Image Quality

The LX100 is capable of some excellent image quality, especially in Raw mode. However, while the JPEG engine is much improved over older Panasonics, with more consistent white balance and a more pleasant color response, it doesn't always show the camera's detail capture to its best advantage.

As with the vast majority of wide-angle compact cameras, the LX100's lens is designed with mathematical correction of distortion as one of its elements. An increasing number of Raw converters are supporting the camera, though, which includes full support for the lens. All our assessments are based on images with correction applied, since it's a fundamental part of the camera's design.

The LX100 appears not to have an anti-aliasing filter - something that's become quite common on high pixel-count cameras (where the presumption is that the lens will often effectively filter-out the high frequencies that an AA filter would traditionally block). And, while 12.7MP may not sound like a very high pixel count, it's not that dissimilar to a 24MP APS-C chip, it's actually slightly higher in terms if pixels density, meaning it is placing slightly higher demands on the lens, increasingly the likelihood that the lens will effectively filter those frequencies high enough to cause aliasing. False color will occasionally appear in the LX100's images, but it's rarely pronounced.

JPEG sharpening and noise reduction

The LX100's default JPEG settings are rather unsubtle with noise reduction often blurring away fine detail and rather strong, large-radius sharpening being applied to make up for this. This means that the camera's output doesn't always show the full detail that it's able to capture.

At low ISOs, we found we could get better results by reducing both the sharpening and the noise reduction. The LX100's post-shot in-camera Raw converter makes it relatively easy to find settings that you're happy with. It also gives you an opportunity to adjust your processing settings after you've taken a shot, if you want to make an improved version for posting to Facebook, before you get back to your computer.

ISO 200
(Default Settings)
ISO 200
(NR -5, Sharpening -2)
ISO 8000
(Default Settings)
ISO 8000
(NR -5, Sharpening -2)

Here we show what happens if you reduce noise reduction as far as possible. We think the additional detail gained more than makes up for the slight additional grittiness of the images, and the chroma noise blotches (that have been a feature of Panasonic's JPEG processing for as long as we can remember), are present in both versions anyway. At low ISOs it makes virtually no difference.

Reducing sharpening to -2 lessens the slightly artificial look that the default JPEGs have when seen close-up. It doesn't get rid of the haloing that will sometimes appear at high-contrast edges, but it does give the pictures a slightly more natural appearance, to our eyes.

Raw dynamic range

Most contemporary sensors perform very similarly at high ISOs, to the extent that you can predict image quality pretty well based on sensor size. However, there are still some discrepancies between sensors in terms of Raw dynamic range.

Raw dynamic range can also be thought of as processing latitude - the ability to adjust the tonal response after you've taken an image. And this isn't necessarily about providing a safety-net for if you've mis-exposed your original image, it's also a question of making the best of the camera's ability to capture high contrast scenes.

Dynamic range is the difference between the brightest captured tone and the darkest usable tone in an image and, as you might imagine, the best exposure is the one that best maps this range to the brightness range you wish to capture. Most cameras expose with the intention of registering a mid tone at a specific value in the Raw file, then apply either a pre-defined tone curve or an adaptive tonal response to make the best image from that Raw file. However, making the best of that Raw file isn't the same as capturing the best possible Raw file.

The optimal exposure is achieved by using the brightest possible exposure that still retains the brightest tone you want to capture from the scene (as this means all the other tones in the Raw file are made up from as much light as possible). Using this approach, known as expose-to-the-right, lets Raw shooters make the most of their camera's tonal response.

Once you have this optimal exposure, the question is then: how many stops of information do I have between my brightest captured tone and the darkest usable one? This is defined in part by the sensor size and in part by the noise characteristics of the specific sensor.

Here we've shot the same scene with four cameras, each matched so that the Raw files were similarly exposed. We've then used Adobe Camera Raw to pull the shadow regions of all the images up to the same brightness.

As you can see, despite having a larger sensor, the LX100 doesn't show significantly more dynamic range than the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 III or the Canon PowerShot G7 X (all the shadow regions are similarly noisy, when compared at a common output size). However, the prominent pattern noise visible in the G1 X II's image shows that it doesn't give the advantage that its sensor size should provide. As such, although it doesn't give a significant advantage over the two smaller cameras, it still matches them for some of the most flexible Raw files from zoom compact.

Raw files for download

Huge thanks to Kenmore Camera for their assistance with this review.