Operation and controls

There are many compact cameras that claim to be real photographic tools, but few that offer anything like the level - or speed - of control that serious photographers demand and SLR users take for granted. It's no good having manual exposure if you have to use menus and multiple key presses to change basic settings. This is where the LX2 - like the LX1 before it - succeeds in its aim to be a true 'manual' compact camera; the comprehensive feature set is matched by a well thought out control system that puts virtually all the most commonly accessed functions at your fingertips. Of course if you have particularly large hands you may find the diminutive controls a little hard to get used to, but I had no problems at all, and found the ability to quickly experiment with exposures, ISO, white balance and so on positively encouraged more creative photography.

Rear of camera

From the rear the LX2 bears a close resemblance to the 'FX' series of cameras, and has a similar control layout to the latest 'FZ' super zoom models. The large 2.8-inch screen dominates the rear plate, meaning the controls are even more crowded over on the right hand side than they were on the LX1. That said, it's a tribute to Panasonic's designers that such a small camera maintains such a usable level of control.

Top of camera

Although it's not the smallest in its class, the LX2 is a very slim camera - albeit one with a protruding fixed lens barrel. As you can see there's not much of a grip on the front, but combined with the textured thumb grip on the rear, it's enough to keep it safe and stable in the hand.

Display and menus

The LX2's menu system is almost identical to the LX1, and in an unusually lax move by Panasonic the user interface has not been re-formatted to fit the new wider screen, merely stretched - a small point, but still a surprising decision from a company that rarely cuts corners in such an obvious manner. That said, it works perfectly well and is very easy to use (the joystick controller means you don't even have to visit the well-designed menu system very often).

The most basic preview screen in record mode is completely free of any overlays or icons. You can also, by pressing the Display button, get a simple grid to aid framing (as shown here). The LX2 has an extra additional diagonal grid, and you can choose to include shooting info and/or histogram in the grid view using the setup menu. Of course you can turn on the information if you want by pressing the DISPLAY button. In Auto mode pressing the 'up' key increases exposure to compensate for backlighting.
Another press of the display button gives you a live histogram - something still far from standard on this type of camera. Half-press the shutter release and the camera will calculate exposure (AE) and focus (AF) indicating the AF area used and the aperture/shutter speed chosen. You'll also get a warning if camera shake is a danger. In Program mode you can alter the chosen values using Program shift.
The LX2's screen has a 16:9 aspect ratio, so if you change to 3:2 or 4:3 you get black borders left and right. The on-screen information stays in place. Manual focus is surprisingly usable, thanks to the (optional) magnified focus aid and fairly fine control via the joystick.