The LX3 continues the LX tradition of offering full photographic control with minimal need for diving into the menus. It's not quite as DSLR-like in its controls as the Panasonic G1 or recent Ricohs but once you're familiar with when to waggle the joystick and when to press it, you can get pretty quick at changing shooting settings.
Rear of camera
The back of the LX3 is a busy place with a slider, joystick, four-way controller and a smattering of buttons. The upside is that there is fairly direct access to most important settings (there's even a customizable function button), but it's difficult not to conclude that there might be an easier way to do things. It's interesting to compare the LX3's control system with that of Panasonic's new G1. The G1 has a control dial/button, rather than the LX3's joystick/button so might logically seem to have fewer controls to play with, yet the whole thing works in a much more straightforward manner and is much easier to acclimatize to. The LX3 is by no means bad but the G1 suggests that it might be time to look again at the simplest way of working, rather than adding to the way things have previously been done.
Top of camera
The LX3's body is slim but both the lens and grip protrude enough for it to only fit in larger pockets. It's still a fairly svelte piece of kit, though.
Display and menus
The LX3's menu system has remained pretty well laid-out but, like so many other contemporary cameras, is beginning to become overloaded with the number of options. The setup tab of the menu (pleasantly consistent between playback and record mode), has 26 options spread over 6 pages, which will take quite some remembering. Thankfully, most key settings are accessible either directly using their own buttons, or by pressing the joystick to enter the 'Quick menu.'
The 3:2 aspect ratio of the screen means you don't get to use the whole screen when shooting in the highest pixel-count mode. Black bars appear along the edges in 4:3 or 16:9 mode.
As with most cameras, there are several levels of shooting information that can be displayed when shooting. Histograms and a choice of compositional grids are options.
A live histogram can be added to the display if you wish. It's perhaps a little small for accurately assessing exposure but is certainly nice to have.
Pressing one of the direction buttons brings up a list of settings for one of the parameters. (The 'up' arrow brings up exposure compensation, followed by AE bracketing and flash compensation if pressed again).
Pressing the joystick takes you to the 'Quick Menu' that provides access to most functions (Film mode, metering, AF type, etc), without having to enter the main menus.
Manual focus is surprisingly usable with a movable magnified area (that can take over the whole screen to make wide-angle focus easier), a distance scale and progression in subtle increments.