I have been in search of a compact camera that offers some of the creative control and low light performance of my digital SLR. DP Review recently reviewed a bunch of cameras in this category and gave high marks to the Panasonic LX3. I got one yesterday and took it for a spin in a typical situation where usually only an SLR will do the trick: an indoor holiday party in a house.
What first strikes you about the camera is that it looks like an old Leica rangefinder. it has more heft and a more traditional design then a Canon digital elph. it also has a hot shoe, which seems a waste of space. If I am going to put an external flash on the camera then I will just carry the SLR.
Indoors, shooting with available light you need a low noise sensor and a fast lens. The LX3 has one of those; the f2.0 lens is fast enough that you can often shoot at ISO 400 and below, where the noise is manageable. But you pretty much need to stay at wide angle (24mm equivalent) to avoid having to use ISO800 indoors. The lens slows down to f2.8 when zoomed. At f2.8, typical home lighting requires ISO 800 or higher, something my digital SLR handles just fine but the LX3, not so much. The LX3 is supposedly less noisy than most of its competitors at ISO800 but compared to a digital SLR like the Canon 5D or 40D, there is a ton of noise.
Where does that leave me? I like the camera. It fits very nicely between the Canon 880IS that I carry when skiing and the digital SLR that I take out when image quality is my number one concern. I see myself using it when hiking, when going to indoor parties and other casual events. I do wish the camera had a lower noise sensor, which means that I wish it had a physically larger sensor with a lower pixel density. But for some reason, manufacturers don’t want to build a compact point and shoot around the sensor found in the Canon 40D. In the interim, this camera is probably the closest thing to my dream camera.
The Canon 880IS is still my choice when i want to carry a camera that will disappear entirely when not using it. The LX3 certainly won’t fit in your pocket. They know that. It has a full strap like an SLR. The Canon 880IS has just a wrist strap.
Oh yeah, the camera takes video too. performance in 4×3 aspect ratio mode, where it shoots 30 FPS, is excellent. Performance at 720p, 16×9 ratio, 24 FPS (the other option) is not quite as good. there seems to be some stuttering and motion does not seem quite as smooth. There are more artifacts in the video at 720p too to my eye. Both modes produce motion JPEGS in a quicktime container, a pretty dense format with lots of wasted space, but Phanfare’s video conversion takes care of that for me.
You can’t zoom while shooting video, pretty typical for the genre. But I don’t find that a big problem.
My biggest complaint about the camera so far is that i can’t change the ISO without going into the menus, but I read that I might be able to re-assign a button to do that.