Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2 Review
Conclusion - Pros
- Good resolution, sharp results with lots of detail (particularly at ISO 100)
- Unique 'widescreen' 16:9 sensor
- 28mm wideangle (16:9 mode only)
- Comprehensive photographic control
- High quality construction, lovely design
- Good edge-to-edge lens performance and excellent, natural color
- Feels fast and responsive
- Big, bright, high resolution screen screen
- Generally reliable exposure, white balance and focus
- Effective image stabilization
- Excellent on-screen menu and control system
- Raw mode & much better raw conversion software
- Plenty of in-camera control over image parameters
- Slightly improved battery life
- Well priced (a lot less than the LX1 at launch)
- Easy to use
Conclusion - Cons
- Noisy sensor and excessive noise reduction at all ISO settings. Low NR setting not low enough
- Underpowered flash
- Auto flash mode tends to choose 1/30th second shutter speed (and a high ISO in auto ISO mode)
- Occasional exposure / dynamic range problems in very contrasty scenes
- New control layout (due to larger screen) difficult for anyone with big fingers
- Menus stretched to fit new screen shape rather than redesigned
- Slow macro focus
Reviewing the LX2 - the successor to one of the only memorable compact cameras of 2005 - has been a slightly disappointing, yet totally unsurprising experience. Like the FZ50 reviewed last month, the LX2 is an 'upgrade' that fails to address in any convincing way the single glaring problem with its predecessor. Rather than going back to fundamentals and working on the weakest link in what is otherwise a very desirable camera - noise - Panasonic decided, presumably because the 'market' demands it, to add even more pixels and use the sledgehammer noise reduction of the Venus III processing engine. To be fair to Panasonic the output is an improvement over the LX1, though only by a narrow margins, and at anything over ISO 200 it's 'different' rather than 'better' (again, to be fair, it does produce better prints). Noise is measurably lower than most competitors, but the noise reduction artefacts and loss of fine low contrast detail are a heavy price to pay.
Anyway that's enough ranting about noise and noise reduction. On the positive side IS0 100 output is excellent , easily on a par with the best cameras in the 7-8MP class, and the camera itself is a joy to use. Rarely does a camera this compact put such a sophisticated level of control at the user's fingertips, and the newly-expanded functionality of the joystick controller means you rarely need to enter the menu system when you're out shooting. This - along with the slider switches on the lens barrel for aspect ratio and focus mode - means you've got direct access to pretty much every control you would ever need in everyday photography. I'd love to see Panasonic adopting a twin dial system (as used on SLRs, the FZ50 and the Ricoh GR-D), but as it stands, compared to most similarly-specified cameras the LX2 is still a genuine 'photographer's' camera.
The 16:9 'widescreen' CCD isn't merely unusual; it is totally unique, and - together with the wide 28mm zoom - offers a unique perspective on the world, allowing the photographer to capture sweeping panoramic vistas in a single shot without cropping. It also makes a lot more sense now that the LCD screen matches the aspect ratio of the sensor.
Of course the 16:9 aspect ratio isn't without issues of its own, most specifically when it comes to printing (it doesn't fit any standard print size and most computer monitors will display it 'letterbox' style). I, personally, love it, but if you don't use it (in other words if you use the 3:2 or 4:3 modes) there is little, if any point buying the LX2; you lose the wide angle lens and may as well look at less expensive, less noisy 7 or 8MP alternatives.
And so, in conclusion, we have what is becoming something of a theme with Panasonic's high end models; a superb, innovative, unique and well-designed camera with an (apparently) noisy sensor and - much more importantly - a processing engine that replaces fine detail with smeary, watercolor-like artefacts. You can avoid this by turning the noise reduction down and sticking to ISO 100 or 200 (you REALLY want to turn the NR down at ISO 200) - or by shooting in raw mode and doing your own noise processing, if it bothers you. Of course at 'normal' print sizes the noise issue is largely moot, but if you want to make decent enlargements you will need to pay careful attention to the setting you use when shooting, and stick to the lowest ISO modes.
If you like shooting wide, don't feel the need to shoot at higher ISO settings (I personally wish Panasonic had included an ISO 50 option), and relish the idea of a pocket camera that offers real photographic control, the LX2 stands pretty much in a class of its own. It's ideal for landscape photographers and I for one really, really enjoyed using it as a walkaround alternative to a digital SLR on bright days. A good camera, but still - thanks to the limitations of the sensor - not a great one. Like the LX1 before it, the long list of 'pros' saved this camera from an Above Average rating, plus the fact that at ISO 100 the output is excellent.
Perfect for: advanced users (particularly landscape photographers) prepared to do raw processing, who rarely if ever need to go over ISO 200
Not ideal for: Casual 'snap shot' photographers, anyone who takes most of their pictures in low light (particularly if you always leave your camera on 'auto everything').
|Detail||Rating (out of 10)|
|Ergonomics & handling||8.0|
Recommended (with reservations)