Panasonic DMC-LX3 versus Panasonic GX1

A couple of weeks ago I was able to borrow a new Panasonic GX1 for a weekend so that I could compare it to my Panasonic DMC LX3.  I’ve owned the LX3 since it was first available back in late 2008 and I really like using it.  My priorities in a  camera are:

  • Size and portability
  • Image quality
  • RAW image capture
  • Auto-bracketing

The LX3 meets all of these requirements well and has served me faithfully these past years however there’s always the allure of the new and reading about the GX1 made me think that perhaps it was time to upgrade.

On paper, the GX1 has quite a bit going for it.  With the 14-42 X lens it offers more zoom but a little less wide angle while being not much larger than the LX3.  The larger micro 4/3 sensor offers less noise and less depth of field than the smaller sensor in the LX3 and it has the ability to switch lenses when required.  Should I switch?  I decided to find out by doing some back-to-back comparisons.

From a handling point of view, both cameras are very similar.  If you’re familiar with the LX3 menus then you’ll feel right at home using the GX1.  The mode dial provides the same features including the C1 and C2 modes that I use quite frequently.   The GX1 feels very solid and well built, not unlike the LX3.  The sensor looks very vulnerable when changing lenses and I always got the nagging feeling that dust was settling on the sensor whenever I had the lens off, lending a sense of urgency to the procedure that I didn’t really like.  I doubt that I would be travelling with more than the 14-42 X lens.

My first set of tests were done on my kitchen table using a miniature of Michelangelo’s Pieta.  I set both cameras side by side with the scene lit by the afternoon sun coming in from behind me on the left.  All images were shot in RAW and I used a WhiBal card to set white balance in Adobe Camera Raw 6.6 but no other adjustments were made to the image when converting to JPG.  Noise reduction in ACR was turned off and sharpening was the default of 25.

First, here’s the full size image taken by the GX1 at ISO 160 using the 14-42 X lens.

And here’s the LX3 version at ISO 80:

Both images came out quite nice and are very similar however the GX1 is a little softer.  I ensured that both cameras were using the same focusing mode and that both were focusing on the same area so it may just be the difference between the great Leica lens in the LX3 versus the 14-42 X.  The background wall colours are different with the LX3 being closer to reality than the green tinted GX1 image.  Both images would benefit from a levels adjustment to set the white point.

Here are some comparisons cropped to 1000×800 to better see the noise levels.  First, here’s the best ISO each camera is capable of:

In my opinion, the LX3 has slightly better contrast and sharpness while the  noise levels are very similar.

The difference in image quality between the two cameras becomes much more apparent when you start bumping up the ISO.  Here’s the LX3 at 400 and the GX1 at 800:

At these settings, the GX1 has about a stop and a half improvement in sensor noise over the LX3.  The difference is even more pronounced at ISO 3200 which is the maximum ISO supported by the LX3:

Anyways, enough pixel-peeping.  In my opinion the LX3 holds its own very well at lower ISO when compared to the GX1 with the 14-42 X lens.  At higher ISOs the advantage clearly goes to the GX1 however the LX3 has the fast f2 lens which can negate the difference under certain conditions.  Noise reduction software, like Imagenomic’s Noiseware Pro, does a great job of cleaning up the images.

I took both cameras out to the Albion Falls, near Hamilton, Ontario to give the GX1 a try in the real world.  The shots in that gallery are a mix of LX3 and GX1.  I enjoy processing HDR images and that’s where I had an issue with the GX1.

The LX3 can auto-bracket 3 images with a maximum 3 EV range.  I mount the LX3 on a tripod, set the bracketing range, set the self-timer to 2 seconds and press the shutter.  All three exposures are perfectly aligned.

The GX1 can auto-bracket up to 7 exposures with a maximum 3 EV range however you must continuously hold down the shutter release while all of the shots are being taken.  I couldn’t do that with either the touch screen trigger or the mechanical shutter release without having some movement of the camera from the first exposure to the second.  You can’t avoid this by using the self-timer since the two modes of shooting are mutually exclusive.  If you use the self-timer, you can’t auto-bracket.  There is a connector for a remote trigger and I think this will be a must if you want to process HDR images.

The other advantage that the LX3 has over the GX1 for me is the silent shutter.  The GX1’s mechanical shutter is not exceptionally loud, especially since there isn’t any mirror slap, but you can hear it.  I’ve taken advantage of the LX3’s silent shutter many times.

So, will I get a GX1?  No.  The GX1 is a fine camera but I’m happy with my LX3 and I’m waiting to see what the LX6/7 brings.  My hope is they keep the lens from the LX5 but improve the sensor to reduce the noise.  I don’t want an articulated screen or a view finder as all of those features are available on other cameras and would increase the size of the LX series, making it less attractive to me.

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