Quick Review: the Panasonic LX10

While returning the Lumix G9 to Panasonic Malaysia, I caught, out of the corner of my eye, the LX10 lying on a table. I picked it up and immediately felt the urge to borrow it. Minutes later, having done just that I was out shooting whatever I found interesting for the rest of the day. Considering the LX10 has been around since late-2016, I wasn’t focused on reviewing it. However, it’s left enough of an impression on me that I thought I would share my thoughts and some images here.

I have always been fascinated by advanced compact cameras, with their small but feature-rich form factor. However, interchangeable lens cameras, especially Micro Four Thirds, have become smaller and smaller over time and narrowed the size advantage that compact cameras traditionally held. We have the truly compact Panasonic GM1 and GM5, coupled with the slim 12-32mm pancake lens, that provides a very compact solution. Other alternatives such as Fuji X-E3, Olympus PEN-Lite series and Canon M-series are not that much larger. Yet the Panasonic LX10 and Sony RX100 range of cameras sit very comfortably in their own category despite these threats. I had to satisfy my own curiosity and explore the benefits of a premium compact camera for myself.

These premium compacts are clearly targeted at users who don’t want to jump into a full interchangeable lens system and prefer an all-in-one solution. The selfie screen speaks, I think, volumes about the intended audience – primarily social media users, v-loggers and for Instagram. I’d say the LX10 is perfect for those who want a high performance camera with significantly better image quality over their smartphones, without the pain of a DSLR/Mirrorless system. While some may argue that these compacts suit professionals and serious hobbyists as well, I just cannot see the advantage over other more versatile options such as the Panasonic GM5, or Olympus E-PL8. These premium compacts are not budget-friendly for starters – they’re priced higher than entry-level DSLR or mirrorless cameras.

Going back to my shooting experience, it was a lazy Sunday and like most Malaysians, I was catching up with friends over brunch (read: overpriced food), exchanging opinions on hobbies (audio) and wrapped the day up with a quick walk around the city center as the sun set.  If you want to view the EXIF data, please go to the online gallery here. 

1-inch sensor compacts have come a long way, and I have to say I was genuinely impressed with what the LX10 could do. Images are clean and highly detailed. The 24-72mm equivalent lens is a stellar performer, producing sharp images with plenty of contrast – rendering punchy and life-like results. Images were perfectly usable at wide open apertures, but I found myself stopping down a bit which improved things further. At lower ISO sensitivities (ISO400 and below) there is really not much difference when I compare the images against entry level Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras (E-PL5, E-M10 plus kit lens). I was perfectly satisfied with results from the LX10 – in good lighting conditions.

All images were shot in RAW and processed in Capture One Pro to my own liking. The default JPEG color profile did not work for me.

My biggest complaint about the LX10 is the handling. The grip is a terrible design – with the whole surface completely smooth and borderline slippery. There was no sense of confidence when holding the LX10. I constantly felt like the camera was about to slip out of my fingers at all times, and I had to exert more force than should be necessary to hold onto the camera. Most cameras these days feature rubberized grip pads or some texture that helps in gripping. My fingers felt strained in the very brief time I spent with the LX10. I cannot imagine shooting for long hours with it.

A clear win with LX10 is the larger depth of field thanks to the smaller sensor. For my close up shooting scenarios, I normally require F5.6 or narrower to achieve sufficient depth of field. With the LX10, I was quite happy shooting at F2.8 – I had all the depth of field I wanted. Using wider apertures also allowed me to keep my ISO down. On the other hand, this can work against you when you want to isolate the subject by blurring the background. I was hoping that with the F1.4-2.8 lens on an 1-inch sensor, I could get decent bokeh/shallow depth of field. Unfortunately, I was left disappointed but helped me understand and learn more about what the 1-inch sensor can and cannot do for me.

The convenience of carrying just one camera to do everything is lost when the light level drops. In difficult lighting conditions, the LX10 did an admirable job all the way up to ISO 800 (with clever noise reduction applied). I would not recommend going any higher unless absolutely necessary. Autofocus also suffers in low light situations. I expected the AF to be nearly as good as Panasonic’s Micro Four Thirds counterparts but I was asking for too much. The LX10 is not that efficient and capable.

Although I only had one day with the LX10, I was quite happy with the images I have shot with it. Under good light and for most of the things that I shoot, the LX10 produced images just as good as an entry-level Micro Four Thirds camera. A small form factor means I can store the camera in my pocket, or slide it in a small compartment of any bag easily. The convenience combined with capable 1-inch sensor and great built in lens means the LX10 is capable of delivering great results.

However, I was not happy with the handling of the LX10, and it is not a camera that I want to use for extended periods. Also, camera performance drops significantly in dim light but that is a limitation of the 1-inch sensor. You just have to manage your expectations accordingly.

I did have plans to add either a Sony RX100 series camera or the Panasonic LX10 into my camera bag – as a back-up camera and something that I can rely on when I do not need the larger Micro Four Thirds system. However, after a day shooting with the LX10, I realized I’m not willing to give up the ability to create shallow depth of field and shoot clean images at ISO1600 or beyond. Barely usable ISO800 is not sufficient for my shooting needs. Of course, I’m speaking only for myself. For some people a smoothed out, heavily noise reduced ISO6400 images that look like an oil-paint is acceptable or preferred.

I am sure many of you own either a Sony RX100 or the Panasonic LX10. Please share your thoughts!

The Panasonic Lumix LX10 is available from B&H

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Images and content copyright Robin Wong 2018 onwards. All rights reserved

Comments

  1. To me, the LX10 is THE perfect camera for a concert camera. I can take the camera to places I just can’t go with a bigger piece. I have consistantly gotten images that people can’t believe were taken with a point and shoot camera. The wide 1.4 aperture really helps and still has decent depth of field. It’s like having a mini version of the E-M1 or GH5 in my pocket. Sure, it can’t do crazy low light, but if you have your subject even slightly lit, usually you can get the shot.

  2. What would you use for a high quality pocketable zoom camera then? I’m looking for one, but the entry level m43 cameras seem to be too large?

  3. One note on the slippery finish: Get some gun grip tape for the body. There are two types, one is heat set, the other cold set. The cold set works just fine and is easily removable. I’ve used “Hi-Tech” brand, it is easy to apply and looks stock. You’ll find many other uses for it, it gives a good grip, better than most cameras original grip, but is not abrasive to your skin.

    • Robin Wong says:

      Tried a few. Hated how it rubbed against the skin. Maybe I was not using the right tape. But one should not have to go through this trouble, the camera should be designed with handling/ergonomics in mind! How the camera felt while the photographer uses it is important!

  4. Jean-Christoph Hasel says:

    Hy Ming!

    “While some may claim that these compacts are suitable for serious professionals and amateurs, I can not see the advantage over other more versatile options like the Panasonic GM5, or Olympus E-PL8.”
    Exactly!
    I bought a Pana TZ 40 in 2015 and after a year of point and shoot, I regretted an ultra-wide angle lens, a powerful cobra flash for bounced lightening and a dust remove tool.
    Then I bought a GM 5 with a standard zoom, a flash Nissin i-40. I shoot nearly every day and that’s enough for 95% of my jobs. This avoids having a second bag with my old and heavy D200 / D2x and the UW 12-24 lens (4.5%).
    I have to go fast with the client, document the interior of houses, no fine art at all. For some work, if really necessary, I can pick up Quantum flash units (0.5%).
    I finally noticed that the UW lens is not so necessary. There is still a way to do it and it’s almost become a challenge not to release the Nikon anymore.
    But shooting and knowing that there is a dust inside, that I will have to return the device to the technical service or stamp the dust out, for heaven’s sake, no.
    These zoom lenses must be weather sealed at least. Lens mount is the best dust remove tool ever!
    The GM5 also has weaknesses, including the slow sync speed for fill in flash, manual mode coupled with cobra flash, etc. But an old ND filter helps in these few cases.
    Regards.

  5. I have the RX100 Mk. II, and I enjoy it very much. I use it more than my Canon 600D, because it’s small and convenient. There are some issues though, like the ergonomics, slow lens at the tele end and soft video quality (it records the video as 1440×1080 and then stretches)

    • Robin Wong says:

      Of course the newer Sony RX100 cameras, such as Mark 4 onward has 4K video recording which is quite good. Even the Panasonic LX10 has 4K video.

  6. I have the LX10 from March 2017 when I bought this camera for my trip to UK. While I am happy overall with the camera, learning curve is quite steep. Also the small buttons are quite bothersome as settings may change accidently while shooting if a button gets pressed accidentally.

    • Robin Wong says:

      True, the small buttons can be a handful to deal with, I did have my fair share of accidental presses. But I disagree on the learning curve. I was able to set up the camera within minutes and immediately use it without issue. I thought the camera was quite user friendly.

  7. The best thing about my RX100 is that I can get really close which is ideal for things like flowers. I just bought a 35mm 1.8 for my A6000 and I plan to carry my compact as well in case I have trouble filling the frame with the 35. I’ve learned to work with what I have although I delete the majority of shots, mostly because of the composition.

  8. I like my LX10 quite a lot. I shot with it as my only camera on a trip to Europe last year. It felt weird at first to not have my m43 gear with me. I could fit the camera and accessories in a little pouch on my belt or in a jacket pocket. I bought one of the cheap rubber body cases for it (I think it was about US$15). It makes holding the camera much more secure. I also added a wrist strap.

    I shot a lot of night time pictures (with a tripod) and was pleased with the results. I also shot quite a bit in dark museum conditions.

    While I wish it had an EVF I more or less got used to shooting with just the screen. I enjoyed playing with the various filters like the miniature one.

  9. Emil Varadi says:

    I still remain faithfully – or if you wish stubbornly – with my Ricoh GRII. This was a necessary update a year ago from a GRI that gave up after years of intensive shooting.
    The GRs serve/d as secondary cameras beside my Nikon D800E (now sold) and D850.

    • Robin Wong says:

      I have not used a Ricoh extensively yet so I will not comment on that, but I have heard amazing feedback from many street photographer friends.

    • stanis riccadonna zolczynski says:

      I second that. Ricoh is photographers compact par excellence. The only thing I miss is flip-up display and workable remote. The problem with compacts and smartphones alike, like Robin pointed out, is ergonomics. Even a nice rival to GR Fuji X70 put me off because when holding it my thumb rested on upper corner of LCD, a bit too small. Pity that with improvement of 1″ sensors Nikon does nothing to develope their Nikon 1 line.

      • Robin Wong says:

        It does seem that Nikon is giving up on their One system, and paving way to their rumored full frame mirrorless, which should be out this year! Hopefully that will be something for all of us here hoping for small camera with good ergonomics.

        • It`s about their lenses too. Not to mention their AW model, kind of mini Nikonos, still far from perfect but could be.

        • Frans Richard says:

          Hoping for a small full frame system is, with the current state of technology, a futile effort. A full frame mirrorless body may be (relatively) small and light, but full frame lenses won’t be because they must comply to the laws of physics. Until a revolutionary new lens technology shows up, I would not hold my breath.

          I switched from Nikon DX to Olympus OM-D, mostly because Nikon did (and does) not offer a full range of DX lenses (Thom Hogan would say ‘buzz, buzz’) and I got tired of the weight and size of the ‘compatible’ full frame lenses I had to carry. Even if Nikon would now introduce a small and light mirrorless DX body with the promise of a full range of DX lenses I would not switch back. My current Olympus system (2 bodies and 7 lenses) offers me everything I need in a much smaller package than I had before (1 body and 4 lenses). My EM-10 with pancake 12-42 (24-84 equivalent) zoom is barely larger or heavier than any of the better compacts and much more versatile. I think m43 offers the best of both worlds without sacrificing any important image quality aspects.

  10. Derrick Pang says:

    I have both the gm 1 and lx 10. While the lx 10 is smaller and has a longer zoom, I actually prefer the pancake zoom and gm1 combo for these reasons:

    1. Sharper, both center and corner
    2. Faster operation (no need to wait for the zoom lens to come out after powering on)
    3. Cleaner files. I find iso 800 files very noisy
    4. Longer battery life

    • Robin Wong says:

      I agree with you especially on the speed as well as high ISO images. The AF is just not as fast or responsive as their Micro Four Thirds big brothers. Also, the images, I am only happy up to ISO400, at ISO800, it is barely tolerable!

  11. Derrick Pang says:

    I have both the gm 1 and lx 10. While the lx 10 is smaller and has a longer zoom, I actually prefer the pancake zoom and gm1 combo for these reasons:

    1. Sharper, both center and corner
    2. Faster operation (no need to wait for the zoom lens to come out after powering on)
    3. Cleaner files. I find iso 800 files very noisy
    4. Longer battery life

  12. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Robin, I have a Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II that I use in a similar way, as a back up for my HF & FF DSLRs. The 1.5 inch sensor performs well – the 12.8MP sensor is plenty big enough for the shots I use it for (up to A4) – and the lens is 24-120mm equivalent F2.0-3.9 lens with optical IS.
    I could have wished for better optics, the lens is a bit lack lustre on long distance views (although it performs well at close quarters). Nothing to rave about – but it IS convenient, and it’s the one cam I grab on the way out the door, to make sure I don’t ever get caught again with a great opportunity and no camera to capture it with. The other cams are generally used for planned shoots.

    • Robin Wong says:

      I like the idea of having one all can do camera, which is small and compact. Nonetheless we just have to be aware of the trade-offs, and willing to live with them.

  13. I own the RX100 (bought for my wife but she just won’t use it) and the RX100IV for myself. My EDC camera is the RX1RII, however, and it seems to me the backup cameras that make sense for you would be the RX1 series or the Ricoh GR. Either will be able to stand its ground compared to your primary cameras.

    • Robin Wong says:

      The RX1 series is definitely a no go for me, the price itself is too much for a backup camera! Ricoh, I may need to pay closer attention to since so many people give positive feedback !

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