Panasonic LX100ii Field Review First Impressions
In the last few years we’ve seen the emergence of a number of powerful compact cameras. Prior to this, compacts were aimed squarely at casual photographers and novices. Particularly those who just wanted a basic record of a holiday or family outing. But what about us professionals? Many of us would love a high quality pocketable device to record our own personal outings. Or, dare I say it, a small camera competent enough to act as a backup to a main system if the worst came to the worst.
When Sony entered the fray with its RX100 line this was something of a game changer. A high-quality 1 inch sensor in a tiny body packed with features. But that came with its own set of problems. My RX100 cameras were frankly horrible to handle. It was like trying to hold onto a bar of soap - extremely difficult on a cold day with gloves. And changing settings would be fiddly and slow. The high-resolution packed onto the 1 inch sensor meant that noise levels, although good, had to be carefully controlled. For a number of reasons I couldn’t warm to my RX100ii or iv, and both were sold.
To overcome the handling caveats I later bought a Canon G5X. This is another small compact camera with a 1 inch sensor. And I really like this little machine. I preferred the image quality and colour rendering to the Sony RX100 models, but it was slower to focus at times and the lens could be very soft around the edges at certain focal lengths and aperture values. If you’re interested there is an in-depth review of this camera here on the personal blog.
And now came an even bigger game changer - the Panasonic LX100. This camera utilises a 4/3 sensor, which is notably larger than the sensors in the cameras I’ve just talked about. That said, to enable a fast zoom lens (whilst keeping the overall camera small) the full sensor area isn’t quite utilised. Instead of a resolution of 16 megapixels, the LX100 offers just over 12 megapixels. That isn’t to say that the image quality from this machine isn’t absolutely gorgeous, because it is. Stunning in fact. The fast Leica f1.7 to f2.8 lens is a joy, the colour rendering is out of this world, everything the camera does is fast, and it’s full of features. This particular camera came out over four years ago and since then many photography enthusiasts have been clamouring for an upgrade.
Panasonic LX100ii – Worth the Hype?
And finally, we have that upgrade. I got the new Panasonic LX100ii back in September, just before it hit the shelves on mainstream release. This is something of an incremental upgrade over its predecessor, but the new features are useful. For a start, it uses the sensor from the new Panasonic GX9. This promises better noise levels and better dynamic range. Autofocus speed is apparently improved (although the original LX100 was no slouch) and the LCD has a higher resolution. The new camera also has Bluetooth and USB charging. There are also more custom buttons which I find very handy.
As before, the image circle doesn’t utilize the entire sensor area but instead covers around 17 megapixels. It now has a touchscreen, and some additional 4K features. Many potential buyers were disappointed that the camera doesn’t have a screen which flips up. This can be useful at times, but Panasonic were apparently concerned that it may add a bit of extra bulk. To be honest, most photographers probably wouldn’t have minded about that.
One of the complaints about the original LX100 centred around autofocus. When focused at infinity or distant objects there was a tendency for some examples of this camera to entirely miss focus, resulting in blurred photographs. I had a few instances of that. My standard day-to-day focusing mode is to use a very small centre square. I’ll then focus lock and recompose is needed, or I’ll move the focus area as necessary. To overcome blurred images at long distance I found that switching to pinpoint autofocus (the crosshair) completely resolved the problem. However not every photographer was successful with that technique.
Secondly, the original LX100 had a tendency to suck in dust. Fortunately mine didn’t (perhaps because it was lightly used and was always stored in a plastic bag when in transit). It will be interesting to see if the new model also does that. I read somewhere on a forum that a Panasonic representative had mentioned an additional gasket in the lens to prevent this. Time will tell.
Here are some of the test images - in two cases you’ll spot a tight centre crop.
Panasonic LX100ii Field Review Autofocus and Sharpness
I headed out to my usual testing ground, keen to put my new LX100ii through its paces. Initially I concentrated on autofocus accuracy, and lens sharpness. As I mentioned a moment ago, the LX100ii has the exact same lens as the original. Unfortunately I didn’t have the option to test both the old and the new camera side-by-side. But I have plenty of images to inform me that the lens on the original was razor sharp edge to edge at all aperture values and focal lengths. At least that was the case with the unit I owned.
This is where I’ve had a modicum of disappointment. The first LX100ii I received had a decentred lens. This was most evident at the long extremity of the zoom range. It showed up as softness across at least 20% of the left-hand side and particularly the bottom left corner. The bottom right corner was also a little soft, but not as bad. Fortunately the place I bought the camera from (London Camera Exchange) was excellent and getting a replacement sent out immediately.
The replacement camera is also a little soft on the left and in the bottom corners at the same positions in the focal range (irrespective of aperture). But it isn’t as bad, and I decided to keep it. It will be interesting to see what other buyers find in this regard.
Across the centre of the frame image sharpness is very good. Colour is lovely too. Noise levels are improved but not quite on par with my Panasonic GX8. This may be attributed to the slightly lower resolution on the LX100ii. Dynamic range is definitely better than on the LX100 Mki.
What about autofocus? Has the dreaded distant focus error been resolved? I used the camera in my normal focusing mode throughout the tests (a single small central autofocus square). I took quite a few photographs of the distant buildings along the seafront whilst I stood on the pier. I didn’t have any photographs which were wholly out of focus, but I had a couple which were a little softer than others. To an extent this is fairly common under those conditions, but next time I go to that locality I’ll switch to the crosshair pinpoint autofocus and see if that improves things even more. But overall, I’m very impressed with the autofocus accuracy and speed.
I also tested autofocus speed by taking pictures of people on a fairground ride. These rides go pretty quickly and trying to autofocus on a fast-moving target is a challenge for any camera system. The other thing to bear in mind is that the target will have moved through the zone a focus (depth of field) somewhat before focusing is achieved. However with all that in mind I was extremely impressed with the performance of the LX100ii. It really was very good at rapidly locking on to the people on the ride. Incidentally if you find yourself photographing fairground rides with any level of seriousness, you’ll get a better hit rate if you pre-focus on something and then wait for your target to move into the focus zone. Reeling off a burst of pictures will then help you to choose the sharpest.
I’ll be looking at other aspects of the camera in some upcoming shoots (including noise). But as with its predecessor, I think the LX100ii is peerless and it sits permanently in my handbag. It’s great to be able to leave the house with such a high quality and high performing camera, and to barely know I’m carrying it. It’s a street photographer’s dream. Oh – and it’s got a leaf shutter, making it a strobist’s dream as well. There have been some complaints about the price, but I don’t think the price is excessive for what you’re getting.
Panasonic LX100ii for Landscape Photography
Many of us would choose a camera like this for general walkabout and travel photography. And in that sense, it really does deliver. By travel photography we might be thinking along the lines of day trips, visits to places of interest, street photography (of course), family snaps and portraits. Photographing the landscape is a big part of this. Since I live by England’s not so sunny South Coast, I’m forever capturing seascapes. This is something I’ve loved to do over the years. In fact many of my award-winning images have been taken on my coastal rambles. So it makes sense to carry a decent camera in my handbag. And the Panasonic LX100ii is more than decent.
For the kind of travel photography I do a sharp lens is a prerequisite as is good dynamic range. On the coast on a sunny day the light can be glaring and any light-coloured objects can render as burned-out blobs if we’re not careful. Careful processing of the RAW files is essential, but we can’t recover information which isn’t there in the first place. I’m pleased to say I’ve had no problems pulling a huge amount of detail out of my LX100ii RAW captures.
One thing I’ve noticed is that the bare unprocessed RAW files are more flat and drab than they were from my LX100 MkI. Overall the most recent camera produces images which are less colourful and more in line with Panasonic’s standard colour signature. I have to be honest in saying that I prefer the output from the MkI version. But the new model has some upgraded features and some additional resolution. But as I said earlier, the new lens is (despite being apparently the same) softer on the corners and edges at most settings. I still haven’t got to the bottom of why that is but I suspect I’m not the only one who was noticed.
Despite the aforementioned shortcomings, this is still an excellent lens and the new sensor is very good. If you intend to print large then I would advise framing a little wider than necessary so you can crop slightly around the edges. That will help to mitigate any edge softness which always becomes increasingly obvious as print size goes up.
Like the previous model this camera has both a mechanical shutter and an electronic shutter. With the mechanical shutter the maximum shutter speed would be limited to 1/4000sec. Meaning you would have to stop down the lens in very bright conditions. That isn’t ideal if you’re wanting to separate your subject from the background. Having the electronic shutter (which you can set to auto) means that the camera will automatically invoke the higher maximum shutter speeds via the e-shutter if the conditions dictate it – up to 1/16,000. I’m speaking mostly in the context of very bright light rather than very fast subject motion. The reason being that electronic shutters aren’t always the best at cleanly freezing motion and can introduce the odd motion artefact. I didn’t spot any problems with the active shots I took using the electronic shutter but they were mostly at less than 1/1500. Why was I using the E shutter at shutter speeds of less than 1/2000? First of all it means the camera is completely silent. Secondly it’s worth pointing out that at the wider aperture values this camera will switch to the E shutter automatically. At f4 and above you can use the mechanical shutter to 1/4000. I suspect this is because the camera has a leaf shutter. So don’t panic if you’re only getting 1/2000sec in MSHTR - check your aperture value and if necessary switch to ESHTR or SHTR-auto.
Since the lens doesn’t use a lens hood you might be wondering if lens flare is a problem. I didn’t find it to be a problem at all although I did occasionally see a purple blob - but nothing which detracted from the pictures.
As with my Panasonic GX8, the new LX100ii has a slight tendency towards underexposure (the MkI didn’t, as I recall). On a bright day I’ll always dial in a little bit of EV-comp, but I found I needed an additional +0.3EV on this particular camera.
Lastly, looking at photographs on your computer in a program such as Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop is different to looking at photographs in a web browser. One thing I’ve noticed is that the pictures lose a significant amount of sharpness when uploaded to my website (even with careful optimisation). Some browsers are worse than others for this. It’s a shame, because you’re not getting to see quite how good the lens is on this camera or any others which are featured. I’m guessing it’s because many modern websites have a responsive design (as mine does). The website software automatically creates several different sized versions of the image and serves up whichever one it thinks is appropriate to the device or screen size the viewer is using.
How Big can I Print with the Panasonic LX100ii?
This is a very good question in light of the article I did a little while ago which you can see here: Making Large Prints with the Panasonic LX100.
The point I made in that article is that with appropriate skills, and importantly an excellent lens - it’s possible to make very pleasing large prints with the LX100 (MkI). So a question you might be wondering now is how big can we print with the Panasonic LX100 (MkII).
The LX100i offers a maximum resolution of 12.8MP. Specifically that relates to 4112x3088 pixels. It’s really important that we think of resolution not as a percentage but as a linear measurement. The LX100ii offers a maximum resolution of 17MP, which is 4736x3552 pixels. If we superimpose those resolutions (the LX100ii is shown in pink, the LX100ii in blue) we can see that the difference isn’t particularly big:
Now here’s the thing ….. my LX100i lens was sharp edge to edge but the lens on my LX100ii has some edge softness. That means if I’m making a large print where edge detail is important I’ll need to crop away the soft parts (otherwise those areas will be quite noticeable the larger you print). Once I’ve done the cropping, it’s fair to say that the resolution advantage of the new model has been lost. This of course assumes we’re comparing like-for-like images taken under the same conditions with the same skill. There’ll be plenty of photographs where any softness on the edges will be irrelevant and won’t spoil a large print – in those cases there is a small advantage to the higher resolution camera.