Thursday, January 15, 2009

Panasonic Lumix LX3 Personal Report

Now I know that no one needs me to tell them that the Lumix LX3 is a pretty cool compact digital camera. I don't think you even need me to point out that it's small and quiet and can be added to the photographic tool-bag in a position kinda like the Rangefinder used to occupy. However, I have seen a few discussions about the LX3 that, I think, miss the point; and I also think that some who have gotten or are considering getting the LX3 might like to hear how another person has found it fitting into his photographic efforts. So here's my personal report on the LX3. I do heartily recommend the camera.

Let me say, by way of background, that my first two real digital cameras (we did have a Sony Mavica with VGA resolution before that) were Lumix cameras (LC33 and FZ20) and I've been a big fan all along, even though now I shoot Canon DSLRs most of the time. I've toyed around with getting back into Lumix cameras at a number of different times but couldn't ever quite justify it--that is, until the LX3.

The mere announcement about this camera on Digital Photography Review convinced me it was a camera I needed to own. So I sold my Canon 30D backup camera (which I rarely used since it was so similar to my 40D) and I bought a Lumix LX3 to take its place. I bought it for the change of pace, and because the specs were interesting and unique. From an econmic perspective, a 24-60 F2.0-F2.8 Leica lens all by itself would easily cost me $1000, so the price looks reasonable, even though I know the sensor is smaller and noisier than my DSLR.

But really, the differences were exactly why I wanted this camera. I don't want it to be my SLR, or better than my SLR, or even like my SLR in most respects. I'm interested in the differences. The idea that one camera is "THE BEST," is just a mistake--the question always needs to be asked "best for what?" My 40D is best for formal wedding portraits and groups. My LX3 is best for carrying in my pocket on an evening out, and for being unobtrusive, and has the biggest depth of focus even at low aperture. I also think there is something about the compact digitals that makes them better for exploring different angles and unusual photo ideas.

Of course, the lists of which is better for what don't stop there--in fact, there were three main differences that attracted me to the LX3. First, the fact that it can sync with strobes at a higher shutter speed because of its different shutter; second, the fact that it takes HD (720p) video, and finally, the fact that it is small and quiet. It does go with me places I wouldn't have taken the DSLR and has given me some great photos (and videos), that I'm glad to have. And, with decent quality video that is easy for me to work with (it shows up and previews flawlessly in Adobe Bridge), I am becoming a videographer as well as a photographer. I have yet to do too much with the high-speed sync, but I expect to use that more this summer.

Here are the technical highlights from my perspective, so far:

The LX3 syncs just fine with my Elinchrom Skyports and my external Quantaray and Promaster flashes. I can sync up to 1/1000 without darkening. 1/1300 is darker, 1/2000 is too dark. On the other hand if you use a hotshoe flash as a trigger for optical slaves you can sync up to 1/2000 (max shutter) no problem. I found a smallish $.49 flash at Goodwill (and I checked the voltage ***WARNING*** ALWAYS CHECK THE VOLTAGE OF AN UNKNOWN FLASH BEFORE YOU USE IT ON YOUR DIGITAL CAMERA) and made a little paper diffuser/director for it and it's working well as a trigger for my optically triggered flashes. It worked great even outside in overcast weather. Can't say whether it will work in broad daylight, although of course that has nothing to do with the LX3, since we're talking about the slave flash and trigger flash.

I recommend taking the the ISO decision away from the camera. The LX3 is still a compact camera and the noise can still look pretty bad at higher ISO. However, at ISO 200 the images are smooth, and with the fast lens and OIS, ISO 200 covers most situations.

One other comment--I haven't settled into using RAW format yet because of the lack of support in ACR and because I don't want to mess with Silkypix. I have used RAW Therapee a bit, but am still not comfortable enough with it to give a full report. On paper RAW Therapee offers even more control than ACR and apparently better algorithms. Workflow seems to be more difficult than Adobe (big surprise) but getting better with each new version (I'm on my second version), I'm definitely going to keep RAW Therapee around and use it more. For now, though, I'm shooting JPG and editing in ACR, and it's working great. I've been pleasantly surprised while working on some ISO 200 JPGs. The image doesn't seem brittle or inflexible like JPGs can sometimes be. I'm very happy with the results even adding as much as 1.5 stops to the exposure, and using Recovery and Fill Light to increase dynamic range.

Here's an example I was especially pleased with. It was a difficult photo to expose properly and as you can see I exposed for the slide that was being shown.
Using Adobe ACR on the Lumix LX3 JPG I was able to achieve the version below. It is also worth noting that in this meeting a DSLR would have been distracting and disruptive, where my little LX3 was discreet enough to get by.

The video files are no problem to work with in Adobe Premiere Elements 4, Premiere Pro, and Corel Video Studio, but will not work in Windows Movie Maker. I'm not an expert with video, but I do know that I much prefer dealing with precompressed video from a workflow/ease-of-use standpoint. The HD video (720p) is about 5min 15sec per 1 GB. The audio quality on the LX is improved from earlier Lumix models but is still pretty bad. To try to cope with this problem I purchased an Olympus audio recorder which I use to record audio seperately when I need a higher quality audio track. The LX3 mic helps with syncing the tracks in post production.

The video below doesn't show the full quality resolution of the LX3, but it does demonstrate how the LX3 can be used as a makeshift but rather capable video camera. You can follow this link to a full resolution video--although it has been formatted by SmugMug's uploading process.

So, there's my two cents on the subject. I hope you find it useful. Please feel free to comment, ask questions, or even buy the LX3 through the amazon link to the right. ;)


William said...

Any idea what the maximum trigger voltage is on the LX3?

Peter said...

William, sorry it has taken me a while to get back to you. Here's a link explaining how to figure out the trigger voltage of your flash, and some ideas about how to find out what your camera is made to handle. I don't think manufacturers publish that information--on the other hand, I expect all modern digital cameras to be in a similar range. I hope that explanation makes sense. Be sure to check out the link. It'll help you, I'm pretty sure.

neil said...

The image quality is very strong. Not as good as the DP1/2, but that camera is a disaster in nearly all other regards. With F/2 and and 400 you'll likely get the indoor shot you need. And when that fails, 800 is tolerable. The LX3 is a zippy performer too.

r4 dsi