**Back**The back is dominated by the widescreen 2.8-inch LCD display. This 207K pixel display is bright and clear, but it does lack resolution, especially when you are shooting in 4:3 or 3:2 aspect ratio. In these modes, black bars appear at the sides of the screen, effectively reducing the resolution even further. Below the LCD is a Panasonic logo, making the screen look like a tiny television. To the right of the screen we have the other controls: from the top left clockwise there are the AF/AE lock, the joystick control (for scrolling around images when zoomed in), a small status light, the cursor and menu buttons (which also double as the buttons for changing the flash and backlight compensation modes), plus the display/LCD mode and burst/delete buttons. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2’s back is fairly flat, with only a slight platform for the LCD screen to rest upon.
**Left Side **The left side of the camera has no major features. The front and rear panels of the camera are connected here with a few screws. On the left side of the lens barrel, the focus mode switch appears with its options.
**Right Side **On the right side, we see the cover for the ports and memory card slot, plus another angle on the small grip. There’s also a lanyard loop at the top of this side and the battery compartment door on the bottom.
**Top **The top of the camera is a busy place, with a number of features and controls. On the left, there is a switch that pops up the flash unit directly in front of it. To the right of the flash switch is the Panasonic DMC-LX2 logo along with a tiny microphone grill. To its right is a large mode dial that protrudes slightly and has engraved lines on the side for better grip. To the right, and set farther forward, is the shutter release button surrounded by a zoom ring that controls the Lumix lens. On the right edge is the power switch on the bottom and the optical image stabilization button on the top. The Panasonic LX2 is unusual in that many of these buttons are physical switches: instead of buttons that you press in, the power and flash switches are actually physical switches that flip from one position to another.
**Bottom**On the bottom of the camera are the tripod socket and the cover for the memory card/battery compartment. This pushes to the right, and then drops down. Both the battery and memory card are latched in place, though, so they won’t fall out when you open the compartment.
**Viewfinder**There is no optical viewfinder on the LX2; all viewing is done with the wide LCD screen, which boasts 100 percent coverage of the recorded frame. **LCD Screen The LCD screen is a large, bright model that is in a 16:9 aspect ratio, in order to fully display the photos taken in the native widescreen mode. However, at 207k pixels, it is not especially high resolution, and the pictures look a little grainy. Details are also a little hard to discern, although you can zoom in up to 16x to check the focus of details. This situation is further exacerbated when shooting in the 3:2 or the conventional 4:3 mode: in these, black bars are added to the sides of the screen. This further reduces the effective resolution of the screen. But, to be fair, pictures don’t look bad and you can see enough to check things like focus and color. It’s just that other cameras have higher resolution screens that look more attractive. For maximum use of the space, the camera allows you to turn the display of information such as shutter speed, etc off by pressing the display button. The polycrystalline TFT LCD screen has a Power LCD mode that adds contrast for shooting in bright lighting and a High Angle LCD mode for shooting above the head. ** **Flash The small flash pops up with a reassuring thud when you flip the flash button, and fits cleanly into the case when not in use. Panasonic claims a flash range of just under 2 feet to just over 16 feet, and we didn’t see any reason to dispute this in our (very basic) tests. The following flash modes are available: Auto, Auto with Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Forced On with red eye reduction, Slow Sync with Red-Eye Reduction and Forced Off. The power level of the flash can also be controlled up and down two stops in one third increments. ** **Zoom Lens**The lens is a Leica DC Vario-Elmarit model with a focal range of 6.3 - 25.2mm, which translates to a 4x zoom 35mm equivalent of 28 - 112mm. That range is pleasingly wide at the bottom end, making it easier to take close group shots. It’s also not bad at the telephoto end: while it won’t be enough to photograph vicious animals, it’s long enough for general use. It is possible to extend the length of this lens to a 5.5x magnification by using what Panasonic calls Extra Optical Zoom, where only the center of the sensor is used, then the image is enlarged. The restriction on this is that the maximum image size is 5 megapixels. An additional 4X digital zoom can also be applied to this, but there is a serious price to pay in terms of image quality. The Leica 4x lens is constructed with 9 elements in 8 groups with 3 aspherical elements. To complement the lens, there is an optical image stabilization system with two modes to work continuously or only when recording. The system includes a moving platform with the image sensor on it that shifts to compensate for slight movements of the camera – like when hands naturally shake. We weren’t able to do an extensive test of this feature, but there was a definite improvement in the sharpness of images when it was enabled.
There is no built-in lens cap for the lens. There is a slip-on lens cap that is included, but it dangles from a strap and can be annoying.
**Model Design / Appearance**The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2 has a slightly industrial, workman-like design to it. It’s not a camera that has been designed to look stylish, but to look functional with a number of buttons and switches that provide quick access to features that other cameras may hide in the on-screen menu. The camera comes in black and silver colors – nothing too adventurous. The LX2’s design is an exact replica of the earlier Panasonic Lumix LX1. **Size / Portability**At just over 7 oz and measuring 4.1 x 2.25 x 1 inches (not including the lens, which increases the depth to just under two inches), the LX2 is not the smallest camera around. But neither is it the largest or heaviest: it is big enough that you’d have problems sliding it into a pocket, but small enough that you could carry it around all day without feeling weighed down. The Leica lens is nice and wide, and raised on a slight platform. This platform catches when the camera is slid into a tight spot, and when the included lens cap is attached it is even thicker. **Handling Ability**The camera fits into the hand well, with the index finger naturally falling on the shutter and zoom control. It can be easily used with one hand, and the small grip on the front helps you keep a firm hold. While the AF/AE lock is right under the thumb (where it should be), the others are a bit too far down to reach comfortably. It is possible to change settings like the flash mode with one hand, but it’s easier with two. Other controls make it a requirement to use both hands such as the focus and format switches along with the mode dial. There are a few plastic bumps on the back of the camera where the thumb rests, but these aren’t entirely comfortable and don’t really do much for functional grip either. **Control Button / Dial Positioning / Size The control buttons all feel well placed and large enough to use without having to hunt them down. They are also raised and have different textures, so they are easy to find by touch. The Panasonic LX2 has a multi-selector made of five buttons: a central button surrounded by four others. All of the buttons are properly labeled except for the random joystick below the AE/AF Lock button and above the multi-selector. This joystick isn’t for navigation, but scrolls through shutter speed and aperture options – if you can figure it out. ** **Menu**The on-screen menus are started by pressing the menu button in the center of the cursor keys, and they are reasonably well structured. However, it might have made sense to put the options for image size and quality higher up: they are likely to be the most commonly used settings. ** ****Ease of Use The Panasonic LX2 is an easy to use camera, but there are a couple of issues. The unlabeled joystick is a nice concept, but isn’t very useful – it is only used for manually adjusting the shutter speed and aperture. And it can take some time to scroll through the menu options, as there is no way to skip ahead a page. But these are pretty minor issues, and they don’t detract from the overall good design of the camera.
Auto Mode The LX2 has a full auto mode that sets pretty much everything to auto, turning the camera into a point-and-shoot model. The user can still control things like the aspect ratio and it does an effective job of simplifying everything else. ****Movie Mode**One of the most distinguishing features on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2 is its movie mode. While most compact digital cameras shoot 640 x 480 pixels, the LX2 can record up to 1280 x 720 pixels. This is as much resolution as a high definition camcorder, but the camera only snaps 15 frames per second – whereas camcorders have at least a 30 frame-per-second rate. Because of the slow frame rate, the video looks somewhat jerky. Still, the LX2 has other shooting options: 848 x 480, 640 x 480, and 320 x 240 pixels, all at 30 fps. The earlier LX1’s movie mode had a top resolution of 848 x 480 pixels at 30 fps, and was one of the first digital cameras to offer a widescreen movie mode at all. The Panasonic Lumix LX2 continues this legacy and expands upon it with even higher resolution. The movie mode employs the optical image stabilization system, keeping images steady so you won’t get motion sickness when watching your kid’s soccer game. The QuickTime video files also have monaural sound. **Drive / Burst Mode**Several burst modes are supported including High Speed (2 frames per second with a maximum of 5 images), Low Speed (1 frame per second for a maximum of 5 images) and Unlimited (less than 1 frame per second with no limit on the number of frames). These aren’t that impressive, and they underline the limited amount of memory built into the LX2: 13MB. This burst mode is slower than the LX1’s, which shot 3 fps at its fastest speed and 2 fps in the Low Speed and Unlimited modes. Granted, the LX1 had a bit over 8 megapixels compared to the LX2’s 10-megapixel count, but this is still a significant difference. **Playback Mode Pictures in the playback mode can be organized and manipulated, and viewed in several ways. Pictures can be magnified up to 16x or viewed in screens of 9 or 25 images. Slide shows can be played, and pictures can be organized into a calendar or "favorites." It’s rather hard to see details in this mode because of the low screen resolution, but the playback mode is good for scrolling through large numbers of images if you are looking for one. Images can be edited in several simple ways: they can be trimmed, protected, and resized. ** **Custom Image Presets**A good selection of scene modes are supported: Portrait, Soft Skin, Scenery, Sports, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Self-Portrait, Food, Party, Candle, Fireworks, Starry Sky, Beach, Aerial photo, Snow, High Sensitivity, Baby1 and Baby2. The last two modes include information about the age of up to two children embedded into the image itself: useful if you want to create a printed record of your child growing up.
** ****Manual Control Options A full manual mode is included, where the aperture and shutter speeds are set by the joystick. Moving it up and down sets the shutter speed, and left and right sets the aperture. This is a good solution that makes the manual mode usable: an unusual situation for smaller cameras like this. The exposure meter on the screen remains on in manual mode, providing real-time advice to users. ** **Focus*****Auto Focus – The auto focus on the Panasonic LX2 is a little slow, sometimes taking nearly half a second to find the right spot in the dim recesses of the Photokina conference hall. You can set the auto focus to run continuously, although this would suck down the battery life pretty quickly. Several focus modes are available: 9-area (where the camera scans 9 areas of the screen, and picks one to focus on), 3-area, 1-area high speed, 1-area and spot focusing. In the multiple area modes, the user can’t choose which area is used to focus on: the camera automatically makes the choice. *Manual Focus- *Manual focus is done by flicking the switch on the lens to the MF position and using the joystick. Like most smaller cameras, it takes some time to go from one end of the scale to the other, but it’s not as bad as some. The center of the image is enlarged to help find the focus point. Manual focus is usable, but not great. *Exposure Exposure compensation for up to two stops above and below is available in one-third increments. The camera can also auto bracket images, taking three images, one at up to two stops below, one at the metered resolution and one at up to two stops above. This can be a very useful feature for complex lighting situations: with some fiddling in Photoshop, you can combine the images to get a well exposed picture. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2 has a good range of exposure modes from Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Program, to the Auto and 18 scene modes. ** **Metering Three metering modes are supported: Multiple (where the camera scans the entire image and picks the exposure), Center Weighted (where the center of the image is given more emphasis) and Spot metering (where only the center of the image is metered). This is a pretty standard selection, and should cover most situations. ** **White Balance**The white balance options of the LX2 are comprehensive: as well as 9 preset white balance settings, there are two custom settings, which can be pre-calibrated and stored. This would be useful if, for instance, you are shooting at a wedding and want white balance points for outdoors (under sunlight) and indoors (under mixed lighting). These settings can also be tweaked with a fine adjustment setting that uses the joystick to shift the white balance setting on an on-screen graph. This is a nice feature to have, but I doubt it would be used that often; the wide range of presets and two custom settings should be sufficient for most users. **ISO**The ISO range of the LX2 has been greatly expanded from the previous model: it now offers ISO settings up to 1600. The camera’s predecessor, the Panasonic LX1, had a measly ISO range that extended only to 400. On the LX2, Panasonic also adds a setting called Intelligent ISO, where the camera analyzes the lighting and movement in an image before selecting an appropriate ISO. We weren’t able to test this feature fully on the show floor, but we look forward to playing with this one in our testing lab. There is also a more conventional Auto ISO setting, which most users will probably be quite happy with. We didn’t test the higher settings in depth, but the sample shots we took did show very significant noise, even under reasonably good lighting. This will warrant further investigation, but the noise in images was one of our major complaints about the Panasonic LX1. **Shutter Speed The shutter speed range is from ¼th of a second to 1/2000th of a second in the automatic mode, but this can be stretched out to 60 seconds in the manual mode. This is the same shutter speed range that was included on the LX1. Aperture The LX2 also has the same aperture offerings as the LX1 because they both have the same Leica 4x lens. The aperture range goes from f/2.8 (wide) and f/4.9 (telephoto) to f/8.0 (wide and telephoto). That’s a pretty average range for a camera of this type.
Picture Quality****/ Size Options**There are three different aspect ratios the camera can shoot with on the native 16:9 image sensor, and plenty of image size options for each format.
Because the sensor is a true 16:9 chip, you need to use this mode to get the full 10 megapixel resolution. In the 16:9 mode, the options are 4224 × 2376, 3840 × 2160, 3072 × 1728 and 1920 × 1080 pixels. In the 3:2 aspect ratio mode, the options are 3568 × 2376, 3248 × 2160, 2560 × 1712 and 2048 × 1360 pixels. In the conventional 4:3 mode, you get the choice of 3168 × 2376, 2880 × 2160, 2304 × 1728, 2048 × 1536, 1600 × 1200 and 1280 × 960 pixels. Three image quality options are available for all of these modes: Fine, Standard, and Raw. **Picture Effects Mode**The Lumix LX2 gives you some limited options for color effects; you can shoot pictures in Cool, Warm, Black & White or Sepia mode. It is also possible to tweak the Contrast, Sharpness and Saturation of the images. These options are available before snapping the picture though – not in the playback mode like on some cameras. Panasonic skips the gimmicky effects like text and built-in frames, and we don’t miss them.
**Connectivity***Software Panasonic includes their LUMIX Simple Viewer software with the LX2, and that lives up to the name. It is fine for basic downloading and sorting of photos, but it isn’t capable of anything more complex. ArcSoft PhotoImpression and ArcSoft PanoramaBuilder are also included. * *Jacks, Ports, Plugs*Two ports connect the LX2 to the outside world: a power port and a combined USB and AV-out port. Both are located under the panel on the right side of the camera, out of the way. The camera can run in USB Mass Storage or PictBridge modes, but the AV cable is a bit of a disappointment: for a camera that proclaims its ability to take hi-res photos and video in 16:9 mode, it’s a big disappointment that the only video output is a low quality composite. We would have liked to have seen a higher quality component video or a digital HDMI port, but that’s nowhere to be seen. *Direct Print Options*The usual suspects are here: DPOF and PictBridge are supported for flagging images for printing and for connecting to a printer directly. Print orders can be created from the playback mode. *Battery***The battery is a small lithium-ion model that holds around 1150mAh of charge. Panasonic claims a battery life of around 300 shots, but we weren’t able to test this claim on the show floor. This battery life is improved from the LX1’s life of 240 shots. *Memory*A rather small 13MB of memory is built into the camera, with the primary storage method being SD or SDHC cards. A 2GB SD card will cost you about $50 these days, so it’s a good, cheap storage method to use. **Other Features*****
****O.I.S. – Panasonic refers to their optical image stabilization system as O.I.S. The system moves an element of the lens in response to movement caused by shaky hands, and it seems to be pretty effective in our limited tests so far. We will, however, have to do more testing before we draw any final conclusions on this. * *Voice Memos –* 5 second audio clips can be attached to photos, either at the time of shooting or later. This could be useful if you want to narrate who is in the photos. But keep in mind that you have to keep it very brief.
**Value**At $499, the Panasonic LX2 is not a cheap camera. Still, this comes at a much lower introductory price than the LX1’s initial offering. Panasonic announced the LX1 at a pricey $699 in July 2005. The street price for the camera quickly dropped, and it can now be found for about $400. At that cost, the Panasonic LX2 only costs a hundred bucks more and comes with 10 megapixels and a high-definition movie mode for widescreen televisions. These features are nice to have, but may not be worth it for many users when you can pick up another high-resolution camera for considerably less. But the LX2 is a pretty unique camera in that it has optical image stabilization combined with the widescreen formatted image sensor and LCD screen. **Who It’s For***Point-and-Shooters* – Although the Auto mode is perfect for these consumers and the 18 scene modes would be a bonus, the LX2 is perhaps overkill for point-and-shooters. They won’t need the high end features like the high-definition widescreen videos and flip animation mode that it offers. *Budget Consumers* – If consumers are looking for a bargain, keep looking. Panasonic makes its customers pay for the full range of features. * **Gadget Freaks* - Gadget freaks will like the uniqueness of the 16:9 shooting mode and the big screen. *Manual Control Freaks* – Although it has a manual mode, the real hard-core manual control freaks will hate the hand-holding the camera tries to do when you use it. *Pros/Serious Hobbyists* – Pros might like the LX2 for the uniqueness of shooting 16:9, but it’s not really a pro camera.
**Conclusion**The LX2 is an interesting and unique camera. Other cameras can shoot 16:9 images, but they do it as an afterthought. With the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2, it’s woven into the fabric of the camera. You only get the full 10-megapixel resolution if you shoot in 16:9 mode; if you shoot in the conventional 4:3 mode, the resolution drops to 8.5 megapixels. This digital camera is a nice follow-up to the LX1 with many additional features like an expanded ISO range and a larger widescreen-optimized LCD screen. Still, we have our reservations about this camera. Our biggest concern is the noise in the images: it looks like it might be a problem, but we’ll have to wait for our full tests. The LX1 produced awful amounts of noise even within its limited ISO range, but there is hope for the LX2. The newer model does have an improved Venus III image processor. Equipped with its freshened components and high-class features, the Panasonic Lumix LX2 sells for $499.
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