Software - RAW conversion
The LX3 is unusual amongst compact cameras, not just in that it is able to save RAW files (usually the unprocessed data captured by the sensor), but also that it comes with a well-featured RAW conversion package to get the most out them.
The SilkyPix application has had a make-over since the launch of the LX2 and now has a very OS X/Lightroom kind of look to it. It allows control over a vast range of options, from distortion correction and chromatic aberration removal, through to noise reduction and highlight control. This is a great improvement over those cameras that either come with no RAW conversion software or include one that allow little control beyond tweaking the white balance.
SilkyPix isn't the best tool for processing large numbers of files in a single sitting (though there is a batch conversion tool if you want identical setting for multiple images) but for making sure you get the best out of that shot you're really proud of, it's certainly up to the job.
Interestingly, although SilkyPix will let you try to process data from areas of the sensor not included in the JPEG, it cannot let you expand the RAW file out to the size of the whole sensor - the sensor data is being cropped to the aspect ratio before it's saved as a RAW file.
|There are comprehensive noise reduction options (NR gets five sliders of its own), though you'll need the manual to work out what does what (it's probably easier to just zoom in on the image and watch the effect each has on the preview).|
JPEG & RAW Resolution compared
The LX3's JPEG engine does a pretty good job of representing the fine detail of our resolution test chart and does a better job than either RAW converter of correcting color moiré. However, the other immediately obvious difference is the very high level of sharpening that the LX3 applies by default. As always, RAW gives much greater control, on an image-by-image basis than you get using in-camera shooting settings.
|Adobe Camera Raw
RAW -> (Default)
ACR 5.2 Beta
|JPEG from camera||SILKYPIX RAW
RAW -> (Default)
ISO 100 Studio shot comparison
Both SilkyPix and Adobe Camera Raw render the scene in a slightly less enthusiastic (more realistic) manner, from a color point-of-view. They are also both rather more restrained with their sharpening. Both have the option to ramp-up saturation and sharpening if you want to retain the impression of having the picture described to you by a hyperactive child shouting.
ISO 1600 Studio shot comparison
Processing from RAW shows how much effort the Venus IV engine is having to do to produce such good JPEGs - both Adobe Camera Raw and SilkyPix are leaving much more noise in the image at their default settings. The out-of-camera JPEG has cracked-down much harder on chroma noise, leaving just the luminance noise that gives the appearance of detail. Both SilkyPix and ACR provide enough control to mimic the JPEG results, without making the mistake of adding a red halo to the robot on the right of this scene (though SilkyPix can leave large color blotches even with 'False Color Control' pushed up to full).