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Lumix DMC-LX3

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In a lavish PR event in Monte Carlo last week, Panasonic announced four new digital cameras to update its range for this summer. All four cameras are new top-of-the-range models, updating four crucial product lines and further reinforcing Panasonic's large and growing share of the digital camera market.

The model that caused the most excitement among the several hundred camera journalists attending the event was the Lumix DMC-LX3, an impressive high-spec compact camera aimed at enthusiasts and semi-professionals.

The LX3 has a number of unusual features. The most noticeable is its superb ultra-fast, ultra-wide-angle f/2.0 24-60mm Leica DC Vario-Summicron lens. This is, as far as I'm aware, the widest-aperture lens on any compact camera currently available. The last camera to have a lens this fast was the popular Canon PowerShot G6, from 2004, and it's pretty clear that Panasonic's new flagship is designed to take on Canon's current top compact, the G9.

Panasonic has taken a bold and hopefully successful decision with the LX3. Abandoning the usual megapixel escalation as unproductive in terms of final picture quality, it has instead opted for a 10.1-megapixel CCD, but one of an unusually large size, 1/1.63-inchs, fractionally larger than that in the previous LX2 model. In theory this should result in lower image noise, greater colour depth and increased dynamic range. As well as this the circuitry inside the photocells on the chip has been made less obtrusive thanks to more advanced manufacturing techniques, leading to an increase in effective photocell area. Again, this should have tangible benefits in terms of image quality.

The high-quality lens and improved sensor are matched by Panasonic's Venus Engine IV image processor, which features more advanced two-stage noise reduction and increased sensitivity to 6400 ISO. It can support 2.5fps shooting at full resolution in continuous mode, or 6fps in 3-megapixel burst mode.

The LX3 is designed for creative manual use, but also features many advanced automatic features such as intelligent exposure, intelligent ISO selection, autofocus tracking, and a face detection and tracking mode that can follow faces even when they are turned in profile to the camera.

Other features include a 3.0-inch LCD monitor with a resolution of 460k dots, and the ability to shoot in 4:3, 3:2 or 16:9 widescreen mode. It can also shoot HD video at 1280 x 720 resolution and 24fps. A range of accessories is also available, including a very nice leather case, a clip-on optical viewfinder and a range of filters and conversion lenses.

The Lumix DMC-LX3 will be available in either black or silver. The UK launch price will be £399.99, and the camera should be available in August.

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