h1

One month and five days, a 2 cent veredict…

May 26, 2008

Panasonic LX2, f8, 1/2000, 6,3mm, iso100, Colour JPEG Processed in PS

It has been a month and five days since my Panasonic DMC-LX2 (why on earth do camera makers use this bloody names..??) arrived. Today I decided to make a (WARNING: LONG..) post focused on the camera and MY findings after the time we have spent toghether for whoever may be interested. I believe today´s image will help pointing many of the coments I am about to make. Though the certainty that a LX3 is around the corner may turn this into a bad moment to consider buying the LX2, it might as well be an excelent moment to get a very good deal on a second hand one, I did and couldn´t be happier. I believe there is a lot to like about this camera (and very little not to like), but before I get into it just a little disclaimer..

  • I am not a pro photographer by any means, nor a techno geek. Take my findings with skepticism, I´m just a bugger with a camera and a blog…
  • I am not a RAW shooter. I have fiddled with some RAW files of this camera in Lightroom, Aperture, PS and Silkypix. Every piece of software seems to have it´s advantages and disadvantages, and though I manage to get “SLIGHLY” better images from the RAW files (MY RAW skills may be lacking), the quality advantage doesn´t compensate for the time invested: I prefer to spend time behind my camera than in front of my computer..I´m prety pleased with the JPEG´s once you get the right settings and have a good workflow.
  • I have not printed a single file since I got the camera. My printer broke before the arrival and I haven´t taken the time to fix it or get a new one, so all my findings are based on screen inspection..I do plan on getting some lab prints one of this days.
  • English is not my mother tongue, it takes some effort to write in a foreign language, so I hope you will excuse any grammar or spelling mistakes you may find in this blog/essay.
  • If any of this points make my “review” unacceptable, well, the good news is that you can stop reading now!!

Where to start? Well, exposure modes. I wouldn´t consider buying a camera that made the exposure decisions for me. Todays image was done reaching the camera´s limits: f8 and 1/2000. A fully auto camera would have probably done an acceptable job, but being the paranoid kind of guy I am I rather make my own decisions..The camera has full manual mode as well as aperture and shutter priority. The interface is logicall, comfortable and pretty fast. So far the camera has not slowed me down too much when in need of changing my settings. One of the most important settings when shooting, exposure compensation, is not burried in the menu and can be changed very quickly with the joystick while shooting. I am afraid another very important setting, iso, is buried in the menu, though not too far. All in all, a very nice design that doesn´t get too much in the way of shooting.

I believe the most important part of a camera is it´s lens. No matter how good the sensor is, if the lens is crap you´re done. And honestly, todays sensor technology is mature enough (considering the obvious drawbacks of a small sensor camera) to be a serious limiting factor. You can start flaming me now…The little cute Leica lens in front of my camera can be described in three words: FAN TAS TIC. I used to own a Leica M7 and one of Leica´s most venerable (and controversial) lenses: The 35 Summicron Asphericall. I loved that lens(it was probably a bit TOO sharp though..) and the way it drawed. I have to say I am liking the little Leica lens on my LX2 nearly as much. Second flame coming… Maybe not as sharp as the 35 Cron, but VERY sharp. So much that sometimes when photoshopping my images my corneas bleed..But I believe there is much more to a lens than mere sharpness. Some have described the way a lens draws as it´s “signature”. I like this lense´s signature very much. It renders the images in a very pleasing way to my eyes.

No, I have not forgotten that I am talking about a small sensor “point and shoot”, and yes, I know what a clean iso800 image from a Canon 5D and a Canon L prime looks like, thanks. I still love my Panny.

I believe one of a lenses worse flaws is flare (yes, I consider flare a flaw, and even when some may like the creative possibilities flare gives, I simply HATE it). I have tried it hard, but there seems to be no way of getting propper flare from this lens..If you have a look at todays image you will see a white spot to the right, in the backlit tree. That is as much flare as I have managed to get with this camera. As an interesting note, you only get this faint traces of flare when the strong light source is on one side of the image, shooting straight into the sun seems to produce zero flare. Nice!!

While we are at it, one of the most cool features in the majority of today´s point and shoots is the macro mode. The Panny does a good job, and is pin sharp in this mode, though unfortunately it won´t  focus closer than 5cm. This is a quick grab of my wife´s Ipod Nano from yesterday:

For those of you who don´t know how big an Ipod Nano is (I know, I know. everybody bloody knows how big a Nano is..), well an Ipod nano is…Nano!! I´m afraid this is as close as I can get to a subject with the LX2. Surely it would be cool to have the 1cm macro ability offered in other models..

Another two very important features, that seem to be very related, are focus speed and shutter lag. Let´s get real, no point and shoot is going to excel in the focus department (though the LX2 is not really bad). I have been experimenting with “decisive moment” sort of pictures in the last days and there is a workaround to the lag issue: manual focusing. The huge depth of field achieved by this lenses allows the use manual focus and hyperfocal in a reliable and very fast way. Plus the LX2 has a very usefull way of letting you know how much of your image is in focus: You get a metered scale (in meters or feet) and a yellow bar that tells you where your focused area starts and ends. Using this method reduces the shutter lag to nearly imperceptible. With a bit of practice you will be soon getting the images in the right moment. As an aside, I seem to be getting the sharpest images this way, sharper than auto-focus. The lense´s sweet spot seems to be around f4.5 or f5. Using this setting toghether with iso400 allows enough depth of field and speed to get “grab” images in nearly every reasonable light condition, with an amazing sharpness and speed. We´ll talk about noise next..

Probably one of the most discussed issues of this camera has been it´s sensor and it´s noise. Panasonic has been critizised for the in-camera noise reduction that seems to be fairly aggressive. I suggest anybody doing JPEG´s with this camera turns noise reduction to it´s lowest setting, it can degrade the image details visibly. This seems to be one of the main differences with this camera´s Leica “step-brother”, the D-LUX3, the firmware and image processor seem to do a different job, and apparently the Leica has a less aggressive noise reduction, resulting in images with less of the well known “smearing”. Unfortunately, noise reduction can´t be turned completely off in the Panasonic, though using the lowest setting seems like a good compromise.  The images of a small sensor camera noiseless aren´t..and the LX2 is no exception. But if the high iso images are usable or not is pretty much up to everyones expectations (and to the photographed subject as well..more on this later.) I am finding iso 400 black and white images completely aceptable. Very nice actually, as I am liking the texture the noise gives to the images. Colour high iso images are, why deny it, ugly. iso 400 and 800 colour images are not to my liking. For colour photography I wouldn´t go over iso 200..But as said before, it also very much depends on the kind of subject and light you are shooting in: well lit images of not too dark subjects result in amazingly good iso 400 and quite nice iso 800 (allways in black and white). Bad light and dark subjects and shadows can be tricky and beging to get very noisy by iso800. Iso 1600 is, well, iso 1600. Needless to say more. Can be used if in need, but better avoid it. Anyhow, I have allways liked grain, and the noise in the black and white files is very interesting as well..

Now, even when I never view images this way and I don´t give a damn about 100% crops, for those that feel the urge to see such a test, and as a reward for having read this far, here is such a crop from today´s image (this image has been shot at f8, though I ignore to what extent there might be some sharpness loss due to diffraction, f4.5 or f5 shots seem to be quite sharper):

Original iso100 image:

100% Crop:

Sorry? Oh, you say you want a 100% crop from the sky…? Here you go:

100% Crop from the top (sky and trees):

Oh! So you would need to see a iso400 crop now, eh? O.K. no problems..

Original iso400 file:

100% Crop:

I saw this coming: you want a iso800 crop now, don´t you? Then you can have two:

Original iso800 file:

100%Crop:

Original iso800 file:

100% Crop:

Please note that all this images were shot handheld in less than desirable light conditions and that the iso800 samples were shot with image stabilisation turned off due to my mistake, so any sharpness issues may be due to shutter speed and handholdability, this images are posted for iso viewing. Now I suggest you go and shoot a roll of Tri-X of HP5, scan the negs, fiddle with them in PS and then…draw your own conclutions!!

Regarding image stabilisation, even when it is not miracolous and I am not posting any samples or test, suffice to say that it DOES work, image stabilisation does make a difference and is very helpfull when shooting handheld in low-light situations.

So what else could be said about this little cute & sexy camera in a non-scientific essay? Is this camera perfect? NOPE. But close (to me..). What would make the reincarnation of this camera the perfect companion in my opinion? Few things:

  1. Lower iso capability (iso 80 or even 50) toghether with 2 or three minutes long shutter speed.
  2. A flash hotshoe for external viewfinder and an external flash unit.
  3. Noise reduction “completely OFF” mode.
  4. 1cm close macro focus.
  5. Not a single megapixel more cramped into this tiny sensor (though I am afraid Panasonic will punish us with one of it´s new 12Mp sensors..
  6. OK, not a deal breaker but, could we have 1:1 aspect ratio in RAW, please..

Believe it or not, that would make the thing as close to perfect as I believe a P&S can be..And yes, I have realised that every single one of those features is present in the Ricoh GX100..But you would loose the long end of the zoom and the very cool 16:9 aspect ratio which is highly addictive and makes framing more natural to my eyes than the 3:2 from my DSLR which I really never liked..For what it´s worth, I haven´t done a single shot since I bought the camera that wasn´t in 16:9..

Did you get the feeling that I like this camera very much? GOOD..There is really not a lot more that can be said in a biassed and un-scientific essay. If you have read this far now you know that you´re a tough guy/gal and that you could handle hard stuff such a month in Guantanamo and a 50 year long marriage (and both in the same life..). I feel honoured that you have made it this far and feel like cutting the crap right now..This Blog is un-censored, the comments block below is open to anybody, so you can start flaming me to your pleassure…

Thanks, and have a beautifull day!!


Erik (the rambling bugger).

 

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16 comments

  1. What can I say, I agree with you, especially on the noise thing, which everybody seems to get upset about and making pointless comparisons with DSLRs.

    Well, except that you take way nicer pictures than me 🙂

    Nice overview Erik.


  2. Thanks Michele!! Well, who cares about the noise levels? my Canon DSLR is never with me lately anyway… 😉

    Best, Erik.,


  3. Excellent read Erik. I am not a pixelpeeper either, but, honestly, it was the smearing noise reduction that convinced me to buy the GX100 instead.

    Why can’t manufacturers add a menu option to shut the noise reduction off? Noise can add character to the picture like grain did to TRI-X for instance.

    Again, an excellent impressions and I enjoyed reading it. Well done Erik.


  4. Thanks Wouter. You can´t imagine how tempted I am by the GX100.I NEARLY bought one last week in a compulsive moment. But the prices don´t seem to be falling here in line with everywhere else. The cheapest I can find around is 420€. Not a bargain for sure. Not that I am not happy with the Panny, I am indeed and even if I decide to eventually get the GX100 I will be keeping the Panasonic for sure. The GX100 has every feature I might need in a camera..and then some! If I get a good deal on a second hand one (I´m a bargain trashie) I might end up with it..

    Erik.


  5. Hi Erik, Check out impressionSeriousCompacts.com!!

    The GX100 is really cheaper on the mainland.


  6. Wow, Wouter!! Thanks for that..Phew, got me by surprise… I feel honoured.
    Cool!

    Erik.


  7. You deserve it. Kudos!!


  8. … 🙂


  9. Dear Erik,

    Thanks for this insight, it is very nice read and a nice view on photography in general!


  10. Ronald, thanks for the kind remarks.. I am pleased this essay was of any help/interest. I am an internet junkie, I read every review I can get ahold of regarding any gadget I am interested in, but except a few articles, the majority of the reviews are cold lists of features without any personal insight..I prefer peoples opinions to feature overviews, even when I don´t agree..That´s the reason I decided to write this little piece, wise or not, they are just the findings of someone that actually USES the camera.

    Best, Erik.


  11. Hello Erik
    I was delighted to read your review…. I love mine too 🙂
    I bought mine just before Christmas and am still trying to decide whether to use high, std, or low settings for contrast, sharpness etc. The combinations seem to be almost endless.
    I have tried to reproduce your very dark b/w effects without success so far. Do you achieve that using Photoshop?.
    Anyway, I thouroughly enjoyed your review! Very entertaining.
    regards Victor


  12. Hi Vic!! If it helps at all, I have more or less settled with the following settings.
    Contrast : Std.(Only if I´m specificly after something I will change it to High)
    Sharpness: High ( Currently I am applying minimal sharpening in PS)
    Saturation: Std.
    Noise Red: Low(When shooting high iso and depending on situation. Std)

    98% of the time I shoot in aperture priority and nearly allways underexpose by 2/3 or even a full stop.(There is a good amount of shadow detail and shadows seem to recover better than burnt highlights)

    This settings (though I may fiddle with them from time to time if I´m feeling experimental or I believe the light conditions need it) seem to be adjusting pretty well to my Photoshop workflow. Yes, nearly all the images are worked in PS to gain contrast and depth (adjustment layers) and I normally do a fairly amount of burning and dodging(in the most pure old days darkroom style) if required.

    Kind regards, Erik


  13. 🙂
    Many thanks for the really usefull tips. Currently I don’t do any ‘darkroom’ work.. perhaps worth considering.
    best regards
    Vic


  14. My pleassure..Enjoy!!

    Erik.


  15. Very good review and very informative. Think after reading it I might have to look out for a 2nd hand LX2 soon. Although I only bought a LC1 today so will first use this and then decide.

    Will be interesting to see what Ricoh and Panasonic come up with at Photokina since the successors of the GX100 and LX2 are overdue now. If Canon manages to put a decent wideangle on the G9 successor it will be very interesting.


  16. He,he! A second hand LX2? Do you feel the power of the dark side?? 😉

    I am ever so tempted by the Ricoh..But I am trying to force myself away from purchasing another camera and trying to focus on getting the best out of what I´ve got. But the GX100…Uh, it hurts!

    Erik.



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