More about the Panasonic LX3

In my post yesterday I simply shared a few of the photos I’ve taken with the LX3. I think I should add a little technical info, for anybody who’s actually interested in the camera.

Cons

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 has very few cons. Perhaps the main one right now is that the model itself is a year and a half old. There are rumors about a new model (possibly called LX5) being released later this year. I didn’t worry about it. There’s always something newer and better ready for release next month.

So what are the LX3’s disadvantages?

Well, first, the telephoto end of the camera’s zoom range doesn’t reach very far—a mere 60mm in 35mm equivalence. If you want to take photographs of birds, well, don’t buy the LX3. I wish Panasonic sold a companion camera with a zoom that ran from, oh, 70-300 in 35mm terms. But they don’t. I’m happy to have the LX3’s superior wide-angle performance. And to be honest, given my experience in recent years shooting with prime (fixed focal length) lenses on my Pentax DSLRs, I find the LX3’s modest zoom range easy to live with. Any zoom at all is a novelty to me.

A second and clearer disadvantage is that the LX3 produces rather noisy images at ISOs over about 400. You can find examples of this in all of the reviews of the LX3. I personally don’t find this much of a real disadvantage, either, not because I like noisy images, but because this criticism can be thrown at any small-sensor camera. If you want to shoot in really low light and get stellar results, you buy a DSLR, and even there, some are better than others. The LX3 does have a built-in flash that works tolerably well, but I have reconciled myself to the fact that the LX3 isn’t going to be taking photos in the dark.

Third disadvantage: no viewfinder. As it comes out of the box, the LX3 expects you to frame photos using its LED screen. The screen is big (3″), bright and high-res (460,000 pixels), but when you shoot in bright sun, using the screen can be difficult. A built-in viewfinder should provide a tiny duplicate of the LED screen that you can put your eye up to and see clearly even in bright sun. A built-in viewfinder would display your current camera settings, and would zoom as you zoom. However, a built-in viewfinder would also make the camera bigger; see the Canon G10 or G11. In keeping with the Rangefinder esthetic of the LX3, Panasonic decided to release instead, as an add-on, an external optical viewfinder (EOV). The EOV allows you to frame your photo, somewhat approximately, while you hold the camera to your eye. Holding the camera to your eye is a more stable way to hold the camera; and it also eliminates the problem of viewing the LED in bright sun. The drawback of the EOV is that it doesn’t communicate with the camera in any way, so you don’t get a TTL (through-the-lens) view before you take your photo. Guidelines on the EOV’s viewing screen show you the dimensions of a photo with the 3×2 aspect ratio, which is just one of the three aspect ratios at which the LX3 can shoot. So if you are trying to frame your shot with absolute precision, well, you might want to turn on the display screen. But I’ve found that it’s possible to do a pretty good job framing shots with the EOV. And turning off the LED dramatically reduces battery consumption.

Those are the only significant disadvantages or cons that I can think of.

Pros

The LX3 has too many advantages for me to list them all. Here are a few that matter to me.

  1. Optically outstanding Leica lens, with a wonderful wide-angle reach of 24mm (in 35mm film SLR terms) and a max aperture of f/2 to f/2.8. In a sense, the LX3 is what any serious photographer wants: a terrific lens, with a camera attached.
  2. The LX3 supports raw capture. Actually, this was one of the main things that drew me to the camera, but the more I shoot with it, and considering that I’m using it only for personal photos rather than for work for clients, the more I’m leaning towards shooting jpeg in the camera. Still, I’m happy to know that the raw capability is there if I want it.
  3. The LX3 gives me the ability to control just about everything, indeed, the number of options and controls is a bit bewildering at first, even to someone used to working with a pro DSLR. The LX3 does have the standard PASM exposure modes (program, aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and full manual). P has a program-shift feature that resembles the K20D’s hyper-program feature, so in a way, you don’t need A or S at all. What I’m discovering, however, is that the camera is smart enough that I can put it into P mode and just shoot.
  4. The big, high-res LED is even better than the displays on my DSLRs, and I’m still enjoying how good pictures look on the back of the camera.
  5. I can focus manually if I need to.
  6. Amazing close-focus (macro) capability. The LX3 can focus from 1 cm. And here the LX3’s small sensor provides an advantage over shooting with my DSLRs and the excellent macro lenses I have: at a given focal distance, smaller sensors yield greater depth of field.
  7. The LX3 has the rare ability to shoot at multiple aspect ratios, while maximizing the use of the sensor and at the same time maintaining the same angle of view on the scene. It took me a while (and a little calculating) to realize how interesting an achievement this is. The LX3 doesn’t just crop, or perhaps it would be more correct to say that it crops all three of the basic aspect ratios (4:3, 3:2 and 16:9). As of firmware version 2.1, the LX3 can also take a 1:1 aspect ratio shot.
  8. The LX3 has an internal buffer that can be used to store a couple of photos. This is brilliant. A month or two I grabbed a camera and ran to the lake to photograph a gorgeous rainbow. Jumped out of the car, framed my shot—and then realized that the camera didn’t have a card in it. If I’d grabbed the LX3, I would have been able to take the shot anyway.
  9. Build quality. The LX3 is a nice piece of work that feels like a serious, old-fashioned camera. A lot of other cameras sold these days, including some that are expensive and take very good photos, feel like cheap toys by comparison.

There are literally dozens of other little things about the LX3 that I’m discovering and coming to like very much, like the intelligent ISO feature, video capture (which I don’t use much but am grateful to have), and voice annotations.

In a nutshell

In short, the LX3 has a terrific lens, is a pleasure to shoot with, and yet is going to keep challenging me, because I know that, if I take a lousy photo with the LX3, I can’t blame it on the camera.

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