second. This feature can be used for making "stop motion" animation.

There's also a setup menu, which is accessed from the record or playback menu. The items here include:
  • Clock set
  • World time (Home, travel)
  • Monitor brightness (-3 to +3 in 1-step increments)
  • Guide lines - put a composition grid and more on the LCD
    • Rec info (on/off)
    • Histogram (on/off)
    • Pattern (3 x 3, complex)
  • Travel date (on/off) - when set, records what day of your vacation a photo was taken (e.g. day two)
  • Auto review (Off, 1 sec, 3 sec, zoom) - the zoom option shows the picture for a second, then enlarges it by a factor of four for a second
  • Power save (Off, 1, 2, 5, 10 mins)
  • MF assist (Off, MF1, MF2) - MF1 enlarges the center of the frame while MF2 enlarges the entire frame
  • Economy (Off, level 1, level 2) - power saving
  • Beep (Off, soft, loud)
  • Focus beep (Off, soft, loud)
  • Shutter sound (Off, soft, loud)
  • Volume (0-7)
  • File number reset
  • Reset
  • Highlight (on/off) - overexposed areas of your photos flash in review and playback mode
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
  • TV aspect ratio (16:9, 4:3)
  • MF units (meters, feet)
  • Scene menu (Off, auto) - if set to auto, scene menu opens automatically when you turn the mode dial to the scene mode position
  • Language (English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese)

That's enough for menus, let's move on to our test photos now!

The LX2 did a nice job with our macro test subject. The colors look nice and saturated, and everything is sharp. The LX2's custom white balance setting had no problems with my studio lamps. My only complaint is that you can see a tiny bit of the "watercolor effect", which the LX2 has a real problem with. But more on that later.

You can get as close to your subject as 5 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at the telephoto end in macro mode, which is about average.

The LX2 turned in a fairly good night shot -- in widescreen no less. The camera took in plenty of light, everything is very sharp, and purple fringing is at a minimum. The issue here is one that will come up again in this review, and it's the loss of detail from too much noise reduction. Look at the edges of the buildings -- they look smudged. Also, the sky is quite mottled, with some banding in places.

Since the LX2 already has problems with fuzzy details at ISO 100, you know it's only going to get worse. So let's do ISO test number one, using that same scene. Here we go:

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to describe what's going on here. At ISO 200 details start to really get fuzzy, looking more like a watercolor painting than a photograph. Things only get worse at ISO 400. At ISO 800 and 1600, you start to get more of a "static" noise in addition to the loss of detail -- plus, there's a noticeable color shift. Needless to say, I would never take the LX2 above ISO 200 when shooting in low light, unless you're absolutely desperate.

Again, more on noise below.

There's fairly mild redeye in our flash test shot. Remember, your results may vary!

There's fairly mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the LX2's 4X zoom lens. I didn't find vignetting (dark corners) or edge/corner blurriness to be a problem -- a testament to the quality of the Leica lens.

And now it's time for ISO test number two, which is shot in my "studio". You can compare this test with those in other reviews on this site. While the crops below give you a quick view of the differences at the various ISO sensitivities, it's a good idea to view the full-size images as well.

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

There are a couple things to notice in this test. First, you see a drop in detail and an increase in noise once you pass through ISO 400. If you look at the full size images, you'll also see the "fuzzy edges" that I was talking about in the night shot discussion. Finally, there's a noticeable drop in color saturation when you hit ISO 400, which is apparently also the result of noise reduction. The ISO 800 and 1600 photos do clean up fairly well with NeatImage, though you'll be limited to small print sizes.

Overall, the DMC-LX2's image quality is a mixed bag. On the positive side, the camera took had accurate exposure, and really pleasant color saturation. Purple fringing levels were very low, due in part to the Venus Engine III -- it removes it digitally. Noise levels are above average.

The LX2's image quality weak spot is in terms of the amount of detail that is lost due to noise reduction. Even at ISO 100, fine details like grass (examples one, two) and hair look like they've had a trip through a watercolor filter in Photoshop. Things get worse at ISO 200, and at ISO 800 you've got a Monet painting (examples one, two).

What about some workarounds? I spent a lot of time messing with the noise reduction setting, and to be honest, even at the "low" setting, I didn't find it to help much. What does help quite a bit is to shoot in RAW mode. The shot below was taken at ISO 200, and here are two areas in which I saw a noticeable difference in the amount of detail loss:

View Full Size Image

RAW -> JPEG via SilkyPix
View Full Size Image

View Full Size Image

RAW -> JPEG via SilkyPix
View Full Size Image

I hope you see the difference! The take-home messages here: 1) Keep the ISO as low as possible and 2) If you're making large prints, shoot in RAW mode. Yes, post-processing is a pain in the butt, but I find detail loss a lot more annoying.

Don't just look at these test photos and make a final decision about the LX2, though. Have a look at our extensive photo gallery, print a few of them if you'd like, and then decide if the LX2's photo quality meets your expectations.

Movie Mode

The movie mode has been enhanced on the DMC-LX2. You can now record at 720p -- that's 1280 x 720 -- albeit at 15 frames/second. Recording continues until the memory card fills up, and sound is recorded as well. You can't even select this option if you're using the internal memory, so you'll want a large -- and fast -- memory card in order to use the movie mode. A 1GB SD card holds about 8 minutes worth of video.

Another option is to record at 848 x 480, which is also widescreen (just not as big). The frame rate here is a much smoother 30 frames/second, as well. A 1GB SD card holds about 9.5 minutes of video at this quality setting.

If that's still not enough, two other resolutions are also available: 640 x 480 and 320 x 240. There are shot in the 4:3 aspect ratio, so they're not widescreen. For both of these settings you can choose a frame rate of 10 or 30 frames/second. You can fit about 11 minutes worth of 640 x 480, 30 fps video on a 1GB memory card.

You cannot use the zoom lens during filming. As you'd expect, the optical image stabilizer is used during movie filming.

Movies are saved in QuickTime format using the M-JPEG codec. A capture of the first frame of the movie is saved as JPEG along with the movie.

I have two sample movies for you. The first is taken at the 1280 x 720 resolution, while the second was recorded at 848 x 480. Enjoy!

Click to play movie (7.9 MB, 1280 x 720, 15 fps, QuickTime format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Click to play movie (19.9 MB, 848 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)

Can't play it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The DMC-LX2 has a pretty standard playback mode. Basic playback options include slideshows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode (choose from 9, 16, and 25 photos per page), audio captions (10 seconds), and zoom and scroll. This last feature lets you enlarge a photo by as much as 16X, and then move around in the zoomed-in area. It's useful for checking focus, or whether your subject had their eyes open.

You can also rotate, resize, and crop your photos in playback mode. An aspect ratio conversion feature lets you change images taken at 16:9 to either 4:3 or 3:2. You can also tag photos as favorites so you can playback only your best photos.

A copying feature lets you move photos and movies between the internal memory and an SD/SDHC memory card. Last, but not last, I like how the LX2 lets you delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all of them.

By default, the camera doesn't give you a lot of information about your photos. But press the display button and you'll see plenty of info, including a histogram.

The LX2 isn't exactly a speed demon when moving between photos. Expect to wait for just under two seconds between each one.

How Does it Compare?

I'm having a strange feeling of déja vu as I prepare to write the conclusion to the Lumix DMC-LX2, and with good reason. Just like with the DMC-FZ30 (and presumably the FZ50 as well), Panasonic has designed a camera that's darn close to perfect, but then put in a CCD with too many pixels, and then turned the noise reduction to eleven. The LX2 does almost everything right, except take photos that capture fine detail. It's a great camera if you're shooting at ISO 100 and keeping your print sizes fairly small, but if you're shooting at high ISOs, making large prints, or viewing the photos on your computer screen, you will be disappointed. If you don't mind shooting in RAW mode and processing the photos on your computer you can get better results, but I imagine only a select group of people want to do that.

The DMC-LX2 is a midsize camera with three "wide" features. First you have its exclusive 16:9 widescreen, 10.2 Megapixel CCD. Yes, if there's one thing the original LX1 didn't need, it's more resolution. Next we have the wide-angle lens, which covers a nice range of 28 - 112 mm. Completing the puzzle is the 2.8" widescreen LCD, something which was missing on the LX1. I found the LCD easy to see both outdoors and in low light. The LX2 lacks an optical viewfinder.

One of the other standout features on the LX2 is its optical image stabilizer. I found that it works well for both still and video recording. In terms of build quality, the LX2 is well put together. It's made mostly of metal, and feels solid in your hands. You can buy the LX2 in either silver or black.

The LX2 has more than its share of nice features. Those just starting out with a digital camera will enjoy numerous scene modes, some of which are a little over-the-top. Be sure to stay away from the high sensitivity mode, though: the results are miserable. If you're a more advanced user you'll like the full manual control over exposure, white balance (with a new fine-tuning function) and focus. The LX2 also supports the RAW image format, and Panasonic includes the decent (but clunky) SilkyPix software to work with those images. Everyone will like the LX2's movie mode, which records videos in -- you guessed it -- widescreen. You can actually record videos at 1280 x 720, though the 15 frame/second frame rate makes thing look choppy. For smoother videos you'll have to downsize to 848 x 480 or 640 x 480.

Camera performance is superb. The LX2 starts almost twice as fast as its predecessor, taking just 1.3 seconds to warm up. Panasonic remains the autofocus speed champ for compact cameras, with speeds ranging from "great" to "amazing", depending on what AF setting you use. Low light focusing was very good, as well. Shutter lag wasn't a problem, and shot-to-shot delays were minimal. The LX2's burst mode is very good, allowing for unlimited shooting at 1.8 frames/second. Battery life is above average.

Without a doubt, the LX2's weak point is its photo quality. While the camera took well exposed photos with accurate colors and minimal purple fringing, details are often quite "fuzzy" and "smudged". While you won't see these things when you downsize the images or make small prints, you will notice them in large prints, or if you've viewing your photos at 100% on your computer monitor. Things only get worse as the ISO sensitivity goes up, too, with more noise, less detail, and a noticeable drop in color saturation. The LX2 will not win any awards for its high ISO performance, that's for sure. I did find that shooting in RAW mode helped a bit with the fuzzy detail issue, though it requires a lot more work on the users part than a camera that gets it right straight out of the box.

I want to mention a two other negatives before I wrap things up. The 13MB of built-in memory is somewhat of a joke, so you should buy a 1GB SD card at the very least. And finally, the camera doesn't support the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, which is inexcusable for a $500 camera.

If you're shooting at ISO 100 and not making huge prints then I recommend the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2. If you've got the patience to shoot in RAW mode, you'll likely be more satisfied with the photos you get out of the camera. If you want to run around shooting at ISO 800 or making 11 x 14 inch prints, I'd probably pass on this camera. Of course, it's your decision -- so use what you've learned in this review to decide of the LX2 is right for you.

What I liked:

  • Unique 16:9 CCD captures a nice widescreen image
  • Wide-angle, 4X optical zoom lens
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Widescreen 2.8" LCD display; good visibility in bright outdoor light as well as dimly lit rooms
  • Robust performance, especially in terms of focus speeds
  • Full manual controls, plus plenty of scene modes
  • AF-assist lamp; good low light focusing
  • Support for RAW image format
  • Nice widescreen movie mode (though see issue below)

What I didn't care for:

  • Over-aggressive noise reduction noticeably reduces fine details in images
  • Above average noise levels; drop in color saturation at ISO 800 and above
  • Unimpressive high sensitivity mode (and I'm being generous here)
  • No optical viewfinder
  • Choppy frame rate at highest movie quality setting
  • No USB 2.0 High Speed support
  • Tiny amount of built-in memory

No camera on the market has a 16:9 CCD like the DMC-LX1 and LX2, but here are some other cameras that may be worth considering: Canon PowerShot S80 and SD800 IS, Kodak EasyShare P880, Olympus FE-200, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX07, and the Samsung Digimax L55W.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DMC-LX2 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Want to see how the photo quality turned on? Check out our huge photo gallery!

Want a second opinion?

You can read another review of the LX2 at Digital Photography Review. You may also find this LX2 Quick Take at Luminous Landscape to be interesting.

Feedback & Discussion

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation or technical support.

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