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Customer Review

93 of 100 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good DSLR replacement, and also a good video camcorder replacement, 19 Jan. 2014
This review is from: Panasonic Lumix LX7 Digital Camera with LEICA F1.4 Summilux Lens - Black (10.1 MP, 3.8x Optical Zoom) 3 inch LCD (Camera)
Length:: 1:26 Mins

The video accompanying this review is some footage taken entirely with the LX7.

The advanced compact camera is a recent invention that aims to be a replacement for your big, heavy DSLR, or to replace your cell phone camera if you are used to something smaller than a DSLR, but want DSLR quality. All advanced compact cameras allow you to output RAW data, which is a big deal if you are into photo editing or advanced photography.

There are many other advanced compacts on offer (Olympus XZ, Fuji X series, Canon G1, Sony RX100 or Nikon Coolpix A), but the LX7 has four major things that sets it above the competition...

The first is price: the LX7 is amongst the cheapest advanced compact you can buy.

The second is the fastest glass: it is not constant aperture, but beats the competition hands down. Although the LX7 has a poorer high ISO than the competition, the fact that you have very fast glass means that you rarely go above ISO400/800, so it's a non-issue in most cases. The camera also has a very good macro function: it can focus as near as a centimetre away. The lens comes with in-lens optical stabilisation (many other cameras have only electronic compensation, so optical compensation is a pretty big deal at this price point).

Third: video. Although the LX7 has a small sensor, this is an advantage in video (and also for that matter, in IR photography). You get the sharpest video because the sensor does very little line-skipping and has far fewer sensor filters. The camera also comes with inbuilt ND filters, which is essential for video (unlike in stills, in video, shutter is tied to frame rate so you control exposure via an ND).

Fourth: you can add a filter thread to the lens, available separately from Panasonic (or for peanuts from eBay). This opens up all sorts of advanced use: additional ND filters for advanced video, IR photography and so on.

Bad points?
Lower zoom range than some of the competition, and only 10MP. It also seems to cook the RAWs a little, but that is common to all advanced compacts - at the very least they all seem to do some in-camera lens correction. Oh, and it often overexposes a little but there is an easy workaround - set exposure compensation down by 1/3rd of a stop. The optical compensation is designed for stills only, so you can have issues with it if you do video panning (it tries to keep a still image rather than damping video movement).

See the attached video for a sample of my video production using only the LX7. This is better video than the competing Sonys (which everyone seems to want right now for stills, but their video is soft). See also attached image sample in the product sample images.

To conclude: a very competent and keenly priced camera if you are looking for a compact DSLR replacement or something better than a cell phone. Pocketable and portable, takes excellent photos and video and can be used for advanced photography/photo editing via RAW output or attached filters. Superseded as of this writing by the Sony RX100 (as are most other advanced compacts!), but far cheaper and better for video... and for most people the LX7 is probably better value for money. I'd also recommend anyone new to DSLR stills/video to think about getting an advanced compact rather than an entry level DSLR - the advanced compacts are cheaper as you don't need extra lenses, and they will still be useful to you once you go on to buy a better mid-level DSLR.

*** Update Jan 24 2014 ***
Given some of the discussion comments made for this review, its worth noting that advanced compacts are not really point and-shoot cameras out of the box. The more normal use case for any advanced compacts is one of the semi-automatic or manual modes (the P, A S and M modes). I use A (aperture) and M (manual) modes almost exclusively, and this review is written on the assumption you will not be using full auto or 'scene' modes.

One of the downfalls of the Panasonic LX7 is that the auto and scene modes are not that good out-of-box and do need tweaking. If you want a dedicated and simple point and shoot and do not want to mess about with camera settings, aperture, shutter and RAW editing, then you may be looking at the wrong camera (don't worry if this is you and you have already bought the camera, as I give a fix below).

In particular, the i.ISO (Intelligent ISO) ISO setting is useless except when you are shooting fast movement in good light (such as the kids playing in the garden). If you use i.ISO indoors, you will get tons of noise because it will select far too high a shutter. If you must use the camera in a point-and-shoot mode, a better option is to follow the steps below:
1. use P Mode (via the mode dial at the top),
2. use auto ISO (ISO button > Auto ISO), and then set the minimum shutter (Menu > Camera 3 > Min. Shtr Speed) to 1/30 or 1/60 (1/30 is less noise but greater chance of blur, 1/60 is more noise, less chance of blur).
3. Use the stabilizer (Menu > Camera 4 > Stabilizer, set to ON).

Unfortunately, knowing why you are making this sort of setting does require a fairly good understanding of the relationship between aperture, shutter and ISO, and Panasonic assume buyers of this camera don't need telling this sort of thing as the LX7 is an advanced compact!

The LX7 is, however, the cheapest quality photography enthusiast camera out there in my opinion. If you are looking to take snapshots, then I would recommend against the LX7. If you want to get deeper into photography technique, and are weighing up between an entry level DSLR and advanced compact, I'd advise the advanced compact as it will be better than any entry level dSLR+kit lens offerings (an entry level DSLR only becomes better once you ditch the kit lens and get a range of better lenses... save your money and get an advanced compact to start, then go straight to a mid level DSLR if the photography bug bites you). The advanced compact is also more portable than a full dSLR and makes an excellent 'dSLR replacement' for existing mid and top-end dSLR owners with tired arms.
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Showing 1-10 of 16 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 19 Jan 2014 13:31:53 GMT
Last edited by the author on 19 Jan 2014 19:23:10 GMT
ShammyB says:
You can see a better quality sample of my video using the LX7 here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Ojt8cCdD50

You can also see a bigger version of my sample still here http://howgreenisyourgarden.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/p1000506_large1.jpg

For comparison, here's a similar shot using a comparable APS-C sized 12MP DSLR: http://howgreenisyourgarden.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/hdr_enhance02_flat_big.jpg
There's actually not much between the two!

Posted on 20 Jan 2014 13:13:46 GMT
Was the video shot in Cumbria?

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Jan 2014 13:54:48 GMT
Last edited by the author on 20 Jan 2014 13:58:38 GMT
ShammyB says:
Nope, it was shot in a small wood in Bradford, West Yorkshire just three miles from the town centre. Amazing what post production can do given decent out-of camera footage - the place does look much less grim :)

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Jan 2014 14:26:00 GMT
Last edited by the author on 20 Jan 2014 14:26:15 GMT
I see. It just looks like a place I used to visit in the Lake District. I've been really disappointed with the LX7. The images are grainy, full of noise, and lacking sharpness and detail. I've been using it at ISO 80 and with various aperture settings.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Jan 2014 18:21:40 GMT
Last edited by the author on 20 Jan 2014 18:36:02 GMT
ShammyB says:
Not sure why you are seeing noise from ISO80!
Are you viewing the images on a computer at 100% or on the camera back? It does look grainy on the camera back if you zoom in too far, but that's because you are viewing it at better than 100% (per pixel)... I never go beyond x4 zoom when reviewing images on the camera, because x4 = 100% on a computer screen.

In any case, I shoot RAW, and only see significant noise approaching ISO400 (which the camera selects in a dimly lit indoors room). I can fix the noise with DxO Optics Prime, but If I get too close to about ISO800 (which the camera rarely selects anyway except in true dark conditions), softness starts to creep in after post work for NR.

I have seen a weird grain occasionally if I shoot with a really wide DOF (it occurs in defocused areas), but that only occurs occasionally if I try to over-edit in post - it never occurs as-shot, and isn't noise, but it rarely occurs so I've never been too worried about it, and put it down to pushing the dynamic range too far.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Jan 2014 18:55:13 GMT
Even on my computer screen at normal size, images are very poor, lacking detail and sharpness. They just don't look like decent images, and this is of a bright, sunlit scene. I don't have the competence to use RAW. I had a go with silkypix but to be honest I was just making things worse, and the instruction manual, well, you'd need to be an engineer to understand it. I want a good camera that takes good pictures, allowing me some creative control over the camera, but I don't want to be forced to use RAW editing to get decent images. Any ideas on the best camera for me?

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Jan 2014 22:15:29 GMT
Last edited by the author on 22 Jan 2014 23:41:07 GMT
ShammyB says:
Hmm. I'm reluctant to recommend another camera because I suspect that the current camera is fine...sounds like something else is going wrong here.

I suspect that you may be shooting using the wrong settings. Its easy to get so worried about noise that you miss everything else, especially when you read half the articles on the web. Disregard all the stuff you read on the internet about noise being critical in photography. ISO, aperture and shutter have to be balanced to get a good shot.

For example, shooting at too low an ISO gets you low noise, but gives you loss of sharpness (because you are forcing the camera to shoot wide open, in this case f1.4), and may give you camera shake or motion blurring (because you are also forcing a shutter that is too slow). If as you say, you are shooting at ISO 80 and *only* ISO 80, you will be getting blurry shots, even in good light and even if you have stabilised lenses as with the LX7 because your camera is skimping via wide aperture and slow shutter to accommodate your choice of ISO.

Have a look at this link in a browser: its a full size LX7 photo... http://howgreenisyourgarden.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/p1000422.jpg
I post this one as an example because every camera has a 'personality' that equates to the kind of photo the camera is good at. Close, candid shots like this is what I think is the LX7s 'personality' because it is what the camera is best at. That and wide angle landscape (as per the sample in the review).

This is a fairly mundane shot of my partner eating a sandwich, shot at the beginning of winter last year. The settings are 1/60s at f2.8, ISO400, using the LX7. Yes, that's *ISO400* in bright daylight using a fast lens. Why did I not choose ISO80?

I selected an appropriate shutter (as a rule of thumb, you want 1/ the focal length as a minimum and usually you want much more: I was shooting at 30mm, so one-60th for shutter is more than enough at twice the minimum) and an aperture that is stopped down a bit to f2.8 to keep me sharp (If you want sharp images, set aperture to wide open plus about a stop and a half for now until you get used to taking sharp shots).

Why am I at ISO80, when the LX7 has a fast f1.4 lens? Surely I should be shooting at f1.4 to let lots of light in and choose a low ISO giving me noiseless shots? Well, no. You have to step down on aperture before you get consistently sharp shots. Otherwise the depth of field is so small that the area of good focus is so small that your camera will struggle even on auto in good light. You CAN shoot at f1.4 to get a nice depth of field later, but lets concentrate on getting your shots sharp first. Once you have that under your belt, depth of field shots should become easy for you.

Now, there *is* noise in this shot, you can see it in the defocused background if you zoom in to 100%. But that's a tradeoff for keeping the image well focused and sharp, and you will not see this noise in a print (and you can actually remove it altogether using Lightroom or DxO, but I hardly ever bother). The noise just isn't a problem here to me and actually looks nice: a little bit of noise is good as long as its small enough to look like a very small, fine grain IMO because it gives the image something of the personality of the camera sensor. In fact, set ISO to auto (but not I-auto: its terrible!) and basically forget about ISO, especially when your camera has such fast glass as does the LX7.

If you are shooting in daylight, getting aperture and shutter right are much more important for a good technical photograph than zero noise because they will give you clear sharp images. ISO is the least important consideration in these situations, so flick it on auto.

Back to the photo. Even though my photograph is of my partner unceremoniously stuffing bread in her mouth, it is ok technically because focusing and sharpness are under control (as is depth of field on the background) when you look at the main subject in the photo. That main subject is not of course her, nor the bread or hat - its her far eye, and you can see how I concentrate on that beyond anything else. I actually do have a little bit of blur in the hand and bread (both are moving very quickly) but they don't matter because they are not the main subject. My thoughts before taking this shot were 'what do I need to do with aperture and shutter to get the eyes in focus and perfectly exposed, the skin bright, and the background defocused'. ISO was not a consideration because it was on auto. My biggest consideration by far was actually that damn hat because it put the eyes in shade!

Before you trade in the LX7, I'd suggest you try the same sort of shot in the garden with something equally mundane. Doesn't have to be a person. I was told to practice this exact same technique with a pile of stones on a table for a whole 4 rolls of film with my first camera - keep going until you get consistent sharpness on a chosen stone in daylight, moving quickly from stone to stone. Then when you can do that on auto/A/S mode, if you are feeling adventurous, switch to full manual and carry on until you can do it with that whilst keeping good exposure. Believe me, when you can do it on manual, that's when photography really starts, and the camera will then be the least important part of the skill!

Finally, this is a RAW shot converted into a JPEG, but that should not be an issue for you, because I am sure the problem is that you are concentrating on one of ISO, Aperture or shutter at the expense of balancing the three.

Good luck, and hope that ramble of an answer helps!

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Jan 2014 23:22:01 GMT
Thanks for your very comprehensive response. I will take time to re-read it and digest it.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jan 2014 02:16:46 GMT
Do you think the LX7 can perform well on fully automatic or the scene modes? Does it perform well, in your opinion, as a simple point and shoot?

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jan 2014 02:49:43 GMT
ShammyB says:
I never use scene modes as it sets ISO too low and that can result in motion blur for a lot of them, so I'd use them with care. If I want 'point and shoot', I do this:
I select P mode with ISO set to Auto ISO (and not i.ISO), and then I set exposure compensation down to -1/3rd (it tends to overexpose a little otherwise) and that makes the camera fine as a simple point and shoot.

In camera settings, I also have ISO Limit set at 1600 (you can also set it to 800, as it has never gone above that anyway with my settings), Program Diagram set to MTF, Extended ISO set to off, i.Resolution and i.Zoom set to off, and Stabilizer to on. You may also want to change Min Shtr Speed to 1/30 indoors, and 1/60 or 1/120 outdoors in bright light.
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