Conclusion - Pros
- High resolution, very sharp results with lots of detail
- Unique 'widescreen' 16:9 mode
- 28mm wideangle (16:9 mode only)
- Comprehensive photographic control
- High quality construction, lovely design
- Good edge-to-edge sharpness
- Excellent white balance
- Feels fast and responsive
- Fast focus and low shutter lag
- Big, bright, high resolution screen screen
- Reliable exposure and focus
- Image stabilization
- Excellent on-screen menus and control system
- Raw and TIFF modes
- Plenty of in-camera control over image parameters
- Easy to use
Conclusion - Cons
- Noise, noise, noise
- Occasional exposure / dynamic range problems in very contrasty scenes
- Supplied raw converter useless
- Default settings a little over-sharpened, a little too contrasty
- Quite expensive
Panasonic continues to offer innovation where most manufacturers have become content with an endless round of 'me too' product and minor upgrades. The LX1 is a perfect example; a camera designed for serious photographers, a camera that has the potential - on paper at least - to be the ideal replacement for a digital SLR when you don't want the bulk, or weight hanging round your neck. It has, without doubt, the best manual controls of any camera in its class, and the Leica lens is undoubtedly sharp (there's rumors the LX1 may end up re branded as a Leica D-Lux 2). Of course I'd prefer a mechanical zoom and a real focus ring, but I'm happy with the balance between functionality and size the LX1 offers, and I found myself reaching for it more often than any other camera on my desk at the moment. So, yes, I liked the LX1 a lot. The 16:9 widescreen mode may be a bit 'love it or hate it' (I personally loved the creative options it gave me), but you can always switch to a more conventional aspect ratio without losing too many pixels. The image stabilization system is a real boon for hand-held photography, the handling excellent and the sheer enjoyment factor puts it way ahead of many of its competitors.
If you feel a 'but' coming on, here it is. To release a camera so obviously aimed at the serious photographer, to add so many usable manual controls, to put a razor-sharp Leica lens on the front and then to drop in a chip / processor that is so noisy you can't use it above ISO 100 is quite simply unforgivable. It's like buying a Ferrari and discovering it maxes out at 55 mph.
Now I'm going to qualify this slightly; at ISO 80 and 100 the results are slightly noisier than most 6 and 7MP cameras, but they also show a lot more detail and look a lot sharper, so this is probably more a reflection of Panasonic's approach to noise reduction than a serious problem with the chip. You can tease some amazing results from the LX1 at low ISOs if you're prepared to do some work - specifically shooting in raw mode and tweaking the parameters in Adobe Camera Raw (forget the supplied software - it's worse than useless). At ISO 200 and 400 noise is a serious issue, and you certainly won't want to print very large, but again the inherent quality of the lens means there's plenty of detail, and if you're prepared to do some work yourself (either using noise reduction software or shooting raw), the results are just the right side of acceptable. Of course having an effective IS system to a certain extent reduces the reliance on high ISO in low light, but it doesn't mean you'll never use it. Finally, how important an issue noise is will vary from person to person - take a look at the sample gallery shots and make your own mind up.
We had real difficulty deciding between Above Average and Recommended for the LX1; it is capable of delivering stunning resolution, sharpness and detail - and is stuffed to the gills with useful photographic features, but for a camera to exhibit this level of noise at ISO 80 in 2005 is pretty unforgivable. Take a look at the full size shots, print them if you want, and decide for yourself if you're happy to make a compromise on noise in order to get all that detail.