The LX7 is available now in black or white, for $500.

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Most of the Lumix LX7's most compelling features are related to its lens. This Leica-built glass has only a modest 3.8x optical zoom magnification, but boast an amazing F1.4 aperture that allows gorgeous backgrounds and strong low light performance. The barrel itself is also home to a slew of physical manual controls. There's a dedicated aperture ring, as well as two sliding switches: one for aspect ratio, and one for focus mode. We dig the aperture and focus controls, however the aspect ratio slider is unnecessarily prominent for a setting so rarely changed.

The LX7's sensor is only a 1/1.7-inch type, and that's a key disadvantage compared to the Sony RX100's 1-inch chip. We often downplay the importance of megapixel resolution, however this sensor's small 10 megapixel output is another big step down from the LX7's closest competition.

A high resolution 3.0-inch fixed LCD is used for framing and image review, and while this panel's brightness and viewing angle are better than cheap ultracompacts, quality lags behind other high-end pocket-sized cameras like the RX100 or Fujifilm X10. Horizontal viewing angle is particularly mediocre.

Most data transfer is performed via two terminals on the right side of the body, underneath a hinged plastic cover. Here you'll find an HDMI port as well as a microUSB port for PC connectivity.

On the top of the body, the LX7 also features a hot shoe for attaching accessories such as external flash. Below this is a secondary port that's used in conjunction with an optional optical viewfinder.

Although the LX7 aced many of our tests in the lab, this doesn't translate to gorgeous shots in the field. The lens is sharp, but real-world details are muddy. Color rendition is accurate, but outdoor shots seem flat and unattractive. At least dynamic range is genuinely impressive.

Looking over our raw resolution data, we see that the LX7 offers some of the best sharpness around, despite a low megapixel count. The lens works best at medium focal lengths, where we recorded average detail levels in excess of 1900 MTF50s, a very strong result. Detail is very slightly worse at close focal lengths, here detail dropped to an average of 1730 MTF50s, which is still a decent figure. Maximum zoom should be avoided, since this caused average sharpness to fall all the way to 1200 MTF50s across all zones. We don't usually see such a significant drop from sub-4x cameras.

Still these are great results. Serious improvements have been made since the LX5, and this model even gives the respected Canon S100 a run for its money. However no camera in this field comes close to the Sony RX100, which is one of the sharpest compact cameras ever made. More on how we test sharpness.

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Our stabilization test rig was down during this camera's evaluation period, such is the curse of precision motors. We'll try to update this section in the future, and this may cause the LX7's overall score to increase slightly.

Anecdotally, we observed little or no difference between sample photos taken with or without stabilization, though this is likely due to the lens' modest zoom ratio.

Color accuracy is essential to the rendition of convincing, lifelike images, and Panasonic has been pleasantly surprising us in this test for a couple years now. The LX7 is one of the most accurate compact cameras on the market, returning an error value as low as 2.27 in our test, which is on par with the finest SLRs. Saturation levels were practically perfect, off by only 0.21%. More on how we test color.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

Just like we saw in the sharpness test, significant improvements have been made since the LX5. However the entire market segment struggles here, resulting in a very tightly packed comparison group...except for the LX7, which races far ahead of the pack.

For you to take advantage of this camera's excellent color performance, you'll need to use the most accurate color mode. The "Natural" mode earns this distinction by far. A small selection of alternate modes are available, and while they may sometimes be appropriate for artistic reasons, Natural is the most realistic.

Of course color is nothing without white balance, unless you're shooting RAW, and nailing down the perfect white balance can be a little tricky with the LX7. Under daylight and fluorescents the automatic white balance system should be sufficient. Most errors we recorded under such conditions were off by less than 210 degrees Kelvin, and will only require minor post-processing, if any.

Under incandescent tungsten light, auto white balance struggles, with an average error rate of 617 K. Those shots will be pretty ugly, so under illumination like this you should really stick to custom white balance. That will bring down the average error rate to a manageable—but still far from perfect—379 K.

If auto and custom aren't your thing, five presets are available in-camera, including one for use with the flash. Storage for two custom settings is a convenient addition, and the LX7 also supports direct Kelvin entry if you already know the color temperature of your lights.

The LX7's noise reduction algorithm proceeds smoothly and evenly up the ISO scale, starting with a respectable 0.63% noise at ISO 80, and keeping that figure below 1.00% until ISO 1600. Noise rates eventually peak at ISO 6400 with 1.95% image noise. Yet with such strong performance comes compromise. The software is aggressive and blurs detail even at minimum ISO, so the image quality tradeoff may not be worth it. More on how we test noise.

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Available ISO sensitivities range from 80 to 6400, with an additional reduced resolution option of 12800. This is a wider range than we've come to expect, even from high-end compacts, however shots are basically unusable above 3200, so the extra flexibility is superficial.

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For the majority of the usable ISO spectrum, you'll be working with about 6 stops of dynamic range, however at ISO 80 the LX7 is actually able to squeeze out 7.24 stops. Things remain on an even keel until ISO 3200, at which time high noise rates begin to damage the image and dynamic range falls sharply, first to 4 stops, then to 3 stops at ISO 6400. More on how we test dynamic range.

The results are good but not great. The LX7 offers roughly equivalent dynamic range to the Sony RX100, however this still a key drawback of high-end compacts compared to many interchangeable lens cameras.

It's hard to find a Leica logo on a low quality lens, so we had certain expectations about the performance of this glass. Chromatic aberration did not leave us disappointed. Fringing is basically absent from both lab shots and sample photos. In the crops below, you'll notice only a thin blue band in the upper corners of the image, and only at maximum focal length where the lens struggles most.

Barrel distortion is very noticeable at the closest focal length, and we're surprised this effect isn't automatically corrected in software. Otherwise, distortion is measurable but far from problematic.

A rendering quirk, due to transcoding a 60p source to a 30p clip, means the motion sample below does not to the LX7's motion performance justice. In fact, just go ahead and ignore it completely. This camera handles noise exceptionally well. Trailing and artifacting are both utterly nonexistent in our test footage. We've taken off minor points for generally smoothness, but this is due solely to the complications and frustrations that arise from dealing with 60p data. Other than that, the only problem we observed was a frequency interference issue. Jaggies often pollute diagonal lines, especially when those lines are in motion. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

This sensor and lens combination produce sharp video content. At maximum bitrate the LX7 is capable of rendering approximately 600-610 lw/ph of detail. Horizontal sharpness is slightly, very slightly, more clear than vertical. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

The LX7's wide open aperture means our low light sharpness test is barely a challenge, therefore results are almost the same. Under only 60 lux of ambient illumination, the camera is still capable of resolving 600 lw/ph vertically, and 575 horizontally.

Again, the LX7's remarkable F1.4 aperture lets in plenty of light, meaning the camera is far more sensitive in video applications than most. In order to gather 50 IRE of image data, the sensor requires only 5 lux of illumination. Such performance is extremely rare in still cameras, and is closer to what we might expect from an expensive camcorder.

Plenty of manual control, good handling, and just enough automation could've made the LX7 a painless camera. However an atrocious menu system gave us constant headaches. We also would've preferred more robust controls on the rear panel, especially the control dial.

On the mode dial you'll find a stop for Intelligent Auto, which automates some of the more complicated functions and is best for users who are brand new to photography. Functionality is unremarkable compared to most other Auto modes.

The rear control panel seems pretty typical at first glance: directional pad, four buttons on the corners, central menu button. But there are a few important departures here too. We get a dedicated AF/AE-Lock key within easy reach of the thumb, which is very useful for tricky framing and a feature usually reserved for more complex cameras. There's also a handy control dial at the corner of the thumb rest, and it's especially welcome in the absence of a rotating dial below. Finally, a dedicated manual focus lever is slightly out of reach but actually somewhat useful, thanks to focus assist zoom and good responsiveness.

The LX7's menu design is unintuitive. The settings of the main menu are divided into three horizontal tabs, and then subdivided into as many as six horizontal pages. Only a few settings are displayed on each page, so you'll spend a lot of time scrolling and reading to find the one you're looking for. Options are drilled down strictly from left to right, so if you're accustomed to pressing the central button to confirm choices, you'll find this actually exits the menu instead. The main menu also closes and resets after each selection, so if you've got a bunch of settings that need tweaking, this will take extra time.

The so-called quick menu splits options between bars on top and bottom of the screen, but settings drill-down vertically, so in order to access the lower menu, you'll actually need to navigate horizontally. This is bad design all around.

Handling of the LX7's tiny frame is pretty tolerable in fact. The front panel has a small but grippy rubberized area, with a steep angle on the lens side, which gives the fingertips something to latch onto. The strap can actually get in the way here, but that's a small complaint.

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On the back, the thumb naturally comes to rest on the mid-sized thumb grip, and this provides both balanced handling and easy access to the rear dial. We only wish the focus lever was more robust, and the lower control panel could be accessed without a second hand.

Handling Photo 2

The rear control panel seems pretty typical at first glance: directional pad, four buttons on the corners, central menu button. But there are a few important departures here too. We get a dedicated AF/AE-Lock key within easy reach of the thumb, which is very useful for tricky framing and a feature usually reserved for more complex cameras. There's also a handy control dial at the corner of the thumb rest, and it's especially welcome in the absence of a rotating dial below. Finally, a dedicated manual focus lever is slightly out of reach but actually somewhat useful, thanks to focus assist zoom and good responsiveness.

Buttons Photo 1

On top of the body, the shutter release has adequate tactility, however the mode dial is jerky and can be imprecise while turning it using only a thumb. In general, and this is more true of the rear control panel, we wish all buttons were more robust. As it is, the keys are too small and can be a pain to use.

Buttons Photo 2

A high resolution 3.0-inch fixed LCD is used for framing and image review, and while this panel's brightness and viewing angle are better than cheap ultracompacts, quality lags behind other high-end pocket-sized cameras like the RX100 or Fujifilm X10. Horizontal viewing angle is particularly mediocre.

Our stabilization test rig was down during this camera's evaluation period, such is the curse of precision motors. We'll try to update this section in the future, and this may cause the LX7's overall score to increase slightly.

Anecdotally, we observed little or no difference between sample photos taken with or without stabilization, though this is likely due to the lens' modest zoom ratio.

The mode dial is relatively straightforward. Here you'll find auto and PASM modes, plus two custom settings and dedicated stops for video, scene modes, and digital effects.

Each of the four available aspect ratios is divided into six different shooting resolutions. That's overkill, in our opinion, but will allows users to specifically pick and choose exactly how much data they want to work with. The LX7 also shoots RAW, setting it apart from most of the point-and-shoot pack, plus combinations of RAW and JPEG shots at either JPEG compression level.

Aperture Control Ring

The LX7 does have a mechanical control ring surrounding the lens barrel, just like the Canon S100 and the Sony RX100, and this is one element of the LX7 we do prefer to the RX100. Unlike the RX100's smooth analog ring, the LX7's clicks at each interval. This ring only controls aperture, whereas the RX100's dial could be set to many different variables, but again we still prefer this design.

One confusing choice was the decision to place an aspect ratio slider on top of the barrel, behind the control ring. A focus mode slider is also here, and that we can understand, but aspect ratio just seems like such a barely-used setting, and it's strange to see a prominent physical control for it.

The LX7 features a good variety of continuous burst modes, including a setting with full time AF tracking, and a high-speed burst at up to 60 frames per second with reduced resolution.

We clocked continuous shooting performance at a maximum of 11.9 frames per second, a tad better even than Panasonic's own claim, however performance drops to 10.8 frames per second at ISO 3200. At full resolution the buffer maxes out at 12 images, and while RAW shooting fills the buffer a bit earlier, speed nearly just as fast.

The self-timer is available in 2 second and 10 second countdowns, as well as a 10 second countdown followed by 3 exposures.

The LX7 ignores some of the more meaningless trends that have cropped up recently, such as WiFi and GPS, in favor of deeper controls for video and improved continuous shooting performance. We expect most users will approve of this decision.

The LX7's sensor is capable of 1080/60p output at 28Mbps maximum. To save memory or editing headaches, video may also but output in 60i or 30p, or even 720p. MP4 recording is also possible, up to 1080/30p. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Zoom

Zoom control is unlocked while a recording is in progress, and accomplished via the same zoom lever that surrounds the shutter release.

Focus

Continuous autofocus is available during video recordings, and so is manual focus via the handy lever on the rear panel. Noise of the focus mechanism may be picked up by the built-in microphone, but it's not severe.

Exposure Controls

Although exposure settings are very flexible, most variables must be locked in prior to the beginning of a recording. Even turning the manual aperture control ring will not result in a change until a separate clip begins.

A stereo microphone resides on the top panel, directly in front of the hot shoe. Wind cut is the only audio feature available, meaning a levels display is nowhere to be found.

This was a very tough review—a case where the lab scores don't tell the full story. Judging by our test results you'd think this camera rivals the Sony RX100, or the Canon S100. And in technical terms the LX7 does look great. We were particularly impressed by the accurate color score, as well as the Leica lens' excellent sharpness. Dynamic range was even slightly better than the RX100, one area in which that camera could use improvement. We just don't feel like the LX7 should've outscored the RX100 overall, or even the S100.

But the sad truth is, images captured with the LX7 just aren't very attractive. They're flat, appear soft (despite the high sharpness score), and while F1.4 is impressive, the bokeh looks unappealing. While shooting with the RX100, we could almost forget we were using a compact. Not so with the LX7: image quality kept reminding us of the camera's limitations.

What we'd like to see in the LX9 is a bigger, better sensor. A bright lens is great, but it's wasted here on a 1/1.7-inch chip. Also, we're not usually ones for megapixel wars, but the RX100 has literally double the resolution; there's just so much more data to work with. The LX7 is a good camera, but there's little reason to recommend it when a similar but superior product exists in the same price range.

Meet the testers

Christopher Snow

Christopher Snow

Managing Editor

@BlameSnow

Chris was born and raised less than ten miles from our editorial office, and even graduated from nearby Merrimack College. He came to Reviewed after covering the telecom industry, and has been moonlighting as a Boston area dining critic since 2008.

See all of Christopher Snow's reviews

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