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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 Digital Camera Review$499.99
The body of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 is marked by rock-solid construction and a distinctive retro aesthetic. It's made of sturdy black plastic, with switches of both silvered plastic and metal. There are a number of small nods towards the camera styles of the past, on which this camera seems firmly based. The non-retracting lens has a series of ridges around it, in the style of a focal adjustment ring, even though they are non-functional. The flash is deployed vertically, and shoots up from the body at astonishing speed.
Unusual for a point-and-shoot camera, the Lumix LX3 has a lens that does not fully retract. One of the many nods to the design aesthetic of the previous century, the lens remains partially extended and permanently uncovered. It even boasts a mock focus-ring along the barrel. When the camera is turned on, the lens then projects another two levels. One problem with this fixed lens is that there is no cover to protect the glass; instead you require a lens cap, which can, luckily, be attached to one of the eyelets to prevent it being lost. At the very top of the lens barrel is a switch that controls aspect ratio, shifting between 4:3, 3:2 and 16:9 format. On the right side is the switch for focus mode, which can choose between auto focus, macro auto focus and manual focus. At approximately 11 o'clock from the lens is the auto focus assist lamp, and just to its left is the silver label 'Lumix'. The far left of the front has a raised grip that acts as a stabilizing ridge. It has a patch of plastic running most of its length, which is textured in a way that is familiar to anyone who has handled a camera that was produced prior to 1990. A thin strip of metal surrounds this patch. At the very bottom right is the Lumix logo; a small gold round-edged square with a silver L. Along the top right of the lens is the red inscription 'Mega O.I.S./24mm WIDE'.
The textured grip hearkens to an earlier generation of cameras
The LCD takes up three-quarters of the rear of the LX3, as it is 3' large, with 460,800 dots, and boasts a 100% field view. To the right of the LCD screen are the majority of controls for the camera. These buttons are metal, and feel robust, if quite small. Combined with the minimal amount of real estate afforded these buttons, the control system is cramped, but not unusably so. At the top of the control area is the Playback Switch, which alternates between shooting and playback, both of which are marked with small white icons. Directly to its right is a small flat area, with nine dots in a square that is used as a thumb rest. Below the thumb rest is a small joystick with a red base that is used to navigate menus. The joystick also has an integrated button that is activated by pressing the stick directly inwards, which brings up a quick menu while shooting. To its right is the AF/AE Lock button, and below that is the four-way control system. Much like the joystick, the four-way pad can be used to navigate menus, but while shooting, each of these buttons serves an alternate function. Up lets you alter the exposure, auto bracketing or flash compensation. Right is flash control, Left is auto timer, and Down is the user-definable Function button. The center button accesses the menu system, and all five of these buttons have their icons carved into the metal itself, which should help prevent wear. The four-way pad is set on a circle of plastic, set ever so slightly above the rest of the body. Below this are two buttons. On the left is Display; on the right is Burst/Delete, which only performs the latter function during playback.
The large LCD dominates the rear of the camera
Left Side* (4.00) The left side of the Lumix DMC-LC3 is bisected by the line where the two halves of the camera are joined, and held in place by two screws. The only feature of true interest on this side is the eyelet near the top, which can be used for either the wrist strap or lens-cap strap. The furthest reach of the left side has a concave line that demarcates the top of the camera from the rest of the body.
*Nothing much on the left
The right side of the camera is almost identical to the left, with the minor difference of the door covering the ports, an additional two screws, and the thumb rest. The port door feels flimsy, and opens to show the DC In, AV Out/Digital and Component Out ports. Above this is the second strap eyelet, and then the concave divider marking the top of the camera. The top left of this side projects slightly backwards in order to keep the thumb pad flat, while the right edge of this side extends further to give more space for the grip.
*The port cover offers the only interesting feature on the right side
The top of the LX3 really sets it apart from most other point-and-shoots. The most obvious addition is the flash hot shoe, an unusual feature on a camera of this size, and one that makes it feel like a compact aimed at camera buffs. The hot shoe can also be used with the compatible DMW-VF1 external viewfinder, another nod towards experienced users. To the left of the hot shoe is the built-in flash, which is retracted and flush with the body most of the time. To open the flash, a small switch must be flicked, and the flash springs directly upwards at high speed. This mechanical deployment has a couple of advantages. First, the flash cannot be raised automatically, so it will never pop up and ruin a shot. It is also kept hidden away and protected most of the time, and when it is raised, it's further from the lens, which helps prevent red-eye.
To the right of the hot shoe is the Mode Dial. The options available on it are Scene, Intelligent Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Custom 1, Custom 2 and Movie. This dial is set back just far enough that you can change modes by sliding your thumb along the back edge of the camera. Forward, and to the right, of the Mode Dial is the Shutter Control and Zoom Ring, both of which feel accurate and responsive. In the foremost right corner of the camera's top is the Focus button. This lets you move the focusing reticle freely around the LCD, so you can accurately choose the ideal focal point. Finally, to the rear of that button, is the power switch. All of these are labeled in small white letters.
The inclusion of a hot-shoe allows for easy expandability
Unusually, the tripod mount on the bottom the LX3 is not centered on the body of the camera, nor on the lens axis. Instead, it is shifted considerably to the left of center, and slightly towards the rear. While this might make setting up your shot slightly more difficult, it means that you can access the battery and memory card even while still attached to the tripod. This is exceedingly convenient if you're going to be doing a large amount of tripod photography, as you may need to get to your memory card or battery frequently.
Unfortunately, the battery/card door feels insubstantial, far flimsier than the otherwise well constructed body.
*The tripod mount is far enough off-center to allow easy access
to the battery and memory card*