Panasonic Lumix DC-LX100 II Review
Performance - How well does it take pictures?
Ultimately, a camera is only as good as the photographs it produces. For this reason, the ratings in our digital camera reviews is based primarily on image-quality. The Panasonic Lumix DC-LX100 II is a rare premium digital camera to combine a large sensor with a bright optical zoom. This makes it possible to deliver superb images while remaining highly versatile.
The LX100 II takes a 20 megapixels Four-Thirds CMOS sensor and extracts 15 - 17 megapixels from it to capture high-resolution photographs at multiple aspect-ratios. This state-of-the-art sensor - similar to those used in the latest Micro Four-Thirds mirrorless cameras - is easily capable of producing high-quality images, albeit at slightly smaller print sizes since edges are not entirely used in the LX100 II.
Given its relatively compact size, this digital camera competes directly with other premium offerings rather than mirrorless ones. Among those, the few that offer larger sensors have restrictive prime lenses. With exception to the Canon Powershot G1 X Mark II
Canon Powershot G1 X Mark II and Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III
Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III, all others fitted with a zoom uses a sensor more than 50% smaller linearly. That means at least 4X less light-gathering ability which is the primary factor in image-quality.
Image-noise is virtually absent from ISO 100 to 800. At 17 megapixels, relavtively large prints up to 20" x 15" appear very smooth. ISO 1600 shows a very fine noise-pattern with only minor damage to the finest details. This noise is unlikely to be visible at less than 100% magnification and only affects luminance.
ISO 3200 is surprisingly similar. It is only slightly more noisy than ISO 1600 and fine-details are still well-preserved. Panasonic seems to have really fine-tuned their noise-reduction algorithm here as images become just enough softer to hide noise without losing much detail. One can easily make a medium-sized print from this output. Even large prints look good from a slight distance. ISO 6400 is visibly noisy yet still good enough for common print sizes.
At ISO 12800, images have more noise but most of it remains luminance noise. Details become visibly soft though due to agressive noise-reduction. Mid-size prints appear reasonable yet will show mushy details upon close inspection. As one would expect, ISO 25600 is notably worse. Fine details are gone and noise is quite high at the highest ISO sensitivity of this digital camera.
Noise-Reduction is controllable in 11 steps, with the middle default of 0 being quite aggressive. Tuning Noise-Reduction down to -3 improves output considerably, maintaining a good balance between image-noise and preservation of details. Sharpening is on the light side at the default. Pushing it to +2 adds crispness without artifacts and makes resolution more inline with what is expected of an anti-alias-filter-free sensor.
While image-noise matches closely to that of its predecessor, despite a 25% increase in resolution, is nice, the most significant improvement of the LX100 II over the original LX100 is a completely revamped rendering engine. Whereas the original struggled with color accuracy, the Panasonic Lumix DC-LX100 II renders colors much more closely to reality. The Standard color style is nicely saturated with a small shift towards red. The Natural style delivers better hues but is a little flat. Reality is somewhere between the two and, since there is no separate Hue control, is is best to start with Natural and push I to +2. With delivers natural colors with realistic saturation.
The dynamic-range of this Panasonic is very good. Given that it rivals mirrorless cameras in such a compact size, it is certainly deliver above-its-class. Dynamic-range is well-maintained from ISO 200 to 800, with a slight dip at ISO 100 and 1600. This is barely noticeable but it does get more signigicant by ISO 6400. One must be carefull with the Contrast setting though. The default of zero seems just right, increasing it quickly clips shadows, while decreasing can result in dull images. The better thing is to use the excellent Lowlight and Highlight curves which are independently controllable in 11 steps.
Panasonic continues to deliver one of the best implementation of in-camera HDR. It combines two very quick exposures to produce a nicely blended image with pleasing tonality. The exposure increment can be choosen from +1 to +3 in full-stops according to the scene. The alignment of exposures reduces the field-of-view slight yet preserves most other camera settings.
The new Color Science technology in the LX100 II also delivers an improvement in Automatic White-Balance. There are now two separate AWB settings, one that preserves warm lighting and the other than produces more neutral colors. In practice, results have improved yet it still has issues in low artificial lighting. For most scenes though, AWB performs very well. There are also plenty of options, including WB Fine-Tuning, to improve color when needed.
The Multi-Segment metering of this digital camera is quite reliable. Most exposures are well balanced and clipping only occurs regularly in the presence of small bright highlights. While both over and under exposure occur from time to time, the amount of EC needed is minimal. The EVF and LCD preview are reasonably accurate to have a good idea when compensation is needed. In theory, there is a histogram that should show clipping but it is unfortunately based on the display pixels which makes it incorrect just when the preview is too.
The Leica DC Vario-Summilux lens on the LX100 II is its crowning achievement. It manages to cover a 2.2X crop-factor while delivering an ultra-bright F/1.7 maximum aperture at wide-angle which diminishes just over one stop to F/2.8 after zooming 3.1X optically. The lens barrel goes from 2½" at wide angle to just 3¼" at telephoto and collapses down to 1 1/8" when off. There simply are no similarly specified lenses!
Optically, this lens is impressive. It shows excellent sharpness in the center at all focal-length and apertures. Edges are certainly soft wide-open, gradually sharpening towards the middle. One stop down from wide-open, there is still some softness along edges but not enough to be visible in common print sizes. Starting at F/4 near wide angle and F/5.6 near telephoto, it becomes sharp edge-to-edge.
Short lenses such as this 24-75mm F/1.7-2.8 tend to show some distortion and the one on the LX100 II is no exception. From 24 to 30mm, there is a small but noticeable amount of barrel distortion. Zooming in further, straight lines always appear straight. The lens is threaded to accept 43mm filters. It is much easier to install a filter when the lens is extended due to the wide outer barrel.
There is absolutely no sign of vignetting or chromatic aberrations. Panasonic usually corrects for these in software and the LX100 II appears to do an excellent job at it. This lens is also remarkably resistent to flare, which is great because it has no hood nor provision to add one.
Once on, the Lumix LX100 II is generally quite responsive. The camera starts reacting immediately to most button presses and continues to do so while it writes to the memory card. For long exposures, the camera optionally employs dark-frame substraction which locks it up for a duration equal to the exposure time. A nice touch is that the LX100 II counts down the exposure time and the dark-frame substraction time, so the photographer knows how much patience is needed.
The performance of this compact digital camera is characterized by the following measurements:
- Power On: 1½s. Still about average.
- Autofocus: Mostly under ¼s. Up to ½s in very low-light. Superb.
- Zoom: 3s from wide to tele. Glacially slow considering its short 3.1X zoom.
- Image Shutter-Lag: Instant. Excellent.
- Video Shutter-Lag: ½s. Average.
- Black Out: ¼s. Excellent.
- Shot-to-Shot speed: Just over ½s. Very good.
- Time-to-first shot: 2. Good considering most of that time is spend powering on.
- Playback: Instant to enter, ½s to exit. Very good.
- Power Off: 2s. On the slow side. This is from wide-angle. It takes longer with the lens zoomed in.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 II is truly fast where it counts the most.. Autofocus and shot-to-shot speeds are particularly good. The zoom speed could really stand to be improved though. Other below average aspects are of minor importance to photographers.
Battery-life of the Panasonic LX100 II is quoted as 270 shots-per-charge, according to the CIPA measurement standard. Be warned that this number if quite optimistic and many features cause the camera to consume more power. This is rather short and the only area where the LX100 II falls behind its predecessor. A second and even third battery is recommended for a full-day of shooting.
Performance - How well does it shoot video?
The Panasonic Lumix DC-LX100 II can record 4K video at 30 or 24 FPS. It can also record 1080p and 720p at 60 FPS, for those not ready to jump to Ultra-HD yet. Videos are saved in either the open standard MPEG-4 format or the proprietary AVCHD. 4K is recorded at 100 Mbps, 1080p @ 60 FPS at 28 Mbps, 1080p @ 30 FPS at 20 Mbps and 720p @ 30 FPS at 10 Mbps. There is also a 1080i option at 17 Mbps when selecting the AVCHD format.
Only 4K requires a UHS-II type memory to sustain such fast bit-rates. Otherwise, a fast UHS-I type SD, SDHC or SDXC memory card is sufficient. Focus during video can be single-shot, continuous or manual. AF-S is repeatable while recording but is extremely slow. AF-C is available but should not be relied upon as it can easily hunt, often picking the wrong subject. There is a separate Continuous AF option which repeatedly uses the current focusing mode, so make sure to set that one to off to keep focus steady.
The Panasonic LX100 II has no modes at all. Everything is implicit which also includes video. Capture starts and stops with a press the the dedicated Video Record button. Like HD, 4K has a 16:9 widescreen aspect-ratio. One can select the same aspect-ratio using the slider on top of the lens barrel but it sadly does not match exactly the framing of 4K video. There is no way to correctly preview video-framing on this camera.
Manual-controls are available for video just as easily as for stills. The aperture-ring and shutter-speed dials can be set to A or a specific shutter-speed. EC is applied and ISO can be changed while video is being recorded. One can obviously not set the shutter-speed to something longer than the frame-rate. Sensitivity though is restricted to the an ISO 100-6400 range. Keep in mind though than any changes, except using the control-ring, are clearly audible in the sound track.
Video quality of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 II is top-notch. Frames show fine details with few compression artifacts. Noise-levels are quite low thanks to the 20 MP Four-Thirds sensor which outputs about 8 MP per Ultra-HD frame using a slightly tigher crop than stills. This allows better resampling than most digital cameras when scaling down the sensor-output to video-resolution.
There is an improved ½s lag to the Video Record button when starting to record. This causes the first half-second of action to be missed. This is certainly not ideal but is typical of cameras which do not have a dedicated Video mode. With a fast memory card, the LX100 II clears the recording buffer quickly. There is a short delay though when playing back 4K video. It is noticeable but not crucial.
The new Panasonic Lumix DC-LX100 II continues with the unique concept introduced by the original LX100 and updates it with a state-of-the-art imaging pipeline. This second iteration of the Premium Compact embodiment still has very few competitors while making its performance completely current.
Like its predecessor, the LX100 II packs the same sensor-size as a Panasonic mirrorless camera with an ultra-wide and ultra-bright 3.1X optical zoom lens into a relatively compact body. This balance between image-quality, size and versatility is unrivaled outside of these two cameras. The multi-aspect-ratio 2.2X-crop sensor and high-quality Leica optics together produce very good image-quality with relatively low image-noise, reliable exposure, good dynamic-range and nice sharpness. Color and white-balance are also good and notably improved from the original LX100.
This premium digital camera is exceptionally fast with a very quick shutter-lag and speedy autofocus system. Autofocus is highly accurate and sensitive down to low light-levels. The LX100 II delivers outstanding shot-to-short speed which leaves the zoom as being the only very slow aspect of this camera. There remains a short delay to start recording video as the camera is never completely ready to film and needs to adjust the field-of-view when recording starts. Video performance otherwise is good, delivering high-quality output with fine details and smooth motion.
The LX100 II provides a high number of direct controls, including dedicated dials for aperture, shutter-speed and exposure-compensation. A control-ring, aspect-ratio selector, generic control-dial and several customizable buttons complete the interface, making all important photographic functions easily accessible. While ergonomics of the LX100 II are among the best-in-class, some controls are packed too closely and have soft detents which makes them prone to accidental changes. Considering the compact size of this camera, it is easily understandable.
In the end, the Panasonic Lumix DC-LX100 II lives up to the acheivements of its predecessor and delivers some nice incremental improvements with a few new features added for good measure. Those looking for a Premium Compact Digital Camera are certain to find the LX100 II one of the most compelling offerings on the market. Owners of the original LX100 may enjoy upgrading but without being a huge step up can probably wait for the next iteration, considering the high price of the new model.
Panasonic DC-LX100 II Highlights
Sensor-Size: 17 x 13mm
Actual size when viewed at 100 DPI
|17 Megapixels Fixed Lens||ISO 100-25600|
|3.1X Ultra-Wide Optical Zoom||Shutter 1/16000-60s|
|Built-in Stabilization||Full manual controls, including Manual Focus|
|0.38" Built-in EVF 2.8 Megapixels (0.70X)||Custom white-balance with 2 axis fine-tuning|
|Automatic Eye-Start sensor||Spot-Metering|
|2 Axis Digital Level||Hot-Shoe|
|11 FPS Drive, 33 Images||Lithium-Ion Battery|
|3840x2160 @ 30 FPS Video Recording||Secure Digital Extended Capacity|
|3" LCD 1.2 Megapixels|
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