Panasonic LX100, while not a small camera, is still quite compact in overall form factor.
I am not a huge fan of all the manual dials and controls (no thanks to Fuji) but I guess it is something I have to live with.
Being a camera that I would use often, I expected it to be of some heft with substantial hand-gripping area. Panasonic LX100 accomplished just that.
STEVE HUFF VS DPREVIEW
I am not going to write a review for this Panasonic LX100, since it is not exactly a new product, and there are many available reviews out there already. Now this is where the Panasonic LX100 gets interesting. DPReview posted a glowingly positive review of Panasonic LX100 at an 85% rating and acquired the prestigious GOLD award. In contradiction to that, Steve Huff was not too happy with the LX100, and refused to post his review of the camera, something you do not find Steve to do often unless the camera is, well, really not something review-worthy.
This has become quite a paradox, you see, because DPReview is strictly technical review site and the judgment of cameras are often quantified by actual test results that are measured in meaningful numbers and charts and they can be quite unforgiving if there is something wrong or inadequate in their test results. On the other hand, Steve Huff, like myself takes a more enthusiastic review by real world examples of what the camera can do, and we present more subjective reviews based on our own experience using the camera we are reviewing. There really is nothing much negative to write about cameras, and it was surprising that Steve decided to dismiss the LX100. This contradiction was enough to drive me curious and it was about time I tried this Panasonic LX100 myself and see what the fuss is all about.
MY OWN EXPECTATIONS
Buying into the camera after my own online research (yes, I do read everyone else's reviews), I decided to purchase the Panasonic LX100 on the following grounds:
1) It is a compact camera, but with Micro Four Thirds sizes sensor, hence image quality wise I can expect it to be on par with my current Olympus system
2) 24-75mm F1.7 to F2.8 lens. Imagine now I have a 24mm F1.7 wide angle lens! And it has image stabilization built in, which is an added bonus. I expect the lens to have decent sharpness and overall good rendering.
3) 4K video shooting capability, which was well implemented based on the few reviews I have read
4) Fast Autofocus since I intend to use this for street photography
5) Good straight out of camera JPEG
F1.7, 1/250mm, ISO400
F2.3, 1/500sec, ISO500
F2.8, 1/500sec, ISO200
F2.6, 1/80sec, ISO400
F2.8, 1/800, ISO640
F2.8, 1/100sec, ISO400
F2.8, 1/500sec, ISO200
100% crop from previous image
F4.5, 1/800sec, ISO200
F5.6, 1/1000sec, ISO200
F3.2, 1/200sec, ISO200
F5.6, 1/125sec, ISO100
F4, 1/100sec, ISO200
GENERAL USER EXPERIENCE
After spending a few days shooting with the Panasonic LX100, to my surprise, I find myself agreeing to mostly what Steve Huff has said in his blog post about the camera.
There was just something that did not feel right with the camera. I could not fully explain it, but I shall try my best.
If you strictly look at the specifications and judge the camera alone with the technical sheet, the Panasonic LX100 is one heck of a camera. It trumps all other compact competition (except the size and weight part of course) from similar offerings by Sony (RX100 series) and Canon (G7x, G1x) by having a significantly larger image sensor and equally bright lens to match. In addition to that, the LX100 has super high resolution electronic viewfinder, 4K video shooting, optical image stabilization that works both for stills and video and the super retro-look which was quite obviously stolen from Fujifilm X-series camera implementation of multiple dials and manual controls carelessly placed all over the camera body, which many people like somehow. Everything on the LX100 seemed just right, and that was no wonder that it won a Gold Award in DPReview.
However, the truth that many people have ignored is that you cannot judge a camera merely by looking at specifications. It is not how large the image sensor is, how high ISO you can go or how much dynamic range you can get in an image. Most of the times, the experience of using the camera matters the most.
The question I often ask myself: Do I enjoy using the camera?
Strangely, for the Panasonic LX100, the answer is not an easy yes. There are many reservations and I am going through them in this blog entry.
THE JPEG ENGINE IS POOR
If you have been shooting JPEG with the LX100, do yourself a favor, start shooting RAW, and you will never look back.
The images in this entry look ok, because they were processed from RAW in Capture One software. I shot both RAW and JPEG in LX100. When I was shooting on location with the LX100, the preview on the camera screen showed unimpressive, soft and often flat looking images. There was no wow factor as I immediately previewed my shots and they sometimes looked as if the images were out of focus. I immediately thought perhaps the lens was not as sharp as I thought it was (we shall discuss the lens separately) so I just continued shooting so I could inspect the images in my computer LCD screen later.
Much to my dismay the straight out of camera JPEG was so poor, I did not believe my eyes. At lower ISO settings (with noise reduction set to minimum setting of minus 5) the fine details were mushy and not crisp like what I used to get from Olympus cameras. At high ISO, the noise reduction applied were so strong that all the useful fine details were completely destroyed, at the expense of having more noise suppression. I understand that it is not right to expect Olympus level of JPEG quality, but if you guys remember I used to own a Panasonic GM1, and the JPEG output from GM1 was a lot more appealing to me than what I am seeing from the LX100. There is a big difference!
This point alone made me realize that Steve Huff was right, the experience while shooting with the LX100 was not so great especially when you do not get that "wow" or image "pop" as you nail your shots. At first I thought it was the LCD screen's fault but honestly after reviewing the JPEG images, it was just the poor JPEG engine in the LX100.
Therefore, I painstakingly processed the images in RAW one by one for this blog entry. The RAW images behaved just as I have expected the RAW images from a Micro Four Thirds sensor, resolving plenty of useful fine detail, looking sharp and having decent control of noise when shooting in dim lighting conditions. In fact, I would say the properly processed RAW files were looking very pleasing, and I was quite happy with what I saw coming out from the LX100.
Important note guys, do not shoot JPEG with the Panasonic LX100. If you want anything good out of the camera, RAW is the only way to go, Be prepared to spend some time in post-processing. I used Capture One to process the LX100's RAW files.
F4, 1/100sec, ISO200
F3.2, 1/80sec, ISO250
Close up shooting at telephoto end of 75mm
F5.6, 1/15sec, ISO200
Macro mode at 24mm wide angle, closest focusing distance.
As you can see the macro image is not so sharp, even stopping down the aperture from F1.7 to F5.6.
From here onward, it is a series of high ISO tests. I know this is a typical setup, and I have yet to test the Panasonic LX100 in real low light shooting situation. The following images are 100% crop of the similar scene but with varying high ISO settings.
This, this is also ISO6400, but straight out of camera JPEG.
You may scroll up and compare against the ISO6400 RAW processed image before this. The difference is HUGE. I think the Panasonic LX100's JPEG is quite bad.
This ISO12800 is a RAW processed image, and honestly it looks much better than the previous ISO6400 JPEG straight out of camera image!
24-75MM F1.7-F2.8 LENS IS NOT STELLAR, BUT DECENT
Besides having a large Micro Four Thirds sized image sensor in a compact camera body, it was impressive that Panasonic managed to squeeze a matching size of a zoom lens which was super bright in aperture, ranging from F1.7 to F2.8. I have never owned a bright aperture wide angle lens, hence having an LX100 was a smart choice, since I not only got myself a 24mm f1,7 lens, I got myself a whole new camera that came along with that!
The overall lens sharpness is quite good. I am talking about kit lens level of good, in comparison to Olympus 14-42mm kit lenses, I'd think the sharpness on the Panasonic's lens on LX100 is on par. However to achieve similar sharpness you do need to stop down a little bit (recommended optimum sharpness at F2.8 at wide angle and F3.5 at telephoto end). Shooting at wide open is a bit soft, but that is ok, because it is a rather compact lens, designed for smaller size hence there should be some compromise in overall image sharpness.
I particularly like the rendering of the lens, since it is not critically sharp like all the prime lenses that I am using all the time, there is that smooth, rounded quality to the images.
However, I cannot say the same about the close up shooting. While at the Macro Mode, the Panasonic LX100 allows the lens to go super close to the subject (3cm at wide angle), the image comes out soft. Maybe it was too much to expect the lens to be sharp for macro shots, but then again this is the same characteristics for most built in zoom lenses in compact cameras. Stopping down the aperture did not help much either in this case.
HIGH ISO PERFORMANCE
Being a Micro Four Thirds camera, I expected the high ISO performance to be similar to the previous Panasonic camera I have owned, the GM1. Indeed the performance was on par, and there was obviously no miracles here. Since I have commented on the JPEG quality being unacceptably bad, I highly recommend processing RAW images and by doing so you will have some flexibility in recovering details and suppressing noise as you edit the images. To my own personal limit, I would not go higher than ISO1600 for anything serious in photography, and will not hesitate to stretch to ISO3200 for my street shooting and personal photographs.
HANDLING AND ERGONOMICS
I have voiced my dislike with the manual dials and controls (I even said so in my original Olympus PEN-F review) and I feel that it is a step backward from the advancement in modern digital camera.
I understand the appeal and why many would love to have manual controls, especially being popularized by Fujifilm and the retro-classic looking cameras they are making. I am a practical photographer, I would like to reach my controls and settings quickly, thus placing the controls all over the camera body and lenses do not fit into my requirements. There are just too many dials and controls and they do get cumbersome to operate when you need to set things quickly. I would think that the modern twin dials approach on professional DSLR works efficiently and I do not want to have an alternative to that especially when it comes to shooting something serious.
Why would I want to sacrifice functionality over a classic look?
I'd take a camera that works more efficiently, camera manufacturers should just stick to the practical front and back control dials near the shutter button design.
Overall camera handling is very good. I think the not too small form factor helped, with substantial hand gripping area for comfortable camera holding. The camera felt sturdy and reassuring as I was shooting with it on the streets. This was one huge improvement over the previous Panasonic GM1 that I used to own, while I love it being so tiny, it was just not practical and definitely not comfortable to hold for long hour shooting.
F2.8, 1/160sec, ISO200
F2.8, 1/100sec, ISO200
F2.8, 1/1600sec, ISO1600
F4, 1/100sec, ISO200
F2.8, 1/125sec, ISO200
100% crop from previous image
F2.8, 1/200sec, ISO200
F5.6, 1/160sec, ISO200
F2.8, 1/200sec, ISO200
F4.5, 1/400sec, ISO200
F4, 1/80sec, ISO200
Special thanks to JiaYeen for the impromptu portrait shooting session!
Do check out her blog here (she is a Panasonic Lumix user)
BATTERY LIFE / ELECTRONIC VIEWFINDER / AUTOFOCUS
The battery life on the Panasonic LX100 is not stellar, but a single charge can get me about 300 over shots, with plenty of chimping in between shots. I would definitely recommend a spare battery if you need the camera to get through a full day shoot, depending on your style of photography, you might even need two batteries.
The electronic viewfinder was pleasant to work with, it was huge and generally bright and easy to compose with. There is one problem, which is common in most cameras with electronic viewfinders, the color balance on the EVF is not the same with the LCD back screen of the camera. It can be difficult to judge white balance on the spot, but that should not be an issue if you shoot RAW, and I strongly recommend that you do.
Autofocus was quick and accurate and I have no issues with getting the shots quickly on the street. The speed was not on the same level as the Panasonic GM1 I have used previously, but good enough for general shooting. If you are thinking of shooting sports (not sure why but just in case if you do) you may struggle in locking focus fast enough in fast action shots.
I really do wish Panasonic has included a tilt screen and touch screen function in the Panasonic LX100. Considering I intend to use LX100 as my street photography tool, having tiltable screen for low angle perspective and touch screen to change the focusing point quickly can make a world of difference.
I have not shot in superbly dim lighting condition, and I have not tested the 4K video of the camera, which I believe the Panasonic LX100 will do well in both situations.
I do genuinely think that the Panasonic LX100 is a capable, versatile photography tool. It is an ambitious camera that does tick all the right boxes of what makes a great compact camera, but to me personally it also falls short in a few areas. Having a Micro Four Thirds image sensor, boosted with fast aperture lens ensure high quality image output which was a Godsent especially working with such a compact form camera. However, since it is still a compact camera I wish the straight out of camera JPEG could be better, at least usable without resorting to spending extra time in RAW post-processing. The lens on the LX100 itself is not super sharp like all the other lenses I have worked with (not something I want to expect from a small sized camera with small lenses that match) but in all honesty I am quite happy seeing what the lens renders. The images have a pleasing look and smooth quality which is just nice for street photography and some portrait work.
F2.8, 1/100sec, ISO200
I think it is still too early to decide if I really do like the Panasonic LX100. For sure, I do not hate it, and unexpectedly it was not the love at first sight. I did have high hopes when I decided to get the LX100 and perhaps my expectations were set too high for this camera.
This scenario serves as a good reminder that we should not judge a camera solely based on technical specifications. User experience is an important factor that cannot be measured by graphs and charts, and can only be validated in actual real life shooting sessions.
While it may be premature to make any conclusions, I do need to spend more time with the Panasonic LX100. I need to understand it better and surely in time I will be able to operate more efficiently with it. So far, looking at the RAW files I have processed I strongly believe I can make the camera work as an everyday carry around camera, as well as for my shutter therapy sessions.
Any Panasonic Lumix LX100 users? Share your thoughts!