There are many compact cameras that claim to be real photographic tools, but few that offer anything like the level - or speed - of control that serious photographers demand and SLR users take for granted. It's no good having manual exposure if you have to use menus and multiple key presses to change basic settings. This is where the LX1 succeeds in its aim to be a true 'manual' compact camera; the comprehensive feature set is matched by a well thought out control system that puts virtually all the most commonly accessed functions at your fingertips. Of course if you have particularly large hands you may find the diminutive controls a little hard to get used to, but I had no problems at all, and found the ability to quickly experiment with exposures, ISO, white balance and so on positively encouraged more creative photography.
Rear of camera
From the rear the LX1 bears a close resemblance to the 'FX' series of cameras, and has a similar control layout to the later 'FZ' super zoom models. The large 2.5-inch screen dominates the rear plate, meaning the controls are slightly crowded over on the right hand side. That said, it's a tribute to Panasonic's designers that such a small camera maintains such a usable level of control, and the slightly larger size means the LX1 suffers less from the 'accidental button pressing' problem of the FX series.
Top of camera
Although it's not the smallest in its class, the LX1 is a very slim camera - albeit one with a protruding fixed lens barrel. As you can see there's not much of a grip on the front, but combined with the textured thumb grip on the rear, it's enough to keep it safe and stable in the hand.
Display and menus
No significant changes here - the display and menu system is almost identical to the other cameras in Panasonic's lineup, and - unsurprisingly - sits roughly between the FZ and FX series in feature terms. Menus are clean, clear and well-designed, though to be honest you'll not be visiting them that often - most everyday controls can be directly accessed using dedicated buttons on the body.
The most basic preview screen in record mode is completely free of any overlays or icons. You can also, by pressing the Display button, get a simple grid to aid framing (as shown here)
Of course you can turn on the information if you want by pressing the DISPLAY button. In Auto mode pressing the 'up' key increases exposure to compensate for backlighting.
Another press of the display button gives you a live histogram - something still far from standard on this type of camera.
Half-press the shutter release and the camera will calculate exposure (AE) and focus (AF) indicating the AF area used and the aperture/shutter speed chosen. You'll also get a warning if camera shake is a danger. In Program mode you can alter the chosen values using Program shift.
The LX1's screen has a 4:3 aspect ratio, so if you change to 3:2 or 16:9 you get a 'letterbox' preview, with black borders top and bottom. The on-screen information stays in place.
Manual focus is surprisingly usable, thanks to the (optional) magnified focus aid and fairly fine control via the joystick.
As is now standard on Lumix models, pressing the 'up' arrow (in any mode other than full Auto) cycles through exposure compensation, AE bracketing and white balance fine tuning.
Manual exposure - with both aperture and shutter speed controlled by the joystick. The meter shows how far you are from the 'ideal' exposure, and the on-screen preview brightens or darkens to give you an idea what to expect.