Panasonic LF1 £374.99

20th Jun 2013 | 11:15

Panasonic LF1

Premium compact camera with EVF and Wi-Fi

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Like:

Electronic level; Full manual control; EVF; Customisable buttons;

Dislike:

No touchscreen; Loss of detail at higher ISOs; Small sensor;

Introduction

There was a lot of rumour and speculation surrounding whether Panasonic would introduce a high-end compact camera like the LX7, but with a larger sensor, a la the Sony RX100.

So when the Panasonic Lumix LF1 was unveiled, we wondered if the LF stood for large format. Well it doesn't, because inside the Panasonic LF1 is a 1/1.7-inch sensor, like the one in the Panasonic LX7.

After composing yourself after the disappointing news, consider the benefits that using a smaller sensor brings. Namely, the 7.1x optical zoom focal range, equivalent to 28-200mm (in 35mm terms), making it a versatile optic suited to a range of subjects.

Panasonic LF1 review

Equipped with 12.1 million pixels, the High Sensitivity MOS sensor is paired with a Venus engine, designed to take advantage of its wide sensitivity range.

The Panasonic LF1's versatility is further enhanced by its sensitivity range, which is ISO 80-12,800. This enables it to shoot with long shutter speeds to blur movement and freeze movement in low light. Not only that, but Panasonic promises to offer excellence in low light thanks to Noise Reduction and Edge Smoothing systems.

There's further good news with the Panasonic LF1's maximum aperture, which is f/2.0 at the widest point of the Leica lens and f/5.9 at the telephoto end. This should enable depth of field to be restricted as well as offering faster than average shutter speeds in low light.

Panasonic LF1 review

Unlike many small compact cameras, the Panasonic LF1 has a viewfinder. Rather than being a tiny direct finder that might suffer from parallax error, the Panasonic LF1 has a 0.2-inch electronic viewfinder (EVF). The benefit of this kind of finder is that it displays the image as it will be captured, taking into account the exposure, white balance and colour settings.

On the back of the camera, the EVF is joined by a 3-inch, 920k dot TFT LCD display. It's not touch-sensitive though, as we've seen previously on the Lumix TZ40 or G series of compact system cameras (CSCs).

As you would expect from a premium compact camera, full manual control can be taken over shooting parameters, and semi-automatic modes, such as aperture priority and shutter priority, are also present. The camera is also capable of capturing images in raw format.

Panasonic LF1 review

Joining a couple of other cameras in the Lumix lineup, the Panasonic LF1 is equipped with both Wi-Fi and NFC. This enables a number of things, including remote control of the camera via a smartphone or tablet and sharing of images to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

NFC is still a fairly new technology that's available on a number of smartphones and tablets, but, notable by its absence, Apple is yet to bring an NFC-compatible device to the market. For those who do have an NFC-equipped device, you can enjoy the benefits of bypassing laborious Wi-Fi setups by simply tapping together the two devices to start a connection (well, that's the theory anyway).

Like pretty much all modern cameras, the Panasonic LF1 is capable of recording HD video in full 1080p goodness. Not only that though, it's capable of 50i, in both AVCHD Progressive and MP4 outputs.

Panasonic LF1 review

Although primarily aimed at the more advanced photographer, Panasonic has included a number of features likely to appeal to beginners. A new composition guide consisting of several rules, such as Rule of Thirds, Diagonal Lines, S-Shape and so on, can be superimposed on the screen as you take shots to help you get the best possible image.

There are also a number of digital filters, many of which have been brought across from the G range of CSCs, and the option to shoot ultra-wide panoramic shots. Various scene modes and Intelligent Auto are also included.

The Panasonic LF1 is priced at £374.99 / US$499.99 (around AU$620), making it slightly more expensive than the Panasonic TZ40, Sony HX50 and Olympus XZ-10.

Build quality and handling

For a camera that includes both a 7.1x optical zoom lens and an electronic viewfinder, the Panasonic LF1 manages to remain incredibly small. You could easily slip this into a jeans pocket, making it a good choice for those looking for a high performance back-up camera for everyday travelling.

With its rounded corners and smooth body material, Panasonic has clearly put some effort into creating an attractive body for this camera. It's less chunky than the Panasonic LX7, and generally has a much more understated feel.

On top of the camera is a mode dial for switching between the various different options available, including fully automatic (iA) and PASM modes.

Panasonic LF1 review

There's also space here for up to two groups of custom settings, which is useful if you often find yourself shooting one particular type of subject or scene. It's also on the mode dial that you'll find digital filters mode, scene mode and panoramic mode.

Because the Panasonic LF1's mode dial is fairly fluid, it can be quite easy to accidentally knock it away from the setting you want it to be on, especially as you pull it out of a pocket, so you may find you need to be careful of that.

The back of the camera sees a fairly standard compact camera layout. The majority of the buttons can be found within easy reach of the thumb, making it handy to use one-handed.

Panasonic LF1 review

A scrolling dial found on the back of the camera is used to make changes, such as to the aperture, depending on the mode being used. There's also a scrolling dial around the lens that can control these functions. This dial can also be customised to control something else, if you want to work slightly differently.

Both of these dials can also be used to navigate through the Quick Menu, which is accessed by pressing the "trash can" button towards the bottom right of the back of the camera.

Just above the scrolling dial is the function button, which is also customisable, and can be used for a number of different functions, including setting the ISO or white balance.

Panasonic LF1 review

Because the Panasonic LF1 doesn't include a touchscreen, setting the autofocus point yourself can be a little fiddly. By default, to do this you would need to enter the quick menu, scroll to AF mode, hit the Display button then use the directional keys to move the point to where you need it to be.

Since this is such a laborious task, we'd recommend either leaving the focus point in the centre of the frame and recomposing, or assigning the AF point set to the customisable function button.

Panasonic has included a small electronic viewfinder on the Lumix LF1. Sadly, the company hasn't also included an eye sensor to automatically switch it on as you bring the camera to your eye. Instead, you'll need to tap a button next to the viewfinder, making it a less than seamless transition.

Panasonic LF1 review

Like the Panasonic TZ40 and the two most recent G series cameras - the Panasonic GF6 and Panasonic G6 - the Panasonic LF1 is equipped with both Wi-Fi and NFC capability. A direct access button for Wi-Fi can be found on the back of the camera. The NFC chip can be found on the side of the camera and is a much quicker way of connecting, if you have a compatible device.

As we've found on other Panasonic cameras, the Wi-Fi functionality can be a little idiosyncratic. The options for connecting to a smartphone or tablet - which can then be used to remotely control the camera or to save pictures to the device - are relatively straightforward once an initial connection has been made. But uploading directly to social networking sites from the camera itself is a little more complicated.

If you want to upload to Facebook, for example, you will first need to register for a Lumix lifestyle account (on the camera) and then visit the Lumix lifestyle website (on a computer) to "activate" the service. Once you have done this, there's limited options for your uploads - for instance, you can't even attach a caption.

Panasonic LF1 review

Still, it's a bonus to have Wi-Fi functionality at all on a camera such as this, and we're hopeful that Panasonic can work on ironing out the usability kinks, perhaps via a firmware upgrade in the future.

Although this camera is primarily aimed at those who already have some photography experience, there are a few options that will probably also appeal to the beginner.

Digital filters are easy to access via the mode dial, and while it's a shame you can't keep control over aperture and shutter speed, it's a bonus that you can shoot with filters in raw format, should you want to work with a clean image later.

Panasonic LF1 review

Similarly, panoramic mode is very easy, requiring a simple sweep across the scene you're trying to capture for the camera to then automatically stitch and process the shots for you.

An electronic level, which can be activated by a double-tap of the Display button, is useful - especially for holidaying photographers and those attempting to capture landscapes.

Performance

Having been impressed with the performance of Panasonic Lumix compacts before, especially those in the LX and TZ ranges, we had high hopes for the Panasonic LF1.

Happily, on the whole, we've been pretty happy with the images produced by the camera. Colours are very well saturated, without being overly vibrant.

The Panasonic LF1's 12.1 million-pixel sensor is capable of resolving a good amount of detail, although there is some degree of image smoothing evident throughout the sensitivity range if you examine images at 100%.

Panasonic LF1 review

Despite the fact that the sensor is only a 1/1.7-inch device, the camera's f/2.0 maximum aperture enables creative shallow depth of field effects to be enjoyed. Drop off in focus is smooth and attractive, while out of focus areas are rendered well. The Leica lens also produces some beautiful bokehs, too.

As with the Panasonic TZ40, autofocusing speeds are generally pretty quick, having the ability to latch on to the subject accurately in the majority of situations. Activating macro focusing enables you to get very close to the subject and is ideal for capturing frame-filling shots, such as flowers.

General purpose metering does a good job most of the time to help produce accurate exposures, even if the scene has some high contrast areas. If there are areas of very high contrast, such as a backlit building, the camera can struggle slightly, and you'll probably find that switching to spot metering helps to produce a more accurate exposure.

Panasonic LF1 review

Similarly, automatic white balance is an excellent performer, even when the lighting is mixed or artificial. It tends to err very slightly towards warmer tones under tungsten lighting, but this can be easily combated by selecting a specific white balance setting, or setting a custom white balance.

Noise under low light conditions is one area that compact cameras with smaller sensors such as the Panasonic LF1's tend to struggle with, so it's hard to deny that it was a touch disappointing to see Panasonic plump for a small sensor in its latest premium camera.

Noise performance is pretty much as we'd expect for a small sensored compact camera, being good at lower sensitivities, but with noise and smudging starting to creep in at around the ISO 400 mark.

Panasonic LF1 review

At ISO 1600, images start to become even noisier, and if you examine them at 100% you'll find there's a loss of detail. That said, the fact that the Leica lens stops down to f/2.0 should mean that you don't need to use higher sensitivities as often as you would on other cameras with a much narrower maximum aperture (including the Sony RX100).

As with other cameras in both Panasonic's compact and compact system camera ranges, a number of fun features are included on the Panasonic LF1.

The panoramic function is particularly impressive if you're shooting holiday or travel pictures. However, if you do examine images shot using this setting closely you'll notice evidence of movement and loss of detail where the camera has been swept across the scene. If you're keeping the images to small web sizes (such as on Facebook) though, they're still pretty useable.

Panasonic LF1 review

There's quite a wide range of digital filters available on the Panasonic LF1, which is welcome news. Some of these have been brought across from the range of Lumix CSC cameras, and are certainly worth experimenting with. We particularly enjoyed using Old Days and Dynamic Monochrome, but of course that's all down to a matter of taste.

The camera's 920-dot TFT LCD screen copes well in fairly bright light, except for perhaps if the sun is shining directly on it. It displays images very crisply, while text in menus and so on is rendered very nicely.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Panasonic LF1, we've shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 80 the Panasonic LF1 is capable of resolving up to around 22 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEG

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

Full ISO 80 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 80, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 100, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 400, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 800, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 1600, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 3200, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 6400, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 12800, score: n/a (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 80, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 100, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 400, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 800, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 1600, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 3200, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 6400, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 12800, score: 10 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Here we compare the Panasonic LF1 with the Sony RX100, Olympus XZ-10 and Fuji X20. The Panasonic LF1 has the greatest sensitivity range of all the cameras.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Panasonic LF1 review

These results show that the Panasonic LF1's JPEG files have a stronger signal to noise ratio than those from the Olympus XZ-10 at ISO 800 and ISO 400-1600, while at ISO 100-200 the images from both cameras contain similar ratios, and at ISO 3200-6400 the Olympus's JPEGs beat the Panasonic's. The Panasonic's JPEGs contain weaker signal to noise ratios than JPEGs from the Sony RX100 at every sensitivity except ISO 100, and have weaker ratios than the Fuji X20's JPEGs at every sensitivity except ISO 400.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Panasonic LF1 review

Here we see that the Panasonic LF1's TIFF images (after conversion from raw) contain greater signal to noise ratios than TIFFs from the Fuji X20 at ISO 100-800, but after that the Fuji's images are stronger. The Panasonic's TIFFs show stronger signal to noise ratios than those from the Olympus XZ-10 at ISO 100-200, but at higher sensitivities the Olympus is stronger. The Sony RX100's TIFFs have stronger signal to noise ratios than the Panasonic's at every sensitivity setting.

JPEG dynamic range

Panasonic LF1 review

The Panasonic LF1's JPEG results for dynamic range are better, beating JPEGs from the Olympus XZ-10at every sensitivity except ISO 6400, and beating the Sony RX100's JPEGs at ISO 80-800, before falling behind at ISO 1600-6400. The Panasonic's JPEGs contain greater dynamic range than the Fuji X20's at ISO 100-400, but the Fuji's images are stronger at ISO 800-12800.

Raw dynamic range

Panasonic LF1 review

As we can see from this chart, the Panasonic LF1's TIFF images (after conversion from raw) contain comparatively less impressive dynamic range than its JPEGs did, with levels declining steeply at mid to high sensitivity settings, falling a long way behind the other cameras towards the top of the range. The Panasonic's TIFFs are beaten by TIFFs from the Sony RX100 at every sensitivity except ISO 80 and 100, and bettered by the Fuji X20's TIFFs at every sensitivity except ISO 100. The Panasonic's TIFFs show greater dynamic range than the Olympus XZ-10's at ISO 100-400, but the Olympus's images are stronger at ISO 800-6400.

Sample images

Panasonic LF1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Images are generally well exposed when shooting with automatic metering, even with areas of reasonably high contrast.

Panasonic LF1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

You can set the focusing method to macro focusing if you want to get detailed close-up shots.

Panasonic LF1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Colours are bright and well saturated, without being overly vibrant.

Panasonic LF1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

At mid-range ISO sensitivities, such as ISO 400, noise starts to creep in, with image smoothing appearing if you examine the image at 100%.

Panasonic LF1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

The Panasonic LF1's 12.1 million-pixel sensor is capable of capturing lots of fine detail.

Panasonic LF1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Panoramic images are easy to create using the dedicated mode - simply sweep the camera along the scene. If you examine the images at 100%, you will see evidence of camera movement and image blur.

Panasonic LF1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Higher sensitivities, such as ISO 1600, reveal a fair amount of noise and loss of detail.

Digital filters

Panasonic LF1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Panasonic LF1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Panasonic LF1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Panasonic LF1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Panasonic LF1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Panasonic LF1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Panasonic LF1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Panasonic LF1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Panasonic LF1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Panasonic LF1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Panasonic LF1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Panasonic LF1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Panasonic LF1 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Sensitivity and noise images

JPEG

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

Full ISO 80 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 80 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 100 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 1600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 3200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 6400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 12800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 80 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 100 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 1600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 3200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 6400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic Lumix LF1 review

ISO 12800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Verdict

The Panasonic LF1 occupies the same space as a number of other premium compact cameras already on the market, and while it looks good, it's not really offering anything that the others already out there don't do in terms of image quality. What it does have, however, is an electronic viewfinder, which really makes it stand out from the crowd.

We're a little disappointed to see that Panasonic has stuck with the relatively small 1/1.7-inch sensor instead of opting for something larger, such as the 1-inch device found in the Sony RX100, which is still king of the current premium compacts.

That said, there are a few worthwhile points that make up for the compromise that is a smaller sensor. First of all the physical size of the overall camera can be kept smaller, making it a much sleeker pocket snapper.

Secondly, it's easier - or perhaps we should say cheaper - to produce a lens with a more extensive zoom range to pair with a smaller sensor. So, while the RX100 has a relatively short 3.6x optical zoom, the Panasonic LF1 manages to house a 7.1x zoom optic, making this the more flexible option overall.

In terms of its specs, the Panasonic LF1 compares reasonably closely with the Olympus XZ-2, which is considerably more bulky (although it does also have a tilting screen), making it impressive that it houses similar specifications in a much smaller body.

Images produced by the Panasonic LF1 are good, but they're not amazing. While colours are bright and punchy, and detail is good at lower sensitivities, there's more noise and loss of detail than we'd ideally like to see at mid-range ISO sensitivities, so you'll be wanting to avoid those if possible.

That said, if you're intending to use the camera mainly in good light (such as for travelling) then you'll likely be very happy with the quality.

One of the big bonuses of this camera is its inbuilt Wi-Fi capability. Made all the better if you have an NFC-enabled device (bad luck Apple users), it's pretty neat to be able to control the camera via your smartphone, along with saving images from the camera onto your device for sharing to social networks.

It's unfortunate that Panasonic's direct upload system is much clunkier, because this really lets it down compared with the likes of Samsung's much easier methods on its range of smart cameras, such as the Samsung Galaxy Camera.

We liked

With a stylish and sleek exterior, this is an ideal pocket camera for those looking for something that still gives them full manual control. Traditional photographers will no doubt also appreciate a viewfinder, while the fact that it's a high resolution electronic device makes it much more useful than the very basic optical device found on the Canon G15.

We disliked

There's a little too much noise at higher sensitivities, so it's best to avoid using this camera for too much low-light work if you can avoid it.

Final verdict

Although Panasonic has undoubtedly created a very likeable and capable camera in the Panasonic LF1, we can't help but be a little underwhelmed by it overall. Aside from the electronic viewfinder, it doesn't offer anything too different from those that are already on the market.

That said, if you're looking for a compact camera to use as an everyday backup to your main, heavier, camera, then it is a very good option with very good image quality and some fun features, such as digital filters and panoramic mode. We'd have liked to have seen a touchscreen, though.

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