Compact cameras need to make a serious song and dance in order to justify a hefty price tag. With smartphones doing a similar job, they also need to outshine the mobile. Panasonic's new LX7 hopes to do just that, with a speedy f/1.4 lens and a tonne of features, including full-HD video, in-camera effects and full manual shooting control.

In the hand the LX7 is just what a compact camera should be: compact. It's small and light and the 24mm Leica DC Vario Summilux wide-angle lens doesn't extend particularly far out from the front of the body when shooting. It takes a lot from the quite frankly brilliant LX5 and makes it better. 

It is also puts together particularly well. Built out of decent-quality plastics and aluminium, it has enough weight not to feel cheap but won't give you neck ache carrying it around. The black finish on the LX7 we had to play with also looked great. 

Design wise, the LX7 takes a leaf out of the conventional compact book, with a big bright screen and directional pad to the right. Thing get interesting on the front, however, where the LX7 incorporates a dedicated aperture ring and a switch to change between things like 4:3 and 16:9 formats. On the back there is a scroll wheel to control actions such as shutter speed and a manual focus lever.

It all works great, giving plenty of control over the camera and an easy way to take advantage of the full manual capabilities of the LX7. After having a lengthy play with the camera we even found the layout to match the sort of basic control level you might have over something like a DSLR. This is definitely a good thing for those looking at the LX7 as a step into photography. 

In terms of actual shooting, the picture quality from the LX7 is impressive enough. Using a 10.1 megapixel sensor and the Venus Engine VII FHD makes for good low-light ISO response (which goes up to 12,800). Detail and colour is also great, as is the sharpness you get from the F1.4 Leica lens when stopped down. 

Video can be shot in either AVCHD or MP4 formats and runs in 1080p at 50p. It definitely looks good enough, but when compared against some of the movie functions in mirrorless cameras or SLRs, it just doesn't come close. It does shoot rather large files on to SD card, so you might want to consider investing in a quick card if using it to shoot a lot of video. 

Having 24mm to play with at the wide end of the LX7 is particularly nice. Being so wide, it gets rid of a lot of the problems caused by not having interchangeable lenses. Macro shots and focusing speed work particularly well and there is virtually no shutter lag whatsoever. 

A built-in ND grad filter and set of nice looking in-camera effects, including a particularly good dynamic monochrome, complete a very good shooting package. All in all then, a big improvement for Panasonic and a very tempting package for anyone looking to a top-end compact camera. 

Expect to see the LX7 on sale in September. 

Like the sound of the LX7? Let us know in the comments below ... 

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