The Panasonic Lumix LX7 replaces the two-year-old LX5 as the company’s flagship advanced compact. Advanced compacts have become a popular choice for enthusiast-level photographers looking for something a bit more portable than a DSLR and a bag of lenses, and while Panasonic may have been first to market with the launch of the LX3 in 2008, the market is now well served with plenty of competing models.
While most models have their own unique selling points, there are two key things that most potential buyers look for in an advanced compact, namely full manual control over exposure settings and the ability to shoot lossless Raw images for enhanced post-production potential.
Thankfully, the LX7 offers both and also brings with it a number of component and specification upgrades over the older model, not least a super-fast f/1.4-f/2.3 zoom lens – the fastest yet seen on a compact – alongside an all-new aperture control ring and improved rear LCD monitor. But is it enough to elevate the LX7 over the competition?
While many regular compacts use smaller 1/2.3in sensors with effective resolution counts of around 16MP, advanced compacts tend to be equipped with slightly bigger sensors of around 1/1.63in or 1/1.7in that are more expensive to manufacture.
Generally speaking these bigger sensors are capable of producing better image quality and also tend to perform better in low light, although the tradeoff for this is usually a reduction in effective resolution. The LX7 follows this established pattern with a 1/1.7in sensor that produces an effective resolution of 10.1MP – exactly the same as the LX5.
Despite sharing the same headline resolution, the two sensors are actually quite different. Whereas the LX5 used an optimised CCD sensor, the LX7 employs a newly developed High Sensitivity MOS chip that harnesses the technology Panasonic has been employing to such good effect with its compact system camera range in recent years. At 1/1.7in, the LX7’s sensor is fractionally smaller than the 1/1.63in sensor of the LX5 too, and is, of course, significantly smaller than a Micro Four Thirds chip.
Without wishing to get overly hung up on sensor size, a quick comparison between the LX7 and its main advanced compact rivals does seem relevant here. The LX7’s 1/1.7in chip matches what’s found inside both the Nikon P7100 and Canon S100.
The Olympus XZ-1 uses a 1/1.63in chip that’s fractionally bigger though. The Fuji X10, meanwhile, uses a larger 2/3in sensor, while the Sony RX100 uses an even larger 1in sensor. Biggest of all is the Canon G1X, which uses a 1.5in sensor – bigger than a Micro Four Thirds chip.
As mentioned above, the LX7 can record images in compressed JPEG and lossless Raw (or even simultaneous JPEG & Raw) in a range of different aspect ratios including 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1. As with the LX5, aspect ratio selection is made simple via a dedicated switch on top of the lens.
The LX7 also benefits from the same Multi-Aspect Sensor design of the LX5, to ensure as much as possible of the sensor’s total surface area is used - thereby keeping effective resolution as high as possible regardless of what aspect you choose to shoot in.
Elsewhere, sensitivity has received a boost with the LX7 offering a standard sensitivity range of ISO 80-6400 – a stop more than the ISO 3200 top setting offered by the LX5. As with the LX5 before it, the LX7 also offers an extended setting of ISO 12,800 albeit at a reduced resolution of 3.1MP.
The LX7 also carries over the Neutral Density (ND) filter found on the LX5, which offers a three-stop step down should you want to shoot at wider apertures in bright light without your images suffering from blown highlights.
By far the biggest selling point of the LX7, however, is its all-new 3.8x fixed zoom. While this offers the same 24-90mm focal range (35mm equivalent) as the LX5, the LX7’s lens is significantly faster with a maximum aperture of f/1.4 at 24mm – as opposed to the LX5’s f/2. Even at 90mm the LX7’s lens can be opened up to f/2.3 (as opposed to f/3.3 on the LX5).
This makes it the fastest zoom lens in its class, alongside the recently announced Samsung EX2F. By comparison, the Sony RX100 and Olympus XZ-1 both open up to f/1.8 at their widest, while the Fuji X10 and Canon S100 offer a maximum of f/2. The Canon G1X and Nikon P7100, meanwhile, are both a bit slower at f/2.8.
It’s also worth noting that, at 24mm, the LX7 retains the LX5’s crown as the widest advanced compact on the market, with all of its main rivals (bar the Canon S100) starting at 28mm.
If the LX7’s maximum telephoto reach of 90mm isn’t quite enough then it’s possible to extend the reach of the lens via the camera’s built-in Extra Optical Zoom technology. This enables you to extend the zoom’s overall range to 4.5x (at 7MP), 5.4x (at 5MP) or 6.7x (at 3MP). Pushing further into digital zoom territory, it’s possible to extend the zoom to a maximum 7.5x, although it should be noted that the lack of resolution at this setting will, of course, negatively impact overall image quality.
In terms of exposure options, the LX7 is well equipped with the full range of PASM modes, alongside Panasonic’s well-regarded intelligent Auto (iA) point-and-shoot mode and a number of Scene modes.
Should you want to add creative effects to your images without the need for post-processing software then the camera offers 16 Creative Control digital filter effects to choose from, including some interesting options such as Radial Defocus and Smooth Defocus, alongside the more commonly found Retro, Dynamic Monochrome and High Dynamic.
Video enthusiasts will be pleased to discover that the LX7’s movie capture abilities have received a boost over what was offered by its predecessor, with the new model able to record 1080p Full HD video in either the HDTV-friendly AVCHD format at 50fps or in the more computer-friendly MP4 format at 25fps.
By comparison, the LX5 was only able to record 720p HD. There are, of course, a range of non-HD standard definition quality options available should you be shooting non-critical movies specifically for the web, or if you just want to save on memory card space. Audio is captured in stereo via a microphone in front of the hotshoe.