Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

      Photo Review 9
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      leadpic_Panasonic_LX3

      In summary

      A compact, rangefinder-style digicam with a fast, wide-zoom lens and support for raw file capture.Successor to the popular DMC-LX2 model, the Panasonic DMC-LX3 represents a significant upgrade to its predecessor. Panasonic claims to have improved ‘every component’ to deliver a camera that will appeal to DSLR photographers who want a capable compact camera with all the necessary features and functions as a complement to their main camera. . . [more]

      Full review

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      leadpic_Panasonic_LX3

      Successor to the popular DMC-LX2 model, the Panasonic DMC-LX3 represents a significant upgrade to its predecessor. Panasonic claims to have improved ‘every component’ to deliver a camera that will appeal to DSLR photographers who want a capable compact camera with all the necessary features and functions as a complement to their main camera.

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      LX3-front-flash

      Front view of the DMC-LX3 with the pop-up flash raised.

      One of the more obvious changes in the new model is its lens. The LX3’s Leica DC Vario-Summicron is a full stop brighter than the LX2’s, with a f/2.0 maximum aperture at the wide zoom setting. It also encompasses a wider field, offering an angle of view equivalent to 24mm in a 35mm camera. The wider maximum aperture enables photographers to shoot close-ups and portraits with blurred backgrounds that results from controlling the lens aperture.
      Like its predecessor, the LX3 supports P, A, S and M shooting modes. Program shift is supported in P mode by half-pressing the shutter button and using the joystick to adjust aperture or shutter speed settings. Releasing either control before confirmation appears will cancel any adjustment, as will delaying the shot for more than 10 seconds after program shift is activated (although the setting will be memorised).
      Aperture settings range from f/2.0 to f/8 and are selectable in 1/3-stop increments, with the maximum aperture ranging from f/2.0 to f/ 2.8 as focal length increases. This represents one stop more than the LX2 offered. Shutter speeds are the same as the LX2 and range from 60 to 1/2000 seconds, although exposures longer than 8 seconds can only be set in Manual mode. A new multiple exposure setting allows users to overlay up to three consecutive shots.
      The mode dial has also changed with the addition of two Custom memory modes. Up to four camera settings can be stored in each memory. Panasonic has also expanded the Scene program menu to cover 24 presets (up from 18 in the LX2) and added a new Multi-aspect bracketing mode that allows the camera to take an image in all three aspect ratios simultaneously. This enables photographers to select the one that best takes the advantage of the scene after shooting.

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      LX3-back-finder

      Rear view of the LX3 with the optional viewfinder fitted.

      Another obvious change is in the 3-inch LCD monitor, which has a 3:2 aspect ratio and high 460,000-dot resolution. This is a huge improvement on the 2.8-inch, 207,000-dot LCD on the LX2. An Intelligent LCD function, which is standard on all Lumix models, automatically adjusts the screen’s backlighting as the ambient light level changes.
      Features carried over from the LS2 include the ability to select three aspect ratios (4:3, 3:2 and 16:9) via a slider on the top of the lens mounting and the AF/Macro/MF slider on the left side of the lens barrel. The clip-on lens cap is the same as on the LX2 but the interface port panel has been expanded to include a component out connector as well as the standard AV/USB and DC-in ports. The USB interface has been upgraded to USB 2.0 High Speed.
      The pop-up flash has a similar design to the LX2’s flash but appears to lift a little higher. It appears to be slightly more powerful as well but offers the same flash modes, along with flash output adjustment of -2EV to +2EV in 1/3 EV steps. Otherwise the only change to the control design is the addition of an AF/AE Lock button on the rear panel, just under the position your thumb occupies when shooting.
      The new model is 42 grams heavier than its predecessor and Panasonic has boosted the internal memory from 13MB to 50MB, which won’t mean much to most users, who will shoot with cards of at least 1GB capacity.
      Panasonic has also replaced the finger grip pad with a longer, slimmer moulding that extends for most of the height of the front panel. It’s more in line with the rangefinder styling that makes this camera so attractive and also provides a more comfortable grip. Photo Review found the sample camera to be well balanced with a ‘quality’ feel. The control layout is usable for single-handed shooting but the weight and balance of the camera works better – and controls are more accessible – when it is used with both hands.
      Unfortunately, the supplied instruction manual was difficult to follow, largely because it had no index. Consequently, finding particular functions relied on correctly identifying which section of the document they were in. Explanations of some functions often lacked essential information and some key facts were only provided in the fine print, which was difficult to read.

      Sensor & Image Processing
      The LX3’s sensor appears to support a 16:9 aspect ratio CCD, and, according to Panasonic’s press release is ‘a large, ultra-sensitive 1/1.63-inch CCD developed specially for the new model‘. The next part of the press release makes interesting reading for those of us who have long advocated that the size of the photosites is more important for determining image quality than a camera’s megapixel count.
      We quote: The old formula equating pixel count with image quality does not always hold true. In general, if two CCDs have exactly the same physical size but different pixel counts, the one with more pixels is not necessarily better – in fact, it’s likely to generate more picture noise, especially in low-light parts of the image. This poor low-light image quality has been a source of great dissatisfaction for compact camera users.
      Photo Review heartily agrees – and we have plenty of reviews to confirm Panasonic’s contentions. We wish other manufacturers would take the same approach and put an end to the ridiculous – and totally unproductive – ‘megapixel wars’.
      The design of a CCD chip typically sees roughly half of each photosite taken over by wiring that is used to send the signal captured by the light-sensitive ‘buckets’ to the camera’s image processor. Panasonic hasn’t disclosed technical details the sensor in the LX3 beyond claiming that is provides a wider dynamic range and boosts sensitivity and saturation by approximately 40% compared with “ordinary 10-mexapixel compact cameras“.
      The sensor’s approximate pixel pitch is 2.3 microns (the LX2’s pixel pitch was 2.01 microns). The new model’s photosites still aren’t large enough for serious photographers – but the change is a step in the right direction. Another thing Panasonic hasn’t disclosed is the actual dimensions of the sensor – and it’s difficult to determine them from aspect ratio comparisons since some degree of cropping appears to be involved in all three aspect ratios.
      Only the 16:9 aspect ratio uses the full sensor width. The 3:2 and 4:3 aspect ratios are derived by cropping the image frame; hence the reduced file sizes (shown below).

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      LX3-4-by-3

      4:3 aspect ratio captures the entire sensor height.

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      LX3-3-by-2

      3:2 aspect ratio crops the top and bottom of the frame and slightly reduces overall width.

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      LX3-16-by-9

      16:9 aspect ratio records the entire sensor width but applies a greater crop to the top and bottom of the frame.

      Coupled to the imager chip is the latest iteration of Panasonic’s Venus Engine image processor. Version IV of this LSI (large-scale integration) chip claims to provide better noise control through parallel noise reduction in both luminance signal and chromatic signal processing systems. This technology was first used in the preceding Venus Engine III but is refined in Venus Engine IV, which also supports ISO settings up to ISO 3200 – at full resolution. (Sensitivity is boosted to ISO 6400 in the high sensitivity mode.)
      Panasonic also claims the new image processor improves overall camera response times, citing a shutter release time lag of approx. 0.005 second. Continuous shooting speeds have certainly been radically improved since the LX2. The LX3 boasts a rate of 2.5 shots per second at full 10.1-megapixel resolution and six frames/second in High-Speed Burst shooting mode, where resolution is reduced to 3M (4:3 aspect), 2.5M (3:2) or 2M (16:9).
      Like its predecessor, the LX3 supports both JPEG and raw file capture. It also lets users record raw and JPEG images simultaneously – and choose the compression ratio for the JPEG shot (although not the image size). JPEG compression appears to be significantly lower than it is for other Panasonic digicams, particularly at larger file sizes. Two compression ratios are supported for each JPEG image size. Typical image sizes are shown in the table below.

      Aspect ratio

      Resolution

      Fine

      Standard

      4:3

      RAW

      3648 x 2736

      21.33MB

      10M

      3648 x 2736

      8.53MB

      4.13MB

      7M

      3072 x 2304

      5.82MB

      2.91MB

      5M

      2560 x 1920

      4.00MB

      2.00MB

      3M

      2048 x 1536

      2.56MB

      1.31MB

      2M

      1600 x 1200

      1.60MB

      0.82MB

      0.3M

      640 x 480

      0.33MB

      0.20MB

      3:2

      RAW

      3776 x 2520

      21.38MB

      9.5M

      3776 x 2520

      8.00MB

      3.88MB

      6.5M

      3168 x 2112

      5.56MB

      2.72MB

      4.5M

      2656 x 1768

      3.88MB

      1.94MB

      3M

      2112 x 1408

      2.42MB

      1.25MB

      2.5M

      2048 x 1360

      2.29MB

      1.17MB

      16:9

      RAW

      3968 x 2232

      18.29MB

      9M

      3968 x 2232

      7.53MB

      3.66MB

      6M

      3328 x 1872

      5.12MB

      2.56MB

      4.5M

      2784 x 1568

      3.55MB

      1.80MB

      2.5M

      2208 x 1248

      2.25MB

      1.15MB

      2M

      1920 x 1080

      1.73MB

      0.89MB

      Video capture capabilities are above average for a digicam but typical of many Panasonic cameras. Two aspect ratios are supported – 4:3 and 16:9 – with two sizes and two frame rates for each aspect ratio. Typical recording times are shown in the table below

      Aspect ratio

      Picture Mode

      Resolution

      Recording time/1GB card

      4:3

      30fpsVGA

      640×480

      11 minutes

      10 fps VGA

      32 minutes 50 seconds

      30fps QVGA

      320×240

      32 minutes 50 seconds

      10 fps QVGA

      1 hour 35 minutes

      16:9

      30fps 16:9H

      1280x720p

      4 minutes

      15fps 16:9H

      8 minutes 10 seconds

      30fps 16:9L

      848×480

      9 minutes 20 seconds

      15fps 16:9L

      28 minutes 10 seconds

      In Movie mode, which is selected via the mode dial, the length of recording time depends on the capacity of the SDHC/SD Memory Card. Up to 2GB per motion-image recording is supported. Panasonic recommends using a high-speed memory card with “10MB/s” or higher transfer speeds.

      Display and Controls
      Another area in which the LX3 is superior to its predecessor is its LCD monitor, which is a 3-inch, high-resolution (460,000 dots) display with a 3:2 aspect ratio. The new monitor also provides a wider viewing angle and includes Panasonic’s Intelligent LCD function, which automatically adjusts the screen’s backlighting (by up to 40% in outdoor sunlight) to provide comfortable viewing for both shooting and viewing shots. However, Photo Review found the surface of the LCD to be quite prone to finger-marking.
      Like its predecessor, the LX3’s button controls are rather small and most are placed rather close together. We feel users with large fingers and/or limited dexterity would find this camera as difficult to operate as other similarly-designed digicams. The zoom lever also has a fairly short thrust, which makes it difficult to set precise focal lengths.
      Pressing the Display button lets you toggle through three display modes: image/scene only, image with shooting data, image with guide overlay. You can choose between two guide overlays (rule of thirds or horizontal plus diagonal lines) in the shooting menu and also opt to overlay a histogram (live for shooting) on the image in the data and guide display modes. You can also set highlight alert in the shooting menu to warn of potential over-exposure.
      Unfortunately, the camera lacks an optical viewfinder, although an optional external optical viewfinder can be attached to the hot shoe on the top panel. But then you wouldn’t be able to attach an external flash. The joystick control from the LX2 has also been carried over into the new model, where it is used to adjust focus in manual focus mode and also control aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation settings.
      Pressing the joystick in also provides a quick shortcut to frequently used settings like the resolution, quality, ISO, white balance and focusing and metering patterns. In Manual Focus mode both the focus distance and the depth of field are displayed, based on the lens setting. If you’ve set the camera for spot focusing, pressing the focus button on the top panel lets you choose AF point within the field of view. The same button is used to magnify the focused point during playback.
      Like most recently-released digicams, the LX3 includes face detection AF/AE. When this mode is set in the shooting menu, the camera will identify faces by superimposing a frame on them. When the shutter button is half-pressed, the frame around the nearest face to an AF point turns green if the face is in focus. Other faces detected in the frame will be framed in white.
      Focus tracking has also been added to the AF menu settings. Once selected, the point of focus is set by pressing the Focus button to lock focus on the subject. Pressing the Focus button a second time disengages focus tracking. Another AF option is AF area selection, which allows users to switch between groups of AF points or select a single area for focusing. Six different patterns are available for multi-point autofocusing.

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      LX3-AF-area-select

      One of the AF area selection patterns.

      The white balance pre-set sub-menu has been expanded with the addition of a Flash setting plus the ability to set Kelvin colour temperatures. When the latter mode is selected a graphic showing a linear scale appears on-screen, along with the actual Kelvin value. Adjustments are made with the joystick.

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      LX3-Kelvin-WB

      The on-screen display in the Kelvin white balance adjustment mode.

      A new addition is a Film mode with five colour types (Standard, Dynamic, Nature, Smooth, Vibrant, Nostalgic) and three types of monochrome (Standard B&W, Dynamic B&W and Smooth B&W) to choose from as well as two My Film modes in which users can store pre-set adjustments. Within each mode, users can adjust sharpness, contrast, saturation and noise reduction processing within +/- two steps. Bracketing across three film settings is also provided. Examples are shown below.

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      LX3_standard
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      LX3_dynamic

      Standard Dynamic

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      LX3_nature
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      LX3_smooth

      Nature Smooth

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      LX3_vibrant
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      LX3_nostalgic

      Vibrant Nostalgic

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      LX3_standard_BW
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      LX3_dynamic_BW

      Standard B&W Dynamic B&W

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      LX3_smooth_BW

      Smooth B&W

      Panasonic has also expanded the range of scene pre-sets in the LX3 to include settings for Pet, Sunset, Hi-speed Burst, Flash Burst, Pinhole and Sand Blast. Most of these are self-explanatory and of limited value to knowledgeable photographers. However, a couple of them may come in handy and merit a closer look.
      The High Sensitivity setting automatically sets the camera to between ISO 1600 and ISO 6400, at the same time reducing resolution to between 3M and 2M (depending on the aspect ratio setting). It’s useful for available-light shots as long as visible noise is tolerable and you don’t enlarge prints beyond snapshot size.
      The two special burst modes – Hi-Speed Burst and Flash Burst also reduce image sizes to 3M (4:3 aspect ratio), 2.5M (3:2) or 2M (16:9). The first can record shots at seven frames/second, making it useful for recording rapid movement. The second can capture up to five shots at 0.5 second intervals.
      The Pinhole setting darkens the edges of the frame to concentrate the viewer’s attention on the centre of the field. It’s a bit like strong vignetting (which is usually considered a fault in lenses). The Sand Blast setting records a B&W image with simulated film grain – and also reduces image size to 3M or less.

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      LX3-pinhole
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      LX3-sand-blast

      Pinhole mode Sand Blast mode

      Playback
      Playback settings include all the normal modes: single, multi-image (12 or 30 thumbnails), zoom magnification (2x, 4, 8x or 16x) and slideshow. The latter can include variety of transition effects and matching music. Auto rotation of vertical shots is also available and you can tag images as Favourites or apply DPOF tagging for automated printing. Images can also be protected and audio clips can be attached to image files.
      Other options include a calendar view and a Category view that displays all images in a selected category based on the scene pre-sets. You can also compare two shots side-by-side with the Dual Play mode, using the joystick to select the shots and the zoom lever for magnification and reduction.

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      LX3-Category-display

      Category display.

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      LX3-Dual-display

      Dual Play.

      You can add test to selected shots with the Title Edit function, which calls up three pages of letters, numbers and symbols plus a space bar. Pressing the Display button toggles between the pages, while letters are selected with the joystick. The Text Stamp is a similar function for recording the date/time, age, travel date or title onto recorded shots. Pictures are automatically resized to 3M and saved separately.

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      LX3-title-edit-1

      Title Edit mode.

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      LX3-title-edit-2

      Title input.

      In-camera trimming and resizing facilities are also provided, along with a Levelling tool that lets users tilt images to the right or left to straighten horizons. You can also convert pictures taken with a 16:9 aspect ratio to 3:2 or 4:3 with aspect ratio cropping.

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      LX3-levelling

      Levelling adjustment.
      Software
      The supplied software bundle includes Silkypix Developer Studio 3.0 SE, ArcSoft Software Suite (consisting of MediaImpression and Panorama Maker 4), PHOTOfunSTUDIO and Quick Time. Silkypix Developer Studio is a capable, although slightly idiosyncratic raw converter, which has some worthwhile features but can be a bit daunting to use for first-timers.
      The latest version has the advantage of providing live previews of any adjustments you make so you can see the results of changes before locking them in. Most of the tweaking tools required for effective raw file conversion are available, although you often need to look beneath the surface of the program to find them.

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      Silkypix-1

      The Silkypix adjustment interface.

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      Silkypix-2

      Colour adjustment via white balance presets.

      You can save sets of adjustments in a “Cloakroom” for use with subsequent images. Batch processing is also supported and you can output to TIFF or JPEG. A useful suite of noise reduction tools is also provided.

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      Silkypix-3

      Processing raw files.

      ArcSoft MediaImpression is an image organiser with some editing capabilities and facilities for viewing, publishing and sharing digital pictures. The latter include the ability to create movies or slideshows with soundtracks and upload them to You Tube or other web-based services.
      Panorama Maker 4 is a fairly ordinary panorama stitcher, while PHOTOfunSTUDIO has been developed by Panasonic to provide viewing and image organising facilities. It integrates better with the Panasonic camera than the ArcSoft organiser.

      Performance
      Shots taken with the test camera contained plenty of detail and appeared sharp to the corners of the frame. The dynamic range recorded in outdoor shots was substantially wider than average for a small-sensor digicam. Colours appeared natural and saturation was well-controlled in JPEG images. Metering and autofocusing were fast and accurate across a wide range of shooting conditions and subject types, although a few focusing problems were encountered with close subjects in dim indoor lighting.
      Interestingly, Photo Review found very little difference in resolution between JPEGs and raw files converted with Silkypix Developer Studio 3.0 SE, so we’ve provided sample graphs from the JPEG files as they contain more camera data. However, the conversion process appeared to boost both contrast and saturation as the Imatest colour graphs were quite different for each type of image file.
      Conversion also introduced some colour shifts and, even though our JPEG files had exposure levels that were only 0.07 f-stops off correct exposure, the converted raw files were off by 0.23 f-stops. (No additional tweaking was done for the raw conversion.)
      Imatest showed resolution to be slightly below expectations for a 10-megapixel camera and revealed differences in resolution between centre and edge resolution. Best results were obtained when the lens was in the tele position. The results of our tests are shown in the graph below.

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      LX3-Res-vs-FL-graph

      Lateral chromatic aberration was consistently low and coloured fringing was negligible. Digital zoom shots were a cut above average but still showed some processing artefacts. Low light performance was excellent with little noise visible up to ISO 800 and only a slight progressive increase thereafter. The graph below shows the results of Photo Review’s Imatest tests comparing resolution at different ISO settings.

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      LX3-Res-vs-ISO-graph

      Auto white balance performance was typical of most digital cameras. Test shots taken under incandescent light retained a noticeable orange cast. However shots taken under fluorescent lighting had only a slight green bias that would be easily corrected in editing software or in a printer driver.
      Flash performance was slightly better than average for a digicam in the Advanced category. The built-in flash was just capable of illuminating an average sized room at ISO 200 but provided a good balance of flash and ambient lighting right up to ISO 3200. However, image noise was obvious at ISO 1600 and ISO 3200, although it was evenly distributed across the image.
      It took just under two seconds to power-up the test camera and Photo Review’s tests measured an average capture lag of 0.8 seconds, which changed to instantaneous capture with pre-focusing. It took 2.9 seconds to process each JPEG image and 4.8 seconds to process each raw file.
      In the Normal continuous shooting (burst) mode, the camera recorded four high-resolution JPEGs in 1.1 seconds and took approximately three seconds to process this burst. In the ‘unlimited’ mode, we recorded a burst of 14 JPEGs of approximately 4MB size in 4.5 seconds. It took just under seven seconds to process this burst and 11.8 seconds to process a burst of three raw files.

      IMATEST GRAPHS

      JPEG files

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      LX3_P1010077_colorerror_JPG
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      LX3_P1010077_colors_JPG

      Converted RAW FILES

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      LX3_P1010077_colorerror
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      LX3_P1010077_colors
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      LX3_P1010077_YBL73_ca

       

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      LX3_P1010077_YR30_cpp
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      LX3_P1010077_YBL73_cpp

      SAMPLE IMAGES

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      LX3-AWB-tung

      Auto white blaance with incandescent lighting.

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      LX3-AWB-fluoro

      Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.

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      LX3-digizoom

      Digital zoom.

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      LX3-dynamic-range

      An example of the LX3’s wider dunamic range. (With most digicams, the highlights are blown out.)

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      LX3-night

      Night exposure at ISO 1600.

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      LX3-wide

      Wide-angle setting.

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      LX3-tele

      Tele setting from the same position as above.

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      LX3_ISO3200

      ISO 3200 with flash.

       

      Specifications

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      leadpic_Panasonic_LX3

      Image sensor: “1/1.63-inch” type (Approx. 8 x 6 mm) CCD with 11.3 million photosites (10.1 megapixels effective)Lens: Leica DC Vario-Summicron 5.1-12.8mm f/2.0-2.8 zoom lens (24-60mm in 35mm format)
      Zoom ratio: 2.5x optical, 4x digital
      Image formats: Stills- JPEG (Fine, Standard), RAW; Movies – Quick Time Motion JPEG
      Image Sizes: Stills – 4:3 Ratio: 3648 x 2736, 3072 x 2304, 2560 x 1920, 2048 x 1536, 1600 x 1200, 640 x 480, 3:2 Ratio: 3776 x 2520, 3168 x 2112, 2656 x 1768, 2112 x 1408, 2048 x 1360, 16:9 Ratio: 3968 x 2232, 3328 x 1872, 2784 x 1568, 2208 x 1248, 1920 x 1080; Movies – 30 or 10 fps (640 x 480 or 340 x 240); HD 30 or 15 fps (16:9 Aspect Ratio: 1280 x 720)
      Shutter speed range: 60-1/2000 seconds
      Image Stabilisation: MEGA O.I.S. optical; (Mode1/Mode2)
      Exposure Compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3 EV steps
      Focus system/range: TTL AF with Normal/Macro, Continuous AF On/Off, AF/MF switchable, Manual Focus (Joystick), Normal/Macro (Dial), Continuous AF On/Off, Quick AF On/Off (on in Intelligent Auto)/Continuous AF On/Off, One Shot AF, AF Area Select, AF Tracking; Range: Wide 50cm/Tele 50cm – Infinity, Intelligent Auto/Macro:Wide 1cm/Tele 30cm-Infinity
      Exposure metering/control: Intelligent Multiple, Spot (Spot Mode), Center-Weighted metering; P (Program AE with shift), A (Aperture Priority AE), S (Shutter Priority AE), M (Manual Exposure), Intelligent AUTO shooting modes
      ISO range: Auto, ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, (In High Sensitivity mode: 1600-6400)
      White balance: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Halogen, White Set 1,2, Colour temperature setting, Flash, White Balance Adjustment (2-axis adjustable, ±9 steps each)
      Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Auto, Auto/Red-eye Reduction, Slow Sync./Red-eye Reduction, Forced On/Off; range: 0.3 – 5.9m (Tele/ISO Auto), 0.8 – 8.3m (wide/Macro/ISO Auto), Flash Output Adjustment: -2 – +2EV in 1/3 EV steps
      Sequence shooting: Full Resolution Image: 2.5 frames/sec; Max. 4 frames (JPEG) or 3 images (Raw)
      Storage Media: 50MB internal memory plus SD/SDHC expansion slot
      Viewfinder: External OVF (Optional)
      LCD monitor: 3:2 aspect ratio 3.0-inch Intelligent LCD with 460,000 dots
      Power supply: Lithium-ion battery pack (3.7V, 1150mAh), CIPA rated for 380 pictures
      Dimensions (wxhxd): 108.7 x 59.5 x 27.1 mm
      Weight: 229 grams (without battery and card)

       

      Retailers

       

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      Rating

       

      RRP: $829

      Rating (out of 10):

      • Build: 9.0
      • Ease of use: 8.5
      • Image quality: 8.5
      • OVERALL: 9.0

      Buy