This 10.2MP beauty is perfect for DSLR owners looking for a lightweight
alternative with lots of control.
As with the LX1, changing the aspect ratio of your image is easy with a switch on the lens housing. The 16:9 format is ideal for viewing images later on a widescreen computer LCD or HDTV monitor, and it gives you a true 28mm field of view at the widest lens setting.
Built into this lens assembly is Panasonic's MEGA Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) system, which lives up to its claim of 2 to 3 stops' advantage in handholding. It's easily set to either of two modes: Mode 1 lets you see the effect of stabilization in the LCD; Mode 2, which works better, activates the OIS system when you press the shutter. As there's no optical viewfinder, we suggest keeping the IS system on in most lighting situations to reduce the inevitable shake from holding the camera with arms outstretched.
This is a compact for control freaks. Besides aperture- and shutter-priority modes, it offers full manual, with shutter speeds from 1/2000 to 60 sec and a very useful screen graph showing over- or underexposure. It can bracket exposures, too. Scene modes include Night Portrait, Starry Sky, Soft Skin, and even Food. And in autoexposure mode, there's a backlight compensation feature that works even without the flash popped up.
Although the LX2's higher resolution means larger image files, thanks to the Venus Engine III processor, its burst mode is up to five images at 3 frames per second (Fine mode); plus, it can now shoot continuously at 2 fps (depending on speed of SD card).
Its 9-zone AF system works slightly faster in bright light than the LX1's. The AF performed decently for a compact camera in low light, and in the dark when the AF-assist light is activated. But it's definitely faster on slow-moving or stationary subjects in low light when set to 3-zone mode.
You can set the lens to manual focus or macro (as close as 1.92 inches at the widest focal length). As with many other manual focusing systems on compact cameras, the central area of the scene is magnified on the LCD to assist you. But on the LX2, you can move that area around to focus on an off-center subject, or use the entire screen as a magnified window. Both features are great for shooting macro subjects and low-contrast scenes that fool the AF system.
The LX2's video capabilities are impressive. Its 16:9 HD mode shoots 1280x720-pixel frames at 15 fps and 848x480-pixel (wide VGA) at 30 fps. In the 4:3 aspect ratio, you can record normal VGA (640x480-pixels) and lower-resolution QVGA at 30 fps. Sound is mono, and the zoom doesn't work while recording video, despite being described as "slow zoom" in the manual.
You can show off videos and still images alike on the LX2's 2.8-inch TFT LCD, with its high resolution of 210,000 pixels. The screen has luminance controls to boost brightness -- good for shooting in strong light -- and a mode that makes it easier to see the preview when holding the camera overhead. The display can be quickly changed to show data, live histogram, and composition lines. Playback controls allow you to view vertical shots either full screen or rotated, with or without histogram and exposure information.
In all, the Lumix DMC-LX2 is the kind of upgrade we like. It overcomes most of the weaknesses of the LX1, except for the limited flash range. And with its improved low-light noise reduction and image stabilization, you might not even care about the flash. What you're sure to care about: this camera's excellent image quality, delightful LCD, super Leica lens, and $500 street price.