Sony NEX-3N (2013) vs. Panasonic DMC-LX3 (2009). NEX loses. Why?

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Jens2
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Sony NEX-3N (2013) vs. Panasonic DMC-LX3 (2009). NEX loses. Why?
9 months ago

Hello everybody,

I just got myself a brand new NEX-3N with 16-50mm SELP1650 lens to replace my Panasonic DMC-LX3 which I got in 2009 and which has done about 20,000 pictures since then. The idea was to get a compact camera with significantly better picture quality due to the bigger sensor, lower shoot delay and being able to zoom more quickly - the LX3's zoom is really slow.
So when the NEX-3N was offered for €299 at redcoon.de, I spent a few evenings reading reviews and comparing cameras at DPreview, DxOmark and several other sites and finally bought it.

Then I spent this morning creating comparison photos with both NEX-3N and LX3 using the default settings on both ("auto intelligent mode", with/without flash, inside, against light, outside, etc.). And oh boy, was I disappointed in the image quality of the NEX-3N!

But why? Here are some examples. First, some fruit and vegetables:

(Let's ignore differences in exposure, aperture and ISO etc. I need to be able to trust the default "auto" mode with default settings to decide optimum camera settings for at least 90% of my pictures. So, if you are about to answer "Of course the images are worse, they are shot with different ISO/WB/focusing/whatever" – then why did the camera's "auto" mode make this choice?)

My untrained eyes (however, on a calibrated Macbook Pro Retina display) see the following differences between LX3 and NEX picture: in the latter, the cheese text label, cauliflower and grapes are blurred, there is noticeably more grain and the whole image is a little darker. All this is better on the LX3 image. (And yes, I took multiple shots. No change.) Also, I am imagining substantially more color distortion in the corners of the NEX-3N.

Next, a garden:

These are almost identical, and the NEX does seem to catch a little more detail in the grass due to its 16 MP chip (the LX3 has only 9,5MP at 2:3 format), but the difference (to me) is almost negligible. I would have expected much crisper detail.

Next, an image where I expected the larger dynamic range of the NEX to win:

And indeed, the NEX image shows more detail in the lower half of the picture. But the upper half (the white house) is just "white" with almost no structure - here, the LX3 image seems to have much more detail. I'd call this a draw, unless somebody disagrees. Maybe my screen is lacking dynamic depth, too.

Most of the other pictures I took show similar results. In none of them the NEX-3N blows the LX3 away regarding image quality, as it should in theory considering sensor size, processor, generation, lens and so on. Especially with images inside our house at low light conditions, the LX3 is a little more noisy, but the NEX's images are really washed out. See the wallpaper and music score title here - there is less grain, but not really more detail in the NEX-3N image:

So what am I doing wrong? If the camera is so much better, is perhaps the 16-50mm lens at fault? I've read reviews that say it "softens" the image too much, and I do know that you can get so much better quality with a €1500 lens which needs its own suitcase, but that's not the point.

I'd appreciate if anybody could look at the pictures and enlighten me. I hope I'm doing something essential wrong. As things are now, I'll probably return the NEX-3N, since it is worthless to me if the quality I can get out of it isn't at least a little better than what I can accomplish with my current LX3. I am still willing to sacrifice the LX3's quick menu direct access to many settings, much quieter operation, and slightly smaller size for better image quality. But right now, I'm not so sure I'll get it.

Thank you!

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