I really did like my Canon G7 but since I broke it I've been trying to figure out what to do. Canon will fix it for $160 but I've not had the time to send it off. They'll replace it for $275 if I send the old one in but again I don't know how long that takes. I have no problem replacing the camera if there is an alternative. I thought Nikons P series camera may be a contender but all the reviews have shown it to be dog slow. Before buying the G7 I seriously looked over the Panasonic DMC-LX1 but reviews showed it have outrageous overpowering noise cancelation to the point that any photo taken above ISO 200 looked like mud. The Panasonic DMC-LX2 came out with the hope that they'd fixed the noise situation but they only slightly improved it. Again any photo taken at ISO 100/200 looked as good as a Sony or Canon but as soon as that ISO reached 400 it was all over. I'm not sure why Panasonic's sensor is so noisy but it's really bad. Let it be known that on paper the Panasonic cameras have been virtually perfect for my needs in my eyes.
The reason I'm dwelling on the LX series once again is because Panasonic just announced the DMC-LX3. As usual the paper specs are just about ideal for what I want to do. The question is can it take photos without messing them up intentionally.
Here's what I like about it compared to the G7:
- Large 1/1.63 sensor for the camera size. This is larger than the G7s 1/1.8
- Shoots in raw - G7 does with chdk hack
- Built in 24 mm wide angle. Even with the huge wide angle adapter my G7 was 28mm
- Fast F2.0-2.8 Leica lens - G7 f2.8-4.8
- Hot shoe for flash
- 720p video at 24 fps
- 2.5 fps continuous drive (8 frames max)
- high burst mode of 6 frames a second, I don't know the limit
- 3.0" LCD with 480,000 pixels - G7 2.5" with 200,000 pixels
- Lighter, 9.3 oz - G7 13 oz
- Smaller, half inch smaller in two dimensions 4.3x2.4x1.1 - G7 4.2x2.8x1.7
- Extra wide angle conversion lens takes it to 18 mm
- All manual functions - aperature and shutter priority
- Has a grip
So it's smaller, lighter, has the same resolution and has a wide angle built in. Just those features alone would save nearly a pound off my travel bag. It has a hot shoe for an external flash and takes decent video. So what's not to like?
- Price - $500 is very close to an entry level DSLR
- No real zoom. The lens goes from 24mm to 60mm. 50mm is equal to the nake eye. No zoom lens adapter has been anounced
- Continuous drive doesn't work forever (about 3 seconds)
- Can Panasonic make a sensor that doesn't make my medium to low light photos look like Degas prints?
What's all the Noise about?
It seems that with this release Panasonic is spending a lot of time trying to handle the noise issue. The DMC-LX2 took great photos at ISO 80 and very good photos at ISO 200 but as soon as that ISO dial hit 400 things got really muddy. Maybe Panasonic is trying to overcome another poor sensor with traditional techniques. A faster lens will allow it to shoot at ISO 200 or lower more of the time. They didn't follow the trend to push up megapixels because they found Jesus? I doubt it, the sensor probably doesn't have the sensitivity to handle additinal information without even more noise. Pixel sensitivity is supposedly up 40% and saturation 35% over "normal" models. They don't specify what a normal model is. They also minimized the noise generation by using new circuits around the CCD that improves the power supply process and provides layered structure. Sounds like marketing spin to me but the effect is an improved Signal to Noise ration of about 3 decibles. They've also introduced a new noise suppression engine called Venus Engine IV that's supposed to be much smarter noise cancelation.
"Separating chromatic noise from luminance noise and low-frequency noise from high-frequency noise, and applying the optimal noise-reduction processing to each, the Venus Engine IV provides superior noise control and minimization of color bleeding."
Sounds good but does it work? I'm tempted to just buy the camera and be the judge. If it's not any cleaner than previous generations I could probably turn it on Craigslist in a hurry considering it would be brand new. The fact that the last two generations sold well means that not everyone cares about image quality.
Speedy but not zoomy - my dislikes
So about my dislikes. If it takes clean photos at ISO 400 I'll probably buy one because my list of dislikes isn't that long.
I take two major trips a year for a total of about 3 months of vacation. During those trips I take a lot of photos. The price of cameras doesn't matter too much to me because I factor in use. I've had my Canon SD500 for 3 years so it's cost me about $50 per trip. My G7 cost me $240 per trip because I dropped it and it broke. Had it not broke it would have cost me just over $100 per trip and would have lasted another year dropping the per trip cost to under $80. If the LX-3 would last me three years it would cost me about $90 per trip. With an avearge trip cost of $15,000 I can swing the $90, it's really not that much.
The continuous drive problem isn't that big as I only rarely take photos that fast. There have been times though that the delay between pushing the shutter release and the time my point and shoots actually take the photo has been too long so I just hold down the button and aim. Later I get to sift through 30 photos of the same thing to find the one that captured what I want. Maybe 8 frames at 2.5 frames per second would be enough.
My last gripe is the zoom. If I had a choice I'd take a wide angle over a zoom. If my camera takes clean pictures and I want to zoom in I'll just crop later. However, if I can't zoom out enough I have to take panoramas and stitch them together later and hope it turns out. I like the wide angle a lot but hope at some point they'll include a telephoto addition. If there was a 2x telephoto attachment for the LX-3 it would put the lens as being nearer to a standard point and shoot lens. My SD500 has a 37-111 and has worked fine for simple point and shoot photos.
The LX-3 doesn't have an optical viewfinder but I didn't list it as a dislike because I rarely use the optical viewfinders on my point and shoot cameras. Maybe it's because they're crap and show a very poor rendition of what's actually being photographed. Just as a note Panasonic has an addon optical viewfinder that slots into the hotshoe. I'm not sure how good it is but it probably isn't worse than most cameras builtin viewfinders and it's high enough that you could see over the attachement lenses unlike the one on the G7.
I'll be eagerly wating for a dpreview review of the LX-3 and some sample shots in comparison to the LX-2. If the noise issue is solved or at least equal to a Canon I'll stand in line waiting for this camera. If it's not I've only wasted the time in writing this blog post! :-)