Since 2012, there's been a new type of camera -- the large-sensor, fixed-lens zoom compact -- and Sony has had that market almost entirely to itself. Now, two worthy rivals have appeared almost at once, each with the clear aim of dethroning Sony.
That's great news for photographers who've been wanting to see some competition in this interesting, enthusiast-friendly segment. But which of these new rivals is your best bet -- the Panasonic LX100, or the Canon G7X? Read on, and find out!
Although it's pretty clear that Panasonic and Canon had Sony in mind when designing their first large-sensor enthusiast zoom compacts, it's interesting just how different the LX100 and G7X are from each other. Both are aimed at the same market, and yet each offers a unique solution.
The most obvious difference between the two is one of size, both of the camera itself and the image sensor. The Canon G7X is very close to the same size as Sony's RX100 III (Canon G7X vs. Sony RX100 III; Panasonic LX100 vs. Sony RX100 III. At 4.1 x 2.4 x 1.6 inches (103 x 61 x 40mm), it will fit nicely in a pants pocket.
Despite a shorter lens, the Panasonic LX100 is about 0.3 to 0.5 inches larger on each side, measuring in at 4.5 x 2.6 x 2.2 inches (115 x 66 x 55 mm). It's not a huge difference on any single axis, but if you consider the overall volume, the LX100 feels quite a bit bulkier. It won't fit a pants pocket, but a jacket pocket or small purse will certainly suffice.
The Canon is noticeably lighter, as well. The LX100 weighs 13.9 ounces (393 g), while the G7X weighs in at just 10.7 ounces (304 g).
For all that extra bulk and heft, the Panasonic LX100 offers a very significant benefit, though: a much larger sensor. That allows it to capture more light -- to be more sensitive, in other words.
The LX100's sensor is a 4/3"-type with a surface area of about 225 mm2. That's very close to double the 116 mm2 surface area of the G7X's 1"-type sensor.
However, Panasonic's sensor extends beyond the image circle in the corners. This allows the company to offer a choice of aspect ratios without simply cropping and discarding image data, but it also means that no available capture resolution can use the whole sensor area, since the corners would be shaded.
The result is that while the LX100 will certainly use more sensor area than the G7X, the advantage won't be great as you'd expect of a typical camera with a 4/3"-type sensor.
The difference in surface area is also offset by the backside-illuminated design of the Canon G7X's sensor. (Simply put, the circuitry is moved behind the light-sensitive surface, in the process maximizing the area available to gather light.)
For Panasonic's part, the LX100's sensor is described only as a "High-Sensitivity MOS" type, suggesting it's likely not backside-illuminated. Of course, there's only so much you can do with BSI technology, so a much larger sensor will still have the advantage.
Based on the specifications, the Panasonic LX100 certainly looks to have the edge in terms of sensitivity, and that makes sense given what we know about the image sensor. Of course, we've yet to complete testing of either camera -- we'll update this comparison once we do so. Still, the manufacturer-rated ISO sensitivity range of the two cameras tells the story.
While the Canon G7X has a range of ISO 125 to 12,800 equivalents, which can't be expanded, the LX100 has a default range of ISO 200 to 25,600 equivalents, expandable to ISO 100. Given the similar maximum aperture of the two cameras, that will give the Panasonic LX100 an advantage as an available-light shooter.
The Canon G7X will have its own advantage when shooting in bright sunlight, though. Panasonic LX100 users will be forced to stop down sooner, especially since the G7X includes a built-in three-stop neutral density filter, a feature that the LX100 lacks.
And Canon's sensor also provides higher sensor resolution, which could be a big advantage if you need to make large prints or want to crop significantly. Effective resolution of the G7X is 20.2 megapixels in 3:2 aspect, some 28% higher linear resolution than that of the 12.8-megapixel LX100, on paper at least. (Again, we'll need to get both of these cameras through our in-depth lab testing to confirm the real-world difference between them in this area.)
On paper at least, the Canon G7X's lens looks to be much more impressive than that of the LX100. Not only is it smaller, but it's also further-reaching -- and yet almost as bright.
While Panasonic has a slight edge at wide angle, with a maximum aperture of f/1.7 at 24mm, compared to Canon's at f/1.8, Canon's lens is the winner at telephoto. The LX100's lens tops out at a 75mm focal length, while Canon will continue to zoom much further, to a 100mm-equivalent focal length. And even at that point, it will still offer an f/2.8 maximum aperture, the same as Panasonic provides at 75mm. (all focal lengths in 35mm-equivalent terms)
That's quite an advantage for the Canon G7X, on paper at least. An optical range of 4.2x for the G7X will provide more versatility than the 3.1x range of the LX100. Of course, this says nothing of image quality, and we've yet to finish our lab and real-world testing, so can't draw any image quality conclusions yet. We also haven't yet determined whether Canon or Panasonic's lens stops down more quickly as you zoom in. Watch this space for more in the near future!
The Panasonic LX100 looks impressive in another area related to the lens, though. Where Canon provides only 31 focus points, Panasonic provides 49 points, and yet it rates its AF system as capable of a very swift 0.14 second autofocus time.
This is likely due in large part to Panasonic's Depth From Defocus technology, which provides an indication of distance and direction to the point of focus before focus drive has started, but without the need for phase-detect technology.
The G7X's 31 focus points will be much easier to select, because Canon opted to include a touchscreen, which feature Panasonic omitted.
Both the Canon G7X and Panasonic LX100 are clearly aimed at more experienced photographers (or beginners who want more control over their camera). There is good attention to detail and plenty of external controls. The Panasonic LX100 is slightly more generously-equipped in terms of sheer number of dials, adjustment rings and customizable buttons, though, while Canon pays more more attention to the needs of less experienced shooters
The G7X, for example, still has a friendly Mode dial, one of four dial/ring-type controls on its body. (The others are the lens ring, exposure compensation dial, and rear dial.) And Canon provides an array of seven scene modes plus two Auto modes (though including two 'automatic' modes isn't exactly a user experience win).
In contrast, the Panasonic LX100 has five dials and rings, one more than Canon. But the real difference is that Panasonic chose to ditch the friendly Mode dial altogether, instead providing dedicated controls for the main exposure variables: shutter speed, aperture, and exposure compensation. A second lens ring behind that used to control aperture can be configured to control lens zoom, ISO sensitivity and manual focus, among other options. While Panasonic helpfully included a dedicated button for its auto mode, it's unhelpful 'iA' label will leave beginners scratching their heads.
At the same time, Canon has no customizable buttons at all, just a customizable lens ring. The Panasonic LX100 has three configurable function buttons, allowing you to tweak it to your tastes.
Panasonic absolutely demolishes all of its competitors on the performance front, at least based on the manufacturer-rated specs. (Once again, our final verdict will have to wait until we've completed our own independent testing.)
Based on manufacturer ratings, the LX100 beats the Canon G7X handily in terms of burst performance, whether or not autofocus is enabled. When AF is active, the Canon G7X is said to be good for 4.4 frames per second, while Panasonic rates the LX100 for 6.5 fps. Disable autofocus and the difference is even greater: The Panasonic LX100 yields 11 fps by default (or 40 fps with electronic shutter and reduced three-megapixel resolution), while Canon manages only 6.5 fps -- barely more than half the performance of its rival.
Panasonic also claims an exceptionally swift 0.14 second autofocus time for the LX100, thanks to its clever Depth from Defocus AF technology, despite having 60% more focus points than the G7X. Add in a faster top shutter speed of 1/4,000 second (versus 1/2,000 second for the Canon), plus the ability to capture 4K video (where the G7X is limited to Full HD), and it looks to be a pretty clean sweep for Panasonic on the performance front. (We'll come back to video in a moment for a closer look, though.)
Exposure options in the Canon G7X and Panasonic LX100 are quite similar, but the two do have a few notable differences between them, beyond the faster shutter, wider sensitivity range and lack of Scene modes on the LX100 as we noted earlier. For example, the LX100 offers a wider exposure bracketing range of 3, 5 or 7 frames in up to 1EV steps, where the Canon G7X is limited to three frames in 2EV steps.
Perhaps most importantly though, Panasonic has taken a distinctly different approach to flash than has Canon. For the G7X, the internal flash is your only option, while for the LX100 it's external flash only.
On the plus side, the Panasonic LX100 allows use of your choice of external strobes. That means potentially far more flash range than a camera with a built-in strobe. (And that's true even with the small external flash strobe that's included in the product bundle. While it's small enough to slip into a pocket, it offers far better range than Canon's built-in strobe.)
However, while the Canon G7X's built-in, popup flash strobe is comparatively weak, it is always there -- you can't accidentally leave it at home, and don't need to occupy a second pocket with the strobe.
If you're gunning for a spontaneous shot and want to capture it through the viewfinder, the Panasonic LX100 has another distinct edge over the Canon G7X -- its electronic viewfinder is right there, always available so long as the camera is switched on. Canon lacks a viewfinder altogether, so you're stuck framing on the LCD monitor.
The viewfinder should also yield a sharper image when reviewing shots, thanks to a higher resolution of 1,280 x 720 pixels, compared to the 640 x 480 pixel resolution of the Canon's LCD monitor.
Canon's ace in the hole, meanwhile, is its tilting screen. The G7X's display tilts upwards 180 degrees for selfie or low-to-the-hip shooting. The LX100's screen, though, is fixed in place — and that will make framing from unusual angles a rather less satisfying spray-and-pray experience. Sadly, neither camera's screen can tilt downwards (for that, you should look towards Sony's RX100 III: G7X vs. RX100 III; LX100 vs. RX100 III), although if you want to frame over your head the Canon G7X could be turned upside down if need be. (The ergonomics obviously wouldn't be ideal, though, and images would need to be rotated for viewing.)
And as we mentioned previously, Canon has a touch-screen, while Panasonic doesn't. That makes AF point selection more intuitive, but it also lets you use the camera much like your phone. Pinch to zoom in playback mode, swipe to pan in photos or scroll through menus, and tap to make selections. With the LX100, all of the above involve lots of button-pressing.
Panasonic has a big win in the video-capture arena, with support for shooting at 4K resolution with a rate of up to 30 frames per second. You may not have a 4K display yet, but there's a big push in the industry for you to upgrade, and there's a good chance that at some point in the future you'll do so. If that happens -- or if you just want to crop and stabilize video in software post-capture, 4K could be a big deal for you, and the Canon G7X doesn't offer it.
And while neither camera lets you shoot still images during video capture, the LX100 offers the ability to extract high-res stills at up to an 8.3-megapixel, 16:9-aspect size, where a frame of the G7X's video would provide just 2.1-megapixel resolution.
Both the Canon G7X and Panasonic LX100 can provide good battery life by compact camera standards, but each has a catch.
With Panasonic, you'll get 300 frames to CIPA standards if you shoot using the LCD monitor, but only 270 frames with the electronic viewfinder. For Canon, you'll get 310 shots if ECO mode is disabled, but only 210 frames ordinarily. (ECO mode aggressively saves power, dimming the screen after just two seconds and turning it off entirely after ten seconds.)
Given that even with ECO mode enabled the Canon can only best Panasonic's battery life by ten frames, though, we're calling this one in the LX100's favor. Expect to pick up a second battery with your Canon G7X, where with the LX100 you might be able to manage with just one for an overnight trip, even with lots of shooting.
Both cameras have fairly generous connectivity options, including 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi wireless networking with NFC setup. The latter is still Android-only, though, as despite the fact that Apple's latest phones now include NFC hardware, the company hasn't opened it up to third-party use. (That's Apple's fault, though; there's nothing Canon or Panasonic can do about it.) Both cameras also include USB 2.0 High Speed data connectivity and Type-D MicroHDMI high-def video output.
There is one slight advantage for the Canon, though. if you travel outside the US and have some old displays you haven't upgraded (or more likely, some elderly relatives who haven't seen the point of going high-def). While both cameras include standard-definition video output, Panasonic's US-market cameras output only an NTSC signal. (Cameras bought in other markets may offer NTSC/PAL switching; this is often the case with Panasonic.) By contrast, Canon's camera offers NTSC/PAL switching for all markets, meaning that old display should be supported in most English-speaking countries.
As of this writing, the Canon G7X has a distinct advantage over its Panasonic rival. Pricing is set at just US$700 -- admittedly still fairly pricey for a fixed-lens compact camera, but not unreasonable for its category. By contrast, Panasonic has not yet officially stated pricing in the US market, but retailers here are already listing the Panasonic at US$900, a premium of US$200 over the cost of the Canon. Assuming that price holds true, that gives the G7X a 22% advantage over the LX100. That's a pretty significant difference, enough to put a couple of extra accessories in your camera bag and to buy the camera bag itself.
And that about wraps things up for this comparison. To recap -- and bearing in mind that we've not yet completed our testing of either camera, so we'll likely have more to say soon -- we'd say that the LX100 is the camera to go for if you're a frequent available-light shooter, want a viewfinder or external flash, or have / plan to buy a 4K display on which to view ultra high-def movies. If pocketability, high resolution for larger print sizes, a more beginner-friendly interface, or the almighty dollar are more important, then the Canon G7X is more likely to be the camera for you.
And if you haven't made your mind up yet, then it's going to be a tough call to select between these cameras, because they're otherwise pretty closely-matched. Our real-world and lab testing will likely turn up some more advantages and disadvantages for each, though, so watch this space!
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This comparison review, along with the Panasonic LX100 review and Canon G7X review represent hundreds of hours of testing, discussion, writing and editing. So please, support this content by purchasing the LX100 or G7X (or any other products) through one of the links below.
Cameras with longer battery life can take more photos before exhausting their batteries.
Special note: The measurement standard for battery life stipulates that if a camera has an internal flash, it must be used for 50% of photos taken. For this reason, comparisons of one camera with an internal flash to another without will not be comparable
Very compact body fits in a pants pocket; Zoom lens is both brighter and further-reaching than anything offered by its enthusiast compact rivals; Selfie-friendly tilting LCD monitor; Intuitive touch-screen interface; Very good image quality for its class; Wi-Fi connectivity gets photos on your phone
No electronic viewfinder; Soft corners at wide-angle; Flare issues and fringing shooting wide-open; Weak performance when shooting raw files; Tendency to underexpose in low light; Limited battery life
Very good image quality; Great performance in most respects; Bright zoom lens with good macro performance; Photographer-friendly body easily fits in a coat pocket or small bag; Roomy, high-res built-in viewfinder; Decent battery life
Won't fit in a pants pocket; Relatively low resolution by modern standards; Zoom lens has only a modest telephoto; Soft corners at wide or tele positions; Aperture dial is too easily bumped; Bundled flash is fairly weak