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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3
10.1MP | 24-60mm (2.5X) ZOOM | $430 UK/ £310 UK

The original LX1 arrived with a splash in 2005 and was immediately hailed as the answer to many a prayer; a serious, compact, stylish faux rangefinder camera with a 28mm lens (and a unique 16:9 sensor) and a full range of photographic features. Unfortunately whilst the idea was great (and the lens impressive) the overall image quality was compromised by a very noisy sensor that dulled the appeal of an otherwise innovative camera. The LX2 followed a year later, and did little to improve things (the sensor resolution increased, the noise remained).

For the LX3 Panasonic went back to the drawing board, and - a rare thing in this day and age - appeared to actually heed the criticism aimed at the LX1/LX2, concentrating on image quality and feature upgrades rather than simply squeezing in even more megapixels. Thus the LX3 is still 10.1 MP, though it's lost the unusual widescreen aspect ratio. The zoom range now includes that rarest of things, a 24mm equivalent wide end (which is a stop brighter too), and the screen has been upgraded to a much higher resolution.

  • 10.1 effective Megapixels
  • 24-60mm equiv lens with 2.5x optical zoom and up to 3.8x Digital Zoom
  • 3.0-inch LCD with 460,000 dots resolution
  • Optical Image Stabilizer
  • ISO sensitivity up to 6400
  • Face Detection AF
  • 14 shooting modes, 22 scene modes including Intelligent Auto mode
  • Program, Shutter-Priority, Aperture-Priority and Manual Exposure Modes
  • HD output
  • Available in Silver and Black
  • Optional accessories available, including Optical Viewfinder

Click here to view the full review (November 2008) (opens in new window)

Overview

The LX3 is a lovely camera to hold, its metal construction giving a feeling of quality and solidity. Anyone whose camera use predates the mass use of plastic may find themselves feeling brief twinges of nostalgia - it's a svelte tactile object with a sense of luxury that makes you feel you've got your money's worth. It fits pretty well in the hand too, offering a slightly larger grip than its predecessor (something we hoped for at the time of the LX2's release). The body itself is remarkably slim but the lens, even when retracted, protrudes enough to make you have to think about which of your pockets it will fit in. It's still the smallest, neatest camera in its class though, while also offering the fastest lens.

The back of the camera is a busy place with a slider, joystick, four-way controller and a smattering of buttons. This means there is fairly direct access to most important settings (there's even a customizable function button). In addition there is the quick menu that you can reach by pressing the joystick button. It gives you access to a further nine parameters including ISO and white balance.

Key Features

The LX3 fits pretty well in the hand offering a slightly larger grip than its predecessor. The build quality is superb.
The top of the camera is kept nice and neat, with a mode dial, zoom rocker, shutter button, power switch and focus button (for moving the focus point or auto focusing in MF mode).
On the camera back, In addition to the traditional four-way controller, the LX3 has a little joystick/button that controls the camera's Quick menu. There is also an AF/AE lock button with a degree of configurable. At the bottom there are the display and combined drive mode/delete buttons.
The lens offers an exceptional maximum aperture of F2.0-2.8 and 24mm equivalent wide-angle capability. What's less useful is its range, that stops at a fairly short 60mm equivalent. This undoubtedly reduces its all-round flexibility and is worth thinking hard about before purchase.
In shooting mode you can display all relevant shooting information on the LCD, including a live histogram.
A press of the joystick 'button' will open the quick menu where you can change ISO amongst other things.

Image quality and performance

The LX3 is neither the fastest nor the slowest camera we've recently encountered. 10 megapixels' worth of data is not a massive amount by contemporary standards, and the LX3 generally gets on with taking photos, rather than getting in your way. That said, you will get used to seeing its 'writing to card' icon flashing and become familiar with its egg timer 'please wait' screen, so it's not totally unobtrusive. You'll have to wait around 1.7 seconds between shots and 2.7 seconds when shooting with flash (3.0 with red-eye-reduction). The shutter lag is pretty much average at approximately 0.2 seconds. There's a 1.5-2.5 seconds delay between raw shots, which is better than most compacts - though still a way off SLR performance.

Taking an average of 0.4 sec at wideangle and 0.6 sec at the tele end of the zoom, autofocus performance is fairly standard for this class of camera (though it's feels very quick at the wide end of the zoom in good light), as is image browsing and magnification.

From an image quality point of view the LX3 generally impresses. At a pixel level there is some smearing of low contrast detail even at base ISO (how many times have I typed those words in the last few weeks?!), but if you can live with a little grain the LX3 does offer an option to turn down the noise reduction, which brings back a little of texture (or you can, of course, shoot raw and do away with noise reduction altogether). At more sensible magnifications (in prints, on-screen) the LX3's output is very appealing indeed, with great color, decent dynamic range, reliable exposure, focusing and white balance (except in artificial light, when it's as bad as every other camera on the market). The lens is superb, and in JPEGs it is totally distortion and aberration-free (thanks to the clever processing performed by the Venus Engine). High ISO performance is probably the best here.

At a pixel level (100%) the output is far from perfect, with slight softness and mild smearing of low contrast detail (or a touch of noise if you turn down the NR), but it's streets ahead of most of its competitors, and in prints the output, especially at lower ISO settings, is very impressive with lots of detail, great color and excellent exposure.

Summary

It's hard to get away from the feeling that the LX3 is a thoroughbred amongst the other cameras in the group, with it's high quality build, compact design, excellent image quality and fast 24-60mm zoom; the extra wide angle opening up a whole new world of creative opportunity for the compact camera user. Sure, it doesn't have much in the way of a telephoto, but if that's what you're after the LX3 won't be on your list anyway.

In case you hadn't guessed we really like the LX3, and seeing it directly compared to its peers shows that Panasonic's continuing development of unique propositions such as this is really beginning to pay off, certainly now that it has image quality concerns under control. It's rare that a compact camera causes a buzz in the dpreview office, or in the wider photographic community, but the LX3 has done just that, and is, I suspect, on quite a few Christmas wish lists.

  • We like: Styling, build, feature set, screen, image quality, raw mode

  • We don't like: Controls so small they can be fiddly (and not everyone finds it that easy to hold), not much telephoto, pixel level quality still not great
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