Pana­sonic Lu­mix LX100 II

It may look like a rel­a­tively mi­nor up­date over its pre­de­ces­sor, but Pana­sonic’s lat­est en­thu­si­ast-fo­cused com­pact is still an ex­cel­lent cam­era, as Andy West­lake dis­cov­ers

Amateur Photographer - - 7days -

Andy West­lake tests Pana­sonic’s en­thu­si­ast­fo­cused com­pact

Back in 2014, Pana­sonic in­tro­duced the LX100, a chunky com­pact cam­era with a fixed, large-aper­ture zoom lens and a rel­a­tively large Four Thirds sen­sor. With its rangefinder-like styling and com­pre­hen­sive ar­ray of ana­logue con­trols, it quickly be­came one of our favourites of its type. While not very pock­etable, the LX100 pro­vided a far more en­gag­ing shoot­ing ex­pe­ri­ence than any of its peers, with its main dis­ad­van­tage be­ing its rel­a­tively low res­o­lu­tion of 12.8 mil­lion pix­els.

Four years on, and Pana­sonic has fol­lowed up with the LX100 II, which at first sight looks ex­actly the same as the orig­i­nal. In­deed, if it weren’t for the sub­tle red ‘II’ on the top-plate you’d be hard­pushed to dis­tin­guish it from its pre­de­ces­sor. On closer in­spec­tion you’ll find a few other phys­i­cal changes, in­clud­ing a sub­tly re­designed grip, re­shaped switches on the lens bar­rel, and dif­fer­ent la­belling on some of the but­tons. But the big­gest up­dates are in­vis­i­ble, with the most im­por­tant be­ing a new high­er­res­o­lu­tion sen­sor and the ad­di­tion of a touchscreen.

The other no­table change is the price: the LX100 II will set you back £850 – con­sid­er­ably more than the LX100’s street price of around £600, and in­deed higher than the in­ter­change­able-lens Lu­mix GX9 that’s not dis­sim­i­lar in size. Look­ing at other en­thu­si­ast-fo­cused com­pacts with sim­i­lar zoom ranges, the pocket-sized Sony RX100 V cur­rently costs £800 (and its lower-spec sib­ling, the RX100 IV, is £650), while Canon’s APS- C sen­sor Pow­erShot G1 X Mark III costs £1,090. So the LX100 II isn’t the most ex­pen­sive of its type on the mar­ket, but even so it’s go­ing to have to be pretty spe­cial to jus­tify its not in­con­sid­er­able price tag.

Fea­tures

One thing that cer­tainly is pretty spe­cial about the LX100 II is its sen­sor and lens com­bi­na­tion, and how they work to­gether. The sen­sor is the same Four Thirds MOS used in the GX9, which means that it’s larger than the 1-in type sen­sors found in Sony’s RX100-se­ries cam­eras, if only half the area of the APS- C unit in Canon’s G1 X III. But it’s used rather dif­fer­ently to nor­mal, with the same true multi-as­pect-ra­tio set-up as the LX100. A prom­i­nent switch on the lens bar­rel se­lects be­tween 4:3, 3:2 and 16:9 set­tings that give a pro­gres­sive­ly­ex­pand­ing hor­i­zon­tal an­gle of view. There’s also a 1:1 set­ting, which is sim­ply a crop of 4:3. The high­est out­put res­o­lu­tion of 17MP is achieved in 4:3 mode, us­ing a sen­sor area of 15.8 x 11.9mm; 3:2 gives 16MP, 16:9 is 15MP, while 1:1 pro­duces 12.5MP files. The sen­sor does away with an op­ti­cal low pass fil­ter, which should see it ren­der slightly sharper, more de­tailed im­ages at the pos­si­ble ex­pense of sam­pling arte­facts such as false colour moiré and maze-like alias­ing.

Equally im­por­tant is the Leica-badged lens, which of­fers a use­ful 24-75mm equiv­a­lent range along with a fast f/1.7-2.8 aper­ture and op­ti­cal image sta­bil­i­sa­tion. Just like the LX100, the op­ti­cal con­struc­tion em­ploys 11 el­e­ments in 8 groups, in­clud­ing two ED glass and five as­pher­i­cal el­e­ments. The com­bi­na­tion of large aper­ture and rel­a­tively large sen­sor means that the LX100 II of­fers a greater po­ten­tial for se­lec­tive fo­cus and back­ground blur than ei­ther of its main ri­vals: Sony has used a sim­i­larly fast lens but a smaller sen­sor, while Canon has paired its larger sen­sor with a rel­a­tively small-aper­ture f/2.8-5.6 zoom. It’s all the glass in­volved in build­ing this lens that ex­plains – and jus­ti­fies – the LX100 II’s com­par­a­tive bulk. The min­i­mum fo­cus dis­tance is just 3cm at widean­gle, although this in­creases by a fac­tor of 10 at the long end of the zoom. A switch on the bar­rel lim­its the AF to a min­i­mum dis­tance of 50cm for nor­mal shoot­ing, or se­lects man­ual fo­cus.

Core pho­to­graphic spec­i­fi­ca­tions are very solid. The sen­si­tiv­ity range cov­ers ISO 200-25,600, and is fur­ther ex­pand­able with an ISO 100- equiv­a­lent set­ting, although this presents a greater risk of clip­ping high­light de­tail. The me­chan­i­cal shut­ter pro­vides speeds from 60sec to 1/4000sec, but en­gag­ing the elec­tronic shut­ter ex­tends this to 1/16,000sec, which al­lows shoot­ing at large aper­tures in bright light with­out the help of a neu­tral den­sity fil­ter. Con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing is avail­able at up to 11 frames per se­cond with fo­cus fixed, although this drops to 7fps if you’d like to fol­low the ac­tion be­tween frames us­ing live view, or to 5.5fps if you re­quire aut­o­fo­cus ad­just­ment be­tween shots. Shoot­ing Raw + Fine JPEGs I was able to rat­tle off 36 frames in a burst at top speed with fo­cus fixed, and 38 frames at slower speed in AF- C mode. Given the rel­a­tively short zoom I can’t imag­ine any pho­tog­ra­pher find­ing this to be a se­ri­ous lim­i­ta­tion. Shoot JPEG alone and you can pretty much keep go­ing un­til the bat­tery or card runs out.

There are plenty of other fea­tures as well for pho­tog­ra­phers to sink their teeth into. Cre­ative op­tions in­clude Time Lapse, Stop Mo­tion and Multi Ex­po­sure modes ac­cessed from the shoot­ing menu, along with a suite of im­age­pro­cess­ing fil­ters for ap­ply­ing dif­fer­ent looks to your im­ages. The drive mode but­ton gives ac­cess to an auto-stitch­ing panoramic mode: this is nice to have,

but would be more use­ful were it not lim­ited to shoot­ing at the widean­gle po­si­tion of the zoom. Mean­while JPEG shoot­ers can en­gage the firm’s iDy­namic set­ting to bet­ter bal­ance bright and dark ar­eas of the image, while high­light and shadow tone curve set­tings al­low users fur­ther con­trol over tonal­ity. Lovers of black & white pho­tog­ra­phy will ap­pre­ci­ate the cam­era’s L.Mono­chrome and L.Mono­chrome D modes, which give re­ally at­trac­tive im­ages di­rect from the cam­era. Last but not least, in- cam­era raw de­vel­op­ment al­lows you to tweak or rein­ter­pret your im­ages after shoot­ing.

Pana­sonic was one of the pi­o­neers of adding 4K video to stills cam­eras, and the LX100 II fol­lows suit. It can record in 4K at 30fps and a bit-rate of 100Mbps, or Full HD at up to 60fps. Sound is cap­tured us­ing built-in stereo mi­cro­phones, but with no op­tion to add an ex­ter­nal unit. The catch is that while Full HD record­ing uses the full sen­sor width, 4K video im­poses a 1.25x crop, so the lens be­comes a 30-94mm equiv­a­lent zoom. It’s pos­si­ble to pre­view this cropped view be­fore you start record­ing by chang­ing a menu set­ting, but then you’re no longer see­ing an ac­cu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of what you’ll cap­ture when you’re shoot­ing stills.

The firm has also in­cluded its usual range of 4K-based pho­to­graphic modes, in­clud­ing 4K Photo that ef­fec­tively records 8MP stills at 30fps, and 4K Post Fo­cus which racks through a se­ries of fo­cus po­si­tions, no­tion­ally al­low­ing you to re­fo­cus an image after shoot­ing. Again, both are sub­ject to the same 1.25x crop, but this is at least pre­viewed be­fore you be­gin. These can be in­ter­est­ing op­tions to ex­per­i­ment with, but I’m not sure they’ll be of huge in­ter­est to the kind of se­ri­ous pho­tog­ra­pher the LX100 II is try­ing to at­tract.

Pana­sonic has built in both Wi- Fi and Blue­tooth for smart­phone con­nec­tiv­ity, and the LX100 II of­fers al­most ev­ery­thing we’d ex­pect in this re­gard. The al­ways- on Blue­tooth LE con­nec­tion en­ables a cou­ple of neat tricks, in­clud­ing the abil­ity to browse through your pic­tures on your phone and copy across your favourites, even when the cam­era is switched off and stowed away in a pocket or bag. It’s also pos­si­ble to use your phone as a sim­ple wire­less re­mote con­trol via Blue­tooth alone, or turn on Wi- Fi to gain live view along with re­mote con­trol of a range of set­tings in­clud­ing drive mode, ISO and white bal­ance. The catch is that you don’t get any con­trol over ex­po­sure, as the LX100 II hon­ours the po­si­tions of its var­i­ous con­trol di­als in­stead.

Body and de­sign

In terms of de­sign, the LX100 II is es­sen­tially un­changed from its pre­de­ces­sor, which is no bad thing at all. Its ro­bust, metal-shelled body feels like it should shrug off mi­nor knocks with ease, while the rub­berised fin­ger grip and thumb hook give a se­cure hold. The key con­trols are also all well placed for shoot­ing with the cam­era held up to your eye.

How­ever it’s the tra­di­tional con­trol lay­out that re­ally marks the LX100 II apart from its fast-zoom peers. Ded­i­cated di­als on the top­plate for ex­po­sure com­pen­sa­tion and shut­ter speed are joined by aper­ture and fo­cus rings on the lens; the lat­ter acts as a stepped­zoom in aut­o­fo­cus mode. Switches on the bar­rel set the fo­cus mode and as­pect ra­tio, while the d-pad gives di­rect ac­cess to ISO, white bal­ance and drive mode. Fi­nally the user- cus­tomis­able on­screen Q Menu gives con­trol over other key func­tions, so there’s barely any need to en­ter the menus after ini­tial set- up.

So far this is all much the same as the orig­i­nal LX100, but the new model has two ma­jor im­prove­ments. First, the screen is now touch-sen­si­tive, with Pana­sonic’s ex­cel­lent in­ter­face pro­vid­ing large, well-spaced on­screen but­tons that per­fectly com­ple­ment the cam­era’s phys­i­cal con­trols. Se­cond, more of its ex­ter­nal con­trols are cus­tomis­able, giv­ing you greater scope to con­fig­ure the cam­era as you pre­fer. As with its other re­cent mod­els Pana­sonic has favoured giv­ing di­rect ac­cess to its var­i­ous 4K modes out of the box, but hold­ing down any of the Fn but­tons for a cou­ple of

sec­onds lets you re-as­sign them to any func­tion you might find more use­ful.

You’re ex­pected to use the touchscreen to move the fo­cus area, not only when you’re shoot­ing with the LCD, but also with the EVF. This will prob­a­bly work fine for most pho­tog­ra­phers, but if, like me, you don’t get on with this ap­proach for viewfinder shoot­ing, it’s pos­si­ble to re­con­fig­ure the d-pad but­tons to move the fo­cus area di­rectly. You can then re-as­sign their usual set­tings to the var­i­ous Fn but­tons – for ex­am­ple, I placed ISO onto Fn1 on the top-plate, drive mode onto Fn3 and white bal­ance onto Fn4. Con­fig­ured like this, I found the cam­era an ab­so­lute joy to use.

Viewfinder and screen

If there’s one area where the LX100 II falls be­hind, how­ever, it’s in how you view the world while you’re shoot­ing. As on the LX100, the viewfinder em­ploys a 16:9 panel, so it’s only fully utilised when you’re shoot­ing video or panoramic stills. As you switch to nar­rower as­pect ra­tios, the edges of the fin­der get in­creas­ingly blanked- off. As a re­sult, its im­pres­sive-sound­ing 0.7x mag­ni­fi­ca­tion drops to 0.6x at 3:2, and just 0.53x at 4:3. So while the specs sug­gest you’re get­ting a big­gest-in- class viewfinder, in re­al­ity it nor­mally pro­vides much the same size view as those in the Canon G1 X III and Sony RX100 V.

The panel also uses a phas­ese­quen­tial de­sign, which means that rather than hav­ing sep­a­rate red, green and blue sub-pix­els, it cre­ates an il­lu­sion of full colour by dis­play­ing each of these pri­maries in quick suc­ces­sion. Much of the time this works well, but if you’re pan­ning to fol­low a mov­ing sub­ject, or you sim­ply blink, it can re­sult in a coloured ‘tear­ing’ ef­fect. Some peo­ple find this re­ally dif­fi­cult to live with, so if at all pos­si­ble I’d rec­om­mend try­ing it be­fore you buy. On a more pos­i­tive note, the dis­play cal­i­bra­tion seems much more re­al­is­tic com­pared to the orig­i­nal LX100, mean­ing you’re no longer con­fronted by a high- con­trast, over-sat­u­rated ren­di­tion of the world as on the older model.

As for the rear screen, it’s been up­dated to a 1.24-mil­lion­dot unit that’s now touch­sen­si­tive. Un­like the viewfinder, it has a 3:2 pro­por­tion, so less of the area is wasted when switch­ing be­tween as­pect ra­tios. The screen is bright, clear and colour-ac­cu­rate, and the touchscreen is highly re­spon­sive.

The prob­lem though is that it’s fixed in place, with no ar­tic­u­la­tion what­so­ever. This is dis­ap­point­ing on a cam­era this size, and a se­ri­ous dis­ad­van­tage com­pared to the com­pe­ti­tion. I’ve got used to flip­ping out a screen when­ever I see an over­head or low-an­gle shot, but the LX100 II makes shoot­ing such scenes far more awk­ward than it should be. A tilt­ing screen is also great for un­ob­tru­sive shoot­ing, for

ex­am­ple with street pho­tog­ra­phy. Fit­ting such a screen would nec­es­sar­ily re­sult in a slightly larger cam­era, but that’s a trade- off I’d hap­pily take. It’s not as if this would make the LX100 II sig­nif­i­cantly less portable; you’ll be car­ry­ing it in a bag or large coat pocket any­way.

Aut­o­fo­cus

As with other cur­rent Lu­mix cam­eras, the LX100 II uses Pana­sonic’s Depth from De­fo­cus (DFD) tech­nol­ogy for aut­o­fo­cus. This works by tak­ing two mea­sure­ments at slightly dif­fer­ent fo­cus dis­tances, then us­ing a knowl­edge of the lens’s out- of­fo­cus char­ac­ter­is­tics to de­ter­mine how to bring the image into sharp fo­cus. This is con­sid­er­ably quicker than sim­ple con­trast- de­tec­tion AF, with­out need­ing the added cost and com­plex­ity of on- chip phase de­tec­tion pix­els.

A plethora of fo­cus area modes is avail­able. The cam­era can be left to se­lect the fo­cus point it­self, us­ing ei­ther a 49-area grid that cov­ers al­most the en­tire image area, or a user- de­fined sub­set of those points. But I sus­pect most users will pre­fer the 1-Area mode, which al­lows the fo­cus point to be placed freely any­where in the frame and re­sized in 15 steps. If this isn’t enough, there’s pin­point AF for se­lec­tively fo­cus­ing on a re­ally small area, com­plete with an on­screen fo­cus- check ‘loupe’. Sub­ject-track­ing and facede­tec­tion op­tions are also avail­able, with the lat­ter in­clud­ing eye de­tec­tion.

I found the LX100 II’s AF per­for­mance to be ex­cel­lent, with the cam­era lock­ing on to the spec­i­fied fo­cus point rapidly, de­ci­sively and com­pletely silently. Aut­o­fo­cus also con­tin­ues to work re­li­ably in re­mark­ably low light, for ex­am­ple in dimly lit restau­rants or bars. I only got a few im­ages that were out of fo­cus, and that was usu­ally at­trib­ut­able to shoot­ing sub­jects closer than 50cm with the lens set to the stan­dard AF po­si­tion. After a while I ended up leav­ing the cam­era in its AF macro set­ting, which main­tains ac­cess to the full fo­cus range.

Per­for­mance

A cam­era aimed this squarely at de­mand­ing en­thu­si­ast pho­tog­ra­phers needs to per­form flaw­lessly, and for the most part, the LX100 II does ex­actly that. It’s quick to start up when you flick the power switch, and re­sponds in­stantly to both the phys­i­cal con­trols and the touchscreen. The ana­logue con­trols make it a joy to shoot with, while the touch in­ter­face speeds up chang­ing sec­ondary set­tings and brows­ing im­ages in play­back. It’s an ex­cel­lent fu­sion of the tra­di­tional and the mod­ern: in­deed if you’ve ever been tempted by a Fu­ji­film X100-se­ries cam­era but would pre­fer a zoom lens, the LX100 is pretty much the cam­era you need.

It is dis­creet too, with the rel­a­tively small body mak­ing it much less in­tim­i­dat­ing to shy sub­jects com­pared to a bulky DSLR. Turn off the var­i­ous elec­tronic op­er­a­tional noises and the fake shut­ter sound, and it be­comes prac­ti­cally silent, re­gard­less of whether you em­ploy the me­chan­i­cal or elec­tronic shut­ter. This is a big ad­van­tage for can­did or street pho­tog­ra­phy.

The me­ter­ing sys­tem gen­er­ally does a good job, although I no­ticed a cer­tain bias to­wards un­der­ex­po­sure, es­pe­cially in flat light­ing con­di­tions. One point worth not­ing is that the viewfinder bright­ness doesn’t ap­pear to ad­just to match the am­bi­ent light, which means that when you’re shoot­ing in rel­a­tively dark con­di­tions it can ap­pear overly bright, and en­cour­age you to un­der­ex­pose even fur­ther. So it’s al­ways worth keep­ing an eye on the live his­togram.

Pana­sonic hasn’t al­ways been known for the qual­ity of its JPEG out­put, but this is one area where the LX100 II pleas­antly sur­prised me. In its stan­dard set­ting the cam­era pro­vides at­trac­tive, if slightly muted, colours, while the auto white bal­ance gen­er­ally de­liv­ers well-judged re­sults with just an oc­ca­sional ten­dency to err on the cool side of neu­tral. In sun­lit au­tumn con­di­tions, en­gag­ing the Vivid colour set­ting and the day­light WB pre­set gave me im­ages with vi­brant, punchy but not too overblown colour. As al­ways you’ll get the best re­sults shoot­ing raw, but I think that with the LX100 II, the gap is prob­a­bly nar­rower than with any pre­vi­ous Lu­mix com­pact. In many cases I’d be per­fectly happy to use the cam­era’s JPEG out­put.

Last but not least, the lens is an ex­tremely good per­former, com­bin­ing im­pres­sive sharp­ness at large aper­tures with at­trac­tively blurred back­grounds. Its op­ti­cal image sta­bil­i­sa­tion also works very well, and I was able to get sharp im­ages hand­held at shut­ter speeds as low as 1/2sec at widean­gle. Its main flaw is a se­ri­ous sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to pro­duc­ing broad, multi- coloured flare pat­terns when shoot­ing di­rectly into the sun.

With its fast zoom lens, the LX100 II is great for shoot­ing in­doors in low light

The unique sen­sor de­sign en­cour­ages you to ex­per­i­ment with dif­fer­ent as­pect ra­tios, as with this panoramic shot

Mono­chrome im­ages look good di­rectly from the cam­era

The large-aper­ture lens is good for se­lec­tive fo­cus­ing and blur­ring back­grounds

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