Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 at a glance:

  • 12.1-million-pixel Live MOS sensor
  • ISO 80-12,800
  • 28-200mm (equivalent) f/2-5.9, 7.1x zoom lens
  • 3in 920,000-dot screen
  • 200, 000-dot EVF
  • Wi-Fi with NFC
  • Street price around £370

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 review – Introduction

There have been a number of premium compact cameras appearing on the ‘high street’ recently. The latest is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1, which was unveiled at the launch of the Lumix DMC-G6 and GF6 micro four thirds cameras in March this year. The LF1 follows Panasonic’s successful LX-series cameras in using a slightly larger 1/1.7in sensor. However, where the LX7 has a 3.8x zoom lens, the new LF1 sports a 7.1x model.

This is a moderate zoom compared to those found on most other travel compact cameras, such as the 30x zoom of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50. The LF1 lens does have an f/2 aperture setting at its widest focal length but clearly, for Panasonic, what defines the camera is the combination of the zoom with the larger-than-normal sensor.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 review – Features

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 is built around a 12.1-million-pixel, 1/1.7in (7.6×5.7mm) Live MOS sensor, with ISO 80-12,800 sensitivity settings. This sensor is the same size as those in cameras such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7, Canon PowerShot G15 and the Nikon Coolpix P7700. However, while it may be a bit bigger than standard compact camera sensors, it is still small compared to those in compact system cameras or DSLRs, and like its competitors, Panasonic has the kept resolution comparatively low. This move should hold noise at bay, allowing the LF1 to appeal to those who care more about the finesse of image quality than the numbers on the spec sheet.

Images measure 4000×3000 pixels and can be saved as either raw or JPEG images, at a rate of up to 10fps when shooting full-resolution JPEG files. Like other recent Panasonic cameras, the LF1 features Wi-Fi connectivity – it can be connected to wireless devices either manually, or via Near Field Communication (NFC).

Although the 28-200mm (equivalent) 7.1x zoom lens does not cover the focal range of some other recent travel compacts, stabilisation is still needed at the longest setting. I found the stabilisation works well and it was possible to shoot sharp images at around 1/30sec. Zooming from wide to the maximum 7.1x setting takes around 2.5secs, which is reasonable.

Images: The 28-200mm zoom lens offers a nice working range that is ideal for travel photography

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 review – Build and handling

The body of the Lumix DMC-LF1 is sleek, stylish and reminiscent of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100; its small size means you can keep it about your person without feeling encumbered. The zoom retracts to a good size, with the rotating outer bevel adding just a millimetre or two to the camera’s width.

The layout holds no surprises, with everything placed in a fairly standard location. The rotating ring around the lens is now a common sight on many advanced compact cameras, and it is equally at home here on the LF1. It can be used to quickly adjust a number of exposure settings, though I found it most useful when set to adjust the aperture or exposure compensation.

Despite its ease of use, a few things could be changed to further enhance the camera’s handling. First, I would swap the quick menu button with the menu/set button. The quick menu allows fast access to regularly used shooting settings, so I think it should be in the centre of the main control dial, while the comprehensive menu, which is used less, should be placed more out of the way.

With regard to the main menu itself, I don’t like the four main large icons that serve as the entry point into the sub-menus. I would rather that the icons and sub-menus be at the side or top of the screen, with the main menu content at the side. This would make it far easier to scroll through the various options, particularly when you are unsure which sub-menu contains the item you are looking for.

However, I am nitpicking, and generally there are no are real issues. The electronic viewfinder switch is clearly visible next to the Wi-Fi button. I found that connecting Wi-Fi, even without the NFC technology, was straightforward and quick, and being able to view the screen remotely on my iPhone was a very neat feature, particularly as it allowed me to operate the zoom lens remotely.

Image: The macro mode works well and the f/2 aperture offers a reasonably shallow depth of field when shooting this close

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 review – Metering

There is a very little to complain about when it comes to evaluative metering. The LF1 performs well in both bright and overcast light and, if I have anything to moan about, it would be that images taken in a dim woodland actually looked a little too bright.

When I did have to adjust images it was only to dial in 0.3-0.7EV. But what is more important is that the evaluative metering is predictable and doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary, making it easy to anticipate and correct when needed. Centreweighted and spot metering are also on hand should you encounter a situation that’s too tricky for the evaluative multi-metering mode.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 review – Dynamic range

he sensor on the LF1 may be larger than average, but it isn’t big enough to propel its dynamic range into DSLR territory. In overcast conditions, blown-out skies can be an issue, and attempts to recover detail from very dark shadows result in too little detail and some noise.

However, with careful handling the LF1 has a wide enough dynamic range in which to work comfortably, and is certainly as good as its competitors.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 review – Autofocus

There is a variety of focusing modes on the LF1, but for most of the test I had the camera set to AF area mode, which offers a choice of four different sizes. When the smallest area is selected there are 693 available AF-point positions, but these don’t quite stretch to the corner of the frame. However, as few photographers will wish to focus on subjects at the very edge, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Face detection, focus tracking and automatic 23 area focusing is also available, with focus tracking the most useful. I found focusing to be very snappy, with the full-time AF continuously sliding the AF into focus as you are moving the camera. This often meant that by the time I had composed a shot, the camera had already focused, again giving the feel of near-instant focusing.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 review – White balance and colour

As with the metering, there is little to report here. The AWB setting worked well, though perhaps a little too neutral at times, but that is about the only complaint. There are enough white balance settings to choose from, and in its default setting the colours created by the camera are bright and vibrant without being too saturated.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity

These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the 50mm focal length. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution at the specified sensitivity setting.

There is scant luminance noise at low sensitivities, and colour noise is nowhere to be seen. In fact, the LF1 does a great job of keeping colour noise to a minimum throughout its entire sensitivity range. Unfortunately, though, luminance noise is very apparent in JPEGs at ISO 400 and above, with some reduction having obviously taken place. Images at ISO 400 have a slightly smudged appearance akin to oil paintings, with strong sharp lines along edges but lacking in texture in other areas.

In terms of detail resolution, the LF1 behaves as we would expect a 12.1-million-pixel compact camera sensor to. It reaches around 24 on our chart, with much more detail to be prized from the raw files than the JPEGs. Similarly, noise is far easier to control, with colour noise eradicated at virtually all sensitivity settings.

Luminance noise is actually better left alone, to retain detail in the image, and I would recommend that most photographers keep the LF1 set to between ISO 80 and 400, particularly if shooting JPEGs. Beyond this, quite a lot of detail is lost, though ISO 800 can produce good results from raw files. As usual, the settings beyond this, particularly the highest two, should only be used as a last resort.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 review – Viewfinder, LCD, live view and video

Although Panasonic should be praised for the addition of an electronic viewfinder, it is not of the quality we have come to expect in recent years. For instance, at 0.2in it is fairly small, especially compared to the EVFs in CSCs and DSLR-type cameras. At just 200,000 dots, the EVF also has a very low resolution. If anything, this EVF is most like those we used to see a few years ago, in video or bridge cameras. While it is OK for composition, and certainly bright enough, looking through the viewfinder even slightly off axis results in red, green and blue lines and dots becoming visible, almost looking like chromatic aberration. Also, the dots that make up the screen can be easily seen. So while Panasonic has done well to cram in a viewfinder at all, I hope the company’s future compacts will come equipped with better models.

Pressing the LVF button on the rear of the camera switches between the EVF and the rear LCD screen. It is a shame that an eye sensor hasn’t been included to do this automatically. The rear screen itself is good for a compact camera, with the 3in screen having a resolution of 920,000 dots, a good viewing angle, and, as the LCD panel sits very close to its glass covering, the screen is bright and clear and the effect of reflections is reduced.

As you would expect from Panasonic, video capture is well covered in the LF1, with the camera capable of shooting full HD, 1920×1080-pixel interlaced footage at 50 frames per second. The quality of video capture is very good, showing no sign of sensor wobble unless extremely fast panning is attempted. Audio is recorded in stereo, and there is a mini HDMI socket so that video footage and images can be displayed on a TV.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 review – Our verdict

Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-LF1 is certainly a good camera but it is up against many excellent advanced compact cameras, so it may struggle to find its own place in the market. Obviously, the 7.1x zoom lens and electronic viewfinder are the defining features, but while an EVF is something I hope to see in more cameras, the resolution of this one is very low and the viewfinder window small. I don’t think anyone will use the EVF by default, but instead only when it is too bright for the screen to be properly seen. Similarly, while the 7.1x zoom in a tiny body is in itself a great feat of engineering, the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50 carries a 30x zoom lens and is only a little larger.

As for image quality, while it is good it is not exceptional, and doesn’t quite justify the £379 price tag. Whie the LF1 is a good option for those who want an all-round compact camera and travel companion with advanced features, with such models as the Fujifilm FinePix X20 and Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 only costing around £70 more, any buyers may be better off spending that little bit extra.

Image: When shooting at the 200mm equivalent setting I was able to get close enough to this fox club to take a shot