It was only a handful of years back that Panasonic ruled the high-end yet pocketable compact camera market with its Lumix LX7. In the years since Sony has been the manufacturer to forge an enviable position at the top with its RX100 models. But now Panasonic has come back fighting, with the Lumix LX10 (or oddly-named LX15 as it's called in the UK).
In some regards the LX10 feels like the LX7 Mark II. But it's so much more than that: with a 1-inch sensor size (just like the Sony) and a fast 24-72mm f/1.4-2.8 equivalent lens the Panasonic seems to tick all the boxes.
Does all this add up to make the LX10 a contender for the best high-end compact camera ever?
Panasonic Lumix LX10 review: The power of touch
- 60 x 42 x 106mm; 310g
- 1-inch size MOS sensor
- 3-inch tilt-angle LCD touchscreen
- No viewfinder
What really stands out about the LX10 is how hands-on the product is. We had the Sony RX100 V on loan at the same time and find the Panasonic has a better approach to its layout.
The aperture control ring around the lens, for example, or the addition of touchscreen control which the Sony lacks - it's these kind of features that set the Panasonic apart (even if it lacks a built-in viewfinder or the provision to add one).
The touchscreen control isn't an essential, however, with buttons and dials aplenty: there's a d-pad, quick menu and function buttons across the rear, including a raised button outside the thumb rest for 4K Photo capture control.
As palm-sized cameras go we think the LX15 feels every bit the high-end compact camera. This is the kind of control we've been wanting in a camera at this level, which puts it a peg beyond what Sony and Canon offer with the their equivalents. In the same breath it's not so overly complex that it's inaccessible - indeed you can stick the dial on iA (intelligent Auto) and let the camera do all the work.
Panasonic Lumix LX10 review: A lens to love
- 24-72mm f/1.4-2.8 (equiv) zoom lens
- f/2.8 max by 35mm (equiv) zoom
- Dedicated aperture and lens control rings
- 5-axis optical image stabilisation system
Key to the LX15's make-up is that lens, which delivers a 24-72mm equivalent zoom range. That's fairly wide-angle with just enough zoom to be useful for portraits and the like. We've snapped huskies on a sled ride, library rooms and more using this versatile optic. Just don't expect far-away subjects to fill the frame, given the top-end focal length is a long way off superzoom.
The lens incorporates two dedicated rings too: a lens control ring towards the front used to make pre-defined settings adjustments; and a click-stop aperture ring to the rear (with 1/3rd stop adjustment) which is tucked in tight against the body, but to stop it feeling too fiddly there are two nubs for additional grip.
However, the lens control ring can be irksome, depending on how you setup the camera. One, it's rather small. Two, by default it's set to adjust zoom control - which we don't think is particularly necessary given the zoom toggle around the shutter button. When we received the camera this ring was set to adjust exposure compensation - and as it's so easy to knock the ring during use we'd often end up with a third or two-thirds of a stop over or under without realising.
When the camera is switched on the lens protrudes from the barrel and collapses back into the body when switched off, thus keeping the overall size of the camera down. This is the case for the similar competition, such as the Sony RX100 series.
To Panasonic also has optical 5-axis image stabilisation designed to counter pitch, yaw and roll and maintain sharper images at slower shutter speeds. It's the kind of level of stabilisation you're more likely to find in interchangeable lens cameras, so a bonus to find it here.
Panasonic Lumix LX10 review: Performance
- 49-point autofocus system
- Pinpoint AF option included
- Single, continuous, manual focus
- Built-in Wi-Fi
Looking at the LX15 from the rear and it's not immediately obvious it has a tilt-angle screen. It's been subtly incorporated, which is great, allowing the 3-inch, 1040k-dot panel to be pulled away from the camera body to be used for waist-level or overhead work. It can even flip all the way forward for selfies, if that's your thing.
When it comes to stills shooting the mechanical shutter maxes out at 1/4000th sec, but an electronic shutter option means that can extend to 1/16,000th sec - ideal if you want to use the f/1.4 aperture in brighter conditions, and potentially the only way for a correct exposure given the lack of built-in ND (neutral density) filter.
Panasonic's autofocus system is one of the best going for any compact camera manufacturer. And while it might not have come along in leaps and bounds in the last couple of years - it's the same 49-point AF system as found in its recent high-end compacts - it has enviable features which other manufacturers lack. Take pinpoint autofocus, for example, which will zoom into 100 per cent equivalent on the rear screen to ensure that you have, actually, attained pinpoint focus - just as the name says.
We've found the camera to do a generally good job when it comes to autofocus in a variety of scenes, although low contrast did prove a problem. Compared to the Sony RX100 V, however, we think the Panasonic comes out on top when it comes to speed. It can't better than new Sony's continuous autofocus ability though, which is something else.
The LX15's lens has another trick up its sleeve: close-up macro can function as close as 3cm from the lens. There's a caveat though, as this is only plausible when at its widest-angle 24mm equivalent. That's not a surprise, but just keep your expectations in check. You'll also have to manually activate the AF Macro mode via the d-pad as the camera doesn't automatically identify close-up subjects - it simply fails to focus otherwise.
Panasonic Lumix LX10 review: 4K capable
- 4K movie at 24/25/30fps
- 1080p movie at 24/25/50/60/120fps
- 4K Photo modes for 8MP stills
Panasonic is really going for the 4K market, with all its latest cameras offering 4K video capture, plus 4K still image modes (aka 4K Photo) which can be used in a number of different ways.
Whether shooting a couple of seconds of footage both before and after pressing the shutter to avoid missing the moment, or merging a stack of images after shooting to combine the focus depth, it's a versatile set of options. And in this camera Panasonic has finally pushed these settings to the fore as the default function buttons.
In addition to those still modes there's 4K video capture up to 30fps, plus 1080p video capture at up to 60fps - plus a special slow-mo 120fps mode. Oddly, though, this slow-mo option is only available when digging into the menus (not the quick menu), which seems like a backwards way to acquire what could be a really popular feature.
Only the standard frame-rate 1080p video capture can make use of the 5-axis image stabilisation system, as this isn't possible when capturing 4K or at higher frame-rates.
Panasonic Lumix LX10 review: Image quality
- 20-megapixel 1-inch MOS sensor
- ISO 125 - 12,800 (80 - 25,600 extended)
- Photo Styles selectable
A critical component of the LX15 is that 1-inch sensor - which is significantly larger than the one found in the earlier LX7. Size-wise it's on par with the Sony RX100 which positions the Panasonic in a great place.
We've been shooting with the camera in the cold climes of Finland and rural England, where a combination of its features have shown plenty of worth. It's not just the sensor at play, but the availability of a fast aperture throughout the zoom range (note, however, f/2.8 is the maximum available from the 35mm equivalent - f/1.4 is only available at the 24mm equivalent).
Having such a wide aperture to play with, plus the optical image stabilisation, assists in providing the tools to make quality images. The camera does like to use high ISO settings when set to Auto ISO, however, so that's something to keep an eye on - irrelevant of the sensor size, the lower the sensitivity the better the overall quality.
And that quality is pretty good. At its lowest ISO 125 we snapped a husky-pulled sled from the passenger's position, shooting wide-open to maintain just enough sharpness. Raised to ISO 640 to snap our canine friend and there's some visible processing rendered as artefacts within the pup's eyes - but nothing too bad.
Shoot at four-figure ISO settings and there's notable softening of finer details. It's better than you'd get from a smaller sensor, for sure, but otherwise holds the LX10 back from being the best-in-class 1-inch model in our view - an accolade that goes to the Sony in the RX100 V. But as that competitor is £400 more and doesn't outsmart this Panasonic in a variety of other areas, it's no simple choice to pick between the two.
The Panasonic Lumix LX10/LX15 is a high-end compact, but, critically, comes minus the highest-end price point. Its initial £599 asking price is a significant chunk of cash less than the Sony RX100 V, and for what you get it's more than competitive against the Canon G7 X Mark II.
Of those mentioned competitors, its the Lumix that stands out of the pack - as it's the best all-rounder. Finally there's a high-end compact with an easy-to-use touchscreen, great autofocus abilities, a lens with great aperture control, along with a stack of other top-end features like 4K video and close-up macro focus.
Shame about the confusing naming convention, though, and we think Sony has the upper hand in image and lens quality with its RX100 V. That's the only area really holding this Panasonic back from a perfect score. Maybe a back-lit sensor for the future follow-up model?
All things considered, however, we think the Lumix LX15 is among the best viewfinder-free 1-inch sensor compact cameras out there. It's great.
Panasonic Lumix LX15: The alternatives to consider
If you fancy a built-in viewfinder and happen to be very flush with cash then Sony's RX100 range is superb. There's still no touchscreen, however, which makes the cheaper Panasonic more user friendly in our view. A fairer comparison might be the RX100 III - which, if you can find it, would be the camera to plump for.
Canon's 1-inch champ is largely similar in many respects, but lacks the autofocus oomph of its Panasonic competitor.
It's a little trickier to find now, given its age, but Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds sensor compact has a lot of highs to offer. It's fairly large, though, so the more compact LX15 might be the better choice overall, even if its image quality can't match.