capsule review

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 Compact Camera

    TechHive Rating

Panasonic Lumix LX1
Photograph: Rick Rizner

At $600 the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1 is rather pricey for a point-and-shoot camera, but it's as compact as many in this class and offers some interesting features normally not found in this group.

To begin with, standard film and digital cameras capture images with a width-to-height ratio of 4:3. The Lumix DMC-LX1 offers two additional aspect ratios: 3:2 (DVD letterbox ratio) and 16:9 (the same as a wide-screen TV or HDTV set). You move among the three settings using a switch on the top of the lens, which makes it easy to try them out when you're composing a shot. Most cameras cut off part of the image (and thus lose some of the resolution) to create the wider screen of a 16:9 aspect ratio image. The DMC-LX1 doesn't: 16:9 images use the full image sensor, while photos at other aspect ratios are cropped, so you get 7 megapixels in 3:2, and 6 megapixels in 4:3.

The DMC-LX1 is well built, with a solid feel and an aluminum case that should stand up well to the thumps and knocks of everyday use. The lens protrudes nearly three quarters of an inch from the body when turned off. We also found the camera slightly awkward to hold: the small hand grip means that it can slip, and though it is adequate for one-handed shooting, you'll need two hands to access the controls--one to hold the camera steady and the other to work through the menus.

The controls are also a little oddly designed: Both a joystick and directional buttons are on the rear. The joystick can be used to access what Panasonic calls the quick menu, which allows you to change the image quality, resolution, ISO settings, and white balance mode with just a few movements of the joystick, while the menu and directional buttons are for infrequently used features, such as formatting the SD card. But you can't use the joystick to move in the main menu; you have to use the directional buttons instead. This seems like an overly complex arrangement. It would have been simpler and less confusing to choose one method instead of using both and making them incompatible. The zoom control surrounds the shutter button. The zoom provides more of a wide-angle view than some. In 16:9 mode the angle is equivalent to a 28mm lens, wider than the 38mm equivalents that we usually see on cameras of this size.

On top of the camera is the mode dial, which allows you to switch among video, full manual, shutter-priority, aperture-priority, program, and full auto modes (the camera has 14 scene modes in all). There are also two spots on the dial for fixing scene modes: By assigning, say, the fireworks mode to one dial spot and the night portrait mode to the other, you can switch between them quickly without having to fiddle with the on-screen menu.

In our tests in the PC World Test Center, we found that the DMC-LX1 takes impressively sharp photos. Fine details were very well reproduced, especially at the highest resolutions. Some of our judges even found them a bit too sharp--fine lines (such as type on a page) had a tendency to jump out of the image. Fortunately, the camera has three sharpness settings, and using the low setting reduces the sharpness to a slightly less dramatic level. (We test cameras at their default settings; on this camera the middle setting for sharpness is the default). Colors were accurate, but lacked some vibrancy. Shots taken with the pop-up flash were well exposed, with good coverage and strong color.

However, there is one big problem: image noise. Although the noise is relatively mild at the low ISO settings, it gets significantly worse when you raise the sensitivity to the maximum of 400, especially in areas of flat color. This limits the DMC-LX1's appeal if you like to shoot at night.

Although the noise is noticeable, the camera still shoots nice-looking photos in most settings, and the 16:9 aspect ratio opens up many possibilities for photographers who want to do more with their photos than just take the shot and move on. The DMC-LX1 is best described as an advanced camera in point-and-shoot clothing.

The DMC-LX1 provides lots of advanced features, along with plenty of point-and-shoot capabilities. The aspect-mode options will also appeal to photographers who want to escape the ordinary, but the noise at higher ISO settings makes the camera unsuitable for low-light shooters.

Richard Baguley

This story, "Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX1" was originally published by PCWorld.

To comment on this article and other TechHive content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
At a Glance
  • TechHive Rating

    Offers a choice of aspect ratios and many advanced features, but image noise is a problem at highest ISO settings.

Shop Tech Products at Amazon