In this article I compare two amazing compact cameras, the Panasonic Lumix LX7 and Sony RX100, both have been praised all around the web for their excellent features and image quality. If you are searching for a premium compact camera, look no further, these two cameras are in my opinion, among the top 5 best advanced compacts camera for 2012/2013. I’ve already compared the Panasonic Lumix LX7 versus Lumix LF1 and four it to be a better camera overall, even with the lack of NFC/Wi-Fi and higher zoom range compare to the LF1. The Sony RX100 belongs to the large-sensor compact camera’s category and it’s probably the best compact camera on the market right now.
Each section in the comparison will talk about different features, including built quality and camera design, lens, features, image quality and so on. At the end of this comparison, you will better understand the differences between the two devices, and the cons and pros of each camera. Choosing a high-end compact camera isn’t an easy task. It’s ever harder when you have those excellent Compact System Cameras out there, and prices that are similar to a entry-level DSLR camera. I know that the size has an important influence on your decision. You want a camera that you won’t need a bag to carry put it in. With a pocket camera you can capture more exciting and spontaneous moments, something that you might miss if you were using a larger camera.
I can also assume that most of you care about image quality, and this is one area that you don’t want to compromise on. You want a compact camera, but you also want to have high ISO images at low ISO. You want full flexibility over the exposure (full manual control) and a camera that operates and focus fast so you won’t miss a previous moment. The Panasonic Lumix LX7 and Sony Cyber-shot RX100 are my top picks, and this is why I’ve decided to put them head to head in this comparison.
There are many differences between the two cameras though and I recommend reading this article until the end in order to fully understand those differences. OK, enough of the intro, let’s begin!
Compact Camera, Large Sensor – I want one!
I know, most enthusiasts do. There is a big difference between the two. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 features a 20.2MP (effective) 1-inch (13.2 x 8.8 mm) Exmor CMOS Sensor (aspect ratio 3:2). The Panasonic Lumix LX7 features a 10.1MP 1/1.7-inch High Sensitivity MOS sensor.
So where’s the big difference? – obviously in the size of the sensor. The Sony RX100 belongs to a category of camera known as “large-sensor compacts”. These are camera that have sensors that are starting roughly at 1″ and goes up to a full frame compact cameras like the Sony RX1. Some of this cameras have a fixed lens, those are premium models mostly, and some have a zoom lens, and those are usually cheaper.
The Panasonic Lumix LX7 has a 1/1.7-inch size sensor (7.44 x 5.58 mm). It’s bigger than than what you get with most standard compact cameras, and certainly bigger than the sensor on your smartphone (unless you have the Nokia 808 PureView), but much smaller than the RX100 sensor. Furthermore, the LX7 sensor is 4:3 aspect ratio, the RX100 is 3:2 aspect ratio.
This is relative size comparison, not the real size of course. This is the first advantage that the RX100 has over the LX7, theoretically for now. The size of the sensor is actually not only what you should look for, but rather the size of each pixel, the pixel density. The bigger the pixels the more data (light photons) can be collected for each photo site, and that leads to more accurate color reproduction and higher dynamic range.
The Panasonic Lumix LX7 has approximately 0.0021mm pixel size (diagonal: 0.374016 in., 3648 [w] pixels and 2736 [h] pixels). The RX100 sensor has 0.0024mm dot pitch / pixel size (diagonal: 0.625984 in., 5472 [w] pixels and 3648 [h] pixels). So although the RX100 sensor is much larger, it has much higher resolution that gives us pixels that are just a bit bigger than the LX7. IF we had the same resolution on both sensors (10.1MP), we would get a 0.0035mm pixel size on the RX100, that a much bigger difference.
The size of the pixel is not the only thing that affects image quality, there’s also the sensor’s technology, image processor, camera lens and of course the experience of the photographer handling the camera. You might ask yourself why Sony has decided to squeeze so many pixels in this relatively small sensor? – Sony probably has done its homework and realize that this is what the target audience want. I personally prefer having much less pixels and enjoying much better high ISO performance – oh well, we can’t change that. Nevertheless, we’ll inspect the image quality in the following section and we can see if this have a negative affect on image quality.
Camera Size, Design & Build Quality
The Sony RX100 is smaller and lighter than the LX7, but its built quality is superior, built with aluminum body compare to the plastic body of the LX7. One of the biggest selling point of the RX100 is its compact size, it’s really a small camera. Take a look at the next image and you can see what I mean.
It’s not that the LX7 is big, but we can’t ignore the difference in size. The RX100 is.. let’s say, more pocketable and that’s why so many people love it. The RX100 lacks a grip and I assume that Sony wanted to give this camera a slick smooth design, and for such a small camera, a grip will probably won’t do any good. Why you ask? – because you will hold it with the thumb at the bottom and finger at the top, on both sides. Take your phone and hold it in your hands like your are taking a shot, see how you hold it? – You don’t gold it with all your fingers because it’s very thin, same as with the RX100. So I don’t think that the lack of a grip will pose and issue to anyone – What do you think?
If you hold that camera from the side and you find that you really need a grip, you can purchase a Sony RX100 custom grip for $34.95 (plus shipping) from kleptography.com.
EVF, Hot-Shoe & LCD
The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 also have much less control. It has a simplistic design. It doesn’t have a hot-shoe, the LX7 does. The LX7 has plenty of manual controls, including the lens’ aperture ring aspect ratio switch (1:1, 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 – cool feature!), MF/AF-Macro/AF switch. At the back you have AF/AE Lock button, ND/Focus dial button, P/A/S/M wheel dial at the top. The RX100 has a control ring which you can use for zooming or control any of the camera’s eight function or for manual focusing. At the top you have the exposure mode dial.
Both cameras have a pop-up flash, but the RX100 lacks a hot-shoe connector, so you cannot attach an external flash. Some people use it with external flashes, making the RX100 triggers the external flash, but still, the lack of hot-shoe might be a problem for some of you. Most people will probably won’t use an external flash – after all, it ruin the whole point of carrying a compact camera with you. It depends on what you shoot, but if you haven’t been shooting with a flash until now, you probably don’t need it. It adds to the cost and you”’ll also have to carry it with you.
You’ll also notice that both cameras don’t have a built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF), although there are some custom options, read this thread on dpreview.com. The Panasonic Lumix LX7 on the other hand has a hot-shoe to which you can attach an external flash (e.g. DMW-FL220, DMW-FL360L, DMW-FL500) or an electronic viewfinder (DMW-LVF2) / Optical viewfinder (DMW-VF1). Those accessories aren’t cheap but well worth it if you are used to compose your image through a viewfinder.
A viewfinder certainly helps when shooting in bright daylight, but it will add to the height of the camera, especially the DMW-LVF2 – so keep that in mind.
Both cameras have a 3-inch fixed LCD. The Sony RX100 has 1229K-dot resolution and uses its TruBlack technology, and the Panasonic Lumix LX7 has a 920K-dot resolution LCD with anti–reflective coating (AR). Both cameras do not employ a touch-sensitive screen, nor an articulated display. Again, an articulating display would just add to the size of the camera, make it thicker, and that’s why both Sony and Panasonic have chosen to use a fixed LCD display.
We’ve already mentioned that the LX7 lens controls are very impressive, but what about the lens optics?
The Panasonic Lumix LX7 features a 24-90 mm (35mm equivalent) f/1.4-2.3 Leica DC VARIO-SUMMILUX lens (3.8x optical zoom) with 11 elements in 10 groups, 5 Aspherical Lenses, 9 Aspherical Surfaces, 2 ED Lenses (1 Aspherical ED Lens) and 1 Nano Surface Coating Lens. The camera is equipped with Power O.I.S. image stabilizer to compensate hand movement and fight image blur. This is a very high quality Leica lens that already proven to perform amazgly well in many camera reviews’ websites.
The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 uses a 28-100 mm (35mm equivalent) f/1.8-4.9 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens (3.6x optical zoom), made with 7 elements in 6 groups and uses Optical SteadyShot with Active Mode image stabilization mechanism.
We can see that the LX7 is clearly faster on both wide and the tele-end. The LX7 is a dream come true for everyone who’s shooting at night or indoors. Another advantage on the LX7 is it’s wider angle, 24mm vs 28mm, and this can be quite significant if you shoot most of your images indoors. I see the 10 mm difference at the tele-end less important than the difference in the wide angle. Both offer pretty useful reach, but some of you might find it a bit limiting. Both cameras are built with image quality in mind. They design to use fast lenses, and we can’t have it all (fast lens + higher zoom), so with such camera you make a compromise, giving up zoom for a faster lens and most probably, better optical performance.
I find the LX7 lens to be more appealing to my type of shooting habits. I like the faster aperture and the 24mm wide angle. You’ll decide which one is best for your type of shooting habits, but both uses very high quality optics and the image quality that comes from this two cameras is just superb!
High ISO Image Quality Analysis
The image quality is one of the most important factor buying those type of camera. You are probably interested to know how the two cameras differ, considering the difference in sensor size and the small difference in pixel density as I mentioned earlier. I used dpreview Studio Scene Comparison (JPEG) to analyze and compare the image quality of the Sony RX100 versus the Panasonic LX7. Here are my observation conclusions:
- ISO 100 – both cameras produce clean image. The RX100 has the advantage of resolving more details due to its higher sensor resolution, and that’s obvious from the sample images. The Panasonic produces sharper images out of the box, the RX100 seems to be a bit soft.
- ISO 200 – we can see that noise start appearing in the dark / mid-tones parts areas of the image on the RX100 and LX7. Still, image quality is very good.
- ISO 400 – both cameras have visible noise and the image start losing fine details. We can clearly see that affect on the Panasonic LX7 due to its lower resolution when looking at 100% scale crops. I think that the noise levels are about the same, but the RX100 does have the advantage of resolving more details
- ISO 800 – Here you can start seeing how the difference in sensor size/pixel size start affecting the image more clearly. The RX100 has the better IQ, the LX7 seems to start applying strong noise reduction to hide the noise. The RX100 keeps delivering very good result. This is ISO 800, so I’m very impressed with the RX100 image quality here, but considering the LX7 sensor size, I am also impressed with the LX7 as well
- ISO 1600 – I would probably be shooting below this ISO for the best image quality. It depends what you shoot. If you are shooting in low light and there is a larger portion of dark areas, you’ll notice the noise more than with a lit scene. The RX100 does have a better IQ, much less noise . For small prints and scaled down images, both cameras will deliver the good
- ISO 3200 – This is where the game ends for the LX7. Way too much noise. It seems that the noise reduction algorithm just can’t do its work here compare to lower ISOs. The RX100 on the other hand keep marching forward and I Was really surprised to see how good the image looks at this high sensitivity. This is what everyone was talking about when they mentioned the great image quality of the RX100 – IMPRESSIVE PERFORMANCE!
I just want to add that the Panasonic Lumix LX7 probably applies stronger sharpening, but at the same time I think that the LX7 lens is sharper than the Sony’s. I can see that in the noise patterns, which are very dotty and I recognize this type of sharpening when I apply smart sharpening to photos in Adobe Photoshop. This is why the image of the LX7 look so sharp. The RX100 is more conservative in that manner.
- At ISO 6400 thing going pretty ugly for the LX7 as expected, but the RX100 – What? – I was even more surprised to see how good the RX100 coping in this high sensitivity. Really, amazing performance. I can also see that the camera applied stronger N/R, but does that very well indeed.
What can I say, the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 is absolutely out of this world. The LX7 was also very impressive considering its small sensor, but the RX100 wins here hands down. I think that there is a +1.5EV – +2EV stops advantage in favor of the RX100. I was curious to see how both cameras compare to the Sony NEX-5N, and the NEX-5N was doing way over better than the RX100 with its Excellent APS-C sensor I compare it also to the Olympus OM-D E-M5, and again, the E-M5 put the two cameras to shame in the high ISO test.
The sensor size / pixel density has the biggest implications on image quality. Don’t expect miracles with those two cameras, image will get more noise when you compare it to APS-C or Micro Four Thirds cameras. Still, most of us won’t shoot above ISO 1600, and it’s probably not recommended to do so with the LX7 – with the RX100 you can get some good quality images.
The Sony Cyber-shot RX100 wins here when it comes to high ISO performance, but the Panasonic Lumix does result in sharper image out of the box. I think that the Panasonic used a bit too much sharpening, and you can see some jagged edges when you look up closely at 100% crops.
Now listen carefully, and this is important to understand. The advantage of the Panasonic is its brighter lens. The fact that you have a faster lens means that you won’t have to climb so high at the ISO scale and therefore you won’t need to shoot at those high ISO sensitivity levels. With the Sony RX100 it’s most likely that you will because it has a slower lens. The LX7 F1.4-2.3 super bright lens certainly helps here. Even more than that, you can attach an external flash to the mount shoe and forget about shooting at high ISO at all. That’s one of the big reasons you shouldn’t only look at the high ISO performance alone.
You should understand how the other features contribute to the image quality. If you have such a bright lens, you might find yourself not shooting above ISO 800 at all. The Sony RX100 is pretty slow at the tele-end (F4.9), but compensate on this using better high ISO performance.
I always prefer shooting at the minimum ISO possible and so do you. So in this regard, you might find out that the less impressive high ISO performance of the LX7 isn’t an issue at all.
What about Video Quality?
Both LX7 and RX100 produced high quality videos. For a change, let’s take a look at some sample videos shot in relatively low light.
The first one is from Sony RX100 shot at ISO 1600
Now in well lit conditions
Now the Panasonic Lumix LX7 in low light
Now in daylight..
The Sony Cybershot RX100 and Panasonic Lumix LX7 both can shoot 1080p60/28Mbps and 1080i60/17Mbps, but the Lumix LX7 can shoot also at 1080p30 as well. ’p’ refers to ‘Progressive’ frames compare to ‘i’ that refers to interlaced frames. With Progressive videos all the data is recorded for each frame. In 1080i60, each frame contains half of the data (either odd or even fields) from a 30p sensor output. This result in higher video quality and one that is easier and better for video editing.
LX7 vs RX100 Image stabilization test video
Both Panasonic Lumix LX7 and Sony Cyber-shot RX100 don’t have an external microphone jack to connect and external stereo microphone in order to improve the video sound quality.
Any other key differences?
|Burst (at full resolution)||11 fps||10 fps|
|Exposure Compensation||±3 (at 1/3 EV steps)||±3 (at 1/3 EV steps)|
|AE Bracketing||1/3 - 3 EV step, Max. ±3 EV, 3 frames||shoot 3 exposures at 0.3EV or 0.7EV intervals|
|Battery Life (CIPA)||330||330|
|Panorama Images||Yes (Sweep Panorama)||Yes (Sweep Panorama)|
|Shutter Speed||60 - 1/4000 sec||30 - 1/2000 sec|
|Scene Modes||ortrait, Soft Skin, Scenery, Panorama Shot, Sports, Night Portrait, Night Scenery, Handheld Night Shot, HDR, Food, Baby1, Baby2, Pet, Sunset, Glass Through, 3D Photo||Portrait, Anti Motion Blur, Sports Action, Pet, Gourmet, Macro, Landscape, Sunset, Night Scene, Hand-held Twilight, Night Portrait, Fireworks, High Sensitivity|
|In-camera HDR||Yes (Intelligent HDR in iA mode)||Yes|
|Both cameras produce High Dynamic Range image by shooting several image at different exposures and produce a single high dynamic range image|
|Picture Effects||Creative Control Mode:|
Expressive, Retro, High Key, Low Key, Sepia, Dynamic Monochrome, Impressive Art, High Dynamic, Cross Process, Toy Effect, Miniature Effect, Soft Focus, Star Filter, One Point Color, Radial Defocus, Smooth Defocus
|Toy Camera, Pop Color, Posterization, Retro Photo, Soft High-key, Partial Color, High Contrast Monochrome, Soft Focus, HDR Painting, Rich-tone Monochrome, Miniature, Watercolor, Illustration|
So which should you buy, LX7 or RX100? – as you can see, each camera has its cons and pros and it’s quite obvious when inspecting the two cameras closely. I would probably pick the Sony RX100 is I want a more compact camera, satisfied with the high ISO performance, prefer the aluminum body to plastic one, don’t mind not having a fast aperture at the tele-end, don’t need to have an hot-shoe, love shooting high quality videos and just want to have a compact camera that can take very high quality images. I would get the Panasonic Lumix LX7 if you love and take advantage of its very fast lens, love all the manual controls and fast access buttons and switches that the LX7 offers( ie. aperture ring, ND/Focus lever, aspect-ratio switch), don’t need to shoot at ISO sensitivity above ISO800 (excellent quality at low ISO and very good quality at high ISO as well), take advantage of the 24mm wider angle, love shooting high quality videos, find the NF filter useful and love the grip and the LX7 size and ergonomics.
I personally prefer a camera that have better high ISO performance, but we can’t ignore the fact that the LX7 lens and how fast it is. Some of you might prefer the faster lens over the RX100 better high ISO performance. The Sony cyber-shot RX100 is an amazing camera, most probably the best compact camera ever created. The Panasonic Lumix LX7 competes very well against the RX100, especially in low light. I also assume that video enthusiast will prefer the LX7 due to its more effective image stabilization in videos as well as its brighter lens that won’t force the photographer to bump up the ISO, which will lead to more noise.
One of the reason that people buy a camera with large sensor is to be able to throw the background out of focus and better separate the subject from destructing background. Don’t expect miracles from both cameras. You get little background blur when shooting a subject that is a bit far away from the camera. You get more blurry background only if you shoot very close to your subject. That’s why the LX7 has more potential for macro shots due to its larger aperture opening at the widest angle and closer macro range (1cm vs 5cm).
The LX7 is also a much better low light performer, and that’s mainly due to its faster lens. It’s really a superb lens for shooting in dim light and you will be very impressed with it. The Leica lens is also very sharp as well.
If you want my opinion, I think that the Panasonic LX7 performs better in low ISO, I love the sharper JPEGs, found the Power O.I.S. to be more effective than the Sony’s. I prefer having the combination of excellent low ISO performance and a super fast lens. Having a hot-shoe might be useful in the future if I want to use flash or attach a viewfinder (OVF or EVF), love the internal ND filter, love the closer macro range and the manual buttons and lens aperture functionality and its much cheaper. If I had to choose between the two, I would probably went with the LX7. This is me, you might think otherwise and prefer the RX100 instead for other reasons. Each one and one of us make a decision based on his needs. I love shooting in low light and prefer not shooting in high ISO, the LX7 is the better camera for my needs.
Now it’s your time to decide. Note that whatever camera you choose, you are looking at, most probably, the best compact cameras on the market right bow. Both are really impressive and allows you to fully unleash your creativity. If you don’t want to by a compact system camera or DSLR, don’t like changing lenses, don’t need the mega zoom, you better off getting one of those excellent cameras that you can take everywhere you go. This is the most important thing – because you will be able to take those cameras everywhere you go, you get more interesting photos and come home with more photos that you otherwise would miss.
I hope that you find this comparison interesting and I hope it helped you make a better buying decision. Good luck and enjoy your new camera!
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What your opinion, which one your prefer and why? – please leave your comment below. Thanks.
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