Externally the LX2 is very, very similar to the LX1; the only significant changes are to the rear where the new 2.8-inch 16:9 wide screen has pushed the controls over to the right. It still has the superb classic styling that made the original so popular (the black LX2 is even prettier, as Panasonic has got rid of the silver lens barrel and gone 'all black'.
As befits a camera with such a wide range of photographic options on offer, the LX2 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 LX2 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 LX2 is a real pleasure to hold and to use. The only minor complaint is that the new control layout (with the buttons moved aside for the bigger screen) is a little more prone to accidental thumb presses, but you soon get used to it.
In your hand
As mentioned above, the LX2 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 perhaps not as well as the LX1 (and 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 300 pics, CIPA standard) is a little better than the LX1 (thanks to the more efficient design of the Venus III processor).
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. Note that the LX2 is still only USB 2.0 'Full Speed' (for which read old 1.1 speed). This would be unforgivable half a decade after the arrival of USB 2.0 if the use of inexpensive card readers wasn't so widespread.
Aside from the new sensor, the biggest change over the LX1 is the new screen, which now has a 16:9 aspect ratio to match the CCD. The new screen has the same number of pixels (207,000) as the LX1. It's bright, very sharp and clear and has a high refresh rate. As usual the only problems are when shooting in direct bright light. The new shape certainly makes sense given the LX2's sensor; we just wish Panasonic had redesigned the interface rather than just stretching it.
The LX2'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 LX2 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 S3, the LX2'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).
Above the four way controller are the joystick (first seen on the LX1) - used for fast access to common shooting options (focus / metering modes, white balance, ISO and file size/quality), and the AF/AE lock. This can be customized to lock autofocus, exposure or both.
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 right is the main mode dial. One small change is that there is now only one SCN position on the mode dial (the other having given way to the new print mode (for easy direct printing) - just what we needed.
The small pop-up flash is operated by a slider switch on the top plate. It's a little underpowered - though it does reach a little further than the LX1 thanks to the highe Auto ISO range, reaching a maximum of around 4.9m at the wide end of the zoom.