Unusual for a point-and-shoot camera, the Lumix LX3 has a lens that does not fully retract. One of the many nods to the design aesthetic of the previous century, the lens remains partially extended and permanently uncovered. It even boasts a mock focus-ring along the barrel. When the camera is turned on, the lens then projects another two levels. One problem with this fixed lens is that there is no cover to protect the glass; instead you require a lens cap, which can, luckily, be attached to one of the eyelets to prevent it being lost. At the very top of the lens barrel is a switch that controls aspect ratio, shifting between 4:3, 3:2 and 16:9 format. On the right side is the switch for focus mode, which can choose between auto focus, macro auto focus and manual focus. At approximately 11 o'clock from the lens is the auto focus assist lamp, and just to its left is the silver label 'Lumix'. The far left of the front has a raised grip that acts as a stabilizing ridge. It has a patch of plastic running most of its length, which is textured in a way that is familiar to anyone who has handled a camera that was produced prior to 1990. A thin strip of metal surrounds this patch. At the very bottom right is the Lumix logo; a small gold round-edged square with a silver L. Along the top right of the lens is the red inscription 'Mega O.I.S./24mm WIDE'.
The textured grip hearkens to an earlier generation of cameras
The LCD takes up three-quarters of the rear of the LX3, as it is 3' large, with 460,800 dots, and boasts a 100% field view. To the right of the LCD screen are the majority of controls for the camera. These buttons are metal, and feel robust, if quite small. Combined with the minimal amount of real estate afforded these buttons, the control system is cramped, but not unusably so. At the top of the control area is the Playback Switch, which alternates between shooting and playback, both of which are marked with small white icons. Directly to its right is a small flat area, with nine dots in a square that is used as a thumb rest. Below the thumb rest is a small joystick with a red base that is used to navigate menus. The joystick also has an integrated button that is activated by pressing the stick directly inwards, which brings up a quick menu while shooting. To its right is the AF/AE Lock button, and below that is the four-way control system. Much like the joystick, the four-way pad can be used to navigate menus, but while shooting, each of these buttons serves an alternate function. Up lets you alter the exposure, auto bracketing or flash compensation. Right is flash control, Left is auto timer, and Down is the user-definable Function button. The center button accesses the menu system, and all five of these buttons have their icons carved into the metal itself, which should help prevent wear. The four-way pad is set on a circle of plastic, set ever so slightly above the rest of the body. Below this are two buttons. On the left is Display; on the right is Burst/Delete, which only performs the latter function during playback.
The large LCD dominates the rear of the camera
Left Side* (4.00) The left side of the Lumix DMC-LC3 is bisected by the line where the two halves of the camera are joined, and held in place by two screws. The only feature of true interest on this side is the eyelet near the top, which can be used for either the wrist strap or lens-cap strap. The furthest reach of the left side has a concave line that demarcates the top of the camera from the rest of the body.
*Nothing much on the left
The right side of the camera is almost identical to the left, with the minor difference of the door covering the ports, an additional two screws, and the thumb rest. The port door feels flimsy, and opens to show the DC In, AV Out/Digital and Component Out ports. Above this is the second strap eyelet, and then the concave divider marking the top of the camera. The top left of this side projects slightly backwards in order to keep the thumb pad flat, while the right edge of this side extends further to give more space for the grip.
*The port cover offers the only interesting feature on the right side
The top of the LX3 really sets it apart from most other point-and-shoots. The most obvious addition is the flash hot shoe, an unusual feature on a camera of this size, and one that makes it feel like a compact aimed at camera buffs. The hot shoe can also be used with the compatible DMW-VF1 external viewfinder, another nod towards experienced users. To the left of the hot shoe is the built-in flash, which is retracted and flush with the body most of the time. To open the flash, a small switch must be flicked, and the flash springs directly upwards at high speed. This mechanical deployment has a couple of advantages. First, the flash cannot be raised automatically, so it will never pop up and ruin a shot. It is also kept hidden away and protected most of the time, and when it is raised, it's further from the lens, which helps prevent red-eye.
To the right of the hot shoe is the Mode Dial. The options available on it are Scene, Intelligent Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Custom 1, Custom 2 and Movie. This dial is set back just far enough that you can change modes by sliding your thumb along the back edge of the camera. Forward, and to the right, of the Mode Dial is the Shutter Control and Zoom Ring, both of which feel accurate and responsive. In the foremost right corner of the camera's top is the Focus button. This lets you move the focusing reticle freely around the LCD, so you can accurately choose the ideal focal point. Finally, to the rear of that button, is the power switch. All of these are labeled in small white letters.
The inclusion of a hot-shoe allows for easy expandability
Unusually, the tripod mount on the bottom the LX3 is not centered on the body of the camera, nor on the lens axis. Instead, it is shifted considerably to the left of center, and slightly towards the rear. While this might make setting up your shot slightly more difficult, it means that you can access the battery and memory card even while still attached to the tripod. This is exceedingly convenient if you're going to be doing a large amount of tripod photography, as you may need to get to your memory card or battery frequently.
Unfortunately, the battery/card door feels insubstantial, far flimsier than the otherwise well constructed body.
*The tripod mount is far enough off-center to allow easy access
to the battery and memory card*
Panasonic has introduced a new sensor on the LX3. The company says it intentionally limited the megapixels to try and produce better low light scores and dynamic range. However, this bid has failed, as the LX3 produced only average results on those key tests. While it did better in color, manual noise and video capture, the overall impression was mediocre, especially considering the price point of the camera.
In this test we measure the camera’s ability to accurately capture and record color. This is to see how close the hue and saturation of the image is to the actual object.
While having over-the-top color can make for dynamic and interesting photos, real life isn't always a richly saturated feast for the senses. What we are looking for is the ability to capture reality accurately.
For this test we shoot the industry standard Gretag Macbeth color chart at 1700 lux, which is about the brightness of a cloudy day. We photograph this chart at all available ISOs, and then run the results through Imatest, an image analysis application. This program can check to see how far the image deviates from the known color values of the Gretag Macbeth chart. The results are shown in the diagram below, where the outer square is the captured color, the inner square is that color corrected for luminance, and the inset rectangle is the ideal color.
This information can also be expressed in the chart below, where the ideal color is represented in the square, the color the camera captured is in the circle, and the difference by the line vector, where the longer the line, the greater the difference.
*The LX3 captured color remarkably well
As you can see, the LX3 produced excellent results in this test, with all the colors exceedingly close to their true value, and an insignificant amount of oversaturation. There is some slight deviation in some of the dark greens and blues, but these are so small as to be negligible. This is an exemplary result.
Panasonic DMC-LX3 Color Scores
Panasonic cameras tend to have excellent color scores, and the LX3 is no exception. In this test it outperformed the Canon PowerShot G9 and the Nikon Coolpix P5100, both of which are their companies’ respective high-end point-and-shoot cameras. It also scored better than both the Lumix DMC-TZ3 and Samsung NV40, though these are considerably cheaper models.
Our set of resolution tests are designed to go beyond the number of megapixels on the camera sensor, looking instead at the accuracy of the image in capturing all the little details, and processing it in such a way that it is not under- or over-sharpened. A camera with a good resolution score will show small details accurately, and give you more options for cropping and resizing your photo.
For this test we shoot an industry standard resolution chart, and run the resulting image through Imatest. The application then analyzes the test images to calculate the number of alternating black and white lines the camera captured, measured as line widths per pixel height (lw/ph). A higher number represents more success at reproducing detail.
A section of the industry-standard resolution chart that we use for testing
The low score of the LX3 on this test, which was primarily a result of the camera undersharpening the image, surprised us. While the LX3 doesn't undersharpen the images hugely, it's enough to make a difference, and reduce its score. We would hope for something slightly better from a $500 camera. The LX3 scored worse than all of our comparison cameras in this test, even lower than the Lumix TZ3, a far less expensive model. The LX3 managed to capture 1603 lw/ph horizontally and 1424 lw/ph vertically.
Panasonic DMC-LX3 Resolution Scores
**Dynamic Range** (5.93*)*
Dynamic range is a measure of how ably a camera can record a variety of shades of grey, from utter white to pitch black. A camera with a good dynamic range will be able to keep both a bright white object and a black one in the same shot without losing detail. To test the LX3's dynamic range, we use a backlit Stouffer chart, which shows a series of tabs running from black to white. We shoot the chart at all ISOs, and the more tabs the camera can distinguish without under or over exposing, the greater the dynamic range.
As you can see from the graph, the dynamic range decreases as the ISO increases, which is to be expected. The increased sensitivity provided at the greater ISO tends to over-expose black areas of the strip, leading to a lower dynamic range. Once again, we have a fairly average score from the LX3. It scored better than the two other high-end point-and-shoot cameras, the Canon and the Nikon, which is something, at least. But it scored significantly worse than the cheaper Panasonic and the more compact Samsung. Panasonic has claimed the LX3 has a 'wide dynamic range', which we did not see.
White Balance (7.10)
A camera's white balance system adjusts for hues cast by different light sources. Fluorescent bulbs cast a blue green tint over objects, and incandescent can make things look yellow or orange. Our brains can automatically adjust our perception so that we see white as white, regardless of the light source. A camera, on the other hand, has to compensate electronically. We test white in two ways. In both we shoot the Gretag Macbeth color chart under a variety of light sources, but for the first we use the Auto White Balance function, and for the second we use the camera’s White Balance Presets. The images below show how the captured image deviates from known white, grey and black values. These images are exaggerated to highlight the differences, though -- you would not see this level of inaccuracy in your photos.
The LX3 scored well in this test, proving it has a competent auto white balance system. It performed admirably while automatically managing fluorescent and tungsten light sources, and above average in the shade. However, it struggled slightly shooting with the flash. The tungsten result is nice to see, as many cameras have difficulty with this light source, even though it is common and found in most homes.
*Unfortunately, the LX3 performed less well with the presets, a bad sign for a camera that seems so squarely aimed at a high-end market. First, it doesn't have a preset for fluorescent lighting, a very common source of illumination. Secondly, it has a halogen preset rather than incandescent/tungsten (which is slightly different) and yet it has two levels of custom white balance and a manual Kelvin entry system. The former lets you use a white or grey object to set the white balance, the latter lets you enter in the color value of your light source, represented in degrees Kelvin. Even testing only the presets available, the scores were decidedly average, and the camera really struggled with shaded natural light.
The good automatic White Balance score was mitigated heavily by the camera's poor performance using preset white balance settings. This resulted in an overall below-average performance in this section, and scoring lower than the other cameras we are comparing it too. However, if you shoot with the white balance on auto, or use the manual white balance function, you can expect a relatively good performance.
Panasonic DMC-LX3 White Balance Scores
**Image noise is an insidious problem that slips into even the most carefully prepared images. It looks like static in the picture, and is especially noticeable while shooting across higher ISOs or large areas of flat color.
To test the LX3 noise performance, we shot the standard Gretag Macbeth color chart at every available ISO, putting the resulting images through Imatest. The resulting score gave us an accurate representation of noise levels, and how they compare to other cameras.
Noise – Manual ISO*(6.53)*
The graph below shows how the LX3 performed at each ISO level. As you can see, there is a distinct upward trend. This is normal for cameras, as the higher light sensitivity provided by the greater ISOs has the effect of increasing the amount of noise as well.
The LX3 scored above average in the area of the tests, and managed to prevent passing 2% noise until ISO 1600. There is a significant jump in noise at ISO 3200 but once again, this is to be expected.
The Lumix LX3 did well in this test; scoring above every camera we compared it with. It outdistanced the Canon, Nikon and Samsung significantly in noise levels, a performance we've come to expect from the Lumix line. This means that if you're using this camera, and you manually choose the best ISO for your situation, you can expect your images to be comparatively low on noise, which makes for cleaner, better looking pictures.
Panasonic DMC-LX3 Manual Noise Scores
This second part of the noise test isn't so much a measure of noise levels as a way of gauging the camera's intelligence. We shoot the well-lit Gretag Macbeth chart on Auto ISO, and let the camera decide what's the best setting to take the picture. The test is bright enough that the camera could easily shoot at ISO 100, which would lead to low noise levels and a good score. However, the LX3 deigned to use ISO 320, which is considerably higher than needed, and led to its low score. This is an all too common occurrence, as you can see in the comparison chart with the other cameras. What is interesting to note is that the relatively inexpensive Lumix DMC-TZ3 scored significantly better in this test.
Panasonic DMC-LX3 Auto Noise Scores
**Low Light **(6.88)
We tested the LX3's low light capabilities in two ways. In the first, we shoot our standard Gretag Macbeth color chart under a number of low light conditions. We illuminate this chart at 60 lux (the brightness of a room lit by two small lamps), 30 lux (equivalent to a single 40 watt bulb), 15 lux (the light provided by a television screen) and 5 lux (about a single candle in a dark room). All shots were taken at ISO 400.
Once again, the LX3 produced middling results in our tests. While the low light scores weren't bad, they weren't particularly great. The camera really struggled at 5 lux, but the other light settings were considerably better. Panasonic has made a point of touting their new, large image sensor on this camera, which is meant to 'work optimally in low light.' Unfortunately, in this test we saw no evidence of this, and we were frankly unimpressed.
The second half of this test involves putting the camera's long exposure settings through their paces. Once again, we use the Gretag Macbeth color chart, this time lit to 30 lux, and we shoot it at a range of shutter speeds from 1 second up to 30 seconds. We were unable to perform this test accurately for more than eight seconds with the LX3, but over the exposure lengths we did test, the camera performed well with a very small amount of noise. When using the LX3, you will notice that after a long exposure, the LCD will show a timer counting down before you can use the camera again. This is an automatic noise reduction technique that is built into the camera. After the photograph is taken, the camera closes the shutter and takes a second shot of exactly the same exposure length as the first. The noise that appears in this second shot is then subtracted from the first image in a bid to reduce static. This technology cannot be turned off on the LX3, and will significantly increase the amount of time it required to take your shot if you using long exposures.
Panasonic DMC-LX3 Low Light Scores
While the LX3 didn't have the greatest low light performance, its score for long exposure was enough to bump the camera up to a decent level for this round of tests.
To show how the vagaries of high ISOs and noise levels can affect your day-to-day shooting, we take a series of photographs in a normally lit room at every available ISO. The results are posted below, so you can see how the camera deals with these situations. Clicking on the images below will bring up the full-size originals. However, these photos are very large and may take a significant amount of time to download.
**Video Performance ***(8.01)*
The Samsung LX3 can shoot video in both 4:3 mode and 16:9. In the former it records either 640 x 480 or 320 x 240, while in the latter it records at 1280 x 720 or 848 x 480. It uses Quicktime MP4 format, which doesn’t take up much space on your memory card.
*Bright Indoor Light - *3000 Lux
Our color tests for video performance are done almost exactly the same as our tests for still images. We record video of the Gretag Macbeth color chart under fixed lighting conditions, and use Imatest to measure the color accuracy in stills taken from that video. The first of these is shot at 3000 lux, equivalent to a relatively well-lit day. The LX3 scored very well in this test, capturing color accurately and with minimal noise.**
***Low Light - *30 Lux
While the color was significantly noisier and less accurate in the low light version of this test, which was unsurprising, the LX3 still managed to score well for shooting in very poor conditions. This test was undertaken at 30 lux, which is about the level of light provided by a single 40-watt bulb, and we found the LX3 performed well in these less-than-ideal conditions.
Once again, the LX3's lackluster resolution performance is apparent, as it only managed to capture a maximum of 508 line widths per pixel height (lw/ph) horizontally and 350 lw/ph vertically.
We took the Panasonic out into the fast-paced streets of Boston to film speeding cars and see just how well it deals with moving objects. We found the colors to be bright, and objects to be clear.
This camera performed very well in our video tests. While it might not overtake the family camcorder, it can take 720p video with very accurate color, which is something nice to see on a point-and-shoot.
Panasonic DMC-LX3 Video Scores
**You want a camera that's quick to start up, can shoot photos rapidly, and with minimal processing delays. To this end, we time a number of functions on the camera to make sure their performance is up to speed. We use a high speed SDHC card to minimize data transfer bottlenecks. Startup to First Shot **(7.16)
The Lumix DMC-LX3 had a fairly normal startup time, about what you would expect from a modern point-and-shoot camera. It took, on average, 2.8 seconds from being turned on to taking the first shot. With a start-up time below three seconds, you won't be likely to miss any important shots in the time it takes to power up. Just remember to remove the lens cap.**
Shot-to-Shot ***(9.47) *
The LX3 offers two burst modes. There's unlimited burst, which Panasonic claims can take two frames per second, a number we verified in our lab. The other mode captures 2.5 frames per second, but will only take four images at highest quality JPEG. A nice touch is that if you use burst mode with the self-timer, it will take three pictures after the two- or ten-second timer is up.**
In older generations of digital cameras, there used to be a significant problem with delay between pressing the shutter button, and the shot actually being taken. We still measure this, just to make sure that the camera has the responsiveness we expect. The LX3 produced such a minute delay between pressing the button and the action occurring, that it was actually too fast to be accurately measured. When you press the shutter, your picture gets taken. End of story.**
This is a measure of how long it takes the camera to process the photograph you just took, and put a version on the LCD. The LX3 took, on average, a sliver over one second to bring up the preview, which is one of the faster times we've seen, and better than the Canon PowerShot G9, Nikon Coolpix P5100 and Samsung NV40.
While the LX3 doesn't have a built-in optical viewfinder, one can be purchased separately and inserted into the flash hot shoe.
The LCD has an impressive 460,000 pixels over its 3-inch, 3:2 ratio area. This is double the pixel density usually found on point-and-shoot cameras, and is very clear. The screen is bright, but does suffer from some solarization when viewed from extreme angles. The brightness of the monitor can be adjusted to one of seven different levels of brightness, or it can do so itself, automatically. While shooting, three different display modes are available: shooting information, with all the pertinent details regarding focal modes, flash, metering, exposure, histograms, battery levels and such; a composition grid to help you compose your photos; or no additional information at all.
The screen is large and bright, but leaves little space for controls
The LCD shows the majority of controls while shooting
The flash on the LX3 is hidden in the body most of time, and only deploys when a small switch on the top of the camera is flicked. This manual method of raising the flash has two advantages. First, the camera doesn’t raise the flash automatically in automated modes, , so an unexpected flash will not ruin your shots. It also places the flash further away from the lens, which means that red-eye should occur less often. When in use, the flash is bright, and relatively even. It cycled quickly, providing us with well-lit shots with a minimal delay.
There are four flash modes: Auto, Auto/Red-Eye, Forced Flash On and Slow Sync./Red Eye. On this camera, the red eye reduction technology works in two ways. First, it fires a less bright flash burst before a second full strength one, which causes your subject’s pupils to constrict, and stops the reflected light beams that cause red eye. The second way is by automatically sensing and correcting red-eye in photos you have already taken. Neither of these options is available independently.
The flash range given by Panasonic is 2 feet to 6 yards (60cm to 6 meters) while shooting using Auto ISO. You will find this increases or decreases depending on the ISO range you're shooting at.
The LX3 has an industry-standard hot shoe on top, so external flash units can be mounted directly onto this camera, which is a definite draw to sophisticated users.**
The high flash position helps minimize red-eye, and
prevent stray fingers from blocking the light.
The Lumix LX3 uses a DC Vario-Summicron 1:2.0-2.8/5.1-12.8 ASPH with a 35mm equivalent of 24-60mm. The lens has only a 2.5x zoom, necessitating getting up close to your subjects to get them fully in frame. However, since it is a wide-angle lens, you'll be getting a lot more breadth into the frame than you're used to, which makes this an excellent lens for landscape photography.
The lens does not retract fully, so even while the camera is off, a permanent inch of lens is present. This means that it won't sit comfortably in your jeans, and a lens cap is required to protect it. When the lens is powered up, another two tiers extend, unless, of course, you accidentally left the lens cap on.
While in macro mode, the lens can focus on objects as close as 0.5 inches away. This, combined with ability to precisely control where on the image sensor you want to focus, is a boon to anyone who is interested in macro photography.
The aperture range on the lens is f/2 - f/8 wide and f/2.8-f/8 in tele.
With the addition of a lens adapter, color filters or a wide conversion lens can be used, providing increased flexibility with the camera.
The Leica lens is wide-angle, but low zoom
Model Design / Appearance*(8.00)*
The Lumix LX3 has a distinctive, retro aesthetic, obviously designed to invoke the ghost of cameras past. It has the trademark matte black plastic, textured grip areas, vertically deploying flash and fixed lens. This nod to the past makes it seem a more serious camera, and one that is aware of its lineage. It's a reference and a style that we like immensely, and we think this is one of the more attractive point-and-shoots we've seen. It also feels like it's solidly constructed, and will take a couple of years of banging around in your bag without complaint.
Size / Portability (6.00)
The LX3 is larger and heavier than most compact point-and-shoot cameras. The fixed lens means that it certainly isn't small enough to slip into the pocket of your jeans, and if you could, its weight would probably send your trousers floorwards. That said, it's the right size to easily fit in your coat, purse or bag, and the extra weight makes it feel more substantial. The dimensions of the Panasonic LX3 are 4.28' wide, 2.34' high and 1.06' deep (108.7x59.5x27.1 mm), and it weighs 8 ounces(227.4g)
The additional weight takes some getting used to, if you are accustomed to ultra-light, pocket sized, point-and-shoot cameras. After a while, though, you'll find the heaviness adds a feeling of sturdiness and stability to the camera. And, if threatened, you can put it in a sock and hit someone with it.
As the LX3 is slightly on the heavy side, we would recommend using the wrist-strap whenever shooting with it. While the grip is large enough to hold properly, it's still a bit smaller than we would like, and the last thing you want is to send your $500 camera plummeting to the ground below. The stabilizing ridge on the front and thumb pad on the back are both positioned optimally, and fit in your hand well. Since the lens is fixed and the flash stays retracted, there is almost no possibility of your fingers blocking any crucial part of the camera, which is fantastic.
One small stumbling block to keep in mind is the need for a lens cap -- forgetting to remove it may cost you precious seconds if you're trying to get a picture of that rapidly retreating blue tit. Since the LX3 has two eyelets, one can be used to attach the wrist strap, and the other can be attached to the lens cap, to prevent it from disappearing under a couch cushion.
The LX3 is small and firmly built
**Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size **(8.25)
The buttons on the rear of the LX3 feel well constructed but cramped. The small size of the camera coupled with the 3' LCD leaves minimal real estate for a complex control system. While your thumb will probably cover a few of the buttons, you won't accidentally press anything, as they all require a fair amount of force to activate.
All of the controls, barring the four-way pad, have their function labeled in small white letters or icons, which stand out clearly against the black body of the camera. The four-way pad and the center Set button, contrarily, are engraved with their function. This makes them a little harder to see, but as these will be some of the most frequently used controls, the labels will last longer for being carved.
The LX3, like some other Panasonics, has a joystick in addition to a four-way button pad. While each serves a slightly different purpose, their functions do overlap, making the system feel slightly redundant. While shooting, the joystick is used to control aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation as needed. You can also press the joystick inward to gain access to a quick menu and change a number of functions. The four-way pad, on the other hand, has a different function ascribed to each button. Up goes to the exposure compensation settings; Left is self-timer; Right controls the flash; and the Down button is a user-defined function set to one of seven different options. The center Menu/Set button gets you access to the menu, which can be browsed with either the joystick or the four-way pad. While we can see why the system was set up, to try and assign each function to a unique button whenever possible, it does make for a complex control scheme. However, once you are used to it, not having to browse through menus to tweak certain settings is a boon.
Controls for focus mode and aspect ratio are
on the lens barrel.
The menu system on the LX3 is clearly labeled, but poorly laid out. Instead of having multiple tabs or folders of menus, there are only two, Record and Setup. Each of these is five pages long, so finding the setting you need can take a long time to scroll to the appropriate place. While they are laid out in a vaguely logical manner, the act of actually getting to the setting you need, especially if you need to change it frequently, quickly becomes frustrating
Ease of Use (7.00)
Designed for 'professional photographers and serious amateurs, "according to the Panasonic website, the LX3 is not the easiest camera to just pick up and use. It has a large number of specific controls and customizable settings, like custom white balance and shooting modes, manual focus, and external flash compatibility. A large number of the menu items aren't described in ways that are easy for new users to understand. The manual is next to useless, and doesn't even have an index. However, strangely for a camera so focused on advanced users, there are a few little settings that are clearly aimed at entry level photographers. The Intelligent Auto mode removes almost every control available, and in Scene Mode there are playful graphic effects you would usually find on a less serious camera, such as a pinhole mode which adds artificial vignetting to your image.
Auto Mode (6.50)
Rather than just Auto, the LX3 has 'Intelligent Auto,' which uses scene detection technology to recognize if you're shooting a portrait, scenery, macro, night portrait or night scenery. In the two portrait modes, face detection activates to help with focusing. Strangely for a camera so aimed at experienced users, the auto mode offers almost no control whatsoever. You can change picture size, exposure compensation, burst speed and auto focus mode. That's it. No ISO or white balance setting. This takes a lot of the control out of the hands of the user, even beyond what we expect from an automatic mode.
**Movie Mode ***(9.75)*
The Lumix LX3 has a very competent movie mode. In our testing section, we found it had good color accuracy, and that it captured motion well with minimal blurring. While filming, you have access to a significant subset of the normal shooting controls. You can alter image size, white balance, metering, auto focus and image stabilizer mode. You can record in 640x480 or 320 x 240 while in 4:3 ratio and 1280 x 720 or 848 x 480 in 16:9. The inclusion of 720p recording means that you'll be able to display your movie on an HD screen, and have it look quite good. The movie mode uses MP4 compression in a .mov framework, so the files will be svelte, and you'll be able to get as much recording time as possible on your memory card. However, the editing tools in the camera are non-existent – no trimming the movie length, resizing the file or any other adjustment.
Drive / Burst Mode*(9.00)*
The LX3 has two burst modes available, normal and unlimited. Normal will take four full quality JPEGs, eight normal quality JPEGs or three RAW files at 2.5 images per second, while unlimited can take unlimited JPEGS at two images per second.
There are two timer modes available, 2-second delay and 10-second delay, which are fairly standard. What is annoying is that once you take a photo with the timer, it is automatically turned off for the next shot. If you're doing a large amount of tripod work, and use a timer to avoid camera shake, this becomes infuriating, as every time you want to take a picture, you have to turn the timer back on.
One nice little feature kicks in when both the timer and burst mode are activated. Once the timer has run its course, it will automatically take three pictures. So if you're trying to get a good group shot, you don't need to run back to the camera and set it up again to take a second shot because Aunt Susan blinked. You just set the camera on burst, and it will take three images in sequence, letting you choose the best.
**Playback Mode ***(6.75)*
Playback Mode is usually activated by a switch on the rear of the camera, but the customizable Function button can also be set to Review mode, which will let you look at your images without having to flip a switch. Playback has four different modes for viewing your images. First, there's standard, which lets you scroll through your images using either the joystick of the four-way pad. You can zoom in on an image at 2, 4, 8 or 16x magnification, and zooming out takes you to 12- then 30-image thumbnail modes. Pressing the Display button during playback alternates between basic photo information (date and time of photograph, image name and number of photos on card), EXIF data or no overlays at all. A histogram can be enabled in the options, and will be displayed when in EXIF mode. There is also the option to highlight over-exposed areas of the photograph in Review mode.
The second playback mode is Dual Play, which shows two images at once, rotated 90° to fit the display. Each image is individually selected, so you can compare any two pictures you choose.
The slideshow setting has five different methods for showing your images: Natural, Slow, Swing, Urban and Off. Each uses different transition effects and music, except Off mode, which is silent and effect-free. The musical accompaniments to each option are universally dreadful, but thankfully they can be muted.
Finally, there's category play, which allows you to sort and select images based on which Scene Mode you shot in.
Custom Image Presets*(9.00)*
The LX3 has an unusually wide selection of image presets for a camera that seems to be aimed at users with a high level of proficiency. There are a total of 24 image presets, accessible while shooting in Scene mode and selectable through the menu system. The majority of these are relatively pedestrian, such as Portrait, Sports or Sunset. With this many choices, though, there are a couple of interesting little extras thrown in. For instance, there are two baby modes (the difference between them is ill-defined) and a pet mode. These three modes let you enter the birthdates of your subject, and will display their age if you choose. There's an Aerial Photo mode, designed for shooting out the window of planes (see our test shots at the end of the review to see how these came out). Finally, there are two modes designed to mimic some of the peculiarities of certain types of film cameras: Pin Hole and Film Grain. The former darkens the corners of the image to simulate the vignetting that occurs in pinhole cameras, and the latter shoots in black and white, and replicates the distinctive grainy feel of high ISO film.
Manual Control Options
Marketed as 'ideal for professional photographers and serious amateurs,' the LX3 has a wide array of manual controls. There are two user customizable shooting modes, manual focus with two assist modes, a precisely controlled focusing reticle, the user-defined Function button, My Film (which lets you alter contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction), two custom and one manual white balance mode, and various helpful functions like guidelines, histograms and over-exposure highlights. Controlling exposure compensation, aperture and shutter speed while shooting is done via the joystick, and is quick and easy.
Even though the manual controls are extensive, the automatic mode is simplified to the extreme. Almost no control remains, even to the extent of not being able to adjust exposure compensation .
Auto Focus (9.75)
The LX3 has a bevy of autofocus controls. Multi mode has an 11 square setup (in a 3-5-3 pattern), which can be set to six different focal arrangements, including a horizontal line across the center of the lens, which is great for landscape photography. 1-Area and 1-Area high speed both focus on a single square that can be placed anywhere on the image using the focus button. Spot focusing is likewise user-controlled, but pays attention to a much smaller area. There is a face detection mode, but we found it unreliable. Finally, there's auto focus tracking, which will keep focus on a single point, even when you move the camera.
The auto focus assist lamp is on the upper left of the lens, and is bright without being overpowering. The LX3 managed to focus quickly and accurately in poor lighting conditions. It was slightly less speedy in macro mode (which is activated by a switch on the lens), but we were impressed by the fact that it could focus on objects as close as 1/2'. This is an excellent range, and a boon for macro enthusiasts.
Manual Focus (5.50)
Point-and-shoot cameras that have a manual focus option are few and far between, as auto focus is enough for most users, but the LX3 offers a well designed manual focus mode. . Manual focus is enabled via a switch on the barrel of the camera, and is controlled by pressing up and down on the joystick. The focal range is displayed as a vertical bar along the right side of the LCD. The bar initially stretches from infinity to 0.9 feet, but if you continue to scroll down, the bar changes to 1.5 to 0.04 feet for closer objects. There are two types of manual focus assist. The first enlarges a square in center of the screen to double its size, so you can see what's in the middle of the shot in more detail. The second manual assist mode takes that same square, but enlarges it to take up the full LCD, giving you even more detail.
The ISO range on the LX3 is extensive, running from 80 to 3200. At ISO 3200, you should be able to capture pictures in even very dark settings, but be prepared for significant image noise. The automatic ISO performed at about the same level of competency as most of the cameras we compared it to, which is to say not very well. There are a couple of options for the auto ISO: you can set an upper limit on ISO if you're shooting in well-lit conditions. There's also a mode called Intelligent ISO, which adjusts both shutter speed and the ISO concurrently, but in our tests it didn't perform any better than standard automatic ISO
White Balance (8.00)
The white balance features of the Panasonic DMC-LX3 are a strange combination of the inadequate and the highly customizable. In our testing section, the automatic white balance mode performed relatively well, but we were unimpressed with the presets. The flash preset performed poorly, and there is no fluorescent preset at all. Many cameras go so far as to offer multiple fluorescent levels, as the Kelvin value for fluorescent lights vary widely, but the LX3 has nary a one. The other small problem that came to our attention was the use of the term Halogen on one of the presets where most cameras use Tungsten or Incandescent. While technically the values for Halogen are very close to the others, it's a term used less frequently, and may cause confusion.
On the other side of the balance, if you're comfortable fiddling with white balance yourself, you'll find a number of options available to you. Most cameras offer a custom white balance setting, where you can aim your camera at a white surface to set the white balance. The LX3 offers two, so you can come back to various lighting settings later without having to manually reset the white balance. There's also an option to enter the Kelvin value of a light source, which is great if you know your lighting setup in sufficient detail.
Exposure compensation is adjustable to ±2 in 1/3 stops. It can be accessed in two ways, either by using the joystick or the Up button on the four-way pad. This latter mode gives you a continuum of exposure rather than just displaying a value, as well as the ability to access other options by continuing to press Up. This will first take you to auto bracketing, which will take three photos at different exposure levels. With some cameras, you have to physically press the shutter button three times to auto bracket, but with the LX3 as soon as you press the shutter button, three images are taken in quick succession. There's also the option to auto bracket aspect ratios, so the photo is taken three times, at 3:2 ratio, 4:3 ratio and 16:9 ratio. Finally, pressing Up a third time gives you access to flash exposure controls where once again you can adjust exposure by ±2 levels.
The LX3 has three options for metering, all of which are fairly standard. There's Spot Metering, which measures only from the center of the screen; Multi Metering, which analyses the entire image; and Center Weighted, which draws data from the entire frame but places more emphasis on the middle. Switching between metering modes is straightforward, using the Menu button or via the quick menu accessed by depressing the joystick.
Shutter Speed (8.00)
The shutter speed on the LX3 ranges from 1/2000 of a second to a maximum of 60 seconds. However, getting exposures longer than eight seconds is only an option in Manual mode and the scene preset for Starry Night. It's unusual to see an exposure length so limited in Shutter Priority mode, but with this camera you can't go beyond eight seconds when shooting in that mode.
Shutter speed is controlled during shooting by using the joystick. You navigate to shutter speed by pressing left or right, and then use up and down to adjust the speed.
There's an option to set a maximum shutter speed in Program Mode, which lets you limit exposure length at one of nine levels from 1/250 of a second to 1 second.
The aperture ranges from f/2.0 to f/8.0 wide in 13 steps, and f/2.8 to f/8 tele in 10 steps. Due to the fact that this is a wide-angle lens, it has minimal zooming abilities and doesn't lose many aperture stops even when fully zoomed in. The aperture is controlled identically to the shutter speed, via the joystick.
Picture Quality / Size Options*(8.33)*
The LX3 shoots at five levels of quality: Fine JPEG, Standard JPEG, RAW, RAW+Fine JPEG and RAW+Standard JPEG. With so many aspect ratios, a large variety of image sizes are available:
Picture Effects Mode (4.25)
As expected for a camera aimed at a more professional market, the LX3 has a limited number of picture effect modes. The ones that are present are primarily called Film Modes, which can be tweaked for contrast, sharpness, saturation or noise reduction. You can choose between Standard, Dynamic, Nature, Smooth, Vibrant, Nostalgic, Standard B&W, Dynamic B&W, Smooth B&W and the user definable My Film 1 and My Film 2. Beyond that is Multi Film, where you can select three of these Film Modes, and the camera will rapidly take a picture using each.
There are three other picture effects that are not in Film Modes, of which two Scene Presets. Pin Hole artificially tints the corners of the image to simulate the vignetting that occurs in pinhole cameras. Then there's film grain, which mimics the noise that was present in high ISO films in analog cameras. Finally, there's Multi Exposure, which lets you overlay two or three images on one another.
The software included with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 is remarkably competent for bundled applications. It comes with a program for image editing, tagging and basic work that seems relatively intuitive and quite powerful. There's an image stitcher for making panoramas from a series of photos. There's even an included RAW editor for RAW shooting, which gives you extensive control over image parameters without sacrificing quality by editing a compressed file. These applications are available for both PC and Mac, and are some of the best we've seen.
Jacks, ports, plugs*(4.00)*
The Lumix LX3 has three ports underneath a small cover on the right side. This cover doesn't latch shut, but has a spring mechanism to keep it down. Beneath it are the ports for AC In, AV out/USB and Composite Out. The component out means you can plug this camera into an HDTV (with optional extra cables) and show larger images or your 720p video.
The ports are guarded by a small, sprung door
Direct Print Options*(5.00)*
The LX3 supports both of the major technologies for printing without using a computer: PictBridge and DPOF. The latter, Direct Print Order Form, lets you earmark images for print, and then just hand over your SD card to a print professional for output. The LX3 has limited DPOF control, as you can only select how many prints you want, and not resize or set up an index print. There is also PictBridge, which lets you plug into certain PictBridge supported printers directly with a USB cable and print from the camera.
The LX3 uses a rechargeable lithium ion 3.7v battery. Over the course of a week of relatively heavy use, it had to be charged three times, which is about average. It's not a stellar performance, nor is it horrible. The battery is 1 6/8' high by 1 4/8' wide, so it's just short of square. *Memory**(4.00**)*
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 takes SD and SDHC cards, which are common, inexpensive and available in a wide variety of sizes. Splurge on a 32 gigabyte SDHC card and you ca take close to 10,000 full size JPEGs.
The SD card and battery share an area on the underside
of the camera.
External Viewfinder - The LX3 has support for an optional external optical viewfinder, which will please serious users, as it is unaffected by bright outdoor light that might was out the LCD.I It also fits well with the retro aesthetic of the camera.
Mega Optical Image Stabilizer - In our informal testing during the course of the review, the image stabilizer performed well, making a noticeable different shooting handheld at slow shutter speeds.
The LX3 is a very expensive point-and-shoot camera. It has a list price of $500, and while we absolutely love the body and feel of the camera, it has too many downsides for the price. Its test scores were average or below average in most cases, and even its high scores in Color and Manual Noises weren’t far from its much cheaper cousin, the Lumix TZ3. The only area where it stood out impressively from the other cameras was in shooting video, not a key consideration for a camera that claims to be aimed at professionals and serious amateurs. The addition of external flash and viewfinder compatibility, as well as the high levels of customizability will certainly endear it to its target market, but the cost still strikes us as just too high.
**Canon PowerShot G9 – **Currently available for about $440, the G9 has a more extensive zoom and higher resolution, white balance and low light scores. It's less expensive, performed generally better, and can likewise accept external flashes. It even has a built-in optical viewfinder. However, the G9 has a smaller, less pixel-dense LCD and lower scores for dynamic range, video, color and noise scores.
**Nikon Coolpix P5100 – **The Coolpix is available for under $300, significantly less than the LX3. Once again, we have a camera that outperformed the LX3 in our tests based on resolution, white balance and low light. While the overall look and aesthetic isn't quite as pleasing as the LX3, the P5100’s button system is noticeably simpler. If you want a camera that has a hot shoe and a decent price, you can't overlook the Coolpix.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3**–**The TZ3 provides an interesting comparison to the LX3. It costs less than half as much, doesn't have a hot shoe, and its design is less to our tastes. The TZ3 also has lower resolution, and lacks the high level of customizability of the LX3. Yet it scored on par or better than the LX3 in every test we run, barring video, and has a far wider zoom range. If you don't need the extra attachments, the little fiddly bits, or the sexy retro design, then the TZ3 is inexpensive, takes excellent photos and will give you great bang for your buck.
Samsung NV40** –**The NV40 is another budget alternative to the LX3. It's available online for less than $200 and has a slim form factor that will fit in your pocket far more easily than the LX3. It scored noticeably worse than the LX3 in color, manual noise, low light and video tests. However, the NV40 blew the Panasonic away in our resolution, dynamic range and white balance sections. The NV40, however, has an unpleasant user interface that we found extremely annoying, and is one of the few things keeping us from strongly recommending it over the LX3.
Who It’s For ***
Point-and-Shooters* – While there are one or two nods at the point-and-shoot crowd, like a pared-down auto mode and two dozen scene modes, the LX3 is definitely not aimed at this market.
Budget Consumers – Coming in at a cool $500 for a compact camera, the LX3 is firmly out of the range of a budget consumer. Those whose eye is on the bottom line would do far better to purchase the Panasonic TZ3 for a fraction of the price.
Gadget Freaks – It's unlikely that a gadget freak will get excited about the LX3. It doesn't have any crazy new features or amazing gadgetry, such as touch screen or GPS support. It's an expensive, solid camera aimed at serious enthusiasts and professionals.
Manual Control Freaks – Manual control freaks will probably enjoy the multiple customizable white balances, shooting modes, user defined Function button, guide lines and the variety of little controls that you can tweak and fiddle to your heart’s content. It's a camera designed for serious users, and high levels of control are part and parcel of that design.
Pros / Serious Hobbyists – Panasonic bills this camera as 'ideal for professional photographers and serious amateurs looking for a compact digital camera that furthers their creative photography.' It's obviously designed for people who know what they're doing while shooting, and has the controls and feel that emphasize that. The ability to add an external flash or viewfinder, as well as converter lenses marks it as ideal for those who have the desire for modular extensions and controllability. Even the heaviness of the body is a nod at this market. However, serious camera users will probably balk at the poor test scores, especially in the wake of Panasonic claiming their new sensor would provide excellent low light and dynamic range results.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 is a camera that frustrates us. It's made by a company that usually crafts excellent cameras, it has a quality Leica lens, and its design is a wondrous nod to its past. The LX3 has excellent manual controls, expandability, and a solid feel we wish was in more point-and-shoot cameras. Yet, at the same time, it scored poor to average on most of our tests, lacks a fluorescent white balance preset, and has a poorly executed menu system. It's a camera we want to love: if it cost less we would be more forgiving of the mediocre test results. But for $500, we expect something better, and as much we admire the aesthetics, feel and control offered by the LX3, it costs too much and performs too poorly. Maybe future cameras using the new 1/1.63" CCD sensor will iron out some of the performance kinks and impress us more.
Click on any of the images below to view the full-sized origional image. However, please note that some of the images are extremely large (up to several megabytes) and could take a long time to download. **
Meet the tester
Tim Barribeau is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.
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