The Lumix DMC-LX7, surprisingly interesting
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7
Just 2 days ago Panasonic introduced their new Lumix DMC-G5 and the premium point and shoot Lumix DMC-LX7. Being a micro 4/3 shooter, you would think that I would be interested in the Lumix G5 but on the contrary and to my surprise it was the LX7 that piqued my curiosity. The G5 seems like a nice enough update and my micro 4/3 lens would be compatible with it but the lack of in-body image stabilization is probably a deal killer for me. I shoot in dark areas, often shooting in the evening or night and indoors. A good in-body IS and a large aperture prime lens enables me to shoot in dark places with comparably lower ISOs. No, for the foreseeable future, my micro 4/3 bodies will remain in the Olympus camp. However that LX7 point and shoot has an super fast f1.4 lens and even at it’s maximum zoom it’s a fast f2.3. Incredible. That is 2/3 to 1 stop faster than the previous premium point and shoots. A big aperture lens, in body IS and a compact size, exactly the kind of camera I like.
Unlike the mirrorless system cameras, the LX7 does not have interchangeable lenses. But with a 24mm to 90mm equivalent zoom range, it is more than enough for me. Heck, when I carry around my multiple Olympus PENs with prime lenses, I only cover a focal length of 28mm to 90mm anyway. So with a small body and a useful zoom range, what kind of low light performance will this thing have? Of course it uses a lot smaller 1/1.7 inch sensor so at any given ISO it will not perform as well as a micro 4/3 camera. However, if we factor in that fast, built-in lens, can it effectively compete against a micro 4/3 camera?
Let’s compare the new Panasonic LX7 against the Olympus E-PM1. Amazingly, and to my surprise, the E-PM1, which is one of the smallest micro 4/3 cameras is actually smaller than the Lumix LX7 when comparing the body size. You can see it here at cameraize.com. Of course, if you factor in the zoom lens, the Lumix is going to be smaller overall. So in actual usage the LX7 is going to be more compact. The Olympus E-PM1 comes with a typical kit lens that ranges from f3.5 to f5.6. But compare the speed of that kit lens with the f1.4 to f2.3 lens that’s on the LX7. The LX7 has a lens that is 2 2/3 stops faster than the typical kit lens.
Now let’s make some assumptions. I’m going to assume that the LX7 has about the same image quality as the LX5 (the previous model, there was no LX6) at a given ISO. In reality, I expect the LX7 to be better with the improvements in sensor technology. DPreview has an excellent tool to compare RAW ISO performance, visually. With it I compared the quality of the Olympus E-PM1 to the Panasonic LX5. I realize this is somewhat imprecise and open to interpretation however, generally the LX5 at ISO 200 seems to be similar to the Olympus at ISO 800. There are color and sharpness difference in favor of the Olympus but noise wise they are roughly comparable. Now, let’s apply the larger aperture advantage of the LX7. At 2 2/3 stops, if you shoot the LX7 at f1.4 at ISO 200 it would be equivalent to the Olympus shooting at ISO 1250 at f3.5, if I did my calculations properly. So based on my eyeball test, if shot wide open, the LX7 point and shoot will have a lower noise and potentially better image quality than the E-PM1. Now that is compelling. That is what a fast lens can give you. Yes, I realize there are many factors such as lens quality, sharpness, color and dynamic range. This is a theoretical test with some assumptions. But still I think it is very interesting.
The E-PM1 has interchangeable lenses and if you attach a f1.4 lens instead of the kit zoom, yes, the Olympus is going to smoke the LX7. So again, with the ISO and lens aperture being equal, the E-PM1 is certainly superior image quality wise. On the other hand, there are no f1.4 to f2.3 zooms for the micro 4/3 platform; the Lumix LX7 will be a very handy and versatile camera. So am I going to get the Panasonic Lumix LX7? Probably not. After my initial interest, practicality began to set in. For me, it is always about price performance. I can get a factory refurbished E-PM1 at Cameta Camera for $300. To it I can attach my 20mm f1.7 or 14mm f2.5 lenses that I already own. This will make for a very compact camera albeit without the zoom capability which generally is fine for me. U.S. pricing for the LX7 has not been announced buy I suspect it will be at least $500.
I realize that I’m a bit out of the main stream. My desire of shooting with non-zooming prime lenses is more of an advanced concept. For the person that wants a compact camera with high image quality and a usable zoom range, the LX7 should be on their watch list. I will be interested when the actual test results come out. Panasonic has upped the ante again in the premium point and shoot market. It will be interesting to see how the others respond.