The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 is the brand's latest flagship digital compact camera, replacing the LX5, and brings with it a manual aperture ring
Interchangable lens compact system cameras may offer a more portable option than a DSLR, but unless you're using a relatively flat pancake lens, they're still considerably bulkier than a digital compact camera. That's why there's now a comprehensive selection of high-end compacts for you to choose from, such as the Canon G1 X, the Sony RX100 and the Fujifilm X10.
Replacing the Panasonic LX5, the Panasonic DMC-LX7 is the brand's latest premium compact and builds on the work started by the Panasonic LX3, which was released four years ago.
Announced alongside the Panasonic Lumix G5, the LX7 sports a DC Vario-Summilux F1.4 lens Leica lens. In fact, Panasonic's LX range is essentially the same as the Leica D-Lux series, but with much lower prices.
While cameras such as the Sony RX100 have gone for larger sensor, the 10.1MP Panasonic LX7 actually sports a very slightly smaller sensor compared to its predecessor - at 1/1.7-inchs.
If the sensor isn't larger, then what does the LX7 bring to the table? Well, firstly, there's a new manual aperture ring, not to mention a better screen a faster f/1.4-f/2.3 zoom lens, an expanded ISO range and the ability to shoot full HD video.
The camera body itself isn't too different from previous models, with the aluminium casing giving the camera a decidedly premium feel and well as feeling nicely weighted for a comfy grip.
Panasonic Lumix LX7: Controls
The controls on the top of the the LX7 are pretty much idential to those of the LX5, with the same sturdy dial along with the power switch, dedicated movie record button, shutter release and zoom control. You'll also find dual microphones sitting just in front the hotshoe.
Likewise, controls on the back panel are the same as before, with the familiar selection of menu and playback buttons. The only addition is a contol that enables you to switch between the manual focus and the built-in ND (natural density) filter. You can also use it to toggle through the onscreen menus and the photos in playback mode.
As well as being home to the usual AF and aspect settings, the front of the camera also includes a brand new aperture ring.This can be adjusted from f/1.4 all the way down to f/8.0 and gives the camera a nice, retro feel while giving you manual aperture conrol, without the need to navigate through the camera's menu system, making operation a whole lot quicker.
Panasonic Lumix LX7: Screen
The 3-inch LCD screen sports a 920k-dot resolution, so while it doesn't have the sharpest screen around, it's still perfectly respectable for a camera in this price range and the resolution is twice as good compared to the previous model. It struggled a little in very bright sunshine, but that's hardly unsual for an LCD panel.
Unlike some of Panasonic's other cameras such as the G5, this isn't a touchscreen, but at least that means the display won't be covered in fingerprints the second you start using it.
If you were hoping to find a viewfinder, you're out of luck. However the LX7 does include a hotshoe connector alongside an accessory port so that you can attach an EVF if you choose.
Panasonic Lumix LX7: Picture quality
While the LX7's sensor may be slightly smaller than those on some of its main rivals, it's still a perfectly respectable sensor that's far better than those you'd find in cheaper compacts.
The smaller sensor also means that the camera can accomodate a pleasingly bright lens while keeping the camera chassis nice and small (and keeping the price down).
As on previous models, the LX7's AF is excellent and it copes well in low light, while the f/1.4-f/2.3 zoom lens is very speedy indeed.
While the picture quality may not have actually improved since the LX5, the standard was pretty high to start with so we can't grumble too much. Pictures are packed with detail with a level of clarity that you simply won't get from most compacts.
The only time it really struggles is on the higher ISO settings (there's a range of ISO 80-6400) - not exactly unusual for a compact, but some of its slightly pricier rivals, like the Sony RX100 cope much better.
While pretty evenly matched with Sony's high-end compact in many respects, the LX7 has the edge when it comes to arty farty filters.
The range of options has grown to 16 since the previous model and includes filters such as selective colour and many of these modes are customisable, giving you even more scope to make your top-quality snaps look like they were taken on a camera from the 1970s. What's more, these can also be used in raw mode and can even be removed afterwards if need be.
Panasonic Lumix LX7: Video
The LX7 has had a definitive video upgrade since its predecessor so that you can now record full 1080p HD AVCHD footage at 50 fps. Alternatively you can opt for recording in MP4 format at 25fps.
The placement of the mics on the centre of the top panel is also good news for steadier audio when recording.
Panasonic Lumix LX7: Battery
We've been using Panasonic's LX3 for a few years and now and have always found the battery performance to be extremely reliable. Likewise, Panasonic quotes 330 shots on a full charge from the LX7. While this is less than the 400 that the LX5 offers, we found that it was actually more in practice. The LX7 will easily give you a whole day of shooting, and then some.
Panasonic Lumix LX7: Verdict
The Panasonic LX7 is a great piece of kit in a very compact body. The addition of the manual aperture ring since the previous model gives it an added edge over many rivals, as does the Leica lens and zippy auto focus.
While cameras such as the RX100 may have a slight edge in terms of sensor size and performance in low light, the LX7 makes up for this thanks to its price, ease of use and stunning image quality that's still far superior to most compacts on the market. Not only is it an excellent back-up snapper for pros, it also makes it easy for amateurs to get fantastic shots.
Panasonic Lumix LX7 availability: September 2012
Panasonic Lumix LX7 price: £449