Review: the Panasonic LX-100 for filmmakers
With the introduction of the RX100 in 2012, Sony invented a new class of cameras: a compact mirrorless camera with a large sensor and full manual control. With the LX100 Panasonic takes that concept, adds in an even larger micro 4/3 sensor, 4K video and physical dials for every type of setting. Is the Panasonic LX100 the new entry point for filmmakers wanting to get into large sensor 4K filmmaking?
For anyone expecting to get a GH4 with an f1.7-f2.8 lens for a fraction of the price, let me start off by saying this camera is less video-oriented than its bigger brother. Yes, it shares the same micro 4/3 sensor, has full manual control, 4K video, focus-peaking/magnification, zebras and a bitrate of more than 100 Mbps, but it takes a bit more effort to get great video out of this camera. Apart from the little differences like the lack of a flip-out screen or sturdy grip, there are a few other things that Panasonic saved for the GH4. For audio you will have to use an external recorder, as there's no microphone input nor a headphone out. Furthermore there's no log profile, leaving less room for color-correction or getting the most dynamic range out of this camera. What you get in return is the most pocketable 4K recording solution available.
While this camera seems aimed squarely at filmmakers, getting the camera set up for filmmaking takes quite some adjustments in the menu. By default the camera changes exposure and framing once you press record. To fix this, you need to go into the "Motion Picture" menu and activate the "4K photo mode". Not really intuitive, but it seems to work. Because the camera's full of these little menu quirks, I've outlined the best settings for movie recording in a separate article.
Apart from the menu, the camera's external controls are well laid out. There's physical buttons for setting exposure, and there's even a focus ring and aperture dial (!) on the lens. Because of the camera's small size, you might ocasionally press the wrong button, or turn the wrong dial, especially if you're used to working with larger cameras. The screen is nice and detailed with accurate color reproduction, though I wish it could tilt just a little. The EVF is a great addition, albeit a little small.
The 4K image out of this camera is very detailed and sharp. Too sharp maybe, so you might want to dial down the in-camera sharpening to get more pleasing results. Because of the camera's exceptionally small minimal focus distance of 3cm, it lends itself especially well for shots with a foreground subject. Focussing on a foreground subject renders the background fully out of focus, and displays your subject in full detail, with nice vivid colors. I found wide overview shots less spectacular with this camera, and in some brick walls moire patterns will appear. Though this might be due to the downsampling of my 1080P monitor.
I did find the image a little clinical, more video-like than I would have hoped. This has also been said about the GH4's image, and might be down to personal preference. If you favor super sharp detail over a more organic look, you will love this camera.
The low-light capabilities of this camera proves to be a pleasant surprise, especially given the size and megapixel count of the sensor. 4K video is relatively noise-free up until ISO 3200. Only at 6400 ISO the noise gets blockier, sacrificing detail. I found ISO 3200 usable in most situations, because it is a very fine noise that's hardly noticable in 4K, let alone when downscaling to HD. It's a little confusing to see this kind of noise performance in a compact camera.
Another nice touch is the built-in image stabilizer, which allows you to get relatively steady shots without any rigging or tripods. Great that panasonic included it, especially since smaller cameras are harder to keep stable. You don't need anything else to just go out and shoot. Oh wait, you DO need a variable ND filter to shoot in daylight, and luckily Panasonic included a filter thread for that.
Panasonic surely created a unique camera: a compact micro 4/3 camera with a fast lens, internal 4K recording and other advanced features like built-in stabilisation and a filter thread. But is it the right camera for you? I think it mainly comes down to if you like the camera's aesthetic, especially since there is no LOG-profile so you can't drastically alter the image in post. Personally I found the image a little too harsh in sharpness, and the colors a little too bland for my taste. Still, I love the fact that this camera is so small, and yet is such a moviemaking powerhouse. It allows you to shoot 4K footage in such a casual, unintrusive way, and that's something that wasn't possible before this camera arrived. Once you find yourself grabbing B-roll at the bus stop, you know this camera is something special.
The LX-100 Filmmaking Guide
Want to know more about the LX-100? Check out my full LX-100 Filmmaking Guide!