Monday 17 June 2019

Tech review: Lumix LX100 II

Price: €949

Panasonic Lumix LX100 II
Panasonic Lumix LX100 II
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

When Panasonic’s first LX100 came out, I loved it. Here was a camera that seemed to be a good fusion of everything photographic enthusiasts love. It was a real camera in a pocketable format. I used one for over a year, bringing it on travels or on my person around town for serendipitous opportunities.

Now Panasonic has brought out a successor device, the LX100 Mark ii. Its main enhancement is an increase in usable megapixels, from 12 to 17. Other than the additional introduction of a handy touchscreen, the basic product is still very similar to the original camera. So is it worth getting? I’ve been shooting with it for almost a month. Mostly, I’m happy with it. I can see the extra resolution in the photos when I zoom in a little.

I’m also reminded of why I liked this in the first place. The principle behind it – high-quality images coming from an attractive metal body with lots of control and a fixed, mid-zoom Leica-designed lens – is a very alluring one.

You can control your aperture on that stabilised Leica lens (which goes from about 24mm to 75mm in 35mm measurement and from f1.8 to f2.8) manually, which is a feature I love.

The electronic viewfinder, which at 0.7x is fine but not outstanding, is off to one side, rangefinder style. This is another feature I like. It means that you can use your other eye to scan for things outside your immediate photo.

One slightly confusing thing, for those into specifications, is the camera’s sensor. Officially it’s a Micro Four Thirds sensor, the same size that you’ll find in a professional model like Panasonic’s GH5S. But because of this camera’s small size (and lens design), it can’t actually use the whole sensor to capture images. So you’re really not getting much more than the one-inch sensor size used by its main competitor, Sony’s RX100 series of high-end compact cameras.

Is the tradeoff on the sensor worth it to keep the size compact? That’s a personal choice. As it is, the LX100ii is just about pocketable – not quite for trousers, but absolutely in a large coat pocket. Any larger and it would really be competing with mirrorless models such as Fujifilm’s X-E3 or X-T20 or Panasonic’s own GX series.

The fact that the LX100ii has a fixed 24-75mm lens also removes the sometimes stultifying issue of choosing which lens to bring with you. You know what you have, so you just get on with it. This can really free you up, creatively.

The LX100ii shoots 4K video at up to 30 frames per second and 1080p at up to 60 frames per second, although I’d be surprised if many people use the video here. There’s no microphone or earphone port, so you’re stuck with the camera’s built-in microphone. The stabilisation is weak, too, meaning that footage is a little jittery when handheld. And the lack of any kind of flip-out screen means vloggers can skip this one right away.

Otherwise, there isn’t much negative to say about this camera. If I was being fussy, I’d say that its startup time is slower than I’d like or am used to with DSLRs or interchangeable-lens mirrorless cameras.

It’s also possible that for the type of person arguably most interested in this kind of camera, the controls are a little fiddly. For example, it’s difficult to cleanly hold the camera without touching some kind of button by mistake. This is, of course, a function of its miniature size: you can’t have all that control in a camera this portable without making some ergonomic sacrifices. Considering its size is important in a general way. There does actually come a point where a camera can feel ‘too small’ for what it’s supposed to be for. A point-and-shoot pocket camera can be tiny because it has one simple job. But a device that you want to control and fiddle with a little more, as the LX100ii is designed, warrants a larger form factor for many photographers.

As you’d expect, the battery life on this camera is modest. If you were relying on it as a primary camera, you’d really want to bring at least one spare with you. The upside is that you can now charge the camera with a common Micro USB cable, which means it will power up in a car, from a laptop or any portable power pack. That is a considerable advantage when travelling and something that wasn’t available on the original LX100.

There are a range of other features that Panasonic thinks are interesting but I don’t get any value from. One is 4K photo, which allows you to take a frame from 4K video shot at 30 frames per second and stand it up as a photo in itself. Another is ‘post focus’, which lets you choose the focus point of a photo after it’s shot, but is slow and awkward to set up and use.

However, Bluetooth is somewhat handy for those who want a direct connection to a phone to immediate edit and share a photo.

Finally, there is the question of price. At €949, this sounds like a very premium level. Then again, some of its direct competitors cost a lot more. Sony’s latest RX100 Mark 6 is more than €300 more (although the RX100 Mark V costs about the same as the LX100ii). And Fujifilm’s X100F (a camera I also own), costs more than €400 more.

In terms of handling, this is more like a Fujifilm than a Sony. The bottom line is that if you’re looking for a small, powerful camera that you manually control, this is one of the best on the market. If you’re looking for a simpler, yet powerful, point-and shoot compact model, Sony’s RX100 remains hard to beat.

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