Friday, March 3, 2017

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 Review- The Modernist's Rangefinder

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 Review- The Modernist's Rangefinder
March 2017- Carl Garrard

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 Review: Getting excited about a camera design these days doesn't happen that often around here. I guess I'm a bit numb to the fact that there are so many similar models being produced with very few practical differences. Only some cameras really stand out as unique and different. Panasonic's LX100 is far from being a boring copy of a copy, and instead the LX100 is a unique and appealing proposition in the camera market for serious photographers. Even though it's been out for more than two years, and I'm sure a successor is due soon at some point, the LX100 stands out to me as the most capable camera for it's size of any digital camera offered today as of the date of this article. Panasonic's LX100 also has a quite lovely looking design if utility and practicality are your idea of style and grace (it's offered in black or silver). This review will be published in parts, I'll update the article as I go.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 Very Low Price!

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 Review: Features and Style (pt.1)

The LX100 is loaded, as are many of Panasonic's high end cameras these days. I'll save you the entire feature list (the specs/features are included at the end of this review) but include some stand outs that really make a huge difference to me.

Its Leica branded lens is the soul of this camera, and for its price is worth buying the camera alone. It features a 24-75mm f/1.7-2.8 DC Vario-Summilux - It's fast, sharp, versatile, compact, and a heck of a value (find a lens with those specs in the m4/3 lineup, I dare you).

Lens Features: Manual aperture ring, and fly by wire customizeable control ring (focus/zoom ring if you wish) makes this compact stand out. Add fast adjusting focus and aspect ratio switches at your fingertips and on the fly composition or artistic decisions are made quickly. Decent close focusing, although best only on the wide end (shadowing become an issue). Not a camera I would suggest for serious macro work.

Other features I like- A 4/3" (one half 35mm full frame) sized sensor (12-13mp depending on what aspect ratio you choose), 4k and full HD video capable in two format types, stop motion animation videos, full manual control time lapse/timelapse video mode, in camera raw development, 22 art filters, manual or electronic shutter (manual 1/2000-4000th sec (focal range dependent), electronic up to 1/16,000th of a second at all focal lengths), massively customizeable controls and buttons, eye level integrated high resolution EVF, manual shutter speed and aperture dials (much like the old LC1, more on that in a bit) and a few more items I like I'll mention later.

But what most appeals to me about the LX100 isn't its awesome spec sheet, its how the camera draws me to use it. That draw is a combination of excellent build quality, capability, overall excellent performance, manual controls, portability, weight, and it's fun factor. When I have fun using a camera, it's because the engineers have done something right. This camera is just flat out fun to use. Battery life is also very good for a compact this size, turning about 350-400 shots- plenty for a full days use so long as you manage a little bit. During this review I did not need to bring a second battery, ever.

Such a clean design on the eye, and the controls  and buttons feel really nice to use, including the almost stealthy second control ring on the back.

Now even more of a draw this camera has, is due to how much it reminds me of one of my favorite digi-cam designs of all time- also from Panasonic, the DMC-LC1 pictured below.

The LC1 is old, but it had full manual controls including a real manual zoom, that zoomed and focused internally, never changing the size or balance of the camera. The size was near perfect, it had a very unique two stage flash with a bounce feature, and a grace and simplicity in design that is near unrivaled. It also probably had the sharpest lens ever designed for a digicam, it was truly a masterpiece worthy of the Summicron badge. Compared to the LX 100 below, you can see similarities in genealogy.

In fact the LX100 feels much like an LC1 replacement, pretty much ticking off all the wish list items that many LC1 owners have or, had. It's smaller with a much better sensor, has a wider angle lens (24 vs 28mm), better EVF and LCD screen, and so forth. What it doesn't have is a manual zoom, or that perfect size and feel of the LC1 (even though that camera was bigger it was more of a pleasure to hold, tradeoffs indeed).

What the two have in common that I like are its manual shutter speed and aperture controls, more simple overall exterior/controls, excellent fast Leica lens, rangefinder layout design, and a fun factor that can't be measured or reflected in a written review. This makes the LX100 a very unique camera on the market currently (only the cloned Leica D-Lux Typ 109 is like it).

If you look at compact digicams with viewfinders, the LX100 is completely alone in the category with a sensor over 1" size and a zoom lens (DPReview link):

To me this is amazing considering how popular the LX100 has been with pros and enthusiasts. Panasonic seems to be the only company that checks all the boxes in a design that serious shooters want on a more consistent basis. There are some fine cameras in that search of course, but it just goes to show you how big of a hole is left in the market. A big sensor, fast zoom, integrated viewfinder, fully featured compact is definitely a camera pros and more serious shooters want.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 Review: Handling and Fun Factor (pt.2)

The LX100 was designed for those who like a manual control camera, but also want a portable companion they can take nearly anywhere. Panasonic large in part have done a good job giving you your cake and letting you eat it too here. Bar a few quibbles I have about the handling, it's a pleasure to use and just begs you to use it. What would make it even more of a pleasure is flush mounting the camera strap lugs, making more room for the on lens manual controls, and having faster zoom response when using the control ring to zoom the camera. But those are quibbles and I've adjusted to how I hold the camera to make it work for me.

The LC1 at the time was an all inclusive design, aggravated however by a high price and mediocre sensor.

Because the LX100 is so capable, well designed, and portable, I just can't seem to put it down. This of course is after I jumped into the menus and customized the controls and such to my liking. Panasonic offers a lot of customization, as they do on many of their high end cameras, and the menu system mostly makes sense to me (a close second to Canon who have the best menus of all).

In comparison to the LC1, it is smaller, much less expensive, and has a very good sensor even today. In this view, you can really see many of the similarities between the designs.

There is a coolness to the touch, a nice heft (for a compact), and overall sense of metal build quality that makes the LX100 a pleasure to use. It's also very responsive in the focusing department. The zooming isn't going to break any speed records, but it's adequate enough and you can program the menu to either remember your last zoom position when you turn it on, or can program the menu to let the zoom work in steps of 24,28,35, 50,70 and 75mm equivalents. That's also nice if you are used to a particular prime lens/focal length. The camera will remember the position of that focal length every time you turn on the camera and be ready for you.

Unfortunately the camera doesn't easily fit into jeans pockets, you really need loose jeans to do so, but it's easily stored in a jacket pocket or larger hydration pack pocket if you so wish. Portability regardless remains high with this camera and only in very specific circumstances would I choose to bring my G9X instead (when I'm out dressed nice and need to be very discreet, perhaps).

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 Review: Image Quality and Sensor (pt.3)

Overall I'm pleased with the image quality of the LX100, mainly from the lens more than the sensor, but the sensor even today is pretty darn good. Primarily I'm more of a landscape shooter who uses the lowest ISO setting on a camera most of the time. Therefore dynamic range at base ISO in raw files is naturally my main priority when evaluating image quality. Although DXO gives the LX100 a score of "only" 67, take a look at the available dynamic range in the raw files:

12.5 stops of DR is plenty at base ISO. And looking further into its image quality tells me that if I shouldn't push the camera past 800 ISO if I want usable files for most subjects. That's not a problem because the fast lens of the LX100 (and it being sharp wide open, this is key!) mitigates that completely. I've not no issue shooting wide open with the LX100, unless I need a lot of depth of field and at that point I'm usually in good light or have a tripod available.

Now there are better cameras for lower light photography, and that's when I will just whip out my Canon 6D, a 4/3 sensor of any type is going to match a full frame sensor performance in this aspect. Even other smaller compacts that can perform better than the LX100 in this regard, still can't hold a candle to the 6D, unless you are using a $3,000.00 Sony RX1 camera (and why would you do that?).

So bottom line, the sensor meets my requirements just fine. I'm not going to rave about it though, I'll save raving for the lens!

On the other side of planet image quality, is the lens performance. And boy have Panasonic really made a beauty. Not only is it compact, fast, and has a nice range, optically it's very sharp wide open, has good control over color aberrations and distortion. Wow! And if you think that's good enough, you get an extra cherry with that sundae, Bokeh.

Click for a larger view to see how nice that bokeh looks. There is some mild corner shading wide open, but that's to be expected with any bright lens.

And my goodness what good bokeh we have for a compact camera! Actually, it's uncanny for a zoom lens to have such nice bokeh in a compact (DSLR lenses with the 24-70 range do, but they are often the cost of the camera or twice the cost alone!). In fact, the LX100 has the best bokeh in a compact that I've ever used. It's not an STF quality bokeh (did I lose you?) but very very good. Granted, you are limited to close up shots to really see how good the bokeh is, but regardless its there, even for close up portraiture.

Part III will continue soon...


  1. Have owed this camera for 2 years now, it's been my companion on 4 overseas trips during that time and it is simply stunning. If Panasonic add a touchscreen and maybe the 20mp sensor to the LX200 I'll sign up now!

  2. There are claims that this camera suffers from dust in the lens and on the sensor. Could you please comment on that?

  3. All the features of Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 are great specially the 4k and full HD video capable in two format types. I always prefer the Olympus Mirrorless cameras for photography.