Sony RX100 III vs Panasonic LX100 vs Canon G7 X

Battle of the big-sensor compacts

The

era of the big-sensor compact is here. If you thought your phone was as

good as a compact camera, you need to see what these are capable of.

Where once the Sony RX100 series was just about the only good option in this field, we now have the Panasonic Lumix LX100 and Canon G7 X to consider. But which one is the best?

We’ve been spending some time with these cameras to find out.

Design and Basic Handling

These

are all compact cameras. They don’t have removable lenses or giant

sensors, and it helps keep the lot of them a good deal more portable

than compact system cameras. That’s the whole point of this relatively

new ‘large sensor, small body’ class.

However, among these three, there’s a clear distinction between the Sony RX100 III and Canon G7 X in one group, and the Panasonic Lumix LX100 in another.

Canon

has designed the G7 X to mimic the dimensions and shape of the Sony

RX100 range, which has maintained similar dimensions since the series

began in 2012. The Panasonic Lumix LX100 takes a different approach.

It’s significantly larger, both in terms of its body footprint and how

far the lens sticks out from the body. Here are the dimensions for a

direct comparison…

Sony RX100 III: 101.6 x 58.1 x 41.0mm
Canon G7 X: 103 x 60 x 40 mm
Panasonic Lumix LX100: 114.8 x 66.2 x 61.1 mm

The

LX100 feels much less like an ordinary compact that the others, but

this is something Panasonic has embraced. For example, it’s the only one

of the three not to offer a motorised lens cover, meaning you need to

keep an eye on where you put the lens cap, just like you do with an

interchangeable-lens camera.

Those after a tiny partner to a

DSLR or high-end CSC may appreciate that the Canon G7 X and Sony RX100

III will slip into a pocket, where doing so with an LX100 feels like

trying to fit a rubber glove over your head — you can do it with some

effort, but it’s just not right.

However, this is far from an

all-out fail for the Panasonic. It’s merely a case of these cameras

having different priorities, with the LX100 sensibly separating itself

from the incredibly popular RX100 line. It offers something altogether

different.

For example, it’s the only one of the three to offer a

proper handgrip. It’s small, but rubberised and well designed. It gives

the Panasonic LX100 a surer grip and a sense of being a more

substantial camera than the other two. It feels similar to Fujifilm

X-series cameras such as the X100T and X30: compact, but with a

reassuring side of old-school flavour.

The

most slippery of the lot is the Sony RX100 III, which has a very

smart-looking lightly textured metal finish. The Canon G7 X inhabits a

middle ground. It has no hand grip, but offers a more pronounced ‘paint

fleck’ texture that offers more resistance.

However,

the Canon G7 X is probably the least ergonomically pleasing of the lot.

Its two-tiered mode dial is an attraction, but detracts from comfort

when you have a finger perched over the shutter button.

The Sony and Panasonic are the handling winners, depending on whether portability or a rugged feel is more important to you.

Construction and Build Quality

Surprisingly

enough, given that it’s the cheapest of the three, it’s the Canon G7 X that

actually has the most metal on show. Aside from the flaps that cover the

ports on its sides and bottom, all of its main panels are metal. The

underside of the display is the only large part that’s plastic.

The Panasonic LX100 and Sony RX100 III are mostly metal, but both make greater use of plastic.

If

we’re to dub the use of plastic a crime, the Sony RX100 III is the

worst offender. Its front panel, which curves around to form the top

plate, is metal, but the whole back is plastic. Of course, the effects in use are very, very minor.

Most of the RX100 III’s

back is taken up by the glass-covered display, and where you rest your

thumb on the back is covered by a rubberised grip anyway.

The

Lumix LX100 uses a bit of plastic to cover its left side, but the

majority of this construction is metal, much like the G7 X. However, of

the three it offers the least actual contact with the hard, cold stuff

thanks to its use of rubberised grips on the front and back.

All

three are extremely well made, with the Sony RX100 III having the most

dense, tight feel of the lot. Of course, this may be in part due to the

smooth finish it uses.

The one build disappointment I registered

was the Canon G7 X’s manual control ring. All three cameras offer some

form of control ring around the lens, but the action of the Canon’s clicky dial

is overly noisy and feels cheap next to the LX100’s

one.  

On that point, which offers the greatest manual control?

Manual Control

Panasonic LX100 manual control
This

is the area where we really understand why the Panasonic Lumix LX100

benefits from being larger than the Sony RX100 III and Canon G7 X.

There’s much more to it than the handgrip.

The Panasonic LX100

offers manual control far in excess of the other cameras — or most

cameras on the market, in fact, including the majority of CSCs and lower-end DSLRs.

If you want to deep dive into manual photography, where you select the

aperture and shutter speed independently with every shot, this is one of

the best places to start.

On the lens you get a dedicated metal

aperture dial, which offers nice clicky increments. Next to it is a

smooth focus ring, but it can also be set to alter zoom and ISO (and

filters, but that’s not the kind of manual control we’re talking about

here).

On

the top plate are shutter speed and exposure compensation dials, again

with a definite, clicky action. Despite the camera’s relatively small

size, none of these elements feel cramped. Sensor size and lens optics

are one reason for the Panasonic LX100’s size, but it sits perfectly

with the kind of manual control here. This numer of control dials

probably wouldn’t work with the smaller two, especially not the dual

lens rings.

If you want manual control, there’s no contest. The LX100 wins.

There’s also a third lens control that lets you select the aspect ratio of your shots.

Canon G7 X manual control
The

Canon G7 X offers decent control, but it’s nowhere near what’s on offer

in the LX100. You get a context-sensitive lens control ring that, as

already mentioned, is a bit too loud in operation and feels a little

stiff and cheap. Definite clicks are good, but the action almost makes

it feel like a plastic ring, even though it is — like just about

everything else in the G7 X — metal.

The top-most control ring

on the top plate is the mode dial, giving you access to the usual

aperture priority and shutter priority modes. In these, the lens ring

can be used to select the key parameter, while in full manual the lens

ring is used to select aperture and the little rotary dial that sits

around the rear control pads sets shutter speed.

The

combo of small real dial and stiff control lens wheel makes manual

operation feel a bit unnatural, but we’re sure Canon G7 X buyers would

get used to it after a while.

What the G7 X offers over the

RX100 III is a separate exposure compensation dial that sits under the

main mode dial. Sat in this position you need to keep an eye on it as it

may be prone to knocks despite being, quite sensibly, fairly stiff. It

also reduces the comfort of general shooting, the raised mode dial

feeling as though it’s in the way at times.

We like what the

Canon G7 X sets out to do in terms of manual control, but it feels as

though it’s an annual refresh away from perfection. The controls are

there, but their feel is a little off.

Sony RX100 III manual control
The

RX100 III can seem like the most ‘point and shoot’ of all three

cameras, but it too offers reasonable manual controls. Like the previous

RX100 cameras, you get a lens ring and a rotary dial that sits around

the main nav control on the back.

Unlike the Panasonic and Canon

cameras, the lens ring here is entirely smooth — no clicky feedback at

all. However, I found it more pleasant to use than the stiff, loud Canon

wheel. Without obvious feedback you do need to keep more of an eye on

the display to judge exactly what setting you’re on, though.

The

Mode dial sits almost flush with the top plate and offers aperture

priority, shutter priority and manual modes. Just like the G7 X, both

lens and rear controls can both be used in A/S modes and the lens ring

takes over aperture in full Manual, leaving shutter to the rear dial.

Changing

exposure and ISO takes longer with the RX100 III than the LX100,

although with the screen tilted out a few degrees and the camera held at

chest height, it’s fairly comfortable to use the manual controls.

EVF quality

Other

than offering decent physical controls, the other question often asked

of cameras aspiring to appeal to enthusiasts is whether they have a

viewfinder. Two of these do, but the cheaper Canon G7 X does not. If

you’re not going to be happy composing off a 3-inch screen, steer clear.

So which one has the better EVF, the Sony RX100 III or the Panasonic LX100?

The

Sony’s design is certainly a bit more dramatic. There’s a little

release toggle on the left side of the RX100 III that makes the unit pop

up. You then have to pull out the eyepiece lens manually to get the

image to focus.

RX100 EVF

This

isn’t an everyday EVF, but rather one you’ll pull out in lighting

conditions where the LCD doesn’t quite cut it, such as in bright

sunlight. The Panasonic LX100 EVF is just there, 24/7, with a handy

rubberised eye guard that means you don’t need to get your face quite so

closer to the camera body.

Both cameras use a proximity sensor

that switches over to the EVF when it detects your face is in front of

the thing. No fiddling about with buttons is required.

Which offers better quality? From the specs the LX100 seems to walk it, but it’s not that simple.

The

Sony RX100 III has a 1.44-million dot OLED EVF while the LX100’s LCD

one offers 2.4 million dots. Thats’s a huge difference, and the LX100’s

is noticeably sharper. However, given how great the hardware of the EVF

is, Panasonic has dropped the ball a bit in its implementation.

First,

the actual preview display only uses about 2/3s of the actual EVF’s

display space. This seems to be because the LX100 needs to make sure it

can fit 16:9 shot views into the space, but means that stubbier aspect

ratio shots look tiny: smaller than they do on the RX100 III. In all

cases, in fact, the Sony offers a larger image.

The LX100 EVF also emphasises contrast too much, making it a fairly weak indication of the final results.

Even

if its hardware is a good deal better than the Sony RX100 III’s, its

implementation is quite flawed and ultimately disappointing. The lower

resolution of the Sony EVF is quite obvious, but it is slightly easier

to work with.

Screen

All these cameras have 3-inch

screens, and unlike what we’ve seen so far, the Panasonic LX100’s

hardware appears to be the weakest of the lot. It brings the lowest

resolution, 921k dots, is non-touch and doesn’t tilt or swivel.

However,

we shouldn’t dwell on the resolution too much. The G7 X offers 1040k

dots and the Sony 1.23 million dots, but the RX100 III’s figures are

effectively inflated by its RGBW matrix. An extra white pixel lets it

increase brightness without draining too much battery, but this subpixel

doesn’t offer more picture information. Just brightness.

Resolution,

then, is pretty similar across the three. We did find that the Sony

RX100 III offers the most natural colour, although the Panasonic LX100

offers some screen calibration tools to let you tweak the character of

the display a bit.

This

image makes the Panasonic screen look much more vivid that the others,

but in person they’re quite even in this respect. Note, though, that as

with the EVF, the LX100 doesn’t use its entire display as a preview

window. No matter which aspect ratio you pick, the display is never

quite filled. It’s a shame.

The Canon G7 X is the most

casual-friendly screen of the lot. It’s the only screen to offer touch

operation, letting you use touch focusing, much as you would with a phone

camera.  


It offers 180-degree tilt, too – perfect for selfies or for shooting at any level below head height.

While

non-touch, the Sony RX100 III is offer the most versatile articulation.

It tilts down as well as up through 180 degrees, useful for shooting

above the head as well as below it. And, yes, it can do the selfie angle

if that’s what you’re after.

Lens

While

these cameras get a lot of attention for their larger-than-average

sensors, lens quality is just as important. With maximum apertures of up

to f/1.7, they are extremely fast, enabling the sort of creative

shallow depth of field effects that aren’t usually viable with a compact

camera.

Here are the basic specs of the lenses, using 35mm equivalent numbers:


Sony RX100 III: 24-70mm, max aperture up to f/1.8
Canon G7 X: 24-100mm, max aperture up to f/1.8
Panasonic LX100: 24-75mm, max aperture up to f/1.7

All

these lenses settle to a max aperture of f/2.8 as you use the zoom, but

we thought we’d take a closer look a their zoom ranges to find out how

well they hold on to their lens speed as the zoom is used.

Maximum aperture results

As

you can see, the Sony RX100 III is actually the weakest of the bunch

despite having the smallest zoom range. It settles down to f/2.8 by the

time it hits 35mm while the Panasonic LX100 and Canon G7 X can go that

bit wider right up until 60mm, where they join the Sony at f/2.8 max

aperture.

All three have ways to make their very wide apertures useful in daylight, where they’re at risk of causing overexposure.

The

Sony RX100 III and Canon G7 X use inbuilt ND filters, which limit the

amount of light that gets to the sensor. However, while the Sony’s can

be set to turn on automatically, you need to do so consciously with the

G7 X, which is a shame.

The Panasonic LX100 doesn’t have an ND

filters but does offer incredibly fast shutter speeds of up to 1/16,000

of a second. The others only go up to 1/2000 of a second.

With some reports that the LX100 lens is a bit soft wide open, we tried a

basic detail/sharpness test, all at 24mm, all with their max aperture

engaged. The results are below.

Here

we see that the Panasonic seems slightly reticent to use shutter speeds

higher than a ‘standard’ 1/2000 seconds, which has resulted in a much

brighter photo than the others. It has resulted in better colour, but

the sky is overexposed in parts, unlike the others.

The LX100 is

also slightly less sharp than the other two, although at this level

it’s likely to be as much down to the camera’s lower resolution as

anything to do with the lens.

We should also note that the Sony

RX100 III suffers from much clearer purple fringing than the other

cameras, although the effect isn’t too bad.

Quick disclaimer for

pixel-peepers… You’d never normally use this sort of setting for this

sort of scene — there are no real benefits to using such a wide

aperture in this kind of photo.

Autofocus performance

All three cameras use contrast

detection as their main focusing method. This is the standard type, not

the (potentially) faster phase detection kind.

Panasonic boasts

of the LX100’s ‘depth from defocus’ focusing aid, but really this is

just a software solution based on comparing the rate of defocusing when

the AF is searching.

In good lighting, all these cameras are

very fast among compacts. So we tried them in a bunch of very low-light

scenes to see which fares the best.

Despite

some reports to the contrary — some reviews suggest the RX100 III is

inconsistent — we found the Sony RX100 III to be generally the quickest

of the bunch. Despite the depth from defocus feature, the LX100 suffered

from the most obvious focus-searching periods.

We did find that

the Sony RX100 III could be a little vague in its focusing during

low-light shooting, though, not offering an exact point of focus, but

simply suggesting “some point of this scene is in focus. I’m off now,

bye.”

So for speed, it’s the Sony, but the others are a bit clearer about the results.

The Canon G7 X also has the benefit of touch focus, making casual snapping all the quicker.

Sensor and Image Quality

Which

has the best sensor? Well, the Panasonic LX100 certainly has the

largest one. It uses a Micro Four-Thirds sensor while the G7 X and RX100

III have 1-inch sensors, which seems to have become a standard for this

kind of camera.

However, the Panasonic LX100 doesn’t use its

entire sensor, instead using different portions of it depending on

whether you shoot 3:2, 16:9, 1:1 or 4:3 aspect pictures. It takes

12.5-megapixel pictures from the 16-megapixel sensor, giving you a good

idea of how much of the sensor is used.

The Sony RX100 III has a

20.1-megapixel 1-inch sensor and the Canon G7 X a 20.2-megapixel one.

Once again, Canon has deliberately made very similar moves to Sony.

You

get much higher-resolution pictures with the Canon and Sony. But do you

get better ones? We took the cameras into our labs to find out. Here

are their detail and dynamic range results:

The

results are interesting. It seems that despite being lower-res, the

Panasonic LX100 can harvest as much detail as the RX100 III in our

resolution test chart. The Canon G7 X gets slightly more detail, with

the difference becoming more apparent as you work up the ISO range.

The

Canon G7 X also outperforms the RX100 III in terms of dynamic range at

higher ISOs, although the Lumix LX100 is the clear victor here. As well

as offering significantly better maximum dynamic range, it’s better at

higher ISOs than either of the others. And unless you’re going to be

cropping into images a good deal, dynamic range matters more than fine

detail when it comes to a perception of image quality.

Video

What

about video? The Panasonic is the stand-out here, as it is the only one

to offer 4K video capture. The others max out at 1080p 60 frames per

second.

However, none is a true video replacement for something like the Panasonic GH4.

The Panasonic LX100 does not offer a microhone input despite having a

hotshoe where you could easily slot in a mic. The key function of this

hotshoe is to slot-in a flash, which comes in the box. It’s the only one

of these three cameras not to offer an inbuilt flash.

Verdict

For

those looking to get serious with their photography, we recommend the

Panasonic LX100. Its clear, high-quality manual controls encourage you

to be a much more active participant in your photos. There are auto

settings for everything, too, so you’re not forced into it. Panasonic’s implementation of the

technically impressive EVF needs work, though, and it’s not pocketable.

The

Canon G7 X sensor actually produces the most detail and has perhaps the

most impressive lens, with large maximum apertures and a good zoom

range, despite being the cheapest of the lot. We just don’t like its lens-wheel control, and without a viewfinder, some may struggle to

take it that seriously.

The Sony RX100 III

has stiff competition, then, but it’s still the only one of the three that

doesn’t have any hardware disappointments, beyond the lack of

a touchscreen (if that’s your bag). It’s the best all-rounder and the least likely to offend.

Ultimately, this is a superb trio of cameras, and proof that big-sensor compacts are now a force to be reckoned with.

Next, read our Best Cameras Round-up

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