For more than a year, I have been on the hunt for a camera that would help me do a better job of capturing the grandeur and subtleties of the sky. I have tried DSLRs and ILCs with their kit lenses, and I wasn’t satisfied. Further, I was looking for a camera that was small enough and nimble enough that I could carry it with me almost all of the time. I think I may found what I was looking for in the Panasonic LX100.
I won’t cover all the tech and spec stuff you can find elsewhere, focusing instead on my impression. The LX100, in my view, is a small camera. The body is smaller than the Canon G12, but the lens is larger. Still it is small enough to hang on strap over my neck and conceal beneath an overshirt or jacket. It’s a little lumpy that way, but so am I – it blends in.
It’s a camera that wants two hands to control it: one for the shutter and buttons near the shutter, and another for operating functions like step zoom and manual focus near the lens barrel. I have long slender fingers, yet it seems to me that if the LX100 were any smaller, controlling it with two hands would be very awkward.
Build quality appears to be very high, very solid – comparable to the Canon G12, and the weight is similar as well. I am pleased to note that there is a hinged, spring-loaded plastic door over the access to external connectors instead of just a piece of flexible plastic as on other cameras. (Whenever I see a flexible plastic hatch on a camera, I worry that eventually the plastic will fail, leaving the other end of the hatch – the part that attaches it to the camera – floating around the innards of the camera.)
Things that I like.
Most of the important controls and their settings are clearly visible even with the camera switched off. These include shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation and focus control. Putting both the shutter speed and aperture control in the “A” position puts the camera in “P” mode. Both dials operate with click stops that are easy to turn but not too easy to turn.
The manual focus, engaged by moving a switch on the side of the lens barrel, works extremely well, popping up an enlarged section of the screen with fluorescent blue highlights to show what exactly is in focus. It is a fly-by-wire system that operates through a ring on the lens barrel, and shows a scale in the viewfinder. When manual focus is not engaged, the ring on the lens barrel operates, by default, as a step zoom, supplementing the zoom lever surrounding shutter button.
Manual focus makes it easy to selectively focus:
In addition, to the 24-75mm equivalent lens, the LX100 offers a couple of levels of digital zoom, making it possible to get to 300mm (e) in a pinch. Very handy. When zooming with either the zoom lever or the step zoom, a zoom scale is displayed in the viewfinder. This includes the digital zoom levels, so you can see how far zoomed you are and whether any of the digital zoom levels are engaged.
The same view as the shots above, but with maximum optical and digital zoom engaged:
There is a button on the top plate between the shutter speed dial and the exposure compensation dial that engages the iA – intelligent Automatic – mode. In this mode, the camera makes most of the decisions for you, and overrides any shutter or aperture choices you may have made. It also includes some digital zoom, so if you need some extra reach quickly and haven’t selected it in the setup menu, you can access it quickly through iA. If you press the iA button again, you go instantly back to whatever settings you had before you pressed iA the first time.
Between the shutter button and exposure compensation button on the top plate is the Filter button, which allows access to various creative filters, such as Dynamic Monochrome, etc.
Things I am not so fond of.
The diopter adjustment for the EVF is on the right side of the EVF. I wear glasses, so I have to squash my face against the camera to see the entire view, and there is little room to sneak a finger in to adjust the diopter. Through trial and error I was able to get it done.
The rear display sits flush on the back of the camera, and various buttons are near to it, making it very easy to get finger prints on the display. A screen protector is recommended.
The camera looks great while turned off but looks goofy with two sections of lens extended. I know this is personal taste . . . maybe I’ll get used to it.
Many of the controls – focus mode selection, on/off, aspect ratio control, various buttons – are quite small, and I think will be difficult in cold weather with gloves on.
Be careful with the lens cap leash. It is difficult to install, and you want to make sure that the lens cap is placed so that there is maximum slack on the leash. If one were to turn the camera on with the lens cap in place, there is the potential for a conflict between the leash and the extending lens. I don’t know if this is an actual or theoretical problem. The easy solution: always take the lens cap off before turning on the camera.
Panasonic’s help has been less than robust. There is a “T” setting on the shutter dial. When you activate it, the display shows a value of 60 seconds, with other values clearly shown. Neither Panasonic’s email help or instant chat were able to tell me how to set other values. The manual says pressing the shutter button will open the shutter and pressing it again will close it. If that is how it is supposed to work, why show other values? From another forum, I learned that setting the shutter to 1+ and rotating the back dial allows the selection of other time exposure values, like 10 seconds, which is what I wanted.
Overall, the things I didn’t like were really minor in my overall impressions of the camera.
The bottom line
I really like the way the LX100 handles and works. It feels like a proper, workman-like camera. It is fast and responsive. The lens is at least as sharp as my G12 and FZ200 and clearly sharper than the ILCs with kit lenses that I tested. I am liking what I am seeing in my preliminary sky shots.
I believe Panasonic has a winner in the LX100, and I have a keeper.