switch from dslr/mirrorless to LX7 review and experience - sort of..

Started Feb 19, 2013 | Discussions thread
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highq_ee
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switch from dslr/mirrorless to LX7 review and experience - sort of..
Feb 19, 2013

this review comes through the eyes of the "downgrader": i've owned and used some dslrs and mirrorlesses for the last 5 years (starting with oly a-520, then briefly nikon d60, last 3 years with panasonic gf-1 and a bit of canon 550d as well). nothing fancy, but okay i think. But about a week a go i switched back to compact world with panasonic LX-7.
just to clarify: i'm not gonna touch "things" that go combined over 1500 usd. that's beyond my budget, so i just forget about it.
"Good" and "Easy":
i'm not a pro, photo enthusiast, gear obsessionist or testcharter, i'm just a guy who likes to take nice pictures, as good as possible and as easy as possible. that's basically it. And there comes the dilemma: good comes (manual controls, image quality) typically from large sensor cameras, but it's easier to shoot with small sensor cameras (cost, weight and size issue mostly, but there's also lens changing burden for example).
The CURRENT CAMERAS:
1) IMHO, today, the worst thing to own (sorry, fz200 users, it's my opinion) is a large bridge camera: it's nearly as large and heavy as kit dslr, the IQ is way behind and it's not cheap either. The only "win" you get is zoom reach, basically. Good: no, Easy: no.
2) Second worst is a typical budget dslr (something like 650d/d3200/a-37), with typical kit lens(es). it's large, heavy, costs quite a bit and image quality isn't something to rave about. often, they're functionally capped (to "justify" purchase of higher prosumer models, this counts for entry level lenses as well). To push IQ boundaries, you really have to invest in high quality lenses and this gear gathering hobby can quickly deal a killer-blow to the wallet. You need a separate, bulky bag to carry all the possibly "required" stuff. Good IQ: yes, easy: not at all.
3) The typical compact cameras are small and cheap, but have mediocre IQ, come with low quality lens, are very feature capped and allow for a very little manual control. Good: not a all, Easy: yes.
4) Mirrorless (m43 mostly, but nex and samsung NX as well) go little better, their IQ (in the"kit" kategory) is on par with budget dslrs, they cost the same, many actually come with larger functionality compared to entry level dslrs (because they're not that feature capped), but at least you win in size and weight category. But the "better lenses" curse is also present. Good: yes, Easy: so-so.
5) So finally here comes the "premium compact" compromise: smallish sensor, full manual and customizing abilities, decent quality large aperture zoom lens and a all in a very compact and lightweight body. The only downside, IMO, is that at the moment, there no premium compact that has a good zoom reach, most of them are not nearly enough to do good wildlife photos. P7700 can go a bit, but still, you're far better with any PEN and pana 45-200mm. Similar price, a quite a bit of more data. Good: mostly yes, Easy: yes.
And even in these 5 categories, there are no camera that can do good and easy very well at the same time. it's always a compromise.
Because i don't do a lot of zoomed pictures, i can live with a zoom issue on premium compacts(e-520 had 40-150 and i used it seldom, and my 550d had excellent but monster size tamron 18-270 VC and just a few of the pictures were over 100mm). For those who can't: skip the bridge camera and go for a cheap m43 or dlsr camera with a telephoto lens. There's a ton of cropping data to beat the "paper reach" of a bridge camera and IQ is miles ahead.
As for DOF: maybe i'm "different", but i actually prefer things to be in focus, not to blur things. i can always blur stuff in post-process if i really need, but as of now, no tool can unblur the "bokeh".
The DATA the REQUIREMENTS
The more i took pictures, the more i realized that the camera is just a information gathering tool. there's no camera that can beat the power of final post processing and image manipulation. I'm fine with little grain, noise, chromatic abberation, disortion or dull color. Most of them can be fought or eliminated with tools like lightroom4. So max ISO performance, color depth or dynamic isn't top priority. it shouldn't be embarrassing, but i can live with compromises.
I need a wideangle (once i counted my e-520 pictures and over 40% were at lens lowest 14mm setting) and 25mm and less comes very handy. previously i had very average 28mm EQ kit lens and monsterwide and special use fisheye lens. One was too little and the other was too extreme.
I need any manual control i can get, as i like "technical shooting": all kinds of stiched panoramas, HDR-s, i've done timelapses, 360 degree spherical panoramas etc. Some are bear to take and maybe pushing things to far (timelapse especially), but it's fun learning process.
I never carry a tripod and i'm not willing to do that in the future. i can rest the camera on a rock or against a tree, but that's it. So working and useful image stabilizer AND fast lens help immensly. What's the point of shaving grams from lenses and bodies and then carry 2kg+ piece of furniture.
WHY LX7:
1) The lens, obviously. It's very high quality. i'm no badge snob, so i don't care about a leica name, it's just high quality, record large aperture and has good resolving power.
2) I own a panasonic GF-1 and the learning curve is zero, basically. The whole menu and button structure is nearly identical. It just set it up and start to shoot.
3) The feature set is second to none. Exept wifi (you can use eye-fi sd cards) and GPS tagging (never really cared, i'm good at geography and have a decent memory), on paper, there's every single option imaginable: nd filter, hdr-s, timelapse, 100fps (i have pal version) HD slow motion video, orientation sensors, level gauge etc. I mean, it beats (and by healthy margin) my GF-1 (and it was praised about it's enthusiast oriented functionality), actually, it damn beats every single thing this side of 1000usd.
4) Good compromise on size, weight and quality. My GF-1 is considered quite small and lightweight, but LX-7 just dwarfs it. While it's larger than IXUS/ELPH, it's actually more comfortable to hold (i hold camera in a palm using a grip, not by fingertips), i like to be able to shoot just onehanded.
5) The price. I got it for approx 400€ (combined, with accessories like spare batteries, GGS screen protector, carry bag; i already had a bunch of 8GB class 10 SD cards). The rivals (p7700, G15 a bit more, xz-2 and rx100 by a lot) were more expensive.
6) possibility to add electronic viewfinder (and i know that the VF2 version is excellent). i don't have it now, but i'm planning to buy one. I like to shoot in a good weather (who doesn't :D) and on a sunny day LCD framing is very challenging and totally useless with polarizing filter (invaluable in sunny conditions and especially near water). I've used a loupe attachments before (LCDVF viewfinder) and i think that the're great for framing and stability, but for a compact camera, they are far to bulky to have any use.

What's HOT:
1) Quick and accurate AF. it's nearly instant, similar or even faster than my GF1. i was even surprised  i thought i had to endure 1sec delays, but no: the lock is instant and has a very high hitrate. Canon 550D AF (PDAF) was quick when it was all well, but "bziik-bziik count seconds" slow, when lights go out and the miss rate was disappointing  Importantly, AF is used in most of the pictures, so it's always involved, having a unreliable and slow AF doesn't really help the shooting experience at all.
2) The video quality is awesome. PSH mode 1080p is just sublime on my 40'' fullHD telly, even under challenging conditions. And the cursed slow zooming lens is actually helping very much. it's silky panning-like smooth and totally quiet. Continous AF works wonders even with large (f1.4) apertures. Good mics as well. Beats my GF-1 (and even with 1080p and higher bitrate hacked firmware) to oblivion. no comparison.
3) The Silence. Having had a different dlsr-s and mirrolesses, it's so welcome to finally have a SILENT (and superfast) shutter, it the whole different world. no smack or twack, but silence. Yes, i can dial in shutter sound volume, but this is a sound sample and not an actual shutter sound.
4) Good and usable auto ISO implementation. It rarely goes AWOL and helps a lot. I put a Auto ISO400 mode to C1 dial, aperture to widest available and indoors autoISO will remain reasonable, but to the point of useful, not just favoring low ISOs. Handheld in artificial lamplight, it doesn't want to go longer than 1/20sec with moving subjects (people for example) and even prefers to land at 1/50-1/60s, while at static scene it topped at ISO125 and allowed for 1/8s exposure (and stabilizer working very well). That's exactly what i need.
5) Good and usable handheld bracketing shooting mode. For avid Photomatix HDR tonemapper, having good bracketing mode is essential. In full manual mode and on a tripod, you can do HDR with basically any manual mode camera. But in handheld, things go a lot worse. First: mechanical shutter and the mirror (not in mirrorless, of course) in continuous mode tend to move the camera by a fraction (known as shutter shock and mirror slap) and this can lead to possible more ghosting. Not in LX7, as there's very little shutter shock and no mirror movement. Second: you need a lot of EV data, at least 5 EV stops or even more. many cameras go upto +/- 1 EV with 3 frames, my old GF-1 went to just 2/3. Yes, you could go upto 7 frames, but this is unusable in handheld mode. LX7 allows just 3 frames, but at +/- 3EV. tha's very handy and a lot of captured data. Third, it uses it's superfast burst mode with just a one button press. no need to guess, how much pictures it took, just press once and all 3 pics are recorded at the proper exposure.

What's NOT:
1) The mysterious flash. Maybe i haven't figured things out, but it misses a lot. It is a really pain in the b*tt. Zero flash compensation often overexposes, small negative bias underexposes by a lot. Because the lens protrudes, the lens is brought away from the lens and to the left. This still causes lense shadow cast below 30mm equivalent. Slow sync is bugged or there's substantial delay from pressing shutter button even with First curtin. Actually, it's very similar to my GF-1. Flash metering sucks and the placement is far from ideal. Have to test more, but the first experience is disappointing.
2) timelapse function. Who the hell engineered this? It's useless as it is. there's just a 2 ways to do good timelapses (the ones you see on youtubes and vimeos). One is automatically through some kind of movie mode (record every x frame and then combine into 25fps movie). Second is manually from pictures, dial desired manual shutter speed and aperture, fix WB, set intervalometer and have a bunch of pictures. Typical shutter speed to inverval ratio is between 1:1 upto 1:10 (smaller ratio would mean jerkier movie, larger ratio would kill timelapse effect or isn't possible with todays shutter mechanisms). Also, for typical 15fps fo 25fps timelapse video, you need a LOT of frames. To have 24fps 1 minute long video you need: 24frames x 60 seconds = total 1440 images, regardless of shutter speed. that's is a lot. so at least 999 images max and 1 per second would be useful. LX7 is no less than one pic in 1 min and total of 60 images. that's just ridiculous.
3) JPEG engine. It's very dull and conservative. it wants to preserve everything. Kind of counters blacks and whites. The colors are lifeless, shadows and highlights are all some sort shade of grey. In some way, it's a good thing: more data to RAW post processing, but as of JPEG out-of-camera, it's quite ugly. Funny, typically you pull shadows and lights to get data and detail back, but in LX7, it's the other way round: you push shadows to be darker and lights to be lighter. The best mode for out-of-camera is Vivid mode, decent contrast and more colors, but sometimes can clip colors (greens especially) and is still greyish in shadows and highlights. Standard mode is also dull and Natural is "welcome to the world of grey". But then again, Natural is probably the best mode to post process, as it contains the most amount of data, especilly in the shadows. Shoot RAW is not just recommended, it is the only way to overcome the grey world of panasonic JPEG engine. Again, my old GF-1 is very similar to this, it made me shoot raw only.

COMPARED TO:
RX100. One of my good friends has a RX100 and lended it to me for a couple of days. It is stunningly small (even to the point being too small and having to hold with fingertips), awesome LCD screen, very good IQ in proper conditions (good lighting or wideangle). But the menu and customizing system is abysmal. The CDAF in the sony is worse, slower and more prone to fail, especially in difficult conditions. The tech and IQ is there, but the software side is lacking and the shooting experience in general can be improved. Just like the first NEX camera revisions. On paper, very nice, real world, not so much. At least, first NEX-es got a major firmware update and i hope rx100 will get it also . And at well over 500€, it's no bargain.

GF-1. The IQ at 1:1 is no match, my highly regarded 14-45 "kit" lens is pin sharp and the ISO sensitivity is well behind as well. But, my typical requirements are sharing on a 1080p TV set, google photo gallery and 10x15cm prints. I can crop the hell out of the GF-1 raw picture and it still can be very much usable. LX7 is very much enough to this task and a room to spare. Little enhacements required, but because i post-process every selected/shared picture anyway, minor IQ loss is sacrifice i'm willing to make. And because i can shoot with LX7 at lot faster shutterspeeds, this neglates the IQ difference. There are actually pictures that my GF-1 couldn't take, while my new LX-7 can: pictures of my kids and wife under artificial and lowish light without a flash (which sucks anyway on GF1). i was stuck with GF1 kit: at F3.5 ISO800, the shutterspeeds were too slow (less than 1/30s), the IQ on the very limit and any zooming is making things worse. Now i'm running around at f1.4, autoiso400 and shutterspeed around 1/60 and everything is fine. The noise is there, colors could be better and it's no posterprint quality, but after some postprocessing for general purpose sharing or printing, it's absolutely enough.

So, to make a short conclusion: surprisingly  as i was concerned coming from larger format with panasonic GF-1, i think LX7 is an UPGRADE and It is a very good performer indeed.

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MFT FTW!

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-45mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH OIS Samyang 7.5mm F3.5 UMC Fisheye MFT
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