The Bottom Line
Because the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 costs almost $500, there are quite a few photographers who won't give it a second glance. For beginners, this is probably a smart idea.
However, if you have some photographic experience, the LX7 is well worth a second glance ... and maybe more.
The LX7 carries quite a few features that you'd expect to find in an interchangeable lens camera, but the LX7 is a fixed-lens camera, which means that the lens is built into the camera. Interchangeable lens cameras, such as DSLR and DIL cameras, typically are more expensive and more versatile cameras than fixed-lens cameras.
The LX7 does only offer a 3.8X optical zoom lens, so it isn't as versatile as some similarly priced models. But it has so many advanced features -- including the ability to use a manual focus, to set the aperture manually using a ring, and a 1/1.7-inch MOS image sensor -- that it's going to give experienced photographers who own DSLRs and DILs a worthy option in a fixed-lens camera.
The LX7 is a really nice camera with quite a few impressive advanced features. However, its high price tag is difficult to justify unless you're a photographer who can take advantage of those features and who will use them regularly, so pick this model carefully.
With its 1/1.7-inch (0.59-inch) MOS image sensor, you'd expect the LX7 to produce image quality above and beyond what's found in point-and-shoot cameras (where the image sensor usually measures about 0.43 inches diagonally). This model doesn't disappoint.
The Lumix LX7 provides great image quality, regardless of the type of lighting conditions you'll encounter. With indoor photos that require a flash, the LX7's popup flash unit works extremely well, providing a better angle to the subject and a bit more flash range than what you'd find with a point-and-shoot camera that has its flash embedded in the corner of the camera body.
Images are nearly always pin sharp with this camera, whether you're using autofocus or manual focus.
In fully automatic mode, which is iA (Intelligent Auto) with Panasonic cameras, the colors were a little dull in the LX7. However, because this camera has so many manual control options, you can tweak the color saturation to allow you to end up with the vibrancy that you want in your images.
Something to consider with the LX7 is that some advanced photographers may be a little disappointed with the overall image quality of this camera. It has a larger-than-average image sensor, but the LX7's image sensor isn't as large as what you'd find in a DIL or DSLR camera, so the LX7's images won't be quite as good as most of those cameras can produce. Still, the LX7's image quality is much better than almost any point and shoot camera in the market.
The ability of the Lumix LX7 to shoot photos quickly is simply outstanding. If you're someone who's used to having to wait while your camera focuses or to wait in between shots, you will be amazed with the quick response times that this camera provides. Shutter lag simply isn't noticeable with the LX7, and this camera recovers after shooting a photo very quickly, even when using the flash.
If you own the LX7, you'll rarely have to worry about missing a spontaneous photo while waiting for the camera to focus or for the camera to be ready to shoot after pressing the power switch.
One area where you may experience a disappointing performance level with the LX7 is in the configuration of its on-screen menus. You'll find more than one method for selecting particular commands, which can be confusing, and not every area of the different menus works the same. I'm sure the menu structure is something you'd become used to after using the camera for a few weeks, but I thought it was frustrating to use during my few days of tests.
You might not have to use the on-screen menus all that often, though, as Panasonic included a mode dial with this camera, allowing you to select shooting modes quickly and easily.
The other primary drawback that some users will find with the LX7 will be its relatively small zoom lens. In a market where plenty of thin cameras have 10X zoom lenses, and some ultra zoom cameras offer optical zoom measurements of 40X or 50X, the 3.8X zoom lens in the LX7 is going to be a disappointment to some photographers. Of course, the quality of the LX7's lens is significantly better than any of those ultra zoom lenses you'd find on a point and shoot camera, so you have to take that into consideration when comparing the LX7 to some of those cameras with big optical zoom measurements.
Although the Lumix LX7 is a nice looking camera, available in either white or black camera bodies, most of the design features on this impressive camera are aimed at providing advanced shooting features. With the price tag that the LX7 carries, it's natural that you'd want to see as many advanced shooting features as possible.
You'll first notice that the LX7 includes an aperture ring that you can manually twist to set the lens aperture, which is something normally used only on interchangeable lenses, not on fixed lenses like the LX7 has. This camera's f/1.4 lens is a high-quality piece of glass, and having an aperture ring available with it is very impressive.
You can choose between manual focus and autofocus with this camera, which, again, is pretty rare on a fixed-lens camera. When you select manual focus, the scene is magnified on the LCD screen, making it easier for you to see the precise sharpness of your scene. The LX7's LCD is a high-resolution, 3.0-inch display, so it's plenty sharp enough to help you with setting the manual focus.
You'll also find a focus lock button on the back of the LX7, as well as a switch near the lens dedicated to setting the aspect ratio. You can shoot at almost two dozen different resolution and aspect ratio combinations, using 4:3, 1:1, 3:2, and 16:9 aspect ratios. I mentioned the really nice popup flash unit earlier, and Panasonic even included a hot shoe with the LX7, allowing you to attach an optional viewfinder, if desired.
That's a pretty long list of design features that won't appeal to anyone but advanced photographers. And that is the biggest drawback to the LX7: It has a large enough list of advanced features that it deserves its nearly $500 price tag, but unless you're able to make frequent use of these features, it's difficult to justify spending that amount of money on this model.