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Old Oct 28, 2009, 2:18 PM   #11
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Naturally, I can only speak for myself but I imagine that the vast majority of FZ-38 owners are quite happy with viewing their photos on-screen and maybe the occasional kiosk 6 X 4 prints and anyone with more ambition than that would be using a DSLR. That is NOT to imply the FZ-38 is incapable of competing with a DSLR of similar resolution and shooting RAW at low ISO settings.

I get excellent results from my FZ-18 and use it almost exclusively on iA which I suspect the vast majority of its users do despite not being of my advanced years.

The FZ-XXs were made for the likes of me!
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Old Oct 29, 2009, 8:01 AM   #12
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An interesting post, Detail Man ("The Skinny on Lumix Venus Engines", abv). The follow-on question is, "Are the other manufacturers doing the same with their cameras of the same class?" If so, I wonder if the shortfall in noise (reduction) is an intentional market differentiation to separate the snap shots from the photographs, the picture takers from the photographers, the casual user from those serious about their profession, art, and/or hobby.

As in most 'things', there always seems to be something better. If we were solely focused on image quality, I imagine we'd all be using film cameras. Of course, back then, we had the same kind of quality discussions about film formats. It wasn't that long ago that 35mm was finally accepted by the print media...

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Old Dec 13, 2009, 4:54 AM   #13
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Default DMC-LX3 using Venus IV Engine is Worthy of Praise!

On a more positive note than my previous rant, and with the disclosure that I have wallowed in Panasonic Lumix offerings nearly exclusively in my brief (amateur) career (for better and worse) ... A mini-review of the DMC-LX3.

In summary, my 4 year old LZ5 (6 Mpix on a 1/2.5" sensor) and my 3 year old FZ30 (8 Mpix on a 1/1.8" sensor) served me well in terms of detail and fairly well in terms of color (at ISO 80 or 100 that is). While their "Venus Plus" and "Venus II" engines (respectively) fell short at ISO 200 and above in terms of noise, the details in their source (JPG) images were not decimated by NR.

The Venus III JPG engine arriving on my 2 year old FZ50 was a wretched hatchet-job of over-reaction by Panasonic, and an exercise in pastel-like smearing of color contrast followed by vast amounts of over-sharpening. Thankfully, the FZ50 (despite its now considered tiny 2" LCD screen) is an ergonomic and optical dream come true (with manual zoom and focus rings), and serves as a viable 10 Mpix RAW format camera. It's (20 MB size) ".RAW" files appear to provide significantly superior low-level detail/contrast to Panasonic's newer compressed (12 MB size) ".RW2" files.

So my FZ50 is a keeper for the distance and landscape shots where RAW really matters and shines - despite the (additional) toils of post-processing RAW-TIF-JPGs. ISO 200 requires no NR at all (save for a bit of false-color-correction and de-mosaicing). But it is a bit of a bulky tank at 26 ounces (though nothing even close to the entourage of lenses and goodies that come along with hauling and applying DSLR rigs). Further, the FZ50 achieves markedly better Depth of Field than the DSLRs having larger image sensors. But it's not a hand-held!

Back to the JPGs from hand-helds department. My 1 year old TZ4 (8 Mpix on a 1/2.5" sensor) uses the Venus IV engine. PROS: excellent build quality; fine Leica 28-280 mm zoom lens; better DOF (1" at 6" distance); excellent color balancing; excellent battery life; no noise concerns at ISO 100; outstanding for close-up shots of flowers. CONS: (though superior to the awful Venus III) fairly pleasing but profound loss of fine image details; excessive mandatory color saturation; awful auto-focus that (no less than 3 firmware updates later) absolutely requiring the use of spot-focusing mode on decideldly high-contrast targets at high light levels in order to (occasionally) get the focus right.

With Pansonic (and everyone else) manically over-stuffing pixels onto tiny sensors well under way, and the Venus V (better known as Venus HD) Processor on the FX-48 looking like just further exercises in pixel-over-stuffing followed by dreadful NR and Sharpening, I resigned myself to making do with the TZ4 for up-close, the LZ5 for intermediate distances, and the FZ50 in RAW mode for the details at a distance far-field work. Alas, I reasoned, the Venus IV (or V) Engines (if they had the potential) were not likely to be given a chance to shine ...

Just traded the TZ4 in on a new LX3, and have taken a couple hundred RAW+JPG shots with the new machine. Have also post-processed some JPGs and RAWs. While it's not (primarily) a "distance camera" in itself, I am very impressed with the camera's potential for user adjust-ability and it's markedly improved image quality (in terms of detail and a somewhat improved dynamic range).

The auto-focus is not quite as good as the FZ30/50 in lower light levels (smaller lens opening) - but it is effective and solid. Noise (with NR and Sharpness controls at the minimum setting of -2) under "ISO 200" is simply not an issue, and the image detail easily meets or exceeds my nostalgia for my old (foolishly traded) FZ30. Finally! Thank you! And all it cost me was nearly $500 ...

In terms of JPG quality and post-processing-ability (for close-up to intermediate distance work) I am very impressed and pleased. However, I find the ".RW2" files (compressed to 60% size relative to Panasonic's ".RAW") to be a disappointment. I believe that the camera is performing mandatory pre-RAW noise reduction that loses low-level detal/contrast. Have even found evidence (posted as a reprinted revue by Panasonic themselves) that the on-camera "NR" and "Sharpening" settings may affect the content of the ".RW2" output. See:


"The .RW2 files can be converted to more common formats like TIFF or JPEG with the supplied SilkyPix RAW image-processing software, but the result wasn't as good as expected. This can probably be attributed to the software, and not the lens. We experimented several ways to get around this problem and found a better method of capturing superior-quality pictures. In the Film Mode settings, we reduced the noise reduction and sharpness level to -2, and then processed the RAW image in SilkyPix to TIFF format."

The results of my own post-processing a few of these ".RW2" files in Silkypix DS_3.x has been neither highly successful or encouraging. Low-level detail and contrast is likely being thrown out in order to effectuate the 60% compression. With memory cards so large in capacity and inexpensive these days, this is (in my mind) a big mistake on the part of Panasonic ... Why neuter RAW?

Looking on the bright side (regarding JPG generation), the LX3 is for JPGs what the FZ50 (with its wretched Venus III JPGs) could (and rightly should) have been. 10 Mpix, usable, adjustable, and rather nice, indeed. Bravo!

While I am pleased to now have a worthy hand-held JPG machine from Panasonic without some significant major flaw attached, there are a few subtle but interesting "catches" (of sorts) about the LX3, however, that exist as "hidden placebos" included in it's marketing image:

(1) The signal to noise ratio of the 1/1.63" sensor is reported to have been improved by 3dB (1/2 stop) over previous efforts. I'm all for that genuine substance; but

(2) The LX3 under-exposes by 1/2 stop on the average (between +1/3 and +2/3 stops of exposure compensation typically required). This reduces the impression of noise in the user's mind, but unfortunately forces the user allow the live luminance Histogram to clip, and to then guess when they have overdone it on the JPG limits and/or exceeded the extra head-room in RW2 mode (which is, itself roughly 1/2 stop greater than the JPG limit); and

(3) The (actual, independently measured) ISO when the LX3 tells you it is at ISO = 80, 100, 200, and 400 appears to (instead, in reality) be ISO = 53, 65, 130, and 259 (respectively). See:


Note: Select the "ISO Sensitivity" test results graph for documentation of the above stated test results.

That's an (average, in stops) "fudge factor" of 0.61 stops less than than the sensitivity that Panasonic marketing would like you to think that you have at your disposal. Once again, another (mere) "placebo" to make the user feel like they have a camera with less noise. Obviously, the "make-up" gain to achieve accurate ISO sensitivity (also) increases the noise by 0.61 stops ... Hmmmmm.

Although being caught (twice) administering mere placebos to the user (for marketing reasons) in order to make the user "feel good" about the LX3, as well as neutering ".RAW" into the compressed (and seemingly inferior) ".RW2", are, indeed unfortunate transgressions, and despite the fact that the LX3 cost me as much as the FZ50 (nearing $500 with memory card, etc.), I can say with certainty that, on balance, the LX3 implements much improved Venus IV Engine JPG image quality (and post-process-ability) relative to any known previous efforts on their part.

RAW is great. I dig it. For distance and/or landscape shots with large depth of field - unavoidable. However, post-processing RAW images can be as complicated as it is versatile in form. Potentially rewarding, but sometimes approaching a time-consuming and near masochistic profession ... Post-process-able JPGs represent a welcome adjunct to the RAW "full-monty"!

There is a valuable place in my heart for a compact and adjustable camera that can generate good quality JPGs that are amenable to rapid (non-lossy) post-processing (i.e., brightness, color histogram stretching/balancing, saturation, highlight/midtone/shadow, edge enhancement, etc.) using Photoshop, PaintShop Pro, etc.

Finally (several Venus Engines, and several hundreds of dollars later), Panasonic has (finally) delivered a camera that may well utilize the Venus IV to it's utmost potential. It's a fine day for those (oft maligned) "pixel-peepers" and folks who like to be able to see good image quality (even) at 100% (or more!). Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. It will cost ya, but at least it is there as an option! Hats off to Panasonic for (finally) listening!
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Old Dec 16, 2009, 4:23 AM   #14
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Default LX3 with RAW along for the ride.

The question of whether Panasonic (in the on-camera generation of their ".RW2" 12 MB files) is throwing out some low-level detail information the their (20 MB ".RAW" files) do not remains unanswered - though my FZ50/LX3 comparison shot (taken with essentially the same camera parameters and lighting) of a detailed red-brick building at several hundred feet sure seems to reveal ".RW2" limitations relative to the (FZ50's) ".RAW" detail quality ...

Nevertheless, with an 8 GB memory card, I can record no less than 500 shots of the highest-quality JPG plus RAW, and the internal memory buffers in the LX3 (not present in the FZ50) do make it quick and easy to shoot JPG+RAW without noticable processing delays (at about one shot per second). For many of the fairly close-range shots that I do of various flora, the "baby" RAW (".RW2") files are proving to be fairly viable to process.

As much as delving into Silkypix DS 3.x RAW processing is a time consuming (albeit ultimately often rewarding) matter for me, I can (eventually) derive RAW-TIF-JPGs that I prefer to the best that the LX3 can do in (user-controlled, not automatic) JPG generation modes. So, given the inexpensive abundance of SDHC memory capacity, retaining a ".RW2" along with JPG makes sense (despite possible inferiority to the larger FZ50 ".RAW").

There's enough good stuff in the RW2s to generate and retain them - especially if one is not fond of the rather excessive amount of sharpening that the LX3 performs in JPG generation, despite my having the Sharpness and Noise Reduction controls set all the way down at -2. I find the Contrast control is just right at -1. All these things are better applied (or increased) in (loss-less) JPG post-processing.

If my (much quicker) "Brightness - Histogram stretching/balancing - Saturation - Highlight/Midtone/Shadow - Unsharp Masking" JPG post-processing regimen just doesn't quite do it for a particular shot, it's nice (and worthwhile) to have the ".RW2" to fiddle with for those (often unanticipated) "gems" that really warrant the investment of time and brain-glucose to "roll your own" RAW-TIF-JPG" more to one's taste than the particular approach of the Panasonic design team!

One note about the high levels of barrel-distortion of the LX3 lens system (and the inevitable degradations of image quality associated with its correction in either in-camera or in post-processing). If you tweak the Zoom Factor up just a tad (the zoom factor equals about 1.25 when the minimum F Number switches from 2.0 to 2.2), you have about a 30mm perspective (as opposed to a 24mm perspective in full wide-angle). If you can live with 30mm, the amount of barrel distortion generated in the first place by the lens system is likely greatly reduced, thus improving the fidelity of the JPG and RW2.

I'm really liking the extent to which Panasonic allows the user to control and customize the LX3 to their liking. They appear to have (in the LX3) made the most of the Venus IV Engine's abilities, and the larger sensor size has gone a fair way to address issues of image-quality.
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Old Dec 16, 2009, 5:12 AM   #15
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Default Low-Res Glimpse at LX3 RW2-TIF-JPG

(1024x768 does not do justice to this small RAW-TIF-JPG version), but - this is an interesting test shot nearing dusk of ice crystals on frozen flora. The LX3 JPG (in my mind) over-sharpened (even with Sharpness setting of -2, and Contrast set to -1) and used too high a Gamma constant.

The shot data: ISO=100, F=2.0, Ts=1/10, EV=5.32, Zoom=1, Macro Auto-Focus, Sunny WB (5500 deg K).

This RW2 processed with Silkypix DS 3.x is significantly improved (over the high-resolution JPG generated by the LX3). Blue, and some Green, enhancement. No NR used. Normal Contrast. Minimal Gamma (1.05). Standard settings for False Color Correction and De-Mosaicing applied. A little bit more than the default Sharpening settings. The Silkypix generated 12-bit TIF was then downsized (Bicubic), and some Unsharp Masking was also applied at the final target pixel-size.

Even with two independent sharpening operations performed on the RW2-TIF-JPG, the result is less "over-sharpened", and more accurate and detailed, than the high-resolution JPG that the LX3 produced. Enjoy!
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Old Dec 16, 2009, 8:38 PM   #16
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We do not disagree.

I hang on to my FZ7 (has enough noise already at 6mp) & am always amazed at how great (ie low noise wise) my 2mp Oly C2100 is (but cameras have improved a lot in other areas such as color control).
Too bad a person couldnt just custom order their camera with the desired # of mp. I rarely shoot over 3mp & 6mp is enough for me. The curse of the mp race has been noticed & commented on over & over on every site in many threads.
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Old Dec 17, 2009, 6:11 AM   #17
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Default Display Size Effects on "Adequate" Camera Mpixels

sdromel -

While concurring with your thoughts regarding some of the advantages of the older image sensors (in terms of usable detail) that did not try to stuff too many pixels on the (typically around 1/2.5" diagonal) small sensors (thus causing the problem of excess noise, only to lacerate what detail is there with over-aggressive NR and excessive over-sharpening), I will say this:

The perception of "how many" (camera) Mpixels represents an adequate number has a great deal to do with the number of pixels depicted on one's display.

(Originally starting out with my 6 Mpix DMC-LZ5 as viewed on my old Sony Trinitron CRT at 800x600 pixels), when I acquired and calibrated my 20" TFT flatscreen than runs 1600x1200 pixels (at 200 pixels/inch), the 6 Mpix LZ5 really started to show it's limits.

I purchased an 8Mpix DMC-FZ30 at that time, and I would say (IMO) that 8 Mpix is about the minimum necessary Mpix count to satisfy a 1600x1200 display (representing 4 times the pixel-area of 800x600).

As I almost never compose so perfectly that some cropping is not in order, make that a 10 Mpix camera in order to allow for some fudge-factor. And I would not reduce that number for the more common 1080 pixel height of the (now) more common 16:9 wide-screen displays.

If my display "resolution" was 1024x768, my standards (for camera Mpixel size) would be correspondingly lower.

While it is true that 1600x1200 pixels represents only about a 2 Mpixel image, I (personally) find it useful and important to be able to (after post-processing) down-size the image by a factor of 2 (to prevent aliasing in the "spatial-frequency" domain), or even as much as a factor of 4 (in some cases).

For a fellow like me, what is needed is a 10 Mpixel image sensor that is not a "noise-factory". The 1/1.63" image sensor on the LX3 goes a long towards "buying back" the kind of clarity that you and I seem to miss in the older models (while still yielding the 10 Mpixels that my 1600x1200 display, and my rather "picky" eyes, demand).

But, perhaps I am a bit of a "perfectionist" type ... With the post-processing of all of the images from my various cameras (6-8-10 Mpix), the final JPG (by my standards) needs to look good (and free from any significant undue post-processing artifacts) at *200%* size. My "double pixel-peeper" status (surely) banishes me from the more commonly expressed sentiments on the part of many others (who seem to think that such is an obsession).

My yield of diamonds from the rough (1% - 3%) is low enough that the few "gems" that I do mine are worth spending time on to make as absolutely good as I can. To each his/her own, as they say ... Quantity (to me) seems easy - but quality is elusive and worth sweating over.

And the Depth of Field achievable with these (relatively) smaller image sensors can never be equaled by the larger sensors present in DSLRs. So (for me) there are good reasons to try to squeeze the most out of smaller, portable, lightweight, and easily handled cameras.

Hauling my 26 ounce FZ50 around becomes a relatively major affair (even without the additional lenses, etc. accompanying a DSLR), whereas being able to whip a coat-pocket sized and light compact like the LX3 out and to be able to spontaneously shoot means a lot.

After living (and suffering) the various downsides of the Lumix LZ5 and FZ30 (noise) and the FZ50 and TZ4 (detail-smearing), the LX3 comes a lot closer to doing a better job of balancing these trade-offs well (with "baby RAW" on-board to boot, and that all-important user adjust-ability so dear to types who shun "auto" modes, and want to use their own heads to control the gear).

With only a few hundred test shots with the LX3 under my belt, after a few thousand more shots I will likely have a few more critical gripes. However, things are (finally) seeming to be "getting better" with the LX3 (amidst the miasma of the seemingly ever-burgeoning "mega-pixel-size" wars accompanied by cheesy image quality and endless "auto-brain" modes). Bravo!
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Old Dec 21, 2009, 12:56 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by sdromel View Post

I hang on to my FZ7 (has enough noise already at 6mp) & am always amazed at how great (ie low noise wise) my 2mp Oly C2100 is (but cameras have improved a lot in other areas such as color control).
I continue to regularly use my 5mp FZ20. Mainly for the constant F2.8 throughout the zoom range of it's 12x lens. In low indoor light where I need to shoot at full telephoto that lens is rare blessing.
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