Panasonic LX7 £450

10th Sep 2012 | 14:00

Panasonic LX7

Is a small sensor premium compact enough to take on the Sony RX100?

TechRadar rating:

4.5 stars

Like:

Good design; Great digital filters; Full manual control; Raw format shooting; Excellent screen;

Dislike:

Not a touchscreen; Small sensor;

Introduction

It's been over two years since Panasonic upgraded its premium LX lineup, which in Panasonic terms is a pretty long time indeed.

The Panasonic LX3 was a smash hit across the world, proving to be very popular with DSLR users looking for a good backup camera to take everywhere. However, the Panasonic LX5 with its only modest upgrades has seemingly made less of an impact.

It's fair to say that some pretty interesting innovations have arrived in the advanced compact market since 2010 when the LX5 made its debut.

Panasonic LX7 review

Fujifilm introduced the X100 (APS-C format) and the X10 (2/3-inch format) super premium compacts, while Canon launched the extremely large G1 X which has a sensor that is close to APS-C size in the intervening period. These cameras are pretty hefty though, taking them slightly away from compact territory.

Instead, the direct competition for the LX7 lies in the shape of the Canon S100, which includes a host of interesting features and the more recently announced Sony RX100, which features a one inch sensor.

Panasonic LX7 review

Many will be surprised by Panasonic's decision to stick with the small 1/1.7 inch sensor, which is the same physical size as that found in the LX5. It is however a newly designed sensor, which Panasonic says is capable of delivering better performance at high sensitivities and in low light.

One of the important points to remember about the LX7 is that it is able to maintain a fast aperture throughout its zoom range, rising to just f/2.3 at the telephoto end, compared with the RX100, which can only achieve f/4.9 at its maximum reach. Panasonic is keen to point out that this means that the LX7 can operate at several stops lower than the RX100, allowing for lower sensitivities.

Panasonic LX7 review

Panasonic also believes that in good lighting conditions, and similar shutter speeds the differences in image quality between the two cameras are very small, giving the Panasonic the edge in terms of overall balance.

It's also worth pointing out that at £550, the RX100 costs more than some compact system cameras currently on the market, whereas the LX7, at £449 is a more affordable proposition.

Build quality and handling

You'd be hard pushed to play spot the difference between the Panasonic LX5 and the Panasonic LX7 at first glance, as the LX7 keeps more or less the same chassis as its predecessor.

One interesting addition that has been included is an aperture ring around the lens, which is very similar in design to the Canon S100 and Sony RX100.

Panasonic LX7 review

This ring gives a satisfying click as the dial is turned, and it's surely a feature that will appeal to more traditional photographers. The ring is joined, as on the LX5, by a switch on the lens to alter the aspect ratio, and another to change the focusing mode (between autofocus, macro focusing and manual focusing).

Metal buttons can be found on the LX7, which helps to lend it an air of quality. There are a limited number of buttons on the back of the camera, but the space has been used well with a number of direct controls for oft used settings.

Panasonic LX7 review

Any key features that aren't immediately accessible can be found in the Quick Menu, found by tapping the Q button on the back of the camera. Unlike the Sony RX100 it doesn't appear that the LX7 is capable of extensive customisation.

The scroll dial on the top right of the back of the camera can be used to change the aperture or shutter speed, depending on what mode you're shooting in. Like on G series cameras, this dial can be pushed in to switch between aperture/shutter speed and exposure compensation. This is a handy feature which saves a lot of fiddly button pressing.

Panasonic LX7 review

Anyone familiar with existing Panasonic cameras will feel at home with the menu system on the LX7, which is pretty similar to its predecessor and also has a lot in common with G series cameras. One bugbear with the menu system is rather than pressing the centre "OK" button, a push of the directional right button is needed to access certain functions. Pressing the OK button exits the menu altogether, which can be a little frustrating.

Autofocus points can be quickly selected by pressing the left button on the keypad and then scrolling around with the arrow keys until the desired point is selected.

Panasonic LX7 review

Considering Panasonic is one of the companies at the forefront of touchscreen technology, it's a huge shame that this process couldn't be sped up with a touchscreen device on the LX7.

Overall, using the Panasonic LX7 is very quick and easy, and with the bugbear of not having a touchscreen to use is a delight to use.

Performance

Now that we have had a chance to use a full production version of the Panasonic LX7, we have continued to be impressed by the camera.

Panasonic LX7 review

Many will be disappointed by Panasonic's decision to stick with the same sensor as in the LX5, instead of opting for a larger device such as the one found in the Sony RX100.

Panasonic LX7 review

However, Panasonic is keen to point out that what the camera lacks in sensor size, it gains in wide aperture. That is to say that at the telephoto end of the lens focal length, the Panasonic LX7 can still maintain f/2.3, compared with the Sony RX100's f/4.9.

Panasonic LX7 review

Even in low light conditions, the camera is capable of producing high quality images with a good amount of noise control. Despite the fact that it has a smaller sensor, an impressive amount of detail is still captured.

Panasonic LX7 review

It's also capable of producing pleasing restricted depth of field effects, thanks in part to that f/1.4 aperture. At the moment, the lens is the joint brightest on the market, tied only with the recently announced Samsung EX2.

Panasonic LX7 review

Colours are generally represented very well, being bright and punchy but not over the top. Automatic white balance generally does a good job of producing accurate colours, but we did find a couple of occasions where the camera produced slightly cooler than desired images.

Panasonic LX7 review

But switching to a more specific white balance option, such as daylight, is quick and easy, and is recommended if the camera is struggling with mixed lighting conditions.

Panasonic LX7 review

Overall, the camera's matrix metering does a good job of assessing the lighting conditions to produce an accurately exposed image. This is true even in relatively mixed lighting. Again, switching to spot or centre metering is easy.

Panasonic LX7 review

Panasonic's G series of cameras have class-leading autofocus speeds, so it's no surprise to see that the Panasonic LX7 is also capable of speedy responses. Focusing is quick and accurate in the majority of cases, locking onto subjects with ease.

Panasonic LX7 review

Macro focusing, which can be activated via a switch on the lens itself, is also good, outperforming the Sony RX100 in terms of images that can be captured from close distances.

Panasonic LX7 review

Panasonic, along with Olympus, has long been a fan of digital filters. Here on the Panasonic LX7 we see the best choice yet for the premium compact camera range. Several filters, including Expressive, Retro, Dynamic Monochrome and Toy Effect, are available.

Panasonic LX7 review

While it's true to say that some will be appreciated more than others, some are definitely worth a look. Dynamic Monochrome, for instance, is really effective, while Cross Process gives a good level of customisation that should help it appeal even more.

Panasonic LX7 review

Perhaps the best news about these digital filters is that they can be shot in raw and JPEG format, so, if you decide you'd rather the picture didn't have the filter after all, you've got the option to remove it in post-production.

Panasonic LX7 review

It's a shame that the filters can't be activated while shooting in P/A/S/M modes, though, since this would have given greater control over parameters such as shutter speed and aperture. Instead, they need to be activated via a dedicated mode, which can be found on the mode dial.

Panasonic LX7 review

The LCD screen performs extremely well, providing a good angle of view and remaining visible in all but the very brightest of sunlight. There's no viewfinder included as standard, but, unlike the Sony RX100, there is the option to add one via the hotshoe on the top of the camera.

Panasonic LX7 review

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Panasonic LX7, 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 100 the Panasonic LX7 is capable of resolving up to around 18 (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:

Panasonic LX7 review

Panasonic LX7 review

ISO 100, score: 18 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic LX7 review

ISO 200, score: 18 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic LX7 review

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

Panasonic LX7 review

ISO 800, score: 16 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic LX7 review

ISO 1600, score: 14 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic LX7 review

ISO 3200, score: 12 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic LX7 review

ISO 6400, score: 10 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic LX7 review

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

Raw images

Panasonic LX7 review

ISO 100, score: 18 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic LX7 review

ISO 200, score: 18 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic LX7 review

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

Panasonic LX7 review

ISO 800, score: 16 (click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic LX7 review

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

Panasonic LX7 review

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

Panasonic LX7 review

ISO 6400, 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.

Panasonic LX7 review

JPEG images from the Panasonic LX7 show similar signal to noise ratio results to the Panasonic LX5 up to a sensitivity of ISO 3200, after which it doesn't perform as well as its sibling. Images from the Sony RX100 and Canon S100 show a higher signal to noise ratio than the Panasonic LX7's throughout almost the whole ISO range.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Panasonic LX7 review

TIFF images (After conversion from raw) from the Panasonic LX7 again sit below the Sony RX100 and Canon S100, but this time they show a better signal to noise ratio than the Panasonic LX5, throughout the entire sensitivity range.

Dynamic range

Panasonic LX7 review

This chart indicates that dynamic range in the Panasonic LX7's JPEGs is the most consistent of all the cameras here, performing at the same level as the LX5 at the lower sensitivities, matching the Sony RX100 in the mid-range and finishing beating the Canon S100 throughout the entire sensitivity range.

Raw dynamic range

Panasonic LX7 review

In TIFF images converted from raw files, the Panasonic LX7's JPEGs produce a less impressive dynamic range, falling well below the Sony RX100 at all sensitivities, beating the Canon S100 at lower ISOs then falling below it in the middle and upper reaches, but sitting above the Panasonic LX5 the whole time.

Sample Images

Panasonic LX7 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Despite the fact that the Panasonic LX7 uses a small sensor, it still manages to produce pleasing depth of field effects and capture an impressive amount of detail. Four different aspect ratios are available, with this demonstrating 16:9.

Panasonic LX7 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Colours are represented well by the Panasonic LX7 in the majority of cases, producing images that are bright and colourful, without being overly vibrant.

Panasonic LX7 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

With its 3.7x optical zoom, the Panasonic LX7 is a flexible option for travelling photographers, and its pocketable size makes it a good option for use a second camera.

Panasonic LX7 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Several digital filters are available for shooting with the Panasonic LX7, including this, which is Cross Processed. You also have the option to customise several of the filters, depending on your preference.

Panasonic LX7 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Dynamic Monochrome is another of Panasonic LX7's filters.

Panasonic LX7 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Impressive Art is a filter that gives an HDR-like appearance.

Panasonic LX7 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Toy Camera distorts colours and adds a vignette around the edge of the frame.

Panasonic LX7 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Sepia is another filter that can be used.

Panasonic LX7 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

This is an example of different kind of cross processing, where blue tones have been emphasised.

Panasonic LX7 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Macro focusing on the Panasonic LX7 is good, it can be selected via a dedicated switch on the side of the lens.

The images below were shot on a pre-production model, and as such we are unable to share the full resolution image.

Panasonic LX7 review

Colours look natural from the LX7, they are bright and punchy without being overly vibrant.

Panasonic LX7 review

Lots of detail can be captured with the LX7's 10 million pixel sensor, while a macro mode is included for capturing close-up images.

Panasonic LX7 review

As on Panasonic's G series of compact system cameras, the LX7 has a number of creative filters which can be deployed, including this cross processed effect.

Panasonic LX7 review

The LX7 has a wide angle lens, which allows you to get lots in the scene.

Panasonic LX7 review

The LX7 copes well in low light conditions, thanks to the f/1.4 lens. Auto white balance has also done an excellent job of keeping colours accurate and natural looking too.

Panasonic LX7 review

The LX7 has a maximum aperture of f/2.3 at the telephoto end of the lens, which was used here. It is this which Panasonic says sets it apart from competitors including the Sony RX100.

Verdict

There's lots of exciting things going on in the premium compact camera market at the moment, with Photokina 2012 probably about to reveal even more.

Panasonic is just one of the myriad of manufacturers who are keen to move away from entry-level compact cameras in a bid to appeal to those who want something that gives a little bit extra.

The Panasonic LX3 was an incredibly popular camera, so Panasonic has a good legacy with the LX series. Although the Panasonic LX5 didn't quite live up to its predecessor, we think Panasonic could have done enough here to see greater success with the Panasonic LX7.

Panasonic clearly sees the Sony RX100 as the main rival to the LX7, despite the fact that it uses a smaller sensor. Happily, it's quite a match for Sony's offering, despite the smaller sensor size.

Image quality is great, while our labs test indicate that the Panasonic LX7 shows an improvement in quality in the raw files, with less noise and greater dynamic range. However, when it comes to the JPEG images, dynamic range results between the LX5 and LX7 are close, with the LX5 just having the edge. Signal to noise ratio results at the lower end of the sensitivity scale show the LX7 has better noise performance, at the top end of the sensitivity scale, however, the LX5 performs better.

With a good range of digital filters and fun features to tempt a wide range of photographers, the Panasonic LX7 is a real photographer's compact camera, as well as being accessible by enthusiasts and beginners.

We liked

There's lots to like about the Panasonic LX7, but improvements in handling, such as the addition of an aperture ring, and the fantastic choice in digital filters, are two stand-out features.

We disliked

We'd really love to see a touchscreen make an appearance on an advanced compact camera such as this. It makes the process of selecting an autofocus point, among other things, so much easier, and would have elevated this camera to an even higher score.

Final verdict

With lots of fantastic features and brilliant image quality, Panasonic has produced a compact camera to be proud of with the LX7. With a wide maximum aperture of f/1.4, the ability to shoot in raw format and full manual controls, many people will surely be tempted by this. It's main competitor, the Sony RX100, currently retails for around £100 more, so you're getting a bit of a bargain to boot.

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