Panasonic LX100 Technical Info

by Mike Tomkins | Posted: 09/15/2014

Sensor

Panasonic LX100 Review -- Sensor

There's a lot that differs between the Panasonic LX100 and its nearest rivals, but the biggest differences all follow on from probably the most important one of the bunch: its sensor. Where all of its rivals opt either for a smaller 1"-type sensor (albeit still far larger than those of most compact cameras), or for a larger 4:3-aspect, near-APS-C height sensor, the LX100 takes a middle road with a 4/3"-type sensor like those used in Panasonic mirrorless cameras.

It's important to note, though, that the full sensor area -- roughly double that of a 1"-type sensor -- isn't actually used by the camera. As Panasonic has chosen to do with quite a few models in the past, it has actually selected a sensor that is somewhat larger than the image circle of the lens. This decision means that you can switch aspect ratios without guilt -- no matter which you choose, you're not throwing away data by cropping the image. Instead, you're simply changing the active area of the sensor within the confines of the image circle (well, except for the 1:1 aspect ratio).

Below is an illustration of the active image area for each aspect ratio offered by the the LX100, as compared to the maximum active area on the Micro Four Thirds mount Panasonic GX7 (in red) which uses a sensor with the same total pixel count.

Interestingly, the LX100 uses almost all of the active width of the sensor (about 98%) for its widest aspect ratio (16:9), but the height is limited to noticeably less (about 90%), perhaps because lens coverage is slightly anamorphic at wide angle, requiring more correction or "stretching" in the horizontal direction than the vertical. See the lens' uncorrected coverage at wide angle.

The net result is that while the total pixel count of the sensor is 16.84 megapixels, the effective pixel count is just 12.8 megapixels. The highest output resolution is in 4:3 aspect mode, and equates to just under 12.7 megapixels. This is one area in which the Panasonic LX100 really trails most of its rivals. All of the 1"-sensor cameras have 20-megapixel resolution, while the Canon G1X has a resolution of 14.2 megapixels. Closest is the G1X Mark II, which has 13-megapixel resolution in 4:3 crop mode, only fractionally more than the LX100.

Performance

It might have relatively low resolution compared to its rivals, but as we mentioned in our intro, the Panasonic LX100 is a real speed demon. No two ways about it, this camera is far faster than anything else in its class according to manufacturer-rated figures as well as our own test results.

With autofocus and autoexposure between frames, the nearest rival is the Canon G7X, with a rate of 4.4 frames per second. Using Depth from Defocus technology and the Venus Engine processor, the LX100 is rated for a full 6.5 frames per second, a full 50% faster.

Disable autofocus and autoexposure between frames, and the rate climbs up to an impressive 11 frames per second. Only the Sony RX100-series cameras come close, with a maximum of around 10 frames per second in this condition, but the Panasonic LX100 can leave them in its smoke. With electronic shutter active and resolution limited to three megapixels, you can shoot at up to a staggering 40 frames per second! (Admittedly, you'll likely find artifacts like rolling shutter in moving subjects.)

Sensitivity

Of course, a key benefit of the Panasonic LX100's larger sensor than most rivals is the ability to gather more light -- which is what photography is all about, after all. More light means less noise at a given sensitivity, or the possibility of higher sensitivity shooting.

The theory looks to play out as you'd expect here, as no other large-sensor, fixed-zoom camera can shoot a single-frame exposure at above ISO 12,800 equivalent, yet Panasonic gives you access to a maximum sensitivity of ISO 25,600 equivalent.

There's a flip side of the coin, though. The sensor's base sensitivity is also higher at ISO 200 equivalent, where rivals start from ISO 100, 125 or 160 depending upon the model. The LX100 allows you to expand sensitivity down to ISO 100 equivalent, but doing so will reduce dynamic range as the camera simply overexposes, and then dials back the exposure level post-capture. (That's why the expanded settings aren't part of the standard ISO sensitivity range.)

Fixed zoom lens

Panasonic LX100 Review -- Lens cutaway

If the Panasonic LX100's sensor is key to its story, the other key is probably its lens. The two go hand-in-hand, after all, and anything the sensor sees has first been passed through this Leica DC Vario-Summilux optic.

Acknowledging the fact that the larger the sensor, the larger the optic, the LX100's lens is actually the second shortest-ranging of the group behind only the Sony RX100 III. Where most rivals offer a 3.6x-5x range (the RX100 III being the sole exception with a 2.9x range), the Panasonic LX100 has a 3.1x optical zoom.

The focal range starts from a 24mm-equivalent wide-angle, matching the widest of its rivals, but impressively the f/1.7 maximum aperture at wide-angle is the brightest of the bunch. That, combined with a larger sensor than the RX100-series cameras or G7X, will conspire to make depth-of-field blur effects easier to achieve. (And a 9-bladed, rounded aperture diaphragm -- a feature shared only by the Canon G7X -- will help make those blurred backgrounds more attractive.)

Zoom all the way out to the 75mm-equivalent telephoto position, and the lens' maximum aperture falls, but only down to f/2.8. That matches or betters all of its rivals, although in fairness, many of them have further-reaching zooms in the first place. Minimum aperture is f/16 across the zoom range.

The optical formula of the Panasonic LX100's lens consists of 11 elements in eight groups. Of these, there are five aspheric elements, eight aspheric surfaces, and two dual-sided aspheric ED elements. Unlike the Canon G7X and Sony RX100 III, there's no built-in neutral density filter in the LX100.

Stabilization

Although it might not have the telephoto reach of some rivals, the Panasonic LX100 nevertheless includes optical image stabilization. Specifically, it's what Panasonic terms Power O.I.S. -- note that there's no mention of an Active mode. The company hasn't provided any specifics as to the system's corrective ability.

Focusing

Another key area in which the Panasonic LX100 betters its rivals -- at least, according to the manufacturer specifications -- is in its autofocus performance.

The 49-point, Light Speed AF-branded autofocus system in the LX100 might be more point-dense than the 31-point system of the Canon G7X or the 25-point systems of the Sony RX100-series, but it nevertheless allows for burst-capture complete with autofocus adjustment between frames at a full 50% faster than its nearest rival.

The key to the system's speed is what Panasonic calls Depth from Defocus technology. First introduced in the GH4 compact system camera, this variation on contrast-detection autofocus steals a trick from phase-detection. Like the rival tech, which relies either on hardware tweaks to the image sensor or a separate, standalone AF sensor as in a DSLR, Panasonic's Depth from Defocus can determine the direction and distance required to achieve a focus lock prior to shifting the focus group.

The result is that focusing is one quick, smooth maneuver, rather than the constant stop-and-start of a standard contrast-detection AF system, with pauses to check how contrast is changing along the way. By removing the need to pause over and over, Panasonic's system greatly reduces the time to a focus lock.

The Light Speed AF system includes face detection technology and tracking capability, and provides single, flexible or continuous operating modes. There's also a focus assist lamp, and the minimum focus distance is 1.2 inches (3cm) at wide angle, or 11.8 inches (30cm) at telephoto.

You can, of course, also focus manually -- and if you choose to do so, you'll be happy to find focus peaking and magnification functions provided.

Viewfinder

Panasonic LX100 Review -- EVF

The Panasonic LX100 is one of only two cameras in its class that include an electronic viewfinder. (The other being the Sony RX100 III, which has a smaller popup finder.) The RX100 II and G1X-series can, admittedly, accept optional viewfinder accessories, and the G1X also has a built-in optical finder, but these solutions are less than ideal compared to the LX100's EVF.

The Panasonic LX100's viewfinder is a very high-resolution unit, based around a high-definition 1,280 x 720 pixel, field-sequential panel as used previously in the Panasonic GX7. In plain English, that means every single pixel provides all three colors -- but only one color at any given time. By cycling through the colors repeatedly, your eye gets the impression of a sharp, full-color image. The downside with field-sequential finders is that they can sometimes show rainbow "sparkle" effects on edges of subjects in motion, or when you blink.

Compared to the built-in finder in the RX100 III, the LX100's finder yields a much larger image. (In fact, it's nearly as large as that of the RX100 II's expensive accessory finder.) It also has significantly higher pixel resolution, although the field-sequential design means that the RX100 III's finder dot count suggests higher resolution. A good chunk of that resolution difference, though, comes from the fact that Panasonic has opted for a wider 16:9 aspect ratio on the viewfinder, as compared to the 4:3 aspect of the RX100 III finder. Field of view is 100%.

Lining the right side of the viewfinder is a proximity sensor used to enable or disable the viewfinder and LCD automatically as you raise the camera to your eye, or vice versa. This can also be accomplished manually using the LVF button adjacent to the finder.

Monitor

The LCD monitor, by contrast, is rather more run-of-the-mill. Size is 3.0 inches diagonal, and resolution is 640 x 480 pixels (4:3 aspect), with three dots per pixel. The Canon G7X's screen is wider-aspect and so has a somewhat higher pixel count, and Sony's RX100-series cameras all use four dot per pixel WhiteMagic screens that yield a higher dot count, greater outdoor visibility for a given power consumption level, and lower power consumption for a given brightness.

The LX100's screen is neither touch-sensitive, nor is it articulated.

Exposure

The Panasonic LX100 offers a healthy selection of exposure features as you'd expect on an enthusiast camera, while forgoing the consumer-oriented fluff like scene modes that most photographers will never touch.

Exposure modes on offer include Program (shiftable), Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual, and they're all accessed simply by turning the Shutter and Aperture controls to their Auto positions, or dialing in a value that fits your subject. The only concession to approachability is a dedicated button on the top deck which launches Intelligent Auto mode, something that should suffice if you're handing your camera off to a friend or colleague for a few quick shots.

Panasonic LX100 Review -- Shutter speed dial

Exposures are determined using intelligent multiple, center-weighted or spot metering, but like Sony before it, Panasonic hasn't disclosed the number of areas into which its evaluative system breaks down the scene. Nor is metering system working range disclosed. We can confirm, however, that autoexposure lock and exposure compensation are provided, with the latter having a working range of +/-3EV in 1/3 increments set using a dedicated dial on the top deck. And there's also a three, five, or seven-frame exposure bracketing function that can roam within a range of +/-3EV in 1/3, 2/3 or 1EV steps.

Shutter speeds range from 1/4,000 to 120 seconds, a very wide range that bests the 1/2,000s limit of the Canon G7X and Sony RX100-series cameras. Enable the fully-electronic shutter, and this can be extended to a stunning 1/16,000 second. There's also a Time exposure function which applies on exposures 30 seconds or greater. Be aware that the top mechanical shutter speed can change depending on the aperture selected though, because the LX100 uses a leaf shutter instead of a focal-plane shutter. So for example if you set the aperture wider than f/4, the top mechanical shutter speed is reduced to 1/2,000s. A major advantage, though, is that the flash syncs at any mechanical shutter speed, allowing flash shots up to a very versatile 1/4,000s. However flash is not supported with the all-electronic shutter.

A fairly typical selection of white balance modes are provided. These include Auto, five white balance presets, a generous four custom positions, a color temperature setting, and the ability to fine-tune white balance.

Flash

If there's one surprising omission in the Panasonic LX100, it's the flash strobe. Unlike all of the other cameras in this segment, the Panasonic LX100 lacks a built-in flash strobe. Instead, there's a hot shoe and a bundled external strobe, meaning you need to carry an extra accessory with you if there's any chance of encountering less than ideal ambient lighting conditions. (The Sony RX100 II also boasts a hot shoe, but this supplements the internal flash, rather than replacing it altogether.)

Panasonic LX100 Review -- Bundled flash

The included, external strobe has a rather meager Guide Number of 7 meters at ISO 100, and is said to have a working range of two to 46 feet (60cm to 14.1m) at wide angle, or one to 28 feet (30cm to 8.5m) at telephoto, using Auto ISO sensitivity. The range at base ISO will thus be quite a bit shorter.

The bundled flash derives its power from the camera and includes both TTL Auto and Manual modes, the latter allowing you to manually adjust flash output from full down to 1/64 power. Auto flash modes include Force On, Forced On/Red Eye, Slow Sync, Slow Sync/Red Eye and Forced Off, and there is a second curtain sync option as well as a post-capture red-eye correction mode. Flash exposure compensation range is +/-3EV in 1/3EV steps, and can be separate from or linked to standard exposure compensation.

As previously mentioned, maximum flash sync is a very speedy 1/4,000s thanks to the mechanical leaf shutter.

Creative

Photo style options include Standard, Vivid, Natural, Monochrome, Scenery, Portrait and Custom. Possible adjustments (as relevant to the style chosen) include contrast, sharpness, noise reduction, saturation, color tone and filter effect, so you can tweak results to your taste.

Creative Control Filters include Expressive, Retro, Old Days, High Key, Low Key, Sepia, Monochrome, Dynamic Monochrome, Rough Monochrome, Silky Monochrome, Impressive Art, High Dynamic, Cross Process, Toy Effect, Toy Pop and Bleach Bypass.

A self-timer function is provided with preset durations of two or 10 seconds, plus a 10-second option which captures three images. A level gauge function helps to get horizons level. A panorama function is also included.

Movie

Panasonic LX100 Review -- Movie record button

One last feature of the Panasonic LX100 that really stands out from the competition is its movie-capture capability, again a testament to the high processor power on offer in this camera.

Unlike all of its direct competitors, which are limited to Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixel) video capture, the LX100 can shoot much higher-res 4K (3,840 x 2,160 pixel) movies. That's four pixels shot by the LX100, for every one shot by other large-sensor, fixed-lens cameras, or on paper at least, double the linear resolution in its movies.

4K capture, though, is limited to a rate of either 24 or 30 progressive-scan frames per second. For the full capture rate of 60 progressive-scan frames or interlaced fields per second, you'll need to drop down to Full HD capture. (You can also shoot 24p or 30p at this lower resolution, or 30p at VGA 640 x 480 pixel resolution.)

Full HD videos use AVCHD compression, while MP4 capture can be used at all resolutions. AVCHD videos include Dolby audio, while MP4 videos use AAC audio. This is captured using a stereo internal microphone, and sadly there's no external microphone connectivity. Internal microphone gain can be adjusted in four steps, there's an optional mic level display, and there's also a wind cut filter with three strength settings plus Auto and Off.

PASM exposure modes are available for videos, as is Intelligent Auto exposure. And you'll be able to extract 4K stills -- around 8.3 megapixels in resolution -- post-capture from your recorded 4K videos. These can then be cropped to aspect ratios other than the 16:9 of the video footage.

Optical zoom is supported during video recording, with a slower zoom speed than when shooting stills. Continuous autofocus is available during recording, as is manual focus.

Wireless networking

Panasonic LX100 Review -- Wi-Fi

Now that we're in the smartphone age, you have to offer Wi-Fi networking if you want to remain relevant. The Panasonic LX100 doesn't disappoint, including built-in Wi-Fi wireless networking technology (IEEE 802.11b/g/n), as well as support for passive Near-Field Communications technology.

NFC is something that came to Android about four years ago now, and has since become widespread on Blackberry, Symbian and Windows Phone devices too. For years, we've been calling out the fact that Apple was resisting adopting the standard, but it has finally surrendered and added NFC support to its latest-generation iPhone 6 models, however it's currently using NFC exclusively for Apple Pay.

With NFC on an Android device, all you do is simply bump the devices to be paired together briefly, ensuring the locations of their antennas are near each other. (NFC has a very, very short range that acts as a security feature.) Once the devices see each other via NFC, they can then automatically negotiate a much faster, longer-range Wi-Fi connection, and the NFC tech can also be used to have the smartphone run the relevant app for you automatically, saving you launching it yourself.

The requirement for a specific app invariably rules out platforms other than the big two -- Android and iOS -- though, and that's the case here too, leaving Blackberry, Symbian and Windows Phone users looking on with jealousy. Those photographers using iOS 6.0+ or Android 4.0+, though, can look forward to quick and easy sharing through their phone or connected tablet on social networks and the like, as well as support for wireless remote shooting and geotagging images.

Connectivity

Panasonic LX100 Review -- Ports

Connectivity options in the Panasonic LX100 include standard-definition video output in NTSC format only (a feature Sony's RX100-series cameras lack, although the Canon G7X offers both NTSC and PAL output), as well as high-definition video output and USB for data transfer. The HD output is a Micro HDMI port, and the SD video / USB outputs share a single connector.

While the LX100's HDMI port is capable of supporting 4K video output in playback mode, we could not get it to output clean HDMI for external recording.

Storage

The Panasonic LX100 stores images on Secure Digital cards, as do almost all higher-end cameras these days. Both the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types are supported, and so are the higher-speed UHS-I types up to Class 3.

Still images can be stored in 12-bit raw or compressed JPEG formats, or both simultaneously.

Power

Panasonic LX100 Review -- Battery and card

The LX100 draws power from a proprietary lithium-ion battery pack. With a rated 7.2 volts, 1,025 mAh, and 7.4 Wh capacity, Panasonic predicts battery life a little behind that that offered by Sony's RX100-series cameras. Those models manage 320-350 shots on the LCD monitor, where the Panasonic LX100 is rated as good for 300 shots on the LCD, and that's with the bundled flash enabled for every second shot.

If you switch to the viewfinder, battery life will fall to 270 shots, which is par for the course. (We're not sure why these smaller displays are so much more power-hungry than full-sized monitors, but it's almost always the case that EVFs offer lower battery life.) The good news: a drop of 30 shots really isn't that bad -- Sony's RX100 III plunges from 320 to 230 shots if you use the EVF. (!!)

The LX100 ships with both a battery pack and a dedicated charger. An optional AC adapter and DC coupler (dummy battery) are available.

 



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