First Light (Panasonic LX7)

Something telescopes do … the first image.

4 1/2 years ago I did this with my Panasonic LX3 looking at the Bötzow Brauerei. This time I try and do it with the Uferhallen. Alas the sun is directly down the barrel. Instead, I look along Uferstr, where the light cuts across.

1/500 exposure at f/1.4 (!!!), ISO 125, shot in Aperture mode using the ND filter (more exclamation marks!), focal length 24mm (at 35mm equivalent), auto-white balance, and everything else normal or off. It’s not an especially interesting image, but it tells me that despite looking much the same as my LX3, it’s quite different. Slightly more barreling for one, a small bit of purple fringing, and disturbingly wide field of view, but that lens, for a compact camera, it’s insane!

I didn’t exactly need a new camera; I’d also imagined my next camera would be a Panasonic Micro Four Thirds, and I’d spend quite a lot of money indeed on it. As I’m staring down the neck of having to buy a new laptop in the coming months, and having a small amount of cash for a change, and that the LX7 with fancy leather case costs less than what I paid for my LX3, well, we can see where that’s going.

It’s slightly bigger in all dimensions than my old camera, though some elements are identical (the never-used flash, the springy battery / SD card door). What’s added is what makes it in my mind the best serious compact camera around.

Last time, it was a toss-up between Canon’s G10 and the LX3. This time, the “enthusiast compact camera” market has at least eight contenders, including Canon’s G16, cameras from Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, Sony’s RX100 II (which, due to its large sensor is regarded as a bit of an LX7 killer, though it’s almost twice the price), and the Fujifilm X20, the camera I almost bought.

This time again it was the lens that did it for me. The LX3 had an f/2 lens, the only compact camera with such a massive slab of glass. In the intervening years that’s become standard, so Panasonic does the obvious and makes it f/1.4, going to a mere f/2.3 when zoomed. It lets in so much light it’s obscene. So they put a Neutral Density filter in the camera, with a switch for it on the back. Brilliant!

They also gave it an aperture ring! Which admittedly is more common with cameras of this type now, but it’s still well cool. No more faffing around with knobs on the back; it’s a proper camera now. And they stuck the aspect ratio (including 1:1, which is now muck-common) selector just behind the ring, next to the focus selector. It’s very much a tactile camera now, especially for someone like me who holds even this one as I would a DSLR.

And what else? 1920×1080 Full HD video at 60fps (AVCHD and mpeg-4), with manual mode while filming. Stereo microphones. Massively improved LCD screen. Monster burst rate options. A slightly larger sensor, upgraded to CMOS. Improved zoom (which admittedly arrived with the LX5) … a bunch of other things like ISO, shutter speed, auto-focus, image processing all have also been bumped up. Shooting in RAW has sod-all noise and stonking dynamic range, and it’s got OIS image stabilisation. I had a play with the electronic viewfinder in the shop, something I always wanted for my LX3, even though it costs almost as much as the camera. I’m seriously considering buying; it’s so very good.

For me and what I tend to use it for, a combination of landscape, macro, interior, low light, plus some videoing, I think none of the more-or-less equivalent high-end compact cameras are either that flexible, nor could do so well based off their specs, and usually cost more. As well, it’s just such a joy to use. It’s really a camera for someone whose idea of how a camera should feel is thoroughly seeped in SLR. I can go from this to say a Panasonic G5 or a Canon 5D and the feeling is the same (ok, yes, they weigh more and are much bigger). My LX3 is also happy to have a sibling.