DPInterface Panasonic Lumix LX1 Review
Brad Soo - February 19th, 2006

The Panasonic Lumix LX1 is a wide-angle 16:9 camera with optical image stabilization. It also has 8 megapixels, a 2.5 inch LCD, full manual controls and can take widescreen photos & movies. Let's see how the world's first 16:9 digital camera performs:

Size and Weight

This is how small the LX1 is compared to other cameras:

(199.8)  104.0 x 57.0 x 38.8 mm (225 g) - Canon PowerShot S80
(199.4)  102.0 x 63.0 x 34.4 mm (200 g) - Fujifilm FinePix E900
(304.0)  115.8 x 97.0 x 91.2 mm (500 g) - Kodak EasyShare P880
(171.2)  101.0 x 49.8 x 20.4 mm (125 g) - Kodak EasyShare V570
(270.0)  113.0 x 82.0 x 75.0 mm (400 g) - Nikon Coolpix 8400
(175.9)  97.0 x 56.2 x 22.7 mm (128 g) - Olympus Stylus 810
(199.5)  99.5 x 65.0 x 35.0 mm (195 g) - Olympus SP350
(187.1)  105.7 x 55.8 x 25.6 mm (185 g) - Panasonic Lumix LX1
(183.4)  104.0 x 51.5 x 27.9 mm (144 g) - Sony Cyber-shot P200
(393.1)  139.4 x 97.7 x 156.0 mm (926 g) - Sony Cyber-shot R1

The size comparison has changed a bit since my 2005 reviews. I've added a new and very unique unit on the very left to compare the size of digital cameras - As far as I know, DPI is the first camera review site to do this.

Anyway, the Kodak EasyShare V570 may be the smallest and lightest (and widest: 23 mm), but it doesn't have manual controls. The LX1's dimensions exclude protrusions and make it seem a lot smaller than it really is. Why? Because the LX1 has a lens barrel container which always sticks out. Overall, the LX1 is still quite compact.

Open up the Box

Open up that box and in it you'll find these:

  • 32 MB Secure Digital Card
  • CGR-S005A lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Lens cap with strap
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM
  • User's manual

Storage and Power

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Manufacturers, instead of including a uselessly small card should build that into the camera for a photo album. For the LX1, I'd recommend a 1 GB high-speed SD (Maybe two 1 GB SDs if you're planning to take lots of RAW photos). There's a very noticeable increase in performance when you use high-speed cards like the SanDisk Ultra II.

The LX1 can take about 240 shots (CIPA standard) on a single battery charge. It takes about two hours to fully charge the battery. You should get an extra battery pack for your camera, since battery life isn't that great. As comparison, the LX1's closest competitor, the Canon S80 can take 200 shots. Through my experience with the LX1, the battery lasted for about 500 non-flash shots on one trip and about 200 shots with a mix of flash.

Extras

There aren't any accessories for the LX1 surprisingly, not even conversion lenses. The Canon S80 is compatible with several conversion lenses.

Camera Tour

The Panasonic Lumix LX1 is available in your choice of silver or black. I think black looks better though.

The Panasonic Lumix LX1 has 8 effective megapixels on a 1/1.65 inch wide CCD and a 4x optical zoom lens equivalent to 28 - 112 mm and f2.8 - f4.9. This lens is better than the one on the S80. The S80 has a 28 - 100 mm, f2.8 - f5.3 lens which is slower and has less telephoto power. But do note on the LX1, when you switch to the "normal" 4:3, the lens will become 34 - 136 mm.

One thing about the LX1's lens is that it does not have a built-in barrier. Yup, this means bringing a bumbly lens cap along with you most of the time.

The Panasonic Lumix LX1 has optical image stabilization which helps reduce blurring caused by camera shake. Optical image stabilization really helps as you'll see later on. The Canon S80 has no form of image stabilization.

The built-in pop-up flash on the top right (it's closed at the moment) has a maximum range of 4.0 m at wide-angle and 2.3 m at telephoto which is okay. The AF-assist beam/self-timer lamp is located near the word "Lumix".

So how's a 16:9 photo compared to a 4:3? Take a look:


4:3 (34 mm)


16:9 (28 mm)

The Panasonic Lumix LX1's LCD has 207,000 pixels. It's big, bright and sharp. Indoor and outdoor viewing was great. It brightens automatically in low-light so you can frame properly. Outdoors, you can boost the brightness by holding down the DISPLAY button. This is not a 16:9 LCD though, so when framing in that mode, there'll be a blank area on the top and bottom.

The AF/AE lock button does exactly what it sounds while the 4 way joystick allows you to quickly change aperture and shutter speed (among other things). I feel that the joystick is better implemented than the combo-controller on the Canon S80.

The 5 way controller gives you quick access to change these:

  • Up - Compensation (Backlight, exposure, white balance, bracketing)
  • Down - Review
  • Left - Self-timer
  • Right - Flash setting (Auto, auto with red-eye reduction, flash on, slow-sync, off)

The MENU button in the middle brings up a whole bunch of other options to customize. White balance compensation allows you to set warmer/cooler white balance in 1 step increments to +/-10. Bracketing takes 3 shots with different exposures.

The DISPLAY button toggles the amount of info displayed on the LCD. Pressing it for longer than 1 second boosts the LCD brightness by 40%. The button beside this one activates continuous shooting or deletes a photo.

The top of the LX1 features the pop-up flash and a lever to pop it up. There's also a microphone and speaker. Other things include an on/off switch, shutter button with a wrapped around zoom lever, a button to change OIS mode and a mode dial which has these settings:

  • Scene 1 and 2 - Stores 2 of your favorite scene modes and also allows you to select a scene mode
  • Playback
  • Automatic
  • Programmed auto - With program shift
  • Aperture priority - Select from f2.8 - f8.0
  • Shutter priority - Select from 8 seconds to 1/2000th of a second
  • Full manual - Choose both of the above
  • Movies

The pop-up flash is in the most non-strategic of locations - Right when your left hand would rest. On the lens barrel top, there's a switch for aspect ratio (16:9, 3:2, 4:3) and on the left side, another switch for focus setting (Auto, macro, manual focus).

On one side of the LX1, you'll find it blank whereas on the other side, you'll find a wrist strap mount and these ports: 2-in-1 USB and A/V out port and the DCIN port (With the use of an AC adapter.

The battery/card slot is located at the bottom and so is the tripod mount which, surprisingly, is not centralized with the lens.

Shooting

The Panasonic Lumix LX1 has 2 image stabilization modes: Mode 1 and Mode 2. As I mentioned earlier on, you can change the OIS mode by pressing the small button next to the shutter button. OIS is always active Mode 1, whereas in Mode 2, the OIS activates only when the photo is taken. Mode 2 is always more effective, for some reason.

Wanna see proof that OIS works? Here's a little demo:

 

Both shots were handheld at 1 second. But the one on the right was taken with OIS mode 2 and the left shot without OIS. The effectiveness OIS varies from person to person. For example, an average person can get a steady shot with OIS at around 1/4 to 1/30. In short, OIS is not 100% effective (You can't handhold a 30 second shot, even when aided); you'll have to do your part too.

The LX1's ISO sensitivity range is from ISO 80 to ISO 400 in these steps: 80, 100, 200, 400. For white balance, there's Auto, 3 presets and two custom modes.

There's a whole lot of image size options ranging from 8 MP to VGA, depending on aspect ratio, along with 2 compression options which are Fine and Standard. There's also RAW an TIFF modes which take up more space.

The Extended Optical Zoom (up to almost 6x) feature uses a smaller area on the CCD to bring you closer. It doesn't involve the movement of the lens neither does it degrade image equality. This is essentially cropping without having to use the computer. And the catch here is the resolution used is 3 MP.

Recording

The Panasonic Lumix LX1 can take wide 848 x 480 movies at 30 FPS till the memory card is full, with sound of course. Other options at VGA or QVGA and 30 FPS or 10 FPS are also available. You can't use the zoom while recording but you can activate OIS. Movies are recorded in QuickTime format and the first frame is saved as a separate picture. That's practically it. The LX1 has an excellent movie mode.

Also, I think a zoom feature should be implemented as this feature is available on most ultra-compacts nowadays. I see that the Extended Optical Zoom feature, mentioned in the previous section, can be a potential method to zoom without recording the lens motor sound.

As comparison, the Canon S80 can take 1024 x 768 (XGA) movies but only at 15 FPS if you use that size. Also, the S80 can digitally zoom while recording - Not exactly to my liking but better than nothing

Movie quality was very good along with sound recording.

Performance

The LX1 turns on fairly slowly in 4 seconds. The Canon S80 starts up in 2 seconds. Like other recent Panasonic cameras, high-speed autofocus was so fast, I couldn't even notice the camera focusing. On the other hand, normal autofocus took less than half a second - Still faster than most cameras. If you don't mind the LCD hesitating for a moment when using high-speed AF, then you should probably use it. With shot to shot speed being about 1.3 seconds and flash recycling time, about 3 seconds, the LX1 is speedy.

Based on my testing with a 512 MB SanDisk Ultra II SD, the Panasonic Lumix LX1 can fill up the memory card with photos at 2 FPS in continuous shooting drive. While not many digital cameras can do that, this one can. The are two other continuous modes as well: Low-speed (Which took 5 photos at 2.1 FPS) and high-speed (Which took 4 photos at 2.5 FPS). I think the high-speed mode is best suited for sports/action photography.

The lens goes from wide-angle to telephoto in about three seconds. When it comes to powering down, the LX1 takes quite a while to retract its lens.

Image Quality


ISO 80 (f2.8, 1/40 sec)


ISO 100 (f2.8, 1/50 sec)


ISO 200 (f2.8, 1/100 sec)


ISO 400 (f2.8, 1/200 sec)

The LX1 doesn't do that well when it comes to noise. Already at ISO 80, it starts out with visible noise. Chromatic aberration (Color fringing) levels are low at higher ISOs - Notice the yellow fringing in the ISO 80 crop. Barrel distortion can be noticeable at times but pincushion distortion isn't a problem. There were one or two soft photos out of the heap of photos I've taken. Red-eye is common on most compacts cameras, including this one given the flash proximity to lens. Overall, image quality was okay - just okay - to me.

Playback

In playback, the Panasonic Lumix LX1 can playback stills and movies (With sound) as well as perform these functions: Protect image, rotate, resize, crop, record sound memos (Up to 10 seconds), slideshow, print marking and direct printing (The LX1 is PictBridge enabled).

You can also zoom up to 16x into still photos taken and take a look around using the 4 directional buttons. Choose to see no info, basic info or lots of info (Shutter speed and aperture values are shown) about your photos. When it comes to histograms, the LX1 displays a histogram in playback as well as a live histogram while shooting.

Conclusion

The Panasonic Lumix LX1 is a one of a kind camera with a 16:9 CCD. The wide 4x lens is also better than most competition, the 28 mm covers wide open scenery and indoor shots while the 112 mm of the telephoto side can easily cover most zoom shots.

The LX1 has optical image stabilzation which can help in telephoto, indoor and low-light shooting. In addition, the LX1 can shoot indefinitely at 2 FPS using its infinite continuous mode and take some excellent "wide" movies.

While the LX1's LCD is high-res and sharp, it isn't a 16:9 LCD and I don't like the letterboxed frame when I'm not shooting 16:9 photos. This reminds me about another thing: You don't get to enjoy the 28 mm when selecting any option other than 16:9 - At 4:3, the lens becomes equivalent to 34 mm.

Photo quality was not that impressive, not even as good as those by the point-and-shoot FX9 which I've just reviewed. Noise is definitely a problem and you should probably pick up a good photo editing software which can remove some noise such as Paint Shop Pro X or Photoshop CS2. Either that or you can just stick to small prints.

If you like the LX1 for its wide-angle power, nice LCD and don't shoot at high ISOs, then this camera is for you. If you like shooting at high ISOs and printing large photos to frame on your wall, then maybe you should check out the Canon S80, or any digital SLR.

What's hot:

  • Compact
  • Nice concept: Wide 16:9 CCD and 28 mm lens
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Excellent LCD (Sharpness AND visibility)
  • Extremely fast (Except startup)
  • Unlimited continuous shooting
  • Excellent wide movie mode
  • RAW mode
  • Full manual controls

What's not:

  • Average battery life
  • Photo quality not impressive
  • Not good for high ISO shooting
  • "Standard" 4:3 LCD (It needs a 16:9 one)
  • No movie zoom
  • No built-in lens barrier
  • Slow startup

Recommended accessories:

~Extra CGR-S005A battery
~1 GB high-speed SD card

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