When I decided to review two of Panasonic’s small digital cameras GX850 vs Panasonic LX10 against Samsung’s Note 8 flagship cameraphone I thought the larger micro 4/3rds image sensor in the GX850 would enable it to beat the other devices easily. The result was surprising.
The “lens” through which I’m writing this review is judging whether any new compact cameras have features that are compelling enough for smartphone only photographers to purchase them.
Lenses and Sensors: GX850 vs LX10
The LX10 has a built-in lens that takes about a second to extend from it’s body when turned on. Focal length is 24 – 72 mm (35mm equiv.) Optical zoom is 3x and aperture is f1.4 – 2.8. Note that it hits f2.0 by 26mm and f2.8 from about 32mm onwards so to take advantage of f1.4 you can’t use zoom at all. The LX10 has a 1 inch sensor with a surface area of 116mm from which 20 megapixel images are created.
The GX850 has a Micro 4/3rd sensor with a surface area of 225mm from which 16 megapixel images are created.
The GX850 can use Panasonic or Olympus micro four thirds lenses. Unfortunately in Australia the GX850 is sold with a 12-32mm (24mm-64mm equiv.) f3.5-5.6 kit lens which really hampers the cameras performance by allowing little light into the sensor. It’s like buying a sporty car and then speed limiting it to 60km/hr.
Therefore I asked Panasonic to borrow a 14mm (28mm equiv.) f/2.5 II ASPH H-H014A lens to review the GX850 with. This 55gram featherlight lens felt much better to use, with the big caveat you have to pay extra for it on top of buying the camera body and kit lens. The change of lens also means your field of view changes to 28mm and f2.5 is still a bit slower than the f1.4 wide open speed of the LX10.
Both cameras have good fast auto focus using depth from defocus and the ability to change a photo’s focus point after taking a picture. Both cameras use contrast detect sensors and have up to 49 focal points.
Physical Design: GX850 vs LX10
Australia has harsh, often very bright light. My experience is that composing and taking photos in these conditions is quite difficult with both high-end smart phones and most compact cameras.
What helps greatly when in this situation is being able to use an inbuilt software adjustable neutral density filter or put your eye against either an optical or electronic viewfinder. Unfortunately the GX850 and LX10 lack both these features.
While both have 3 inch 1,040,000 touch panel LCD screens the LX10’s native photo aspect ratio 3:2 uses more of the screen width to help you compose/review photos compared to the GX850’s 4:3 aspect ratio.
The screens on both cameras can be flipped smoothly upwards from the top hinge up to 180 degrees which allows you to take a selfie or view the camera screen from below if tilted 90 degrees and the camera is held above your head. You cannot tilt either camera screen from the bottom or the sides.
Panasonic’s hope is that buyers will also use these flip screens for selfies rather than their smart phone, my testing showed that smart phones are far better suited for taking selfies.
Though they have touchscreen functionality both cameras have LCD screens that look washed out and compare poorly to the experience of taking/reviewing photos on mid to high range Samsung and OPPO phones I’ve tested this year that have bright AMOLED screens.
The GX850 lacks the LX10’s grip on the front right hand side to avoid dropping your camera. However even the LX10’s grip is smooth rather than textured/rubbery so please use a wrist strap otherwise drops are likely.
The GX850 is lighter body only but when you add the f2.5 lens it weighs a few grams more than the LX10. If using the standard bundled GX850 f3.5-5.6 kit lens the combination is heavier still.
In terms of battery life the LX10 has a higher CIPA rating of 260 shots/battery compared to the GX850’s 210 shots. The ability to buy extra batteries and switch out flat batteries within seconds remains a advantage of compact cameras compared to smart phones which tend to have non-removable batteries these days.
To store your photos the LX10 uses SD size cards whereas the GX850 uses Micro SD cards more commonly used in smart phones.
If you already own good quality SD cards and your laptop has an SD card reader slot this makes the LX10 is a more compelling purchase for you than the GX850.
If you haven’t owned a dedicated camera before, the GX850’s design choice means you’ll have a wide variety of microSD cards to choose from at competitive prices because they cater towards the smart phone market which is much larger than the compact camera market.
You can charge both cameras using a micro USB cable so you don’t need to take a separate camera power charger with you on holidays. You could even recharge your camera from a USB power bank which is quite handy.
User Experience & Settings
Even the most basic camera phone enables people to tag their photos with the GPS coordinates of the location the photo was taken in. The GX850 and LX10 both lack this key feature which is really useful when travelling.
Both cameras can shoot JPG or RAW or both simultaneously, though most learner/enthusiast buyers of these types of cameras are likely to just use JPG. As is usually the case if you take photos in raw and process them afterwards on your computer you can extract more detail from the image sensors of both cameras.
Automatic ISO range for the LX10 is 125-12800 (expands to 80-25600), the corresponding range for the GX850 on Auto is 200-25600 (extends down to 100).
Both cameras and most mid-high end smartphones can shoot 4K video but I consider that mostly a gimmick. 4K Video takes up a *lot* of storage space and most people don’t own 4K TV’s to view the footage on. Standard Full HD 1080P video is quite sufficient for 99% of holiday or social videos.
The following example photos are full resolution edited straight from the camera photos taken with a Panasonic GX850 with 14mm (28mm equiv) f/2.5 II ASPH H-H014A lens, Panasonic LX10 (f1.4-f2.8 24mm-72mm built-in lens) and Samsung Galaxy Note 8 (f1.7-f2.4 26mm-52mm equiv lens).
Battery Lithium-ion battery & charger
Battery Life (CIPA) 260 photos
Weight (inc. battery) 310 grams
Dimensions 106 x 60 x 42 mm
Battery Life (CIPA) 210 photos
Weight (inc. battery) 269 g
Dimensions 107 x 65 x 33 mm (body only)
Should you buy the LX10 or GX850 if you already own a recent mid-range or high-end smart phone? Probably not.
If I had to recommend one over the other I’d say the LX10 is more useful as it has a fast wide lens, fits in a jacket pocket and has 3x zoom while smartphones have 2x zoom at best.
To be a more compelling obviously superior to cameraphone purchase the LX10 needs an electronic viewfinder (EVF) and a built-in neutral density filter. While GPS location photo tagging ability would be nice, most compact cameras don’t include it as a feature anymore.
Some may view this verdict as quite harsh.
My response is “tough”. Sales of compact cameras are falling every year as more and more people just use their smartphone all the time instead.
If compact cameras don’t offer an overall package that attracts non-enthusiasts, sales will continue to dive and within five to ten years compact cameras may become extinct altogether.