Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Panasonic Lumix LX3 User Report

Panasonic Lumix LX3

I just bought this little camera in November of 2009. I think I've seen more interest in this camera than I did when I bought my Nikon D3. That's something else for a compact camera that first hit the shelves in 2008.

I think the interest lies in the fact that the specs say that that this is a serious pocket camera and everyone ants to know if it's true. After a month with the Lumix I say that it is true for the most part. Obviously, there are some trade-offs. The sensor noise is better than most compacts but it's nothing like what I'm used to in my SLRs and the controls are really small.

Sample pics are easy to find so I'm only giving a usability report.

There are some nice features that could easily go un-noticed. When you are in manual focus mode the distance scale includes a depth of field scale that changes dynamically. Pretty cool for a camera you are likely to scale focus. Auto focus is quick for a compact camera. Also, you can move the AF point anywhere on the screen. The quick AF button in manual focus mode is a stroke of genius.

It has spot metering. (This is important enough to me that it gets it's own paragraph.)

Important features are accessed through buttons or dials, not menu options, with the programmable function button being a huge win.

There are a few things I do not like about the camera. One, the screen is not really a good indication of exposure. Auto gain should be disabled in manual exposure mode so that the screen previews my photo. This will not be an issue when I get an optical viewfinder but it's difficult for my pea brain to think about all the other stuff I need to consider and remember that the screen image is not really in line with my settings.

The start/stop of the movie mode is very strange. There is lag between hitting start and the movie actually recording but it cuts the last second of your movie when you press stop. You need to wait a second or two after the action has ended to stop recording because you will lose the last second that occurred before you pressed stop. (My explanation makes almost as much sense as this senseless camera behavior.)

The microphone is better than I expected but I prefer to capture audio with my Zoom H2 then sync sound later. It seems like the audio and video will sync for about 3 minutes from these two sources. This is fine for my purposes since I rarely record more than a couple of minutes per clip but it will drive you up the wall if you need to record for very long.

The lack of manual exposure control in movie mode is maddening. Exposure jumps wildly during recording. Changes in exposure can be drastic, like the camera doesn't understand that things might come in and out of frame quickly and exposure does not need to be adjusted because the scene was dark for 1/30 of a second.

The camera does not ship with any kind of video editing software. I've heard that iMovie does a good job on Macs but I use PC. Sony Vegas 9 (consumer version, $75. Not the $500 pro edition) is good software and handles the H264 .mov files easily.

I bought this camera for two main purposes. First, I wanted to have a good camera with me at all times. It absolutely fills that purpose. It's winter now and I can easily carry in a jacket pocket. In summer I suppose I'll resort to cargo shorts or a small belt case. The camera is all metal so it's kind of heavy for a shirt pocket. It's uncomfortable in jeans pockets but not too bad in other pants. It's far smaller than my SLRs so I still feel like I've been freed from a ball and chain.

My other purpose was to make videos. I needed a good 720P camera for things like product videos and a few other projects. Other than the oddities already mentioned this is a very good video camera. 720p at 24fps looks nice. It should seamlessly integrate with my Nikon video workflow when I move in that direction. I hope I never end up doing video at weddings and events but I do have a video project or two in mind. More on that later...


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