Although it shares a broad family resemblance to Panasonic's other metal-bodied compacts (the FX8 and FX9 in particular), the LX1 is a far more sophisticated camera (and a slightly larger one). Unlike most compacts the lens doesn't retract fully when not in use; there is an 18mm fixed 'barrel' that's home to the prominent Aspect Ratio and Focus switches.
As befits a camera with such a wide range of photographic options on offer, the LX1 has a fairly conventional - conservative even - design that has echoes of the rangefinder cameras of the 1950's and, dare I say it, has a touch of Leica about it. Despite its diminutive dimensions the LX1 puts a class-leading level of control at your fingertips, offering direct access to virtually every aspect of picture-taking, from white balance to ISO to shutter speeds, apertures and file size / quality. It's worth mentioning that the build and finish are fantastic, and the LX1 is a real pleasure to hold and to use. My only concern is the Aspect switch, which on our sample started to stick slightly after a couple of month's use.
In your hand
As mentioned above, the LX1 is a beautifully constructed camera with a real 'quality' feel and just enough weight (around 220g / 7.8 oz) to feel sturdy and stable in the hand. It's fairly well-balanced too, and the control layout lends itself well to single-handed operation (though the weight of the lens means it still feels more secure supported with both hands). I would perhaps have preferred a slightly more substantial front grip, but this is a minor quibble.
The combined battery and SD storage compartment is found in the base of the camera on the right side under a fairly solid hinged cover (one of the only bits of plastic on the body). The battery held in place by a secondary spring clip. The battery is a 3.7 V 1150 mAh Lithium-Ion unit and is charged by the dedicated charger. The quoted battery life (up to 240 pics, CIPA standard) seems a little optimistic unless you don't use the playback option too often. That said we got around 190 shots in a day's shooting without changing the battery.
On the right side of the camera (from the rear) is a flip-open cover which has a chrome plastic 'cap' on it so that when closed it blends neatly into the rest of the camera styling. Behind it is the combined AV/USB connector and DC-IN connector.
The 207,000 pixel, 2.5-inch LCD screen is bright and clear, and has a high enough refresh rate to appear virtually lag-free. It works well in practically every situation - though (as with all screens) it can be a little difficult to see in very bright direct sunlight. It's nice to see Panasonic finally adopting higher resolution sceens on its compacts; bigger is only better if you use lots of pixels!
The LX1's 4x optical zoom lens covers a very useful 28-112mm (equiv.) range when used in 16:9 mode, though if you use the more conventional 4:3 or 3:2 modes you lose the wideangle: in standard 4:3 mode the focal length equivalent is 34-136mm. At the wide end of the zoom it's a nice bright F2.8, dropping to a less impressive F4.9 at the long end. Of course, like most Lumix models, the lens sports that all-important Leica badge.
In keeping with its traditional styling the LX1 has a separate clip-on lens cap, which attaches to the single strap lug by a thin cord. Unlike the push-on type of cap used on cameras like the Canon S2, the LX1's cap stays firmly in place.
A slider switch on the top of the fixed part of the lens barrel allows quick and easy switching between the three aspect ratios. Unlike a menu-based system, this switch means you're much more likely to experiment with the different framing options.
A matching slider on the left of the lens barrel switches between standard autofocus, macro mode and manual focus. It's almost like using a real camera!
If you've used any recent Panasonic camera you'll feel well at home with the rear controls. As usual there's a four-way controller for navigating menus, whilst each 'arrow' key also gives direct access to commonly-used shooting options (in record mode).
New for the LX1 is a smaller multi-directional 'joystick', which replaces - and expands on - the exposure button used on models such as the FZ5. As well as controlling apertures and shutter speeds in the relevant modes, pressing it brings up a 'quick menu' of common shooting options (white balance, ISO, file size / quality). Neat.
The top plate also has its fair share of controls. The shutter release sits inside the zoom rocker, both of which have a nice positive action. To the right are the image stabilization button and main power switch, whilst to the left is the main mode dial.
The small pop-up flash is operated by a slider switch on the top plate. It's a little underpowered, reaching a maximum of around 4.1m (13.5 ft) at the wide end of the zoom (using auto ISO) - less if you use ISO 80 or 100, or zoom in; at the long end of the zoom the range is only 2.3m (7.5 ft), which is fine for 'over the table' social shots, but little else. There's no way to add an external flash, which is a pity given the otherwise excellent photographic credentials of the LX1.