Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 Review
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 is the smallest premium compact camera with a built-in EVF. Its amazingly small body features dual control-dials and a relatively powerful 7X wide-angle optical zoom lens. Its sensor captures 16 megapixels images at ISO 80 to 12800 and records full 1080p HD video at 30 FPS.
The LF1 is designed for advanced photographers looking for efficient manual controls in a compact camera. This can be people looking for a compact model where larger equipment is cumbersome or beginners looking to learn photography. For either type of user, this digital camera offers full manual-controls including manual-focus, choice of metering patterns including Spot and custom white-balance.
This advanced camera delivers the most extreme miniaturization of its peers. Having a built-in EVF makes it more usable in bright light while providing a sense of connection between photographer and subject.
This camera review covers the usability and performance of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 Features
Sensor & Exposure
- 12 Megapixels CMOS sensor
- ISO 80 - 6400 sensitivity at full-resolution
- Expanded ISO 12800 sensitivity
- Auto ISO based on light-levels and movement
- 1/4000 - 250s Shutter-speeds
- PASM Exposure modes for both stills and video
- Exposure-Compensation, ±2 in 1/3 EV increments
- Multi-Segment, Center-Weighed and Spot metering modes
- Wide 28 - 200mm equivalent 7X optical zoom
- F/2 - 5.9 Maximum aperture, F/8 Minimum
- Optical image stabilization
- 50cm (W) - 80cm (T) Normal minimum focus
- 3cm (W) - 30m (T) Macro minimum focus
- Automatic, 4 presetsDaylight, Cloudy, Shade, Incandescent, Kelvin and custom white-balance, 2 memories
- WB fine-tuning, 21 steps along Red-Blue axis
- White-Balance bracketing, 3 frames
- Standard, Vivid, Monochrome and Sepia color modes
- Selectable 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 or 1:1 aspect-ratio
- JPEG, RAW or RAW+JPEG output
- 2 JPEG Quality levels
- Optional Intelligent Exposure tone
- Normal, Macro and Manual focus modes
- Single, Automatic, Tracking and Face-Detect focus-point selection
- Optional AF-Assist lamp
- Optional MF-Assist
- Optional Quick AF
- Optional Face-Recognition
- Single-Shot drive mode
- Self-Timer: 2s, 10s or 3 shots @ 10s
- 10 FPS Drive, focus locked at first-frame
- 5 or 2 FPS Drive, focusing between frames
- 40 FPS @ 5 MP, focus locked at first-frame
- 60 FPS @ 2.5 MP, reduced field-of-view, focus locked at first-frame
- 1 FPS Flash-Burst, full-resolution
- AEB, 3 frames, maximum ±3 EV
Display & Viewfinder
- 3" LCD, 920K Pixels
- 0.2" EVF, 200K Pixels
- 2-Axis Digital-Level
- Adjustable LCD brightness
- Adjustable LCD contrast-saturation
- Adjustable LCD tint, 2 axis
- Optional Live-Histogram
- 16 Optional framing grids
- 1920x1080 @ 60i FPS AVCHD
- 1920x1080 @ 30 FPS MPEG-4
- 1280x720 @ 60 FPS MPEG-4
- AF-S or AF-C focus
- Optional wind-filter
- Optional video framing mask
- Auto, Auto Redeye, Forced, Redeye & Slow-Sync flash modes
- Optional redeye removal
- HDMI (1080i) output
- A/V (NTSC / PAL) output
- USB 2.0 connectivity
- Dual control-dials
- Customizable Fn button
- Customizable AE-L/AF-L behavior
- Sweep Panorama mode
- Built-in HDR mode
- 16 Scene-Modes
- Built-in WiFi
- Built-in NFC
- Lithium-Ion battery
- Internal charging via USB
- SDXC memory
Usability - How easy is it to use?
The ultra-compact Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 can only be described as adorable. This miniature camera offers dual control-dials and, for the first time on such a small model, a built EVF. There are a high number of buttons and a traditional mode-dial too. The only thing missing is a hand-grip of sorts.
Panasonic is the pioneer of travel-zooms, having launched the category already 8 years ago. They were also among the first to offer a premium compact, so it makes sense that they are one of the few to offer a premium camera with a long zoom. The LF1 is of course not an ultra-zoom yet it packs an impressive 28-200mm lens in its compact body.
To deliver a highly versatile and efficient experience, the LF1 must necessarily compromise somewhere. It does so by using a standard-sized 1/2.3" CMOS sensor with 12 megapixels and an F/2 lens which closes down to a dim F/5.9 near its telephoto end. This puts it on par with typical compacts when it comes to image-quality. Most premium models offer a larger sensor to improve low-light performance.
The front of the LF1 is smooth and relatively sparse. One sees there the lens barrel which protrudes to form the front control-dial. There is also a small built-in flash and led assist-lamp. The provided hand-strap is a must to keep the camera secure, given how slippery its front surface is.
The top-plate of this digital camera has a slightly elevated side to accommodate the built-in EVF. A pair of small microphones to record stereo sound can be seen just to the right of the EVF. Further right, there is a traditional mode-dial with the usual PASM positions, plus 6 additional modes.
Next to the mode-dial, there is a two-stage shutter-release surrounded by a zoom controller. The release has a moderate amount of travel with a soft halfway point. The zoom operates in small incremental step which allow for good framing precision. Near the right edge of the camera, there is a recessed power-button which turns the camera immediately on or off.
The sides of this camera are quite bare. Oddly for a small camera, there is a strap eyelet on both sides. They are nicely inset in the body. Below the right eyelet, a small hard plastic door opens to reveal a Micro-HDMI and a combined proprietary USB/Analog connector. Panasonic supplies a USB cable to charge the camera using the latter connector as there is no external charger.
From the back, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 looks extremely busy. A large 3" LCD with 920K pixels and 3:2 aspect-ratio dominates the surface. The view is bright and sharp with an excellent viewing angle. The LCD can be adjusted better than most cameras. It has separate controls for brightness, saturation-contrast and tint in 2 axis. The optional Power mode keeps the image extra bright for outdoor use, while Standard mode maintains a more typical view which helps with battery-life. A third option automatically switches between these Power and Standard mode.
At the upper-left corner of the back, one finds the headline built-in EVF. No other camera this small has one. This viewfinder is small, measuring 0.2" across, with a low 200K pixels resolution. Still, the makes the LF1 more usable in bright light and more stable than its peers. It also afford better discretion and makes precise framing easier. A button to the right of the EVF toggles between it and the rear LCD.
The resolution of the EVF is clearly too low to judge focus but the LCD shows it reasonably well. Both the EVF and LCD show the metered preview while framing and an Exposure-Priority view while pressing the shutter-release halfway. This is not perfect yet much better than most cameras lately.
The LF1 offers no less than 16 overlays to compose images. Most importantly, since this camera has no Video mode, one most enable the Recording Area mask which shades what appears outside of the video-recording area in order to make framing video possible with any degree of accuracy.
Above the LCD, there also a WiFi button which, unsurprisingly, activates the built-in WiFi by bringing up directly the WiFi menu. To the right of the display, there are 5 buttons and a 4-way controller surrounded by a very slim control-dial. The top button starts and stops video-recording. Below it, a button toggles Playback mode. This camera is Shooting-Priority, so tapping the shutter-release brings returns it to Capture mode.
There is a customizable Fn button which can be set to one of 8 functions: AE-L/AF-L, AF-On, Metering Mode, AF Mode, Focus-Area Selection, Image Quality, Composition Grid or Histogram. The 4-way controller has functions assigned to each of its cardinal directions:
- Up: Exposure-Compensation. Once pressed, the rear control-dial sets EC.
- Right: Brings up a vertical menu to select the Flash mode.
- Down: Brings up a vertical menu to select the Drive mode. Most of these can be further configured by pressing Disp. AEB and Self-Timers are set here, so they are mutually exclusive.
- Left: Selects between Normal, Macro, Digital Macro or Manual focus.
The central button of the 4-way controller brings up a choice of 4 menu systems. This makes it less efficient than most cameras which directly enter the Shooting menu. Choices are Rec, Motion Picture, Setup and WiFi. The Disp button below cycles over display modes, as usual. Another button next to it invokes the Quick menu in Capture mode and deletes images in Playback mode.
Dual control-dials on the LF1 work quite efficiently. While the rear dial always controls the primary exposure-parameter, the front dial is customizable. It can be set to Default which makes it redundant with the rear-dial except in Manual mode where it controls Aperture and the rear one sets Shutter-Speed.
The control-ring can be configured to set the zoom in 8 pseudo-standard steps, adjust EC, Aspect-Ratio, ISO or WB. Obviously, ISO is the most useful option. This only makes Manual exposure slightly more cumbersome as one must press the Up direction of the 4-way controller to toggle between exposure parameters.
The bottom of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 is fitted with a metal tripod-mount which is neither inline with the lens nor the center of gravity of the camera. A light-weight and flexible plastic door covers the combined SDXC and Lithium-Ion battery compartment. The battery used by this camera is very small and extremely sensitive to cold. While normal battery-life is quoted at 250 shots-per-charge, there is no way to get a tenth of that at freezing temperatures.
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
Choosing a digital camera is all about results: Getting the image quality you need and photographs the way you like them. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 provides efficient controls while remaining extremely compact to help with the latter. It does however maintain a similar sensor and optics to most small cameras.
The LF1 features a 12 megapixels 1/2.3" CMOS. Its resolution is certainly sufficient for the most common print-sizes, even moderately large ones as long as ISO is kept low. Being one of the smallest sensors in use among digital cameras, it is highly susceptible to image-noise which increases quickly with ISO.
Image-noise is nearly invisible at ISO 80 and 100. It is barely apparent at ISO 200 and only starts damaging the finest details at ISO 400. Up to this sensitivity though, this digital camera can produce large usable 16" x 12" prints. Still, there is always a slight softness visible at 100% which makes the largest prints less than perfectly sharp. A good performance for a compact yet not up to par with most premium models.
Noise becomes stronger at ISO 800 and even more so at 1600. In both cases, more fine details get destroyed yet mid-size 12" x 9" prints are still quite acceptable. Image-noise-reduction is surprisingly gentle and does not introduce much additional softness until this point.
ISO 3200 and 6400 are quite noisy and blurry. While the former can pull-off a small 4" x 6" print, the latter should be reserved for emergencies only. The expanded ISO 12800 is pretty much useless though.
Despite having outstanding controls over colors of the LCD, there are no controls over image colors other than the Color Mode. The Standard mode is as close to reality as the Lumix LF1 can get which is not natural at all. It produces images with too much red even with Custom WB properly set.
White-Balance is flexible with fine-grained control over tint along the Red-Blue axis. This can improve realism yet takes more time to setup. Automatic WB is average. It often leaves a slight yellow tint in low-light but even in bright light does not nail it every time. Results are sometimes too warm and sometimes too cold.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 offers no control at all over noise-reduction. Thankfully, Panasonic applies very reasonable noise-reduction which balances out noise and details very well for such a small sensor. The lens appears to be suitably sharp for most common print sizes. While one cannot get out the maximum sharpness possible from a 12 megapixels sensor, rendition of details is respectable for compact lens.
The Multi-Segment metering of the LF1 is good and visibly improved over previous compacts from Panasonic. Its limited dynamic-range means that small highlights are often clipped in order to preserve shadow details yet exposures appear natural in general. Panasonic's built-in HDR mode provides relief for static scenes having a wide dynamic-range without appearing completely unreal.
The 28-200mm F/2-5.9 lens of the LF1 is impressively compact. There is a slight amount of barrel distortion at the wide-angle end which quickly disappears after zooming in. Vignetting is remarkably absent throughout the focal-range, as are chromatic aberrations.
The high-speed CMOS sensor on this Panasonic lets it shoot extremely quickly. Full-resolution bursts up to 10 FPS are possible. At 5 MP, speed increased to 40 FPS, while at 2.5 MP in can reach 60 FPS. Keep in mind that focus is locked on the first-frame above 5 FPS and the 60 FPS drive crops the field-of-view.
Movie capture takes advantage of the high-speed sensor which is read at up to 60 FPS. Sadly, half the pixels are dropped and the LF1 can either record 1080i @ 60 FPS with the AVCHD codec or 1080p @ 30 FPS with MPEG-4. The latter offers a slightly higher 20 Mb/s versus the former's 17 Mb/s. There is also a 720p 60 FPS mode to render action more smoothly.
Once on, the Lumix LF1 is generally quite responsive. The camera starts reacting immediately to most button presses and continues to do so while it is writing to the memory card. For long exposures, the camera employs dark-frame substraction which locks it up for a duration equal to the exposure time. A nice touch is that the LF1 counts down the exposure time and the dark-frame substraction time, so the photographer knows how much patience is needed.