Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 Hands-on Preview
It's now four years since Panasonic almost single-handedly revived the enthusiast compact sector with the release of the Lumix DMC-LX3. With its fast wideangle zoom lens, relatively large sensor, and extensive manual control, it revitalized a moribund sector and sparked the release of a slew of competitors from the likes of Canon, Samsung and Olympus. These days every manufacturer worth its salt offers a fully-specced compact designed as a portable alternative for SLR users.
The DMC-LX5, released two years after the LX3, offered an extended zoom range and revised controls, but was always going to struggle to make quite the same impact against the increased competition. A perfectly attractive camera in its own right, it was caught in a slightly-uncomfortable middle ground between the pocketability of the Canon Powershot S95 and the versatility of the faster-lensed Olympus XZ-1, while arguably lacking a single key selling point of its own relative to its contemporaries.
With the launch of the DMC-LX7, Panasonic will be hoping to regain lost ground, and the route it has chosen is to retain the same form-factor but add the fastest lens we've yet seen on a compact camera. Its 24-90mm equivalent optic has an aperture range of F1.4-2.3, surpassing the recently-released Samsung EX2F's 24-80mm equivalent F1.4-2.7 at the long end. To make the most of the fast lens, Panasonic has added an aperture ring around the lens barrel, alongside a 3-stop neutral density filter that has its own external control point. The lens also employs Panasonic's Nano Surface Coating to reduce flare and ghosting.
The LX7 gets a new sensor, a 'High Sensitivity MOS' design that's slightly smaller than the LX5's CCD (1/1.7" type vs 1/1.63", or roughly 80% of the area). As before this offers multiple aspect ratios - 16:9, 3:2, 4:3 - that use different crops from the overall sensor area to give the same diagonal angle of view. These are easily selected using a switch on the top of the lens, which also has a 1:1 position that's effectively cropped-down from the 4:3 frame. Continuous shooting specs are impressively high; 11 fps at full resolution with focus and exposure fixed, or 5 fps with tracking AF, compared to the LX5's 2.5 fps.
The MOS sensor enables a dramatically-improved video specification, with the LX7 capable of recording Full HD video in either the AVCHD Progressive or MP4 formats. Frame rates depend on your region - the European model records AVCHD at 50 fps and MP4 at 25fps, while the US model runs at 60 fps and 30 fps respectively. The lens can zoom and refocus during recording too. Sound is provided by a stereo microphone that's squeezed onto the top plate in front of the hot-shoe; behind this on the back of the camera is a port for the DMW-LVF2 electronic viewfinder (as used by the Lumix G DMC-GX1). With a 1,440K dot-equivalent resolution, this is a far superior unit to the LX5's LVF1.
Beyond this the LX7 offers a number of additional improvements, including a dual-axis onscreen electronic level, time lapse shooting, and Panasonic's image-processing 'Creative Controls'. The screen is higher resolution, with an anti-reflective coating; surprisingly, though, it's not touch sensitive, unlike those on Panasonic's Lumix G Micro Four Thirds models and its latest TZ-series travelzooms. Overall, though, the LX7 looks like a very solid update to LX5.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 key features
- Fast F1.4 - F2.3, 24-90mm equivalent lens
- Built-in 3 stop neutral density filter
- 10.1 MP multi-aspect ratio 'High Sensitivity MOS' sensor (1/1.7"-type, 12.7 MP total)
- ISO 80-12800
- Aperture ring around lens barrel, combined ND/manual focus control on rear
- 11 fps continuous shooting, 5 fps with AF tracking
- 920K dots 3" screen with Anti-Reflective coating
- Full HD 60p/50p video, built-in stereo microphones
- Port for DMW-LVF2 accessory electronic viewfinder
Multiple aspect ratio sensor
Like the LX5 and the Micro Four Thirds Lumix G DMC-GH2 (and the LX3 and GH1 before them), the LX7 uses a multi-aspect ratio sensor. It's slightly 'oversized', meaning that at any given aspect ratio the camera only uses a crop from the total available sensor area. It's designated as a '1/1.7" type' sensor, which means that at 4:3 the active area is about the same as a conventional 1/1.8" type.
At first sight this approach may seem strange, but the result is that the lens offers the same diagonal angle of view regardless of the selected aspect ratio (apart from 1:1), making it much easier to get a feel for the behavior of the lens. It also means you make the most of the sensor area, getting similar pixel counts in all modes.
Sensor sizes compared
To put the LX7's slightly-smaller sensor in perspective, here it is compared in size to those found in some other enthusiast compact cameras. It's substantially smaller than the 1" sensor Sony has used in its DSC-RX100, or indeed the Fujifilm X10's 2/3" EXR-CMOS. But it's only fractionally smaller than the LX5's CCD, and the difference is more-than-made-up by the LX7's stop-faster lens.
|The LX7's 1/1.7"-type sensor is smaller than the LX5's 1/1.63"-type, but not by very much. (Note that the Olympus XZ-1 and the Samsung EX-2F both use a similar sensor area to the LX5's 4:3 crop.)|
Enthusiast compacts: lenses, sensors and background blur
The table below compares the LX7's lens specifications and sensor size against its predecessor and a number of other enthusiast-orientated compact cameras. Along with the familiar 35mm-equivalent focal length, we've also included a 35mm-equivalent aperture range, which gives some idea of the control over depth of field offered by each camera's lens.
|Sensor area, mm2
|Focal length range||Focal length range (equiv.)||Aperture range||Aperture range (equiv.)*||Dimensions, mm|
* Equivalent aperture, in 135 film terms - this gives an idea of the depth of field control offered by the lenses when the sensor size is taken into account.
** Figure based on 4:3 aspect ratio mode
*** Figure takes into account that the XZ-1 uses a crop from a 1/1.63" sensor.
Photographers tend to be interested in how well a lens can blur backgrounds when shooting portraits at full telephoto, and in this regard the LX7's 17.7mm F2.3 will behave much like a 90mm F11.7 lens on a full frame camera. This places it a little behind the likes of the Olympus XZ-1 and Fujifilm X10, because these cameras offer longer telephoto ends, but noticeably ahead of the LX5. One point of interest here is that the Sony RX100's larger sensor offers no practical advantage in this respect, because of its lens's F4.9 telephoto end. Interestingly the LX7 should also behave very similarly to a typical Micro Four Thirds 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 kit zoom for its ability to blur backgrounds.
The equivalent apertures also give a rough idea of how the cameras might compare in low light; to a degree they indicate how far a larger sensor should be offset by a faster lens. Obviously this isn't the whole story; the characteristics of the individual sensors matters too, as does the quality of in-camera processing for JPEG shooters. But in principle the LX7 should compare favourably to its competitors in this regard.
Size compared to the Fujifilm X10, Olympus XZ-1 and Canon Powershot S100
Here we're showing the LX7 side-by-side with some of its most-obvious competitors, and trying to give an idea of their relative sizes with the lenses retracted for carrying. In this company the Fujifilm X10 is the biggest camera, but it does have the largest sensor, a mechanical zoom ring and an optical viewfinder. The Olympus XZ-1 is almost exactly the same size as the LX7, with the main difference being its longer but less-wide 28-112mm equivalent lens. Meanwhile the Canon Powershot S100 is the smallest of all here, but offers no hot shoe or external viewfinder option and has the slowest (but widest-range) lens.
|Left to right: Fujifilm X10, Olympus XZ-1, Panasonic Lumix DMX-LX7, Canon Powershot S100.|
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