Panasonic LX3 [High-End Compact Cameras Part 2]

Panasonic LX3I don’t know where to go with this. Every other review I read tells me that the LX3 is superior in most aspects to the Canon G10. It’s smaller and lighter (265g vs the chunky 390g G10), shoots wider (24mm vs 28), and has a faster lens (f2.0 vs f2.8).

The LX3 does low-light a bit better than the G10, because of both the f2.0 lens and the lower pixel count. They’re relatively on-par at base ISO, but if you do have to push the ISO up higher to capture the right shot, you’re better off with the LX3.

The LX3 is also absolutely gorgeous to look at – it puts me in mind of the old rangefinder cameras, and even has an optional leather case that really looks the part. It’s spoiled a bit by the protruding lens when you turn it on, but nothing horrific. The flash tucks away tidily when not in use, and also won’t turn on automatically when you have it closed. This is a Good Thing when you want to grab nice low-light images without the flash.

Despite all this, I just enjoyed the G10 more. There’s nothing that the G10 does that the LX3 can’t do: ISO, manual controls, exposure compensation. The difference is that the G10’s controls – the individual dials on top and the scrollwheel – make it so much easier to access those settings. It makes me want to take different photos, whereas with the LX3 I was tempted to leave it in auto mode. Who knows, maybe the LX3 takes better shots on auto, but it just feels like I have more invested in producing photos from the G10.

Short and sweet, but that’s about it. If you’re a stickler for photo quality over resolution, go study the charts at DPReview.com and make up your mind. If you want to have fun and a bit of knob twiddling, go the G10.

A Question on Camera Choice

The following question has come in from the question machine:

[quote]

If you had a choice & budget allowing which of these digital cameras would you choose … Fuji Finepix S1000 FD 10MP 12 x 2.7" LCD @ $368 Sony Cybershot DSCH10 8.1MP 10 3" LCD @ $533 Panasonic TZ15 9.1MP 10 28MM 3" LCD @ $568 Use of camera would be family pics and sporting events eg surf lifesaving carnival. I like the option to zoom right in close my present camera does not offer me this, hence why im upgrading. Would appreciate your opinion on these cameras or recommendation of others you may know of. Thanks for taking the time to read my query look forward to reading your response, cheers. P.s The most I could possibly spend would be tops $600

[/quote]

Firstly, at the risk of immediately diverting your attention for the rest of the day, I must recommend the totally camera-nerdtastic DPReview.com. If you want to lose days of your life, DPReview will bury you in stats and samples until your eyes bleed. It is a wonderously nerdy site, and their camera comparison feature is to die for. They have in-depth reviews for two of your three camera choices, in which the TZ15 beats out the Sony H10.

panasonic_dmctz5 Serendipitously, I happen to possess a Panasonic TZ5 (identical to the TZ15 in all but moniker) as my personal day-to-day camera. I like it. I do not like the lack of manual controls, but I do like the size, the zoom, the image quality, and the ability to record passable hi-definition video (?here?s one I prepared earlier?, he says, pulling a fresh-baked video from the oven). As with all point-and-shoot digitals, its low-light performance is barely acceptable, but if you don?t mind using a party-vibe killer (haven?t you noticed that flash-photos of parties completely remove any feeling from the night itself?), then you can get away with night shots.

fuji_finepixs1000fd For me it?s all about portability. I stick my TZ5 in my manbag every day, and as a result get some nice shots that I?d never get if I was not carrying around a gigantosaur Canon 5D Mark II (not that I own said camera anyway). From this point of view, I?d immediately discount the Fuji based on size alone.

One thing I did find when moving from a teeny Sony P200 to the TZ5 was that the Panasonic was quite a bit slower to start up. This means you lose one or two spontaneous shots out of every 100 opportunities, but if you have you camera out and at the ready during your sporting events, this won?t be an issue.

I can?t easily think of any other cameras that fit the bill, but you could use DPReview?s feature search page, and set the ?Zoom tele? option to ?200mm+? and you might find something else.

I hope that answers your questions, but please don?t take my cat hostage if you buy the TZ15 and don?t like it.

Sony XR200, Panasonic TM200 and Canon HF11 Test

This is what they call a “lightning review” in the business. I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty specifics on the cameras, because quite frankly I’m not an expert. I’m using these things as they’d be used in the wild: pick it up, turn it on, and film some stuff.

camcorders From left to right: Panasonic TM200 (pre-prod), Canon HF11, Sony XR200

All three cameras have a variant on the fully automatic option. The Canon has a nice button labeled ‘Easy’ that lights up blue when you press it. Sony also has an ‘Easy’ button, that amusingly pops up a message on screen saying ‘Easy Handycam Operation OFF’ when you disable it. The Panasonic has their ‘Intelligent Auto’ mode button labeled ‘iA’. In the test below I made sure those buttons were on in all cases.

All three camcorders are within a couple of hundred (New Zealand) dollars of each other, with the Canon at $1,999, the Sony at $2,099 and the Panasonic probably a touch over that. The Sony races away on the storage front, with a big 120GB hard drive, and has a nifty built-in GPS receiver, but unforunately falls down on the quality stakes.

I set the recording quality to be as close as possible to each other, which in all cases was around the 16Mbps AVCHD mode. What struck me with these cameras was that they are all actually very technical to use, even for me. It’s possibly because I’m not much of a video guy (he’s got a face for radio) but if you want to do anything more than shoot video and watch it back on the TV, there is a serious learning curve around formats, bitrates, and editing software.

Still, the basics seem to work ok. Turn on the camera (the Sony does this automatically when you open the screen, which is nice), aim, and hit the record button. Here are the results (including me tripping on a stray Thomas the Tank Engine on the floor). Make sure you click the ‘HD’ option on the video to get the best result.

Beyond the basics, here’s where I feel the pros and cons lie with each camera:

Canon HF11

Pros Cons
  • Lovely image quality and great sound
  • ‘Auto’ mode seems most competent
  • Lots of options for stills (Shutter and Aperture priotrity), but then I wasn’t testing still shots at all.
  • Best low-light response of the bunch, but still noisy.
  • External mic input.
  • No touch-screen, joystick can be fiddly
  • Small and cramped text on-screen, confusing menus

Panasonic TM200

Pros Cons
  • Lovely image quality, surround sound
  • Most comfortable to hold out of the three, and the body has less ‘fiddly bits’ on it.
  • Touch screen
  • Menus are really clear and easy to use
  • Only 16GB of built in memory
  • No expansion shoe or external mic input

Sony XR200

Pros Cons
  • Huge 120GB storage
  • Really excellent image stabilisation
  • Built-in GPS, and the geo-location software is actually really easy to use.
  • Touch screen
  • Lowest image quality of the three, but still HD!
  • Menu buttons are tiny and sometimes hard to press.

 

Conclusion

I tend to use my still camera to shoot the odd video, rather than carry a dedicated video camera. But, if I was forced to pick one of these three cameras to use as an everyday video camera, I’d probably end up going with the Panasonic. The image quality difference is not that discernable from the Canon, and it is heaps easier to just pick up and use. However, if I was more of a video guy, I might take some more time to read the Canon user manual, learn all the tricky settings, and end up with better video. The Sony has some great features, but it just can’t seem to cut the mustard in terms of quality compared to the other two. Sony’s upcoming new EXMOR sensor (not in the model I reviewed) is meant to be the proverbial shizzle, so that could be worth looking at when it comes out.

Video: Digital Camera Reviews

Fujifilm Finepix, Casio Exilim FH20, Panasonic G1, and the awesome Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Digital Camera ReviewsFujifilm Finepix Underwater Digital Camera Package
Price
: $219.99 (special until 24th December, then $269)
Product website
Rating: 3/5
Basic camera at a fantastic price. The waterproof housing is good for 3m underwater, but also doubles as protection from sand, dirt, and anything else that active outdoor-types might throw at it. You won’t be getting jaw-dropping images from it, but you will get images from places that you can’t or won’t take a more expensive camera.

Casio Exilim EX-FH20
Price
: $1,199
Product website
Where to buy: Any camera retailer
Rating: 3/5
This is a good camera for a particular market: people interested in high-speed video recording. Maybe for action sports fans, golfers, and amateur scientists. It’s neither as good as a similarly priced stand-alone still camera, nor dedicated video camera, but the combination of 20x zoom, 720p HD video, and high-speed video (400 to 1000fps) is unheard of. It also uses standard AA batteries, which can be convenient if your rechargeables run out.

Panasonic Lumix DSC-G1
Price
: $1,499 for the single lens and $,1999 for the twin lens kit.
Product website
Where to buy: http://panasonic.co.nz/retailers.html (or most camera retailers)
Rating: 4/5
The Panasonic G1 is just a brilliant little camera. Panasonic have created a new class of camera with the “Micro Four-Thirds” system, doing away with the mirror and prism from traditional SLRs and replacing them with a full-time electronic viewfinder. The images from this camera are equivalent quality to SLRs of the same price, but the camera is smaller and lighter. The lenses on the camera can be swapped, and more 4/3 lenses are coming out all the time.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Price
: $4,999 for the body only, or $6,649.95 including the EF24-105mm f/4 IS L series lens.
Product website
Where to buy: Pro photo shops, or contact Canon .
Rating
: 5/5
Where to start? The Canon EOS 5DMkII is one heck of a camera. I started testing it with the premise that $6k+ of camera wasn’t going to make any difference to a very amateur photographer. I was completely incorrect. Assuming you know a little bit about shutter, aperture, and exposure, the 5DMkII will turn out jaw-dropping images time after time. Add to this the ability to record full high-definition video, and you have a camera that leaves absolutely nothing to be desired.