First Impressions

I've had a soft spot for Panasonic's LX-series ever since the LX3 completely changed my understanding of what a pocketable compact was capable of. The LX5 and LX7 continued that tradition, but by that stage the RX100 had raised the image quality game so much that other better-handling but smaller sensored enthusiast cameras were rendered irrelevant.

The LX10 looks to address that. It maintains the short, impressively bright lens and sensibly small body of the original LX models but adds the improved image quality and low light performance of a 1"-type sensor. This is nearly three times the size of the 1/1.7" chips used in the original LX cameras which should give something like a 1.44EV improvement.

Sadly, my first impressions are ones of slight disappointment. The specs, especially in terms of video, look competitive, there some useful-looking external controls and yet Panasonic seems to have forgotten how to make an enthusiast compact work.

Three dials, questionable logic

The LX10 repeats Panasonic's odd decision to put a marked aperture ring on a camera with a variable maximum aperture. This creates two problems. Firstly, it means the aperture ring will frequently be set to an unachievable aperture setting: the ring may say you're at F1.4 but unless you're at the widest-angle setting of the zoom, that's not going to be the case. The second, more significant, issue is that it's a missed opportunity to give the camera two clickable control rings. The disadvantage of this will become apparent.

 An aperture ring. Lovely. So, what's my current aperture? F1.4? F2.8? Somewhere in between?

The second odd decision is the way Panasonic makes use of the camera's command dial on its right-hand shoulder. In manual and shutter priority mode it controls shutter speed. In program mode it controls program shift. In aperture priority mode? Nothing.

But that's fine, you can customize its function to be exposure compensation. Well, fine until you move back to shutter priority mode or manual, at which point can no longer change the shutter speed. At all.

And just to top it all off, Panasonic is the only manufacturer remaining that won't let you use exposure comp in manual mode with Auto ISO, so the dial suddenly becomes non-functional.

A command dial but one I'd argue is rather under-utilized. Come on, Panasonic, let me set it to control exposure comp without then breaking Shutter Priority and Manual mode.

So where does that leave us? Well, it means that if you want direct access to exposure comp in a way that doesn't break half of your exposure modes, you'll have to assign it to the clickless front dial, which isn't ideal for something you'll want to quickly control in discrete steps. It's not the end of the world, by any means, it just seems unnecessary on a camera that has the control points available to be better.

The best solution would have been to make the aperture ring into a clicking command dial. That would avoid the confusion of a ring that can be set to an F-number that the camera can't offer and would avoid the need to reconfigure the shoulder dial every time you change exposure mode.

Obviously it's a bit late for Panasonic to redesign the aperture ring this way, so our only hope is that they'll update the firmware to let you specify a different shoulder dial function for different exposure modes so that it doesn't keep becoming inoperative or deny you access to a setting you need to change.

The only reason I'm describing this at such length is that the camera looks like it has plenty of control points and my experiences of existing LX models led me to expect more. As it is, for the way I prefer to shoot, it offers little more control than the RX100 series, whose controls I remain ambivalent about.

What do you expect? It's a compact

In fairness, lots of people (including keen photographers) are likely to buy this camera, ignore the numbers on the aperture ring and accept that F1.4 actually means 'as wide open as possible' and then get great photos by pointing and shooting. Which is great.

Equally, there are plenty of use cases where having an aperture ring and a smooth control ring are exactly what you want. For example, when video shooting it should allow smooth manual focus without shaking the camera, or to adjust ISO to respond to brightness changes as you record footage (especially since you can't use Auto ISO with manual exposure).

The bigger picture

Of course, for a lot of people, none of this will matter. The LX10's feature set looks extremely promising. The lens is comparable to that of many of its peers, both in terms of brightness and reach. We're used to Panasonic's video being highly capable, so we'd expect the LX10 to be similarly good in this department (though it's unclear why the camera is missing the Cinelike V and Cinelike D color styles that Panasonic usually offers for video use).

Furthermore, Panasonic's DFD focus technology has surprised us, every time we've used it, in terms of how effective it is and focusing on a moving target, so we have few doubts there, either. Combined with tap-to-focus simplicity, the LX10 is likely to be a quick and easy camera to use for both stills and video shooting.

None of my griping should take away from the fact that the LX10 is an attractive, small camera with a solid feature set.

Like its more basic compacts, Panasonic has dedicated buttons to the camera's interesting 4K Photo and Post Focus modes, presumably to ease and encourage their use. However, equally sensibly, it's possible to repurpose these buttons if you prefer.

However, anyone who's used the Olympus XZ-2 or Canon G7X II knows that you can make a small enthusiast compact with simple, direct control. And, based on the LX10's heritage and appearance, I'd hoped the LX10 was going to offer more.

That shouldn't take away from the LX10 offering a very strong set of stills and video features with an impressive-looking lens at a competitive price. I'm certainly still looking forward to getting a chance to shoot with it properly, not least because it promises strong image quality from a conveniently small camera.