Panasonic Lumix LX7 Review: A Lovely Point-and-Shoot For Control FreaksS

Anyone in the market for a top point-and-shoot camera is probably deciding between Canon's S100 and Sony's RX100. But Panasonic is back in the game with the Lumix LX7, a sequel to one of the top shooters of 2010, the wildly popular LX5. Does Panasonic's latest have what it takes to beat these pocket titans?

What Is It?

A $450 compact camera with a 1/1.7-inch image sensor and a lens that opens up to an aperture of f/1.4.

Who's it For?

People who want stellar quality from a point-and-shoot, whether it's set on auto or dialed in with manual controls.

Design

Very solid and very comfortable to hold. It won't fit in your pants pocket, but it'll fit in a jacket. There are there are a lot of physical controls and the LCD screen is bright and clear.

Using It

Sucker is fast. It locks onto a focal point, lightning quick, and fires off shots instantaneously. There are physical manual controls for just about everything, which means you rarely have to dive into a complicated menu to tweak your photo settings. We love this.

Panasonic Lumix LX7 Review: A Lovely Point-and-Shoot For Control FreaksS

The Best Part

The glass. I want to eat tiny pancakes off this lens. Made by Leica, it's one of the most impressive lenses we've ever seen on a point and shoot. The photos come out sharper than the S100 or the RX100, which says a lot. And it opens up to F/1.4, so you can get a whole lot of light on that little sensor. Speaking of...

Tragic Flaw

That little sensor. The trend is toward larger sensors in smaller cameras (the RX100 has a one-inch). This 1/1.7-incher just ain't enough, even with that remarkable lens. In fact, the lens is wasted on it, leaving you to imagine how amazing and noise-free those low-light photos might have been—or if this camera might otherwise have beaten the Sony.

This Is Weird...

On the barrel of the LX7, there's a ring to change the aspect ratio. That's fine, but it seems unnecessarily prominent for a rarely-used feature. Bury that in a menu and use the space for something else (like a real focus ring).

Panasonic Lumix LX7 Review: A Lovely Point-and-Shoot For Control FreaksS

Test Notes

  • Love the manual controls. There's an aperture ring, a switch to pull focus, a dial for shutter speed, and ISO is just a button-press away. There's also an AF/AE lock. In short, it's among the most easily adjustable point-and-shoots we've ever used.
  • Hate the removable lens cap. It delays you from taking a photo, and it's easy to lose.
  • The focus toggle is a great addition, but it certainly isn't as easy to use as a ring focus.
  • The LX7 has the best color accuracy of any point-and-shoot we've tested. Colors are bright and vivid, but not over-saturated. Landscapes look amazing with it.
  • On the video side, in a head-to-head with the S100, you can see that the LX7 is sharper, more detailed, and has better color accuracy. But the S100 handles dynamic range a bit better. At the same time, the LX7 can shoot at very impressive 1080/60p fps. That won't always play nicely with where you want to upload it, but you can slow it down to 40-percent for a lossless 1080p slo-mo. Would have appreciated more framerate options, though. (Note: this video has been brought down to 720p at 24fps from the original 1080p/60)
  • Low light photos are a mixed bag with the LX7. Because that little sensor can only handle so much information, when it gains-up, it gets extremely noisy. Your images will be brighter than the S100 shooting at the same speed/ISO/aperture, but noisier. The RX100, with its big sensor, handily wins the low light contest.
  • The on-camera flash is pretty good (for an on-camera flash). Very bright and even. But a photo still has that amateur look...like it was shot with an on-camera flash.
  • 3.8x optical zoom is a bit ho-hum, especially when compared to the S100, which has 5x in a smaller package.
  • It's capable of full-resolution bursts at 11 shots per second. Fast.
  • It has a neutral density filter, which is rare for a camera in this class. Great addition.

Should You Buy It?

Very likely. The LX7 has placed itself squarely in the middle between the S100 and the RX100, in terms of both price and performance. The S100 is slightly cheaper (by 20 bucks) and way more pocketable, but photos aren't quite as good. The RX100 is more expensive (by 200 bucks) and manual controls are way worse, but that big image sensor just sops up light—so if you're going to be doing a lot of low-light photography, then it might be worth the extra coin.

If you don't mind that it's a bit bigger, the LX7 is a clear pick over the Canon S100. (Note: The S100's successor, the S110, has already been announced. We haven't gotten our hands on it yet. The photo quality should be very similar to the S100, but we can't wait to see how the touchscreen fares. Check back soon for a full review.)

The LX7 shoots beautiful daylight photos, and fairly decent ones in low-light. It has really nice depth-of-field for a camera this size. The manual controls are extremely handy for getting your shot just right—but there's no shame in using this camera on auto. It performs wonderfully, and it's a lot of fun to use.

The feeling is like having a little taste of a DSLR, which makes it a nice backup cam for pros and a good intro shooter for folks who are excited to learn the basics of photography. Hopefully, next year's version will have a bigger sensor, and then we'll really see what that incredible lens can do. [Panasonic]

Panasonic Lumix LX7 Specs

• Price: $450
• Sensor: 10.1-megapixel 1/1.7-inch
• Lens: Leica F/1.4 - F/8.0
• Max ISO: 6400
• Image: Up to 3648x2736 pixels (10MP)
• Video: 1920 x 1080 @ 60 fps (progressive)
• Screen: 921,600 dot, 3-inch LCD
• Weight: 10.56 ounces w/ battery
Giz Rank: 4.0 stars