DigitalCameraReview.com
Panasonic focuses on advanced shooters with Lumix LX3
by David Rasnake -  7/20/2008

In a much-anticipated move, Panasonic rolled out the latest version of its flagship advanced compact this morning, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

Replacing the LX2, the latest 10-megapixel comes packing some serious hardware, including a new wide-angle, a fast-aperture Leica lens and a completely redesigned sensor.

In most ways, the LX3 looks very similar to its predecessor, sporting a familiar rear control layout, a pop-up flash to the left of the lens, physical switches for aspect ratio and focus controls on the lens barrel, and a square-ish silver or black metal body.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

Some slight refinements, including a redesigned lens bezel and a more traditional grip area, make the LX3 look less like the rest of Panasonic's "industrial modern" compact camera lineup and more like a classic rangefinder – especially in its blacked out color configuration.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

A 3-inch, 460,000-dot LCD replaces the LX2's 2.8-inch version, providing more viewing area and impressive resolution from an on-camera display. The LX3 also adds a hot shoe for use with external flash units – a nice touch that the former model lacked.

If the bodywork looks mostly the same as before, Panasonic's reporting some big changes under the hood with the new LX3 in key areas: both the lens and sensor received major overhauls this time around.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

On the optics side of the equation, the LX3 features a relatively unconventional fast-aperture Leica lens. Speced at 24-60mm and f/2-2.8, the LX3's Leica DC Vario-Summicron zoom trades some range limitations (coverage is 2.5x, compared to the LX2's 4x number) for wide-angle reach and the kind of low-light performance and depth of field control usually reserved for SLR lenses.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

The optically stabilized lens is arguably the LX3's signature feature, setting it apart from both the LX2 and basically everything else on the compact camera market. Leica Summicron badging on the optic suggests Panasonic's almost "prime-like" approach to lens design, providing a fast wide-to-normal lens that should appeal to serious photographers with its impressive optical quality and flexibility.

The LX2's sensor was widely considered a weak link in an otherwise strong chain, with poorly controlled noise and compressed dynamic range limiting the previous-generation camera's appeal with those serious about image quality. From all indications, Panasonic went back to the drawing board for the LX3, returning with a completely redesigned 10.1 megapixel, 1/1.63-inch CCD.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

You read that right: the LX3 actually takes a very slight step backwards in effective resolution compared to the LX2's 10.2 megapixels. With a little more physical space on the sensor (the LX2 used a 1/1.65-inch variant) and a new control system design that takes up less space and generates less noise, Panasonic claims that "sensitivity is almost 40 percent higher and saturation is increased by 35 percent" with the new CCD when compared to previous 10-megapixel sensors from the company. Current-generation Venus Engine IV processing, which provided low-light performance improvements in many of Panasonic's spring camera releases, also updates the LX3.

In short, if all of these improvements work together as promised, it's quite possible that the most serious limitation of the LX2 may well be rectified in the LX3. As before, the new sensor is also capable of capturing shots in 4:3, 3:2, or 16:9 aspect ratios – or grabbing images in all three formats with a single press of the shutter button using the camera's Multi Aspect function.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

RAW shooting remains available on the LX3, meeting expectations for an advanced compact these days in this regard. For users more interested in JPEG shooting, the LX3 adds an interesting film emulator to its range of processing options: users can select from among several pre-tailored image looks that correspond to the range of tonal options offered by film ("Smooth" for a neutral portrait film, "Vibrant" for a bright chrome look, a "Nostalgic" setting that imitates the muted look of a Polaroid instant print, and even three black and white options) or create and save up to three user presets.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

Shooting mode options on the LX3 include the standard P/A/S/M manual exposure control modes, as well as a scene preset setting (24 presets, including film grain enhancement and pinhole camera emulator modes are available) and Panasonic's situation-responsive Intelligent Auto, or iA, mode. First seen in the recently released FX500, AF Tracking allows shooters to lock auto focus on a particular subject or area and have the camera hold focus on that area while recomposing the shot. Video recording options are equally impressive, with the LX3 capable of capturing 720p HD video at 24 fps. High-definition component output makes playback connections to an HDTV quick and easy.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

Available accessories for the new model include a hot shoe mounted optical viewfinder, a wide-angle lens that stretches the LX3's reach out to 18mm, and a combined case/body cover in black leather.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

The LX3 packs in a long list of features, appropriate to its status as Panasonic's next-generation flagship compact. With better optics, a redesigned body with a hot shoe and larger screen, and a major sensor overhaul, Panasonic's hitting all the right notes. We'll see if advanced shooters respond when the new model hits stores next month for a suggested retail price of $499.95.

To learn more about the LX3 and see sample shots from the latest Lumix, check out our Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 First Thoughts.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 Specifications:

Sensor 10.1 megapixels, 1/1.63" CCD
Lens/Zoom 2.5x (24-60mm) Leica DC Vario-Summicron, f/2.0-2.8
LCD/Viewfinder 3.0", 460K dot 3:2 Polycrystalline TFT LCD Display
Sensitivity ISO 80-3200
Shutter Speed 60-1/2000 seconds
Shooting Modes Intelligent AUTO, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority,
Manual, Motion Picture, 2 Custom Modes, Scene
Scene Presets Portrait, Soft Skin, Self-Portrait, Scenery, Sports, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Food, Party, Candle Light, Baby1, Baby2, Pet, Sunset, High sensitivity, Starry Sky, Fireworks, Beach, Snow, Aerial photo, Hi-Speed Burst, Flash-Burst, Film Grain, Pin Hole
White Balance Settings Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Flash, Halogen, Color Temperature, White Set 1, White Set 2
Metering Modes Intelligent Multiple, Center-Weighted, Spot
Focus Modes Face, AF tracking, multi-area, 1-area high speed, 1-area, spot
Drive Modes Single, Burst, High-speed Burst
Flash Modes Auto, Red-Eye Reduction, Forced On, Slow Sync/Red-Eye Reduction, Forced Off
Self Timer Settings
10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
Memory Formats SD, SDHC, MultiMediaCard
Internal Memory
50 MB
File Formats JPEG, RAW, Motion JPEG
Max. Image Size 3648x2736
Max. Video Size
1280x720, 24 fps
Zoom During Video Yes
Battery Rechargeable 1150 mAh lithium-ion, 380 shots
Connections USB 2.0, AV output, HD AV output, DC input
Additional Features Mega OIS Image Stabilization, Venus Engine IV processor, Intelligent ISO, Intelligent Scene Selector, film modes, AF Tracking, Multi Aspect mode