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. And now Panasonic looks set to come back fighting, with the announcement of the Lumix LX15 (or the better-named LX10 in other territories).
In some regards the LX15 feels like the LX7 Mark II. But it's so much more than that: with a 1-inch sensor size it's on par with the Sony, yet offers a faster 24-72mm f/1.4-2.8 equivalent lens, ensuring bright aperture availability throughout its zoom range. Does this make the LX15 a contender for the best high-end compact camera to date?
Panasonic Lumix LX15 review: The power of touch
Having handled the LX15 ahead of Panasonic's Photokina-based launch, it's the way the camera handles that really sells it. Simple things like the addition of a tilt-angle touchscreen mean it's easy to tap where to focus without needing to fiddle around within the menus.
And with the same focus types as found in the Lumix G series - including zoom-in Pinpoint focus and 1-Area adjustable control - the LX15 feels every bit the high-end 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.
Sure, the Sony RX100 IV has a built-in pop-up viewfinder. That's a potentially enviable feature - and one which the Lumix LX15 can offer no equivalent. But we can perhaps see why: Panasonic also makes the Lumix LX100, which has a larger sensor again and can facilitate an accessory viewfinder.
Panasonic Lumix LX10 review: A lens to love
Key to the LX15's make-up is that lens, which also incorporates a click-stop aperture ring (with 1/3rd stops) to physically select your desired setting. This ring is tucked in tight against the body, but to stop it feeling too fiddly there are two nubs for additional grip control.
Ahead of this ring is a manual focus ring, which rotates smoothly and infinitely. As we often say of Panasonic cameras we'd prefer these to be slightly larger to make handling simpler.
The lens collapses back into the camera body when its switched off, which keeps the overall size down considerably. That also, to a point, defines the size of those two control rings and their closeness.
There's another trick up the lens' sleeve, too: close-up macro functions as near as 3cm from the lens, when at its widest-angle, which makes for some great background blur.
Otherwise, visually speaking, the LX15 keeps everything neat and tidy without trying to show off. Controls are kept to a minimum - a zoom toggle is up top, along with a mode dial, and just the one rotational thumbnail to the top/rear - and finished with well considered material choices, such as the metal dials.
Panasonic Lumix LX15 review: Features
Looking at the camera from the rear and it's not immediately obvious it has a tilt-angle screen. It's been subtle incorporated, which is great, allowing the 3-inch, 1040k-dot screen 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 those brighter conditions, without an ND filter.
To cater for the other end of the scale the 5-axis image stabilisation system is ideal 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: 4K capable
Panasonic is really going for the 4K market, with all its latest cameras offering 4K video capture, plus 4K still image modes 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.
Not that it's all 4K. There's also 1080p video capture, including a 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, though, as this isn't possible when capturing 4K or at higher frame-rates.
The Panasonic Lumix LX15 is high-end, but, critically, comes minus the highest-end price point. Its initial £599 is a significant chunk of cash less than the Sony RX100 IV, and is more than competitive against the Canon G7 X Mark II.
Of those mentioned competitors, its the Lumix that stands out of the pack. Finally there's a high-end compact with an easy-to-use touchscreen, great autofocus abilities, a lens that's best in class, along with a stack of other top-end features like 4K video and close-up macro.
From our initial time handling the Lumix LX15 it seems this may just well be the best viewfinder-free compact camera out there. Shame about the name though, we'd have gone with LX10 as the international name - it's got a better ring to it.