The Panasonic Lumix LX7 is the best expression of the LX series; nearly everything you could want is here. Handling is smooth and nearly perfect for a prosumer camera, with manual controls within easy reach; we especially like having the aperture ring on the lens. While you can run the camera on iA (intelligent Auto) mode, the breadth of physical controls means you need to know what they do, lest somebody accidentally trips one. You also may need to brief friends whom you lend the camera to; we had a series of 16:9 frames shot by a friend who had no idea she had turned the aspect ratio switch on the lens.
The camera feels solid in the hands and the higher resolution screen is a delight to use. It's unfortunate that the grip has regressed to a straight-edge, but it's no deal-breaker. It's also too bad that the latest LX has less stamina than the previous one, with a battery rated for 330 images instead of 400. 330 images is comparable to its competitors, and isn't as low as the Canon S110's paltry 200. But longer battery life is always good, especially for a prosumer camera whose users may shoot hundreds of photographs in a single outing.
Images have a wide dynamic range which can be further exploited in post. ISO usability hits a cap at ISO 1600, but the LX7's fast glass helps keep the ISO settings down in low-light. While the wide apertures of the LX7 don't provide the same look of wide apertures on a large sensor camera, they do provide the same advantages. Couple that with the camera's reliable AF and image stabilization and you have a very pleasant compact camera to carry around.
So has Panasonic's decision to keep the image sensor roughly the same size negatively impacted the camera in any way? We don't think so - in fact, its bright lens brings many advantages to this little compact.
It's interesting to imagine what could have been: If the LX7 had been the only flagship compact this year to carry a small sensor while everyone else upgraded to a 2/3-inch or 1-inch sensor, our conclusion would have been different. If the LX7 had been the only other camera to upgrade to a 1-inch sensor, it would have made an extremely compelling alternative to the Sony RX100. As it is, since nearly every one else has stuck to a 1/1.7-inch sensor, the LX7 keeps its competitive edge... for now.
No flagship compact camera review this year-end can escape the shadow of the Sony RX100 leviathan. The RX100's 1-inch 20MP sensor with 28-100mm f/1.8-4.9 lens is a revolutionary force against which every other camera will be measured. Luckily for its competitors, it's expensive: The RX100 is a good S$200 more than the LX7's retail price of S$799. So that makes the comparison between these two cameras easy. If you can afford it, the Sony RX100 is the best compact camera you can buy today. Turns out, a large sensor compact makes all the difference and there's only one in the world right now.
Compared against closer competitors like the Canon S110, Olympus XZ-2 and Samsung EX2F with similarly-sized sensors, the LX7's fast lens gives it a splendid speed advantage. But it's still too early to call a definite winner, especially since we haven't tried the Canon or Olympus models. The other potential disruptor to the LX7's game is the Fujifilm XF1, which features a larger 2/3-inch sensor in a deliciously retro body.
We suspect the playing field will be clearer once these cameras are reviewed and their prices are revealed. At the moment, we can't help but feel that the LX7 is pricey especially since you can pay S$200 to get a better camera and S$100 less for the Samsung EX2F. Even though the LX7 is priced the same as the LX5, it's a whole different world from two years ago with the RX100 in play.