The LX3 will hardly appear as a revalation to owners of the LX1 or 2 - offering a slightly larger screen and a couple of additional buttons. It's a stylish little thing, particularly in its black incarnation, and finds room for a large selection of buttons and sliders (and even a joystick). The body itself is remarkably slim but the lens, even when retracted, protrudes enough to make you have to think about which of your pockets it will fit in. It's still the smallest, neatest camera in its class while still offering the brightest lens - an engineering feat as impressive as the outward appearance.

In your hand

The LX3 is a reassuring camera to hold, its metal construction giving a feeling of quality and solidity. Anyone whose camera use predates the mass use of plastic may find themselves feeling brief twinges of nostalgia - it's a simply lovely, svelte object that makes you feel you've got your money's worth. It fits pretty well in the hand too, offering a slightly larger grip than its predecessor (something we hoped for at the time of the LX2's release).

Body elements

The first thing to mention about the LX3 is its lens. Its F2.0-2.8 maximum aperture is exceptional, as is its 24mm equivalent wide-angle capability. What's less useful is its range, that stops at a fairly short 60mm equivalent. This undoubtedly reduces its all-round flexibility and is worth thinking hard about before purchase.

However, that bright maximum aperture (around 1 stop brighter than its rivals, all the way through its range), means the same exposure can be achieved at a lower ISO setting than its peers if shooting at maximum aperture.

On its barrel is a slider for changing between Autofocus, Macro and Manual focus mode. This level of direct control (seen throughout the camera) makes the LX3 ideal for people with some experience of photography but might be a little off-putting for beginners.

Another slider on the lens barrel allows you to switch between aspect ratios without having to delve into the menus. This direct access makes it easy to play around with the different modes and can encourage you to think about composition more than you might otherwise.

The top of the camera is kept nice and neat, with a mode dial, zoom rocker, shutter button, power switch and focus button (for moving the focus point or autofocusing in MF mode).

The LX3 boosts its "photographers' camera" credentials with the addition of a flash hot shoe in addition to its little pop-up flash, activated with a little slider at the rear left-hand corner. The hot shoe is a boon, since the built-in flash has a distinctly modest 6m range even in Auto ISO mode.

An optional optical viewfinder can be purchased that slots into the hot shoe.

In addition to the traditional four-way controller, the LX3 has a little joystick/button that controls the camera's Quick Menu. I found it a touch small and fiddly. There is also an AF/AE lock button with a degree of configurability. Finally there's a slider to switch between shooting and playback mode. We're disappointed by this as it means the camera isn't always ready-to-shoot when you first turn it on.
The LX3 uses a conventional 3:2 aspect ratio screen, rather than the widescreen unit of its predecessor. It's a high-resolution 460,000 dot unit, putting it amongst the best seen on contemporary compacts.
On the right side of the camera (from the rear) is a flip-open, sprung cover that blends neatly into the rest of the camera styling. Behind it is the combined AV/USB connector, component video output and DC-IN connector. The component output allows connection to an HD TV, via an optional cable. The LX3 is finally brought up to USB 2.0 'High Speed' standard.
The battery lives under a small, slightly flimsy-feeling plastic door. It's held in place with a sprung slider. The battery is the same 3.7 V 1150 mAh Lithium-Ion unit as the LX2 and is charged by the dedicated charger. The quoted battery life (up to 380 pics, CIPA standard) is around 20% better than the LX2 (helped by the Venus IV processor).
The memory card, which can be Secure Digital, Multi Media Card or SDHC, lives next to the battery.