Panasonic LF1 Photographer's Compact Camera review by Dale
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Old 07-25-2013   #1
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Default Panasonic LF1 Photographer's Compact Camera review by Dale

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This review covers my use of the new Panasonic LF1 camera for general-purpose photography, shooting JPEG format images only. Note that a large part of the approximately $500 USD price for this camera is for the Leica lens, a high-quality f2.0 to f5.9 'DC Summicron' lens that should compare favorably to the f1.4 Leica lens used in the Panasonic LX7 camera and its Leica equivalents. The LX7 lens is one stop brighter than the LF1 lens at wide angle, and on the long end of the zoom the difference is f2.3 to f5.9 - a big advantage for the LX7 in brightness, but not in reach, since the LF1 goes out to 200 mm (135 equivalent) whereas the LX7 maxes out at 90 mm. The other major differences between these equally-priced (MSRP) cameras is the tiny viewfinder built into the LF1, and the fact that the LF1 is about half the size and weight of the LX7. It seems odd to me, given the newness of both the LX7 and LF1, that a comparable camera like the LF1 would be so much smaller, with viewfinder, and with a much longer lens.

Having owned both Leica cameras and Panasonic cameras with Leica lenses, I have a pretty good idea of what the differences are between lenses made by Leica for their professional cameras and Leica lenses made by Panasonic. My impression (just that - I don't have insider secrets on these things) of most of the Panasonic Leica lenses for regular consumer cameras like the TZ5, ZS7 etc. is that they're a fairly economical lens meeting minimum Leica requirements for those cameras. On the other hand, the Leica lenses Panasonic has made for the "Enthusiast Compact" cameras like the LX3, LX7, and LF1 are more professional from what I've surmised, and the remarkable f2.0 Summicron lens that's built into the LF1 is one of those better lenses, and should be a step up in quality from the lenses that come with the lower priced cameras.

The LF1 has a full complement of manual controls to go with the automatic and enhanced-auto settings that most users enjoy. Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual control are on the main selector dial, and everything else is found via the Menu/Set button, the circular selector around the Menu/Set button, or the programmable 'Fn' button. One of the really handy features with the LF1 is the 'Step-Zoom' setting, especially when making comparisons to other cameras where you need to shoot at the same effective focal length. The minimum macro focus distance is 3 cm, or slightly more than one inch. Note that the 'Zoom Macro' feature is an electronic (not purely optical) enhancement, and will reduce the image quality proportionate to the extra magnification it provides. The LF1 has a separate video button on the back at the top right, and before those separate buttons became common on digital cameras, important beginning parts of videos could be lost from having to switch the dial to video mode.

I've read complaints about the tripod socket being on the end instead of more centered, but the obvious advantage is that it leaves the battery and memory compartment free so the tripod attachment doesn't have to be unscrewed when there's a need to change the battery. Panasonic warns about attempting to use a tripod mount with a screw that's 5.5 mm or greater in length. Checking my own tripod, monopod, ZipShot mini-tripod, and Steady-Aim camera stabilizer, the first 3 are OK in that regard, but the last item has a ~7.5 mm screw length, so you should be very careful when attaching such items to the camera that you don't screw it on too tightly and possibly damage the camera's tripod mount.

Camera forums are rife with complaints about the price of replacement batteries, and I always recommend carrying at least a second battery so shooting can continue if the first battery runs down. Contrary to what many people suggest - saving money with third-party batteries, I consider the price difference and if it's huge, I need to know why. Before I could even consider a very cheap battery, I would need several independent reviews that affirm the quality of that particular battery as well as the reliability of the manufacturer of that battery. On top of that, I would need to know that if their battery damaged my camera, they would pay to replace my camera promptly. Lithium-ion batteries can be very dangerous. If the price difference were less than my expenses in replacing a defective battery (packaging, shipping, time wasted, loss of battery for a period of time), I would certainly get the camera manufacturer's battery.

I'm currently building a set of images for the LF1 at my dalethorn website, so check there occasionally to see what sort of results I'm getting with this camera. I made some initial comparisons to the Leica D-Lux6 (same as Panasonic LX7) camera that has an equally-high quality lens and high price, and viewing the images at 100 percent size on the screen, it's easy to see where the LF1's 12 megapixels compared to the LX7's 10 megapixels increases the LF1's advantage. On the other hand, I hear from some expert users that the LX7 has a different design, particularly in the different type of Leica lens built into each camera, so that the LX7 may have advantages I haven't discovered as yet. Note that when the final image is not a 4:3 ratio crop (i.e. the largest setting of the LF1 is 4000x3000, or 4:3, while the LX7 is 3648x2736, also 4:3), the LF1's pixel advantage will shrink, since the LX7's multi-aspect sensor makes a 3968 pixel width image at the 16:9 ratio setting.

Summarizing, the LF1 should be a great camera for a person who wants high image quality, simple design and operation, and isn't greatly concerned about the high-performance features most professional users (i.e. mostly DSLR users) demand for their tasks. Those might include ultra-fast auto-focus and shot-to-shot times, large data buffers to allow for bursts up to dozens of images at a time, ability to deal with fast-moving subjects, and so on.

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Leica T/18-56, D-Lux(109), D-Lux6 (G-Star Raw); Panasonic ZS40.
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