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Panasonic LF1 Review -- Initial Impressions


If you've been shopping for an enthusiast compact, but you've been put off by the lack of a viewfinder, Panasonic has the camera for you. Let's face it, we don't all like shooting at arm's length -- the traditional camera-to-the-eye stance has a number of advantages, not least of them the better visibility under harsh sunlight. It's also easier to hold the camera steady in low-light shooting, and you feel more intimately connected to your subject. The Panasonic LF1 provides all this in an enthusiast compact body, thanks to the addition of an in-camera electronic viewfinder -- and yet it's significantly lighter and smaller in every dimension than Panasonic's existing Lumix LX7.

Although it's not as bright as that on the LX7, with a maximum aperture varying from f/2.0 to a decidedly dim f/5.9 across the zoom range, the Panasonic LF1's lens provides a much more versatile range of 28 to 200mm equivalents. (The actual focal length range spans everything from 6.0 to 42.8mm.) The lens has 10 elements in eight groups, including four aspheric elements, three of which are double-sided aspherics. Panasonic's Power O.I.S. image stabilization is included.

Behind the lens sits a twelve megapixel, 1/1.7-inch MOS image sensor. That's the same size and type used in the LX7, but the Panasonic LF1's image sensor has just slightly higher resolution. ISO sensitivity varies from 80 to 6,400 equivalents, and full-resolution burst shooting is possible at 10 frames per second for as many as twelve frames. Even should you enable the LF1's tracking contrast detection autofocus, it's possible to shoot at five frames per second.

At the very top left corner of the rear panel sits the viewfinder, based around a 0.2-inch color panel with 200K-dot resolution. (We don't currently have any information on the panel type used.) There's also a 3.0-inch, 640 x 480 pixel LCD panel with anti-reflective coating, for those times when you do prefer arm's length shooting, such as with the camera overhead or low to the ground.

As you'd expect on an enthusiast-friendly camera, the full complement of Program, Priority, and Manual exposure modes are available. Exposures are metered by default with an Intelligent Multiple metering system, with options of center-weighted and spot metering available. Shutter speeds range to as fast as 1/4,000 second. To keep size to a minimum, the Panasonic LF1 lacks any external flash connectivity, opting instead for a fixed strobe on the front panel. At wide angle, this is manufacturer-rated for a working range of 0.6 to seven meters with automatic ISO sensitivity control. And you can also shoot movies at up to Full HD / 1080i (1,920 x 1,080 pixels; 60 interlaced fields per second).

Connectivity options include USB, NTSC composite, and Micro HDMI ports, and if you're not a fan of cables, you'll be pleased to find both 2.4GHz 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Near Field Communications provided for as well, for simple image sharing with smart devices. Power comes from a 3.7-volt proprietary lithium-ion battery pack, which recharges in-camera via USB. Images and movies are stored on Secure Digital cards, including the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types.

Good image quality, enthusiast controls, an electronic viewfinder, all in a truly tiny body; what more could you want in a pocket camera? The Panasonic LF1 started shipping from June 2013 in black or white, with a suggested list price of about US$500.


Panasonic LF1 Lens Quality

Wide f/2.0: Very sharp at center
Wide f/2.0: Slightly soft, upper left
Tele f/5.9: Sharp at center
Tele f/5.9: Slightly soft, upper left corner

Sharpness: All four corners are only slightly soft at full wide angle at f/2.0 while the center is very sharp, which is very good performance. Some of the softness is due to strong distortion correction, both geometric and chromatic aberration (see below for uncorrected results).

Corners are also slightly soft at full telephoto wide open, though not quite as soft as wide angle, and the center is sharp, however not quite as sharp as wide angle. Again, this is very good performance at 200mm equivalent.

Some minor corner shading ("vignetting") can be seen from the dark corner crops.

Very good performance overall, especially for a 28-200mm equivalent lens that's pretty fast at wide angle.

The lens is a little on the dim side (f/5.9) at full telephoto, though that's not a surprise given the range and how compact it is. The table below reflects the maximum and minimum apertures at various focal lengths as reported by the camera:

Focal Length
(mm eq.)
f/8 at all focal lengths

In-camera JPEGs
Wide: Moderate barrel distortion (~0.5%)
Tele: Low pincushion distortion (~0.2%)
Uncorrected RAW
Wide: Strong barrel distortion (~3.5%)
Tele: Low pincushion distortion (~0.3%)

Geometric Distortion: The Panasonic LF1's JPEGs exhibit a moderate amount (about 0.5%) of barrel distortion at wide angle. At the telephoto end, JPEGs exhibit lower distortion, about 0.2% pincushion.

In uncorrected RAW files, barrel distortion at wide angle is quite high at about 3.5%, while at telephoto pincushion distortion is still low at about 0.3%. That's not unusual, though, and most RAW converters should automatically correct for it, but strong correction does lead to some extra softness in the corners.

In-Camera JPEG
Wide f/2.0: Moderate
Tele f/5.9: Moderate
Uncorrected RAW
Wide f/2.0: High
Tele f/5.9: High

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration in camera JPEGs at wide angle is moderate in terms of pixel count, but coloration is quite muted. Fringing at full telephoto is slightly higher in pixel count, but not quite a bright.

As you can see from the uncorrected RAW crops, chromatic aberration is actually fairly high and bright, so the Panasonic LF1's processor does a good job suppressing most of it in JPEGs, though as mentioned above, defringing does tend to reduce edge acuity, leading to softer, lower-contrast images in the corners.

Macro with Flash

Macro: The Panasonic LF1 captured a smaller than average sized minimum area measuring 1.67 x 1.25 inches (42 x 32 millimeters). Detail is quite good near the center, but corners are quite soft even at f/8 (most lenses show some softening in the corners at macro distances). The flash does a good job throttling down, but the lens casts a large shadow in the lower left. You'll likely want to use external lighting for the closest LF1 macro shots.


Panasonic LF1 Viewfinder Accuracy

Wide: EVF
Tele: EVF
Wide: LCD Monitor
Tele: LCD Monitor

Viewfinder Accuracy: The Panasonic LF1's electronic viewfinder shows about 98% coverage at wide angle, and about 100% at telephoto. The LCD monitor shows about 100% coverage at wide angle, and 101% at telephoto. Very good results here.


Panasonic LF1 Image Quality

Color: The Panasonic LF1 produced good overall color, with typical mean saturation levels, and average color error. Mean saturation at base ISO is 110.2%, or 10.2% oversaturated. That's about average these days, with the camera pushing reds and blues moderately, but only pushing most other colors slightly, if at all. Some colors such as yellow and aqua are actually undersaturated. In terms of hue, cyans were moderately shifted toward blue, red toward orange, and orange toward yellow, though those are fairly common. Overall, hue accuracy was about average, and it's nice that the yellow-to-green shift we often see from Panasonics is only very slight, though it is noticeably desaturated.

Auto WB:
Cool, with magenta tint
Incandescent WB:
Very warm, too orange
Manual WB:
Very good

Incandescent: The LF1's Auto white balance setting produced a very cool, magenta tint in our indoor portrait test. The Incandescent setting was quite warm with a strong orange tint. The Manual white balance setting was very good, producing the most accurate color balance, perhaps just slightly on the cool side.

Horizontal: 2,200 lines
Vertical: 2,100 lines

Resolution: Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,200 lines per picture height horizontally and to about 2,100 lines vertically, which is good for the megapixel count. Extinction of the pattern occurred between 2,600 and 2,800 lines per picture height both horizontally and vertically.

Wide at 23 ft.:
Tele at 7.5 ft.:
Normal, +1.0EV: Dim
Slow Sync, 0EV: Dim

Flash: Our manufacturer-specified testing (shown at right) is inconclusive at wide angle, with the rated distance of 7m / 23 ft. using Auto ISO likely too far for our lab, despite using spot metering. (The white ceiling and doors probably impacted metering.) The telephoto test came out dim at the specified 2.3m / 7.5 feet with Auto ISO (the camera chose ISO 1000), so we'd say Panasonic's flash range rating is a little optimistic.

Normal flash mode produced dim results at ISO 200, even with +1.0 exposure compensation, however the camera did select a reasonably fast shutter speed of 1/60 second. Image stabilization should help with the slow shutter speed, but movement of the subject could be problematic at slower shutter speeds unless detected by the camera. The LF1's slow sync mode used 1/8s shutter speed to produce a brighter image, but with a strong orange tint due to the ambient lighting. Shot taken at ~5 feet (~1.5m) on a stable tripod.


ISO: Noise and Detail: Detail is strong and well defined at ISOs 80 through 200 using default noise reduction. We start to see a noticeable decline in image quality at ISO 400 with strong luminance noise, but fine detail is still pretty good. ISO 800 images start to take on a somewhat watercolor look due to fairly aggressive noise reduction, though detail is still fair for the size of sensor. ISO 1600 shows a lot more luminance noise but images still contain some detail, however image quality drops off rapidly from there with much stronger noise and blurring at ISO 3200 and above. Chroma noise is effectively controlled except at the highest ISOs.

See Printed section below for more on how this affects printed images.

Print Quality: Good 20 x 30 inch prints at ISO 80 and 100; makes an decent 8 x 10 inch print at ISO 800 while ISO 6400/12,800 should be avoided.

ISO 80/100 produces decent 20 x 30 inch prints with a good amount of fine detail, although some colors did look a little on the drab side. ISO 100 images looks practically identical to ISO 80, and you'd have to pixel peep very closely to see any noticeable difference (if at all). While pixelated, as it's pushing the limits of the 12MP sensor, you could get away with wall-mounting a 24 x 36 inch print, but we'd recommend sticking with 20 x 30 max.

ISO 200 allows for nice 16 x 20 inch prints when viewed from a typical arm's-length distance. Not surprisingly, going a print size smaller to 11 x 14 looks even better. There's a good amount of fine detail, though there is evidence of noise reduction in the shadow areas.

ISO 400 images look very close to ISO 200 and noise itself is very minimal -- just a little more noise/noise reduction compared to ISO 200, and as such make for good 13 x 19 inch prints. Fine detail is nice for this sensor size, though there's a hint more signs of noise reduction showing up around the edges of items in the image such as the various bottles in our test print.

ISO 800 prints are a little too soft at 11 x 14 inches to consider acceptable, but an 8 x 10 print looks good with a fair amount of detail and noise reduction doing a great job keeping grain under control.

ISO 1600 images are usable up to 5 x 7 inch prints. From a longer viewing distance, an 8 x 10 looks okay, but viewed up close, it's a little too soft for us, as the high ISO and noise reduction is starting to impact fine detail.

ISO 3200 prints look acceptable up to 4 x 6 inches. ISO 3200 prints look very similar to ISO 1600, so you might be able to get away with a 5 x 7 inch print at ISO 3200. There's more noise in the shadows at this higher ISO, and fine detail is still quite good considering this ISO level and sensor size. Like we've seen, starting back at ISO 80/100, colors look a little on the dull side, but it's more noticeable here at higher ISO levels.

ISO 6400 and 12,800 images are too lacking in fine detail with lot of noise and grain plus heavy-handed high ISO noise reduction, and therefore it's difficult for us to consider any print sizes acceptable in this ISO range.

The Panasonic LF1 is a pretty decent performer for a small-sensored compact camera, especially at lower ISOs. While some colors looked a little on the drab or bland side, even at ISO 80/100, there was a nice amount of fine detail for large 20 x 30 inch prints. The camera's default noise reduction does well at controlling luma and chroma noise as the ISO rises, but N.R. is still evident, particularly around edges, at lower- to middle-range ISO levels. From typical viewing distances, the LF1 does well with prints at higher ISOs like 1600 and 3200, and makes nice standard-size 5 x 7 and 4 x 6 inch prints, respectively. However, the small 1/1.7-inch CMOS sensor shows its weakness at the extreme ISO levels of 6400 and 12,800 with lots of noise and noise reduction processing taking its toll on fine detail, making it difficult for us to recommend making prints from images in this ISO range.


Panasonic LF1 Performance

Startup & Play to Record Times: The Panasonic LF1 takes about 1.5 seconds to power on and take a shot, and about a second to switch from Play to Record mode and take a shot. That's pretty fast for its class.

Shutter Lag: Full autofocus shutter lag is good at 0.25 second at both full wide angle and full telephoto. Enabling the flash increases that to 0.44 second, which is still pretty good. Manual focus has 0.31 second lag, a little surprising because it's slower than with autofocus, but it's still pretty quick. Prefocused shutter lag is only 0.009 second, which is incredibly fast.

Single-shot Cycle Times: Single-shot cycle times are very good, capturing a Large/Fine JPEG, RAW or RAW+L/F JPEG every 0.6 seconds or so.

Continuous Mode: Full-res continuous mode is very fast, capturing L/F JPEGs, RAW or RAW+JPEG files all at 10 frames per second. In JPEG mode, buffer depth is 12 Large/Fine frames, while in RAW or RAW+JPEG mode, it's 10 frames. Buffer clearing is good after a max-length burst of 12 JPEGs at 6 seconds, but a bit slow after 10 RAW or 10 RAW+JPEGs, at 14 and 20 seconds respectively.

The LF1 also offers some high-speed continuous modes at reduced resolutions. We clocked the 5-megapixel 40fps mode at 39.4 frames per second for 40 frames with 14 seconds to clear, and the 2.5-megapixel 60fps mode at 60.0 frames per second for 60 frames with 17 seconds to clear.

Flash Recycle: The Panasonic LF1's flash recycles in about 3.1 seconds after a full-power discharge, which is fair.

Low Light AF: The camera's AF system was able to focus down to below the 1/16 foot-candle light level without AF assist enabled, and in complete darkness with the AF assist lamp enabled. Excellent results here.

USB Transfer Speed: Connected to a computer with USB 2.0, the Panasonic LF1's download speeds are decent, though not particularly fast. We measured 7,243 KBytes/sec.

Battery Life: The Panasonic LF1's battery life has a CIPA rating of 250 shots per charge, which is below average.


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