Taken at ISO1600 with the LX3. Minimum processing of RAW in SilkyPix to 16-bit TIFF, NR with Neat Image, slight USM for output.
This is a follow-on from my first impressions post. I've now had the Lumix LX3 about a week and taken several hundred shots with it. There are a number of things I've found in using it that are worth mentioning. I was intending posting earlier but found some strange things in the RAW images which delayed me (I'll keep you in suspense as to what I found until later).
Firstly, however, is a clarification from the earlier post. Juha (who commented on my previous post) has been blogging on his experiences with the LX3. He found the interface to be quite complicated, whereas I found it simple and intuitive. This comes from our different ways of using the camera. I look at the interface from a setting-up the camera perspective. I don't use auto shooting modes and don't care about them (so no views on those here). Virtually all my shooting has been in aperture priority - I'm using this camera like I do my others - and so I'm interested in the LX3 as a serious tool rather than an auto P&S. Bear that in mind when reading my comments.
Most of this post will be in the realm of "things I wish it would do, but doesn't" - quite negative overall but bear with me. Not reams of test shots, as I don't feel I could really convey what I'm writing with web-sized pics. You'll just have to trust what I write (or go some place else).
Auto focus - there is a big problem with AF, speed 9or lack thereof). Not good for the decisive moment. Plenty accurate for static shots, however. There is also no way to do snap focus (e.g. a hyperfocal or infinity setting). Even the fast mode is too slow.
It does have a handy continuous mode, whereby the camera focuses as you move between subjects. trouble is it is ruined by the fact that the camera insists on re-focusing when the shutter release is pressed. Why have a camera focus all the time if it is going to focus again on taking the shot?
Manual focus - is my preferred method. I use the focus button when I want AF. Works well and is far more ergonomic that using AF and the AF-lock button. Also mean I can pre-focus or focus and re-compose with ease.
Actual manual focus is quite easy. I think the DoF scale is a bit conservative (I think there's more DoF than indicated) but haven't rigorously tested it yet. Great for hyperfocal or zone focus. I've got into the mode of f/4 and be there (approx equivalent DoF to f/8 on 35mm).
Zoom settings - this is a huge annoyance. There is no way to precisely set zoom point. No scale on the barrel (I can see the marker pen coming out), no step-zoom function and the zoom indicator bar is worse than useless (it shows 3 values - 1x for 24mm-e to about 35mm-e, 2x up to about 55mm-e and 2.5x at full zoom). Why can't I have either an electronic scale showing actual zoom position (in 35mm equivalent), or a scale on the barrel, or a step zoom function or better yet, all three? I reckon the 2 electronic options could be done in firmware, if they (Panasonic) set their minds to it.
The other rubbish thing is it doesn't remember zoom settings. It's not part of the remembered items in Custom mode and when the camera shuts down it always wakes up to fully wide. Madness! The sleep mode is quite good, and wake up is quite fast but not remembering the zoom setting is very annoying.
ISO versus shutter speed can be a bit variable. Sometimes it does a nice job of dropping the shutter speed right down, and sometimes it jumps to a ridiculous ISO. There is no way to set the minimum shutter speed in aperture priority, which is stupid: with the Mega-OIS, I'd be happy down to about 1/10 but it tends not to go further than 1/30 unless the ISO tops out. Of course you can always limit the ISO to lower values.
One big bonus is the camera is very quiet. Taking pics of people in museums, even the noise from a rangefinder was noticeable, no one noticed the LX3 (I've turned off all the beeps bleeps). Even the zoom is remarkably quiet.
Image processing & quality
Of course, this is where the crunch is. There will be a few LX3 images from me in the near future - some of the next PotDs from London will be LX3 shots. I'm liking the output.
The thing that delayed this post was something I was seeing in RAW images at high ISO. I took a load of mixed light, low illumination shots (my hotel room in KL). The JPEGs were nice, decent detail and good noise reduction even at ISO1600. The RAW seemed another matter - hot pixels, impossible to clean-up noise and SilkyPix (the Panasonic RAW software) couldn't touch it. Turns out to be user error (i.e. all my fault).
Once I found the NR settings and got working the software, and looking at the images properly, I have been very pleased.
I'm not going to claim overall image quality is up to DSLR standards, even with many pixels. But results are good. Sometimes WB gets confused, but that's a good reason to use RAW. Out of camera JPEGs are nice, but not a patch on what can be produced from the RAW. I've been using SilkyPix with basic settings to produce a 16-bit TIFF and then touching up in Photoshop. NR isn't bad with SilkyPix but doesn't come close to Neat Image.
And here's the upside - to my eyes noise is as good (maybe better) at high ISO than with my EOS 20D. Yes, you heard that right. I'm getting usable colour results right up to ISO1600 with a little effort. With the 20D, I'm in B&W only at that level. Who'd have thought that small sensors would catch up that well?
One big caveat - expose properly. Under exposing at high ISO and you've got nothing to play with. Those pixels are still coming from small buckets, so underlying noise is going to be high. But a decently exposed high ISO shot is perfectly good. Haven't printed any yet but I reckon 6x8" no problem, maybe even 8x10" from ISO1600. That is far beyond my expectation.
However, I'm normally limiting to ISO400 or 800, especially if there is good light. I think I'll set up the camera Custom modes with high ISOs for low light shooting.
I'm just getting on and taking pictures. I like this camera very much. Use it in aperture priority and handle like any other decent camera and the results are very good. It handles naturally and produces good images even in low light. It is not, however, a dummy's P&S - a little care and craft are needed, I feel, to get the most out of its imaging capability but I'm fine with that. If you're a regular RF user, you might well get on with this camera. I can see this camera replacing my DSLRs in a whole host of situations, and might even become my preferred indoor camera.