Panasonic LX100 Hands On Review

There is no question that the LX100 caused a bit of a stir when it was first announced with a slew of new features and technologies, especially for this form factor. With a small-ish body, a wide aperture f1.7-2.8 lens, and features such as 4k video, a multiaspect ratio sensor and up to 40fps with the electronic shutter. But even with all these features and technologies in playthe Panasonic LX100 deliver where it counts? Check out the full review past the break.

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Hardware

The LX100 is a great looking camera. We have seen several cameras with this retro feel and the Panasonic pulls this off well. The dials feel great and the grip provides just enough texture to make it easy to hold on to. The flash is not built in which could be an issue but with a max ISO of 25,000, Panasonic seems to hope you don’t need it often. The EVF is among the best which is to say it’s good but different to an optical one. It actually responds better in low light though than many I have tried before. Unlike some Fuji cameras, the lens has an electronic zoom which I just found slower and clumsier than manual ones. You change the zoom with either a dial on the top or the ring around the lens but it responds slowly and is difficult to adjust on the fly. The lens also has adjustments for Autofocus as well as the multiaspect sensor which allows you to adjust the aspect ratio without an image crop...more on that later.

 

In USE

While the retro design and intriguing feature set made for some great news and discussions, in practice I found the LX100 to be one of the slower cameras to use from turning on to taking a picture. For one the LX100 has no mode dial instead featuring an automatic mode on both the shutter and aperture dial. You will need to check and dial both of these in before shooting in your desired setting and while we do have ⅓ stop increments on the aperture, we do not on the shutter dial making it difficult to tweak in manual. Setting the focus point is also a multi step process and without a touch screen, it can take a bit longer than it should. Add to that the 3 seconds it takes the lens to move from the default start position of 24mm to 75mm and you can see what I’m talking about.

 

Focus

The focus system is thankfully very good with 49 points all over the frame with the only downside being the time it takes to move a point from one side of the frame to the other. There are tons of options, customization, and selective options to ensure focus accuracy and with Panasonic's new Depth from Defocus technology, it pulled off images with stunning accuracy and speed. Unfortunately as with most contrast based mirrorless AF systems, tracking motion can be an issue but the LX100 still is not bad for this format camera but I did discover a higher rate of images out of focus then I am used to from shooting on a DSLR.

 

Image Quality

The LX100 houses a micro 4/3 sensor which while smaller than your average consumer DSLR is a bit larger than the likes of most point and shoot cameras topping out at 1”. This allows the camera and lens to be smaller and yet still carry the wider aperture and solid zoom range we would hope for. However, the APS-C EOS M and Sony A6000 for example manage to fit larger sensors in a similar or smaller body though do add some bulk when paired with a large aperture zoom lens. That said, my EOS M equipped with the 35mm equivalent f2 prime lens is easily a fraction of the size of the LX100...but back to quality. The LX100 performs as expected which is to say good but not legendary. Low light images look great up until 800ISO and begin to show more grain and less information up until 3200ISO. After that, images begin to show issues and I would say the highest I would ever use this camera would be 3200ISO for most cases. Unfortunately I just rarely found myself impressed with the overall image quality from this camera. The resolution was very low and the images felt oversharpened yet still lacked the original detail. The lens also leaves quite a bit of distortion on the sides which meant subjects towards the side of the frame never looked as good. It’s hard to call these images bad but I will say that you will not have any difficulty finding other cameras in this price range with better image quality.

 

Video

4k, 4k, 4k and more 4k! The LX100 captured headlines with this feature especially in the wave of the GH4’s amazing quality. Unfortunately, this is no GH4 missing a ton of features needed to make great video happen. The first and most disappointing of which is the lack of a mic input. Because of the poor quality of most built in camera mics, a think a decent add on mic is almost a needed addition and you don’t need to be a pro to need or want this ability. Unfortunately, you will be forever limited to the built in mics in the LX100 for audio unless you want to sync audio in post. You are also missing any of the Cine picture profiles which could make it difficult to match footage and get the awesome dynamic range of the GH4. Because there is no mode dial, video is activated by simply hitting the movie dial but unfortunately, this means you need to need to readjust all of your video settings on the fly which for me included picture profiles, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO only to adjust it right back when heading back to taking photographs. I would have much rather had the additional mode dial and even a custom setting to keep my video and photography settings separate. Auto ISO is also not available during video as well as photo when shooting in manual which is unfortunate. Sure, regular 4k recordings look great and slow motion video at 1080p with 60fps is awesome, but overall the LX100 stop short of being not just a B camera for professional videographers, but also a convenient all around video cameras for the general consumer taking photographs and video of their kids birthday, despite the great quality if a bit over sharpened image.


Overall 

I had a tough time enjoying the LX100. It was not all bad though as the LX100 is not a cheap camera and does come with great build quality, a solid feature set, and a nice zoom range. That said, the camera often felt like it was full of compromises whether it be the usable sensor size, low resolution, issues with 4k, lack of a mic input, no touch screen, and other items that really did affect my usability and image quality. Of course many of these compromises are there for a reason: to bring a wide aperture zoom to a compact style retro camera under the $900 price tag. But I can’t help but feel that you would be better off with accepting some of those points in order to have a better camera. For many, the LX100 will be a nice blend of many different technologies in a small and compact camera but for me, whether it be a Canon EOS M, Nikon D5300, Sony A6000, Fuji X-E2, or Fuji X100s, there are just other cameras offer better quality if you don’t mind accepting a larger camera or lack of a zoom lens.

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