Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100: hands-on review

Reasons not to buy one

Unfortunately, I had to postpone purchase of Fujifilm X100T camera for two reasons: first, it’s not available and I would have to wait for a couple of months. Secondly, the price is now around €250 higher than initially advertised. Strategy? Who knows, I can only guess.

Since I sold all my gear already and had no camera, I was forced to buy something else. After spending several hours browsing reviews and reading specs very carefully it turned out, that the closest to my needs (and within reasonable price range) would be Panasonic DMC-LX100, also a freshly introduced model.

Am I happy with it? Let me put it this way: it seems there is still a niche in this market which hasn’t been properly filled. Reasons why listed below.

Body build

It feels quite well when you take it in your hands for the first time. Solid metal body, not a bad grip, especially for something that small. But it starts getting scary when you turn the camera on, and you see this shaky Leica branded thing slowly sliding out. It seems way too sensitive to accidental bumps. And as it turns out, the lens is not well protected, because when I tried cleaning it with a spray the liquid got inside the lens. So if a liquid gets in so easily it means the dust will also make it through very soon. Actually, after two weeks I can already see some particles gathering inside. Terrifying.

Controls

photo 2Someone came up with a brilliant idea that an average consumer needs to change “creative filters” so often, that it’s worth putting a dedicated button for it, just next to the shutter release button. Even worse from wasting space for something useful is the fact, that this button gets in the way all the time. I’m about to take a picture and… I accidentally enter a menu with extravaganzas like “expressive” or “impressive art”. Why the heck would I need that, especially if I’m shooting RAW? Even with JPEGs, why would anyone want to spoil the picture before even making decision of what it needs to make it more interesting shot? Completely ridiculous.

 

 

photo 3Another thing. How often do you change aspect ratio from 3:2 to 16:9? Is there really a need to put dedicated switch for that? Why not to put that in the camera settings? Aren’t there more useful applications for a ring, like a manual zoom for example, instead of that unintuitive, stupid point-and-shoot W/T switch on the top?

 

Also, what I would like to have, is a separate state for the ON/OFF button for viewing only. When I turn on the camera, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I want the lens to zoom out.

The dial on the back is too sensitive, making it difficult to navigate around the menu, which by the way is inconsistent in terms of user interaction. The dial usually highlights elements in the menu, but sometimes (ie. in RAW processing setup), turning it right leads to the details of the highlighted setting. Extremely annoying.

Low light performance

Don’t be fooled by the “improved low light performance”. If that’s improved, I’m really scared to see pictures of previous models performing worse than that. At ISO 400 in a fairly good lighting conditions for a Canon APS-C camera with a 1.8 prime lens, Panasonic LX-100 takes just dark pictures. Try increasing ISO and you will get so much noise, that it will be impossible to improve the RAW image without significant lose of details.

Micro 4/3 and the reality

This is my first camera with this type of sensor and design. If all of them have similar characteristics, well, this is the last one. Forget about cropping, especially in 3:2 ratio, if you think of printing your pictures. The composition of the shot when you take it is the one and only chance to get it right, otherwise there will be nothing to crop from. It performs somehow poorly in low light, as mentioned above, and the amount of noise is too high. I love bright colours and intense scenes, so if I don’t have the right light, I just don’t take the pictures, but for some people it might be quite important. Dynamic range? Actually, I expected it to be worse. It’s not bad.

Battery

If you plan on taking shots for the whole day, you need at least two backup (and pricey) batteries. Oh, of course if you are able to buy them in your area, which turns out to be not that easy.

Developing RAW

Now this is interesting. Adobe Lightroom 4, which I was using for a while already, apparently doesn’t support RAWs from DMC-LX100. Adobe converter as well. The software provided by Panasonic for Mac OS is so horrible, that I deleted it after a few seconds, it was enough to have a brief look at its user interface. Open source software, like darktable or RawTherapee, is yet another story, but to put it shortly: forget it in this case. So, in order to be able to work with RAWs I had to spend additional €60 for upgrading Adobe Lightroom to version 5.

Wireless communication

1-20141124-photo 1My plan was to use wireless to send RAW images to my phone or tablet, so I could develop them off-camera and upload over cellular network. Surprise again! For some reason the guys from Panasonic decided that you cannot send RAW files over network and you are allowed to send JPEGs ONLY. My plan was ruined. But then I thought: OK, there is that application for iOS which could at least allow me to do basic JPEG processing with my fingers. Still having some hope for saving the idea of traveling light I downloaded it and… It not only does nothing useful in particular, except for uploading to predefined services, but it looks awful, again. Not up to the standards, especially for a company like Panasonic.

I would love to see FTP upload somewhere, ideally in the camera menu. And the mobile app would be useful as an extra picture processing tool, if it offered anything for editing. Who knows, perhaps some day they will invest more in software?

JPEG quality

Below are a few JPEGs. The one coming straight from the camera was exported with all filters disabled, no sharpening or anything else changing the output. The rest was produced with Lightroom. Have a closer look at the pixels artificially blended together, creating big spots of colours leading to losing details. The vibrance is a matter of taste. It comes from the camera. The only image you would be able to send wirelessly.

jpeg-output

Default JPEG output from the camera.

raw-output-lightroom

RAW exported from Lightroom without processing.

processed-raw-output-lightroom

RAW exported from Lightroom with noise reduction and clarity adjustment.

Electronic Viewfinder

Again, I expected something better. Sluggish, too bright, not properly reflecting the real scene. Nothing more to say about it.

Is there anything good?

Of course there is! Auto-focus is excellent and smart. The image quality after RAW processing is not bad after all. Manual focusing is surprisingly well done. I’ve never used much camera for video recording, but for me this little device does magic. Still, not enough to make me impressed.

Summary

Someone on the Web summarised this camera with “as close as it gets to perfection” and that it has “all the controls a pro photographer wants”. Oh, come on, really? I can’t see it even getting close to being suitable for my amateur needs. My advice? Don’t buy, in my opinion it’s not worth that money. Wait until another model is released or invest in a APS-C compact camera (as I planned initially).

Do I feel like I wasted money? Yes, a little bit. It’s that I expected much, much more from this camera after all the advertising and excellent reviews.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100
5.125

Toughness

4/10

    Ergonomics

    4/10

      Features

      7/10

        Reliability

        7/10

          Pros

          • Video quality
          • Dynamic range
          • Good lens quality

          Cons

          • Overpriced
          • Weak zoom design
          • Poor low light performance
          • Terrible additional software
          • Strange artifacts with all auto-correction disabled
          • Just bought an rx100m3. Can you tell me which one would be better for an experienced shooter? Excellent review BTW.

            • Robert

              Thanks, glad you found it helpful! LX100 has more features in general and seems more advanced, but RX100 is surely less frustrating on a daily basis (and there is not much gain in the image quality). After couple months since writing this review I’m still not used to LX100 controls. On the other hand, if you want to shoot video, there’s hardly better choice than LX100. But that’s not what you’re buying still camera for, right?

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          • Quite informative review-opinion I`ve been looking for. I`ve just returned a Canon G7x `cause I simply didn`t like it. I was going to leap into LX100 but I`m not sure if it would be a good or another foolish choice. I`m too used to FF cameras and picture quality but also the`re so impractical when tavelling. Again, thank for your opinion.
            Andrzej

            • Robert

              Glad I made it easier for you. Again, its picture quality is not that bad, but it’s definitely not what you can achieve with a full-frame DSLR. And after even more time spent with this camera, its handling is even more annoying than before. Some people can accept the tradeoff, some don’t. Sometimes I have a feeling that bringing a few extra kilos would be worth that moment… So, now I’m back to FF, buying back my gear, and keeping LX100 as a general carry-around camera. By the way, nice pictures!

          • Thanks! Easier? Well, I was almost convinced about the camera but came across your “not-to-buy” opinion. Actually stevehuff in his opinion was also against lx100 (http://www.stevehuffphoto.com/2015/01/26/my-panasonic-lx100-thoughts/) but quite a few people opposed in the comment section.
            I thought maybe there`s sth wrong with your copy or the camera applies some corrections to processing (but I guess you`d know that?). I`ve read a lot of favourable opinions (eg. dpreview forum), but nevertheless I`m curious about what you`re saying about the files lx100 produces. Would you mind sending me a few raw files to evaluate, especially where the problem is but not only? Thank you.
            Andrzej

            • Robert

              Sure thing, I will send you a few pictures in a second. Back to LX100, I believe the main issue with image quality is the sensor and that would apply to anything else which is not a DSLR or a full-frame mirrorless camera. The biggest problem I have with LX100 personally is the build that just feels poor and leaky. And as I expected at that time, I had to clean the sensor myself, and disassembling this kind of stuff, especially at a remote polar station, is not easy as you can imagine. I got in touch with Panasonic seeking help (a service manual), but they asked me to drop by to the nearest shop. That’s in terms of support, asking to get on a helicopter, get on a plane and fly around 1500 km. Also, the firmware and extra software is very disappointing. The controls are so weird that till today I can’t get used to it. So it’s not just the image quality thing. I’m not satisfied with what Panasonic offers in general, that’s all.

              Most of the favorable opinions I have read at the time I made the decision to buy LX100 were either based on marketing materials before the product was launched or after a limited hands-on experience. The dpreview.com article was published just after a month after LX100 was announced. Among the reviews contributed by users, the highest-rated ones were written by people who had no DSLR experience before. The other one says it’s great for video (and I agree). And that the controls suck, among other things. If I were to switch from older compact zooms to LX100, I could probably say it’s a serious step forward, but have no experience in these. But coming from the opposite side, I feel like I wasted my money. This is why I’m back to Canon DSLR again. Looking at low ratings, some people say the image quality is comparable to the ones taken with smartphones. A quote from GtoJon: “My Samsung Galaxy Note 4 has a better camera! Seriously! I am a long time Canon DSLR professional & expected a lot better from a 4/3 sensor & Leica lens!”. And another one from someone else: “[…] I decided to go for it. WHAT A LOAD OF BO**OCKS!! in image quality, this camera is a serious stepdown from my 7 year old aps-c ccd sony dslr”. Well, these are valid opinions, too.

          • Robert

            Oh, and I forgot to mention. After fifteen minutes or so at -10°C this camera becomes pretty much useless due to zoom refusing to work.

          • Sam

            I think you are being a little harsh on the LX. Your last comment pretty much sums up your approach to how you evaluate it. The manual clearly states operating temperatures to be 0-40c (like 95% of all cameras) and you are expecting it to work outside its operating parameters? I’m not saying it’s the greatest camera in the world but comparing it to a dslr is a bit naive, surely you would know better than to expect a dslr replacement in a compact factor. btw, in those conditions no compact or bridge camera would operate (apart from a couple of Fujifilms’ with manual zoom lenses).

            • Robert

              You are absolutely right, I should not expect it would work below 0°C. But this is also true for most electronics I use, which still operate even in -20°C. Also, it doesn’t change the fact, that it’s something to be considered as a yet another reason not to buy when looking for a travel photography camera. Is my comparison naive? Don’t think so. I’m just asking to provide me the product I paid for. If Panasonic make some statements about their product and reading all these reviews eventually makes you believe them, certain quality is what a consumer can expect. So my thinking is, that perhaps the marketing budget should be proportional to the product quality offered. And the price adjusted accordingly. That’s all.