Body & Design

The Lumix DMC-LX7 is a mid-sized camera made mostly of metal. Construction is solid, save for the usual flimsy door over the battery/memory card compartment (but what else is new). I'm not a huge fan of the rear dial, either, which feels cheap and does not turn smoothly. The redesigned grip make the camera easy to hold, and the most important controls are within easy reach of your fingers. There isn't a whole lot of space for your right thumb on the back of the camera, so be careful where you put it.

The LX7 is a compact camera with a lot of manual controls. When held in the right hand, the relatively substantial grip ensures a good hold, and the shutter button falls naturally under the index finger. The LX7's rear control dial falls under the thumb of the right hand, with the ND/Focus button a short stretch to the left.

One of the major selling points of the LX7 is its fast lens. When we say a lens is 'fast', it means that it lets in a lot of light, allowing for faster shutter speeds at lower sensitivities in low light situations. In other words, you get nicer-looking pictures in low light. In addition, the fast aperture range also allows for a better background blurring than your typical compact camera.

The focal range of the lens is 4.7 -17.7, which is equivalent to 24 - 90 mm (same as the LX5). The LX7's lens supports 37mm filters, though you'll need the optional filter adapter in order to use them. The LX7 uses the same Power OIS image stabilization system as its predecessor. This system reduces the risk of blurry photos, and it'll smooth out the 'shake' in your movies, as well. The LX7's OIS system does not have 'active' mode, however, which is used in some of Panasonic's other cameras for reducing extreme shake in videos.

Turning our attention to the rear of the LX7, its LCD display has double the resolution of the one on the DMC-LX5. For those who don't know camera specs off the top of their heads, that means that the resolution is now 920,000 dots. As you'd expect, everything on the LCD is very sharp. I found outdoor visibility to be quite good, and in low light the image on the screen brightens up nicely, so you can still see your subject.

Under that you'll find the four-way controller, which is surrounded by four more buttons. The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, and also offers direct controls for ISO, white balance, and the drive mode. The left directional button's function can be customized.

Aperture ring

Several current enthusiast compacts make use of a control dial concentric with the lens (as pioneered by Canon on its Powershot S90). However Panasonic has taken a slightly different approach; rather than using a modal, customisable control it's added a traditional-style aperture ring that covers F1.4 to F8, with detents at every third stop. This immediately makes the LX7 a more engaging camera to use than the LX5; rather than having to constantly click-in the rear dial to change its mode, you can now set the aperture directly and use the rear dial to control exposure compensation or the shutter speed.

This won't come as any surprise to experienced photographers, but because the LX7 has an exposure mode dial and a variable maximum aperture zoom lens, there are situations where the camera doesn't or can't use the aperture value set by the ring:

  • The aperture ring is only active when the camera is working in aperture priority or manual mode (we suspect many enthusiasts will use these most of the time anyway)
  • If the ring is set to an aperture larger than the maximum for the current focal length, the camera will shoot with the lens wide open (e.g. if the lens is zoomed to full tele, then the camera can only use F2.3 even if the aperture ring is at F1.4)

One knock-on effect of this behaviour is that if you have the aperture ring set to F1.4 and the lens zoomed to full telephoto, then rotating the ring four clicks has absolutely no effect (it goes from F1.4 to 2.2), and it's only beyond this that the setting will actually start to change. Some people might find this disconcerting and annoying, others probably won't mind at all.

The main disadvantage of having a ring dedicated to controlling aperture, of course, is that it becomes entirely redundant in program and shutter priority exposure modes, and can't be configured to operate anything else. In this respect, the customisable control rings on cameras like the Canon Powershot S100 are undoubtedly more versatile, as they can be set to control such things as shutter speed, ISO or stepped zoom. But again, whether this really matters is down to each photographer's personal preference.

Turning our attention back to the rear of the camera, I want to touch on a few of the features accessed via the four-way controller:

  • ISO (left direction): chose from Auto, Intelligent Auto (uses motion to set the sensitivity), and 80 - 6400 (expandable to 12800)
  • White balance (right direction): you'll find the usual presets (minus florescent), two custom slots, and the ability to set the WB by color temperature; each of the options can be fine-tuned, and you can also bracket for white balance
  • Drive (down direction): here are the burst modes (details later), self-timer, and AE bracketing (-3EV to +3EV range) options

The four surrounding buttons handle AE/AF lock, entering playback mode or the quick menu, and toggling the info displayed on the LCD. All in all, a very similar operating experience to the LX5.

Compared to the LX5

Comparing the LX7 to its predecessor, while there aren't many changes visible in the front view, the top view shows the new aperture ring and stereo microphones. Changes on the back include the use of a new accessory port, the addition of the ND filter/focus switch, and a 'flip' of the Display and Q. Menu buttons. What I'm getting at is that users of the LX5 (and previous models) should feel right at home on the LX7.

Images are close to scale and appear courtesy of Panasonic

The DMC-LX7 is slightly larger and heavier than its predecessor. How does it compare with other premium compacts? Find out in the chart below:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot S100 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.1 in. (99 x 58 X 28mm) 9.9 cu in. 173 g
Fujifilm X10 4.6 x 2.7 x 2.2 in. (117 x 68 x 56mm) 27.3 cu in. 330 g
Nikon Coolpix P310 4.1 x 2.3 x 1.3 in. (104 x 548 x 33mm) 12.3 cu in. 194 g
Olympus XZ-1 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.7 in. (112 x 66 x 43mm) 19.4 cu in. 244 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 4.4 x 2.6 x 1.8 in. (112 x 66 x 46mm) 20.6 cu in. 269 g
Samsung EX2F 4.4 x 2.5 x 1.1 in. (112 x 63 x 28mm) 12.1 cu in. 286 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 4.0 x 2.4 x 1.4 in. (101 x 61 x 35mm) 13.4 cu in. 213 g

The Lumix DMC-LX7 is one of the bulkier cameras in this group, but it's certainly not a large camera. While it probably won't fit in your jeans pocket, it will travel over your shoulder or in a small camera bag with ease.