Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2 Overview
by Dan Havlik and
Review Date: 10/28/2006
Panasonic made quite a splash last year with photographers (and reviewers) when it released the LX1, a rangefinder-style shooter with a boatload of features that Imaging Resource's own Mike Pasini called "an excellent little camera, and clearly one of the best bargains on the market." Mike also said, in his review, that there was "nothing quite like" the LX1 at the time. That still holds true with the new Panasonic LX2.
Like its predecessor, the Panasonic LX2 is clearly inspired by the surging popularity of widescreen (16:9) televisions. Employing a unique set of "triple-wide" features, the LX2 combines a 28mm wide-angle Leica lens, a 16:9 wide CCD, and a 16:9 wide LCD. (Did I mention that this camera likes it wide?) If going wide isn't your thing, the camera has a very easily adjusted aspect ratio switch on the lens barrel that toggles between 16:9, 3:2, and 4:3 settings. If you're the type who likes to count pixels, the Panasonic LX2 has a 10 megapixel CCD that uses the full resolution of the sensor when shooting at 16:9. (The LX1 had a maximum 8.4 megapixel sensor at 16:9.) When you flip the switch on the Panasonic LX2 to 3:2, resolution drops to 8.5 megapixels, while in 4:3 it goes to 7.5 megapixels. This isn't because you're getting any less information in your pictures at these ratios, it's simply that the widest sections of the 16:9 sensor are cropped out in those shots.
But why would you want to shoot boring old 4:3 or 3:2 in a camera that can get postcard-like panoramic shots at 16:9? Better yet, the Panasonic LX2 now has a 2.8-inch LCD that lets you see the entire wide-angle shot on the screen without letterboxing. (The LX1 had a 2.5-inch display which letterboxed 16:9 shots.) Other improvements include Panasonic's new LSI Venus Engine III image processor which is designed to lower noise at higher ISOs, and a new Intelligent ISO Control (I.I.C.) system which detects subject movement and automatically adjusts ISO and shutter speed to suit the lighting conditions. Light sensitivity has also been increased to ISO 3200 on the Panasonic LX2, but only in a special High Sensitivity scene mode. Even without these changes, there's much to talk about with the Panasonic LX2, including many impressive manual options, and Panasonic's tried-and-true MEGA O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilizer), so read on for the full details.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2 User Report
In Range. With all the new digital SLR cameras on the market, there are some reviewers out there who have dubbed 2006, "the year of the DSLR." Because of the ongoing collaboration between Panasonic and Leica, however, I might be more inclined to call it, "the year of the rangefinder." The Panasonic LX2 carries on the same classic Leica styling as the previous model, looking virtually identical to the LX1. Like the LX1, it comes in silver or black and while the test unit I tried out was silver, for my tastes, the black stays much truer to the classic rangefinder style.
Aside from the superficial styling of the camera, the Panasonic DMC-LX2 is certainly no rangefinder. Since the huge LCD takes up most of the rear of the camera, there's no room for an optical viewfinder, a scenario that is becoming almost standard on digital cameras these days. Despite its slightly boxy profile, the LX2 is a compact digital camera with enough contours and a not-too-obtrusive snub-like lens (28mm-112mm in 35mm equivalent) to fit comfortably in a bag or coat pocket. Dimensions of the camera are 4.2 x 2.2 x 1.0 inches (106 x 56 x 26 mm) and weight is just 7.6 ounces (217g), so while it has as many features as some prosumer models, it's far more portable.
Though the appeal of the Lumix DMC-LX2's design might be generational -- it certainly looks like what a camera should look like to anyone who can still remember the glory days of film -- it also has enough flash to appeal to younger photographers. Whether the network of manual options on the LX2 will interest anyone beyond the advanced amateur set remains to be seen. I hope it does, because once you start exploring the LX2's broad functionality is when fun begins.
Wide Screen. The biggest improvement on the Lumix LX2 from its predecessor is the 2.8-inch LCD screen which displays images in full 16:9 ratio. While the LX1's 2.5-inch screen was quite large, it was saddled with a 4:3 aspect ratio, so shots captured at 3:2 or 16:9 would be displayed with a black border, much like looking at a widescreen movie on your old TV. No fun at all.
With the Lumix LX2, the effect is reversed, which is the way it should be. Images captured at 4:3 or 3:2, are cropped with black bands on the left and right side while in 16:9, the entire panoramic scene can be shown on the screen. This effect is great for sharing photos with friends. Hold up your wide screen shot on the camera and you'll get plenty of "ooo's" and "ahhh's" from pals. Remember: to take full advantage of the Panasonic LX2's widescreen 10 megapixel sensor, you'll want to be shooting in 16:9 anyway. And because the LCD screen has 207,000 pixels, images in live preview and playback will look sharp on the display.
Though it doesn't have an optical viewfinder, Panasonic has made a good effort in providing the DMC-LX2's screen with two modes for better outdoor viewing. With the camera in record mode, press and hold the Display button on the back of the camera for a second to bring up two options: the Power LCD and the High Angle mode. In Power LCD, the screen becomes brighter to make it easier to see outdoors. Brightness increases further in High Angle so you can see the picture on the LCD when holding the camera above your head; such as when shooting over a crowd. While these two modes don't totally solve the problem of screen glare in bright light, it's nice to see a manufacturer making a serious effort.
Since this camera is aimed at slightly more advanced photographers, it can capture images as uncompressed RAW files. (The LX1 also had a TIFF file setting which is no longer available on the Panasonic Lumix LX2.) According to our tests, the LX2 could capture a RAW image file in Single Shot mode every 5.84 seconds. In Continuous High Mode, the Panasonic Lumix LX2 could capture a Large Fine JPEG image every 0.43 second for a respectable frame rate of 2.32 frames per second. Overall I was impressed with the speed of the DMC-LX2. The only place where the camera lagged was in playing back images which took 2 seconds per shot in playback. While this is somewhat understandable due to the large file size, it can be annoying if you have many images to review. The best way to quickly pick and choose shots on this camera is to tap the zoom rocker on the wide side while in playback, which will let you review nine thumbnails at a time. Hit the wide setting on the zoom rocker a second time and you'll be able to see 25 thumbnails at a time.Near Pro-Level Image Quality.
The Panasonic LX2's sensor offered great detail though, especially in panoramic shots I took of 5 Pointz, a sprawling converted factory in my neighborhood in Queens that uses its exterior to showcase the work of graffiti artists. The only situations in which the camera seemed to lose some sharpness were in areas of extreme contrast such as where the edges of a building meet the sky. Unlike some point-and-shoot models, though, there was little to no purple fringing or chromatic aberration in contrasty shots. While a bit saturated, skin tones weren't pumped up so much that they were rendered ruddy or pink as on some more entry-level models.
ISO sensitivity on the Lumix LX2 ranges from 100 to 1,600, with the option to extend this to ISO 3,200 in high sensitivity mode -- surprisingly higher than the LX1's ISO 400 sensitivity. Thanks to the new LSI Venus Engine III image processor, noise was noticeably down from the LX1, which could not produce images suitable for printing in images shot above ISO 400. On the Panasonic LX2, ISO 800 is about as far as I'd push it, and I was able to get some very cool shots of a Hibachi chef deftly slicing up vegetables in a nearly dark restaurant.
Intelligent ISO Control, which detects a subject's movement and adjusts ISO and shutter speed, helped a bit but not substantially. I suggest making your light sensitivity adjustments manually. The downside though, is that the Lumix LX2 kills a lot of subtle (and even not-so-subtle) subject detail in the quest for lower image noise. Shots at ISO 400 look OK but distinctly soft printed at 8x10, and shots at ISO 800 really can't be printed larger than 5x7, although they do look just fine at that size.
Though it's become almost a standard feature on Panasonic's cameras, and one which I rarely, if ever, turn off, the MEGA O.I.S. system did a good job stabilizing shots in low light and decreasing image blur. In general I keep it set on MEGA O.I.S Mode 2, which only turns on when you half-press the shutter. In Mode 1, the MEGA O.I.S. is on at all times, which helps in image composition but significantly decreases the battery life.
The only area I saw where the Lumix LX2 couldn't compete with a Digital SLR was in dynamic range. Except in perfect scenarios such as in early morning or late afternoon when the lighting is very soft, the DMC-LX2 failed to capture the subtle differences between light and shade that give great images their "pop."
Incredible Functionality. I could spend days talking about the Lumix LX2's functionality -- which includes a variety of manual controls and some very good automatic features -- but I'll just touch on the high points here. Though there are a lot of creative manual options on this camera, if you're someone who likes the camera to do all the work, set it to the simple and reliable Auto mode or one of the camera's comprehensive 17 scene modes -- including the newly added "Beach" mode for shooting in strong sunlight or the "Aerial" mode which helps when shooting out the window of an airplane.
Remember to keep the Panasonic LX2's MEGA O.I.S. turned on and you'll likely be ready for most common shooting scenarios.
If you like a little more control, switch to the Program AE (P) setting on the mode dial to have exposure automatically adjusted by the camera. The camera's handy joystick -- a small round nub in the center right of the back of the camera -- will give you easy access to changing some basic settings. Hold it down for about a second and it will bring up unobtrusive shortcuts to changing the AF mode, light metering, white balance adjustment, ISO settings, image size, and compression format.
Switch the camera to Aperture Priority AE (A) mode and you can adjust Aperture via the joystick while the camera automatically picks a shutter speed based on your selection. In Shutter Priority AE (S) mode, you pick the shutter speed and the camera chooses a matching aperture. In Manual (M) mode, the exposure is adjusted by your choice of both shutter speed and aperture. Though these PASM "magic letters" are common on most professional cameras, it's great to see them offered on a camera like the Panasonic Lumix LX2, which gives you a lot of bang for your buck.
Focusing options include a 1, 3, or 9-point autofocus function with AF assist lamp. Exposure variables are determined using an intelligent multiple, center-weighted, or spot metering system, and users can tweak the exposure with +/-2.0EV of exposure compensation, in 1/3EV steps. Shutter speeds range from 1/2000 to 60 seconds -- quite a bit longer than is common on many digicams -- and the Panasonic DMC-LX2 offers automatic or manual white balance control with five presets -- two more than in the LX1 -- plus two custom white balance modes that let you save white balance measurements for common situations for later recall. The Panasonic LX2 also includes a built-in five-mode flash, with a range of up to 4.9 meters at wide angle or 2.2 meters at telephoto.
If you like widescreen movies, the Lumix LX2's movie mode takes full advantage of the 16:9 format with a higher-than-average movie resolution of 848 x 480 pixels at 30 frames per second with sound. The camera can also record movies with VGA (640 x 480) resolution at 4:3 aspect ratio, but not at 3:2. While there is a "high definition" movie setting of 1280 x 720 resolution, I would not recommend it because it only captures HD movies at a herky-jerky frame rate of just 15 fps. Instead, I'd say go with the 16:9 at 848 x 480 pixel resolution setting, especially if you have a widescreen TV.
The Bottom Line. If you love shooting wide-angle, panoramic images but don't like the fuss of "photo stitching" software or the expense and weight of a Digital SLR with a wide angle lens, Panasonic has created a specific class of compact cameras just for you. While last year's ground-breaking LX1 had plenty of great features for capturing images wide enough to be played back on widescreen televisions, the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2 has refined those features and, to quote Emil Lagasse, "kicked it up a notch." With a 10MP sensor and 28mm Leica lens that captures detail-rich images at 16:9 aspect ratio, and a 2.8-inch LCD that plays them back without cropping, this camera is great for capturing postcard-like landscapes, group shots, or real estate photos. But along with its wide capabilities, there are enough automatic and manual functions to keep you poring over this camera's bells and whistles for days. While the Lumix LX2 could certainly be enjoyed by beginning users, since it has great automatic functionality, it's the photo enthusiasts who will get the most out of this sophisticated and snazzy little model.
- 10-megapixel (effective) 16:9 CCD captures images as high as 4,224 x 2,376 pixels
- 2.8-inch color TFT widescreen (16:9) LCD with 210,000 pixels of resolution
- 4x zoom lens (equivalent to a 28-112mm lens on a 35mm camera)
- Maximum 4x digital zoom, plus "Extended Optical Zoom" to 6.2x depending on aspect ratio
- Automatic, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual main exposure modes
- Shutter speeds from 1/2,000 to 60 seconds, with available Noise Reduction for longer exposures
- Maximum aperture from f/2.8 to f/4.9, depending on lens zoom position
- Built-in flash with six modes and an intensity adjustment
- SD/MMC memory card slot for storage (16MB of built-in memory)
- Power supplied by one proprietary, rechargeable lithium-ion battery
- Panasonic Lumix software package includes Lumix viewers, Arcsoft suite, and SILKYPIX Developer Studio 2.0 SE
- Selectable 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9 aspect ratios
- RAW and JPEG file formats
- Optical image stabilization
- Scene mode with 18 presets
- 16:9 Movie mode with sound at up to 30 frames/second
- "High Definition" movie setting at 15fps
- Adjustable ISO settings of 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,600, and 3,200 (ISO 3,200 only available in High Sensitivity scene mode)
- Intelligent ISO Control (I.I.C.) mode which automatically selects shutter speed and ISO based on conditions
- 1, 3, or 9-point autofocus area with AF assist lamp and Continuous AF mode.
- Autofocus Macro (close-up) setting allows focusing up to 5 centimeters
- Three Continuous Shooting modes, plus Auto Exposure Bracketing
- Two- or 10-second Self-Timer for delayed shutter release
- Audio Dub option for recording captions
- White balance (color) adjustment with seven modes, including a manual setting
- White Balance Adjust function allows fine-tuning of preset or custom white balance
- Color Effects including Cool, Warm, Black and White, and Sepia
- Adjustable image sharpening and saturation
- DPOF (Digital Print Order Format) and PictBridge compatibility
- USB cable for connection to a computer (driver software included)
- A/V cable for connection to a television set
In the Box
The retail package contains the following items:
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2 digital camera
- Lens cap with strap
- Panasonic CGA-S005A rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack and charger
- USB cable
- AV cable
- Wrist strap
- Software CD
- Basic operating manual and registration card
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card. (These days, 512MB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.)
- Soft camera case
- Additional battery pack
As you can tell from the long list of Pros and very short list of Cons above, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2 has a lot going for it. Though it looks virtually identical to last year's LX1 and makes only a few refinements, this camera is the better for it. For starters, the LX2 now offers a widescreen 2.8-inch LCD that lets you see images you captured at 16:9 in their full widescreen aspect ratio on the display without cropping. Other improvements include increased image resolution to 10 megapixels on shots captured at 16:9, increased light sensitivity of up to ISO 3,200 in High Sensitivity mode, and the speedy new LSI Venus Engine III image processor which has quickened the performance of the LX2 in just about all areas, while lowering image noise at ISO 400 and above.
Though the new Intelligent ISO Control (I.I.C.) -- which detects subject movement and automatically adjusts ISO and shutter speed to suit the lighting conditions -- has been highly touted by Panasonic, I failed to see any dramatic benefits from it. Regardless, previous Panasonic technology continues to provide great help to photographers, including the LX2's MEGA Optical Image Stabilizer. This feature is so effective, I usually turn it on as soon as I fire up a Panasonic camera and never turn it off.
If this camera has any faults, it would be only that I wish image quality were slightly better. Yes, I know I said the camera produced very good images, but on the next version I'd like to see Panasonic tone down the color saturation a bit while improving the camera's dynamic range. Noise is also still a problem at all ISO settings, especially at ISO 800 and 1,600, but it's much better overall than on the LX1 thanks to the LSI Venus Engine III. With the great capabilities for shooting wide and the incredible automatic and manual functionality you get with the Panasonic LX2, the blips I've mentioned are certainly not make or break issues here. Like the LX1 before it, the Panasonic LX2 is quite worthy of a Dave's Pick.