In addition to the auto white balance mode the LX1 offers only three presets (daylight, cloudy, and halogen). There is no preset for fluorescent lights, but there is a manual white balance mode that allows you to point the camera at a white or gray card and create / save two custom settings.
In use - especially when light levels are good - the LX1 delivers consistently accurate color. Under artificial lighting the results are considerably better than much of the competition - as long as it's bright enough. When light levels drop (indoors at night) you'll get a very warm cast unless you switch to manual WB. One nice touch (also seen on the FZ series) is a white balance 'fine tune' function (for the presets or manual WB mode), which allows you to dial in more red or blue using a sliding scale.
Outdoor - Auto WB
|Fluorescent - Auto WB
Red -0.6%, Blue -0.1%
|Incandescent - Auto WB
Red 1.0%, Blue -1.7%
No real complaints here. The range isn't the greatest (around 1 to 13 feet with auto ISO), but for 'across the table' social shots it performs perfectly, and color and exposure very reliable. We did get some blown out results when shooting too close, though these were rare. The positioning of the flash so near to the lens means red-eye is fairly common unless you use the red-eye reduction system.
|Skin tone Excellent color and good exposure||Color chart Excellent color and exposure|
The LX1 is the first compact Lumix to get a separate macro focus mode (as opposed to a macro scene mode), activated by a prominent switch on the fixed part of the lens barrel. The macro mode works throughout the zoom range, but - as is usual on this type of camera - only gets really close when used at the widest setting. There is inevitably some distortion when you get really close, but it is nowhere near as bad as many similar models.
Barrel and Pincushion Distortion
Nothing to complain about here - there is a small amount (0.7%) of measurable barrel distortion at the wide end of the zoom, though nothing you'd see in real-world pictures, and a lot better than many ultra compacts. There is no measurable distortion at the telephoto end of the zoom. Excellent.
|Barrel distortion - 1.0 % at Wide angle
Equiv. focal length: 35 mm
|Pincushion distortion - 0.3% at Telephoto
Equiv. focal length: 105 mm
Specific image quality issues
Given the LX1's excellent credentials as a 'proper' photographic tool we had very high hopes for the image quality, and in most regards we weren't disappointed. The Leica lens is certainly sharp, has fairly low distortion and is pretty good in the corners even at the 28mm setting. Our major complaint is noise, which is visible even at ISO 80 (though obviously we're talking about viewing 100% on-screen here, it's not an issue in normal prints). We also encountered occasional metering / contrast / dynamic range issues, which can lead to clipped highlights or blocked-in shadows, but this tended only to be in very contrasty scenes at the very widest setting.
One of Panasonic's claims for the Venus II engine is that it all but eliminates purple fringing, and it's no hollow claim; you have to search through a lot of pictures - and at high magnifications - before you find any really noticeable fringing. There is some barely visible chromatic aberration (CA) at the edges of very bright areas, but it doesn't appear in many shots and simply isn't visible in prints under 8x10 inches.
|100% crop||73 mm equiv., F4, 3:2 mode|
Contrast / Dynamic range issues
The curse of small, high resolution sensors, lack of dynamic range means that the LX1 - in common with most cameras of this type - struggles to capture the full range of tones in very bright, very contrasty scenes. Coupled with the rather high default contrast setting this means you can end up losing either highlight or (more commonly) shadow detail.
To be fair, it's not as bad as most 5MP cameras, and the metering seems to be designed to avoid excessive highlight clipping (in many cases the problem is metering at the 28mm end of the zoom). The good thing about this is that although it does bring out shadow noise, you can lighten deep shadows in post-processing, whereas you'd never get back highlight detail that wasn't recorded.
One answer is to turn down the contrast using the in-camera adjustments, though this doesn't seem to make a whole heap of difference. More effective, though not without its difficulties, is to shoot raw and use Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) to fine tune the curves during the conversion process.
|28 mm equiv., F4||35 mm equiv., F4|