Panasonic retakes the lead in the advanced compact competition with its LX100. Really good photo and video quality, a great set of features and (for the most part) class-leading performance, result in one of my favorite compact cameras ever.
Despite a full auto mode, however, newbies might face a steep climb up the learning curve. At $900 (￡800, AU$1,200), it's also pretty expensive if you're just looking for an upgrade to better photo and video than whatever you're using now.
As a companion for a dSLR or an alternative to a midrange interchangeable-lens model, though, it's definitely worth considering.
The combination of a great lens and large -- for its class -- sensor yield extremely good photo quality. JPEG images look clean as high as ISO 800 and good through ISO 1600; by ISO 3200 the JPEGs display noise reduction smearing. If you shoot raw, though, you can eke out more detail resolution as high as ISO 12800.
However, there isn't a lot of recoverable detail in the highlights and shadows of the raw files, which is a typical problem in this class. Shadow detail starts to disappear at ISO 800 and dark colors start to become indistinguishable from each other at around ISO 3200 and whites/light colors at around ISO 400. Also fairly typical.
Even in its default color settings, the LX100 delivers reasonably neutral results, at least up through ISO 1600. At ISO 3200 and above the white balance gets a little inconsistent, developing a slight red cast. However, most of these cameras have a pinkish cast, at least in the JPEGs, across all or part of their ISO sensitivity range.
Its 4K video is unsurprisingly great given that it uses the same imaging engine as the GH4. There are few artifacts, and the video is sharp with a reasonable dynamic range -- it looks better than HD even when viewed on a non-4K display. At midrange ISO sensitivities (like ISO 3200), there's none of the sparkling caused by noise in motion, though like many cameras it clips the tonal range. The audio sounds fine, but this isn't the camera to buy if you're picky about sound, as there's no support for an external mic and the lens operation is a bit noisy. Keep in mind that 4K recording does require a.
There's a also a 4K Photo mode that allows you to pull decent 8MP stills from video (it differs from standard recording because it increases the frame rate off the sensor so that it can stop action better, but it also increases battery drain). It seems like an effective way to shoot action when continuous-shooting is difficult.
(Unless you view the samples at their full 770-pixel width they won't look right.)
For an enthusiast compact, the LX100 performs quite well. Its only drawback is slow startup: 2.5 seconds to power on, focus and shoot. That's due in part to the leisurely pace at which the lens extends. Otherwise, the camera focuses and shoots in about 0.2 second, in both bright or dim conditions; it takes about 0.4 second to shoot two sequential JPEGs (0.5 second for raw), and enabling flash bumps that to 1.5 seconds. Those are all very good times.
My continuous-shooting performance results are tentative. A lot has been made of this camera's ability to shoot 6.5 frames per second with autofocus and autoexposure (AF/AE), but I was only able to achieve 4fps under our standard test conditions (as well as all sorts of other conditions). The only way I could get the camera to shoot faster with AF/AE was, oddly, at f1.7, and even then it only made it to to 6fps. I generally find tested performance matches the manufacturer's specifications, so I'm not confident of these results, and am waiting back to hear from a stumped Panasonic. Frankly, it doesn't affect my rating, since even 4fps for over 30 raw or JPEG shots with AF/AE is quite good for its class.
With focus and exposure fixed on the first frame, it hits 11fps, and if you don't care about mechanical vs. electronic shutter, its Super high-speed mode runs at 40fps. You can use those modes to create stop-motion animations in-camera.
While the autofocus system is fast, Panasonic's full auto suffers from the same problems as everyone else's: it focuses on the closest object in the scene, which is usually wrong. The tracking autofocus is pretty typical -- sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't -- and like most other contrast AF systems, there's a slight pulse using continuous AF while shooting video. However, the camera's Custom Multi option lets you configure an autofocus area array any way you want, such as a clump of areas in the center or even discontiguous areas. The center-area autofocus and pinpoint autofocus work quickly and accurately. Thanks to the viewfinder, focus peaking and the smooth control ring, manually focusing works well.
Typical for this type of camera, the battery life is pretty meh, especially if you use the viewfinder and Wi-Fi a lot. I had no issues with visibility of the back LCD.