Monday, June 22, 2009

Brief Review of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 (similar to the Leica D-LUX 4)

This is a short follow-up review of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3. In a previous blog post, I described my decision to purchase a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 in great detail. Now that I own one--and have used it for more than a week--I thought I'd give my impressions of it so far...

As when I tested the Canon 5D Mark II, I had high hopes for the auto ISO. What photographer hasn't suddenly gone from a dark indoor setting to a bright outdoor setting (e.g., from inside a dark church to the bright sunny summer day just outside the front door of the church) and forgotten or not had time to switch the ISO down to a much more appropriate setting? I either shoot aperture priority or manual about 98% of the time, and it was a major disappointment to me that the 5D Mark II doesn't allow you to specify a minimum shutter speed. In fact, the shutter would go down as low as 1/20 sec for an indoor shot rather than bump up the ISO and take it at a more appropriate shutter speed. Other photographers have confirmed for me that there isn't a minimum shutter speed setting on the Canon 5D Mark II (as there wasn't on the Canon 5D before it).

So, when I put the Lumix DMC-LX3 on auto ISO, it too chose lower shutter speeds than I ever would have, especially to photograph moving people (I mostly use the Lumix DMC-LX3 to photograph my children and they hardly ever stand still!).

Well, it turns out that the Lumix DMC-LX3 has a lot of customizable and flexible options, especially for a compact camera. So, I dug down into the menu system, which took a while to get familiar with. However, it paid off. I found my perfect combination of ISO/exposure related settings: 1) set the ISO to Auto, 2) set a maximum acceptable ISO (I specified 1600 because I find 3200 pretty bleak), and 3) set a minimum shutter speed of 1/60 sec.

Even though there are situations where I might want a lower maximum ISO or a slower minimum shutter speed, the combination of the 1600 and 1/60 is ideal for me 80% or more of the time. So, I just put these settings into one of my customizable programmable settings (C1 and/or C2, which you can choose with a turn of the dial on top of the camera) and start there each time. If I need to change anything, I just get into the menu and change things for that photo session. The next day, when I start the camera up again, it's back to my saved custom settings. Works like a charm!

A nice feature of the Auto ISO setting is that it makes available finer ISO gradations than are available with setting the ISO manually. For instance, you can manually set the ISO to any of the following: 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200. However, in Auto ISO mode, additional ISO settings in between these become available (I've seen the camera select them): 125, 160, 250, 320, 500, 640, 1000, 1250, 2000, etc. It's really nice to have some ISO settings between 400 & 800 and 800 &1600 because 400 to 800 and 800 to 1600 are significant jumps in digital noise. So, it's beneficial to "ramp up" the ISO more gradually to keep that noise down as much as possible.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3, 80 ISO, f/2.5, 1/100 sec, 9.3mm (44mm)

The other ISO-related issue I should emphasize is that since the Lumix DMC-LX3 has such a large maximum aperture of f/2.0 (wide) - f/2.8 (telephoto), this too helps to keep the required ISO down.

I've been pleased with the auto-focus on this camera; I've even been able to get it to lock onto moving children. Having a choice of different metering modes--including spot!--has been a pleasure. The tiny flash has been a nice surprise; it's more powerful than I thought it would be.

Being able to choose whether the camera uses an AF assist light is great; when you're trying to take photos without your subject being aware of you doing so, you don't want that red light signaling your intentions! The auto-focus works quite well even without the AF assist light.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3, 640 ISO, f/2.0, 1/60 sec, 5.1mm (24mm)

It's not all peaches & cream with this camera.

Let me make it clear that the quality of the images from this camera cannot match my Canon DSLRs, not even the Digital Rebel 400D I have. Even though the Lumix DMC-LX3 and my Digital Rebel 400D are both 10.1 megapixels, the digital noise and image quality are hands down better with the Digital Rebel. And even with the large maximum aperture on the Lumix DMC-LX3 (f/2.0 - f/2.8), the bokeh or background blur is significantly better with a f/2 or f/2.8 lens on my Digital Rebel. Really, the main benefit of having the f/2.0 - f/2.8 aperture range with this camera is enabling low-light shooting and keeping the ISO/digital noise down as much as possible. The bokeh isn't going to knock anyone's socks off.

Also, the DMC-LX3 doesn't come with an optical viewfinder (this is a "not cheap" accessary you have to buy), so you have to compose everything on the rear LCD...which ends up wearing the battery down relatively quickly. It is a little easier to catch people unaware by composing things with the LCD (which you can hold down low and away from your face while composing), but it's nice to have the option of using an optical viewfinder sometimes.

Even though you can record fairly nice videos with this camera (Quicktime MOV), you can't zoom in or out once the recording begins.

Finally, this camera has a 35mm full-frame equivalent zoom range of 24-60mm. I really like having 24mm on the wide end...sometimes, I'd like to have more! The 60mm limit on the telephoto end can certainly be a little limiting sometimes; but I knew this before I bought the camera and still prefer the tradeoff of limiting the telephoto range in order to keep the maximum aperture up to a nice large f/2.8 at the telephoto end.

So, after using this camera for more than a week now, I would recommend it to anyone looking for a compact camera that:
  • fits into a large pocket or small pouch
  • can take photos in dimly-lit indoor settings
  • has a nice wide-angle reach of 24mm (35mm full-frame equivalent)
  • is able to keep ISO relatively low in most shooting situations because of the lens' large apertures
  • has to have good image quality, but not necessarily as good as a digital SLR
  • can be customized to fit the photographer's shooting style and/or subject matter
  • can take photos of active children
  • doesn't have to zoom out beyond a 60mm telephoto range
  • has enough megapixels (10 mp) to make relatively large prints when desired
If a camera with these features sounds pretty good to you, buy one! If you love Leica, buy the Leica version; it's more likely to be in stock. Either way, I don't think you'll be disappointed...:-).

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is:

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