Panasonic Lumix LX3 with 10Bar underwater housing

8:28am 21st October 2009

Introduction

I would like to start off this review by explaining the various uses that cameras fulfill for me. My ideal camera would be the size of a small cell phone, have all the controls of a DSLR, a 20 megapixel sensor, a 10 hour/1,000 shot battery and a lens that captures enough light to be able to shoot bright shots at ISO 100 in a dim room. However, we all know that that is not going to happen. A Canon 5DMkII may fulfill those quality requirements, but I need a backpack to carry it along with all its accessories. On the other hand, my Casio EX-S10 is smaller than my iPhone, but the pics it takes are noticeably grainy in all but the most ideal of conditions due to the use of high ISOs to offset the small sensor and lens. So, what to do?

Being an avid photobug, I previously owned 2 cameras; a large DSLR-style Sony (now lost, will be replaced with a Canon EOS series DSLR) and a Casio EX-S series camera. The DSLR came with me to events and travel expeditions. While it took outstanding photos, many a photo opportunity was missed because I didn't have a camera on hand. This is what originally motivated me to get a second, compact cam. The photos from the Casio are excellent for an ultracompact, but they are clearly not from a high quality shooter. However, post-shot work in Photoshop can result in acceptable results, and a mediocre photo is better than no photo, when faced with a great photo op.

Soon, however, I was discovering that while the Casio was good enough for happy-snaps, I was more and more often wishing for the ability to take high quality shots in more situations. So I decided to buy another camera, specifically as a halfway between a DSLR and the Casio. Coincidentally, at the same time, I also decided to get an underwater camera for scuba trips. I started doing research, and almost bought the excellent Canon G10. However, I eventually decided on the Panasonic LX3. While they are both excellent cameras neither being better in all areas, the LX3 better suited the sort of shots that I would be taking; better low light performance and noise control at higher ISO settings, despite a lower megapixel count. I have nothing but disdain for the trend to up megapixel count at the expense of overall photo quality, but that rant is the subject of a whole other blog post.

Panasonic Lumix LX3

My choice was between the Panasonic LX3 and the Canon G10. Despite the fact that the G10's resolution is a full 50% more than the LX3 (15mp versus 10mp for the LX3) I chose the Lumix due to its smaller size, better low light performance, better noise control at higher ISO and the better reviews it received for its UI. I intended to use the camera underwater, where light is scarce and low light-performance is likely to be more important than raw megapixels. Also, I usually shoot in 7mp anyway to save space and reduce shot to shot latency. 7mp is high enough to print a full A3 poster sized print, and I doubt I'll ever need to print larger than that.

The camera's overall performance is outstanding. It is very compact and easy to use, and has a very weighty, substantial feel to it, nice and solid in the hand. Totally unlike the cheap plastic cameras that are so common today. It offers superb control over exposures, which would even make basic DSLR users happy.

The clarity is outstanding, detail is easily rendered right up to the 10mp of the sensor, and 100% crops reveal very little in the way of artifacts or chromatic aberration. Barrel distortion at the wide end of the zoom is noticeable in shots where perspective lines trace into the corners, but this is to be expected in a camera this size. Noise does get detectable from above ISO 200, but the image processing goes a good job and the photos can always be Photoshopped to reduce noise and improve colour.

Colour reproduction is excellent. I'd previously only seen this level of rendering detail from DSLRs. All colours seem to be captured accurately, even those difficult bright reds that tend to destroy contrast. Noise is kept low, due to the sensor being able to make the most out of available light and use the lowest possible ISO setting. At ISO 80 the photos are indistinguishable from a good DSLR.

One of the most impressive things about the camera to me is the dynamic range of the sensor. Dark areas of a shot can be lightened without too much destruction of detail and bright areas don't get burned out either. This provides the editing process a lot more room to make adjustments to a photo in order to achieve the exact look that the photographer is aiming for.

I plan to buy a DSLR for those times when I'm going out specifically to take photos. It will stay in my travel bag and come with me whenever I travel somewhere interesting. I will keep my Casio, which is small enough to live permanently in my pocket next to my cell phone. Previously, my Casio and a DSLR were all that I required to always have a good cam, but the LX3 fills the spot in the middle, reducing the number of times I see a great shot but cannot capture it properly. It will come with me on day trips and other outings where the Casio will likely not suffice but where I don't want to be laden down with a large amount of camera kit. I think I will get a lot of good use out of my LX3.

10Bar Underwater Housing

The 10Bar underwater housing for the LX3 is excellent. It's acrylic back plate is extremely meaty and durable, and the overall build quality feels like it would withstand just about anything. The updated version that I have allows access to all controls, including the directional button that provides exposure control.

No issues have been experienced with it down to about 40m. The front glass appears to be made from good quality material, it seems to be quite scratch resistant and does not absorb much of the incident light or offset the colour the way cheap perspex housings tend to.

In addition to the greater difficulty one has manipulating the equipment underwater, there is the added factor that generally, underwater photography is more difficult to master than above water photography. Even the most basic of shots requires careful consideration of focal length, field depth, aperture and shutter settings, white balance, lighting and subject movement. Above water it seems any amateur can produce acceptable results with no knowledge of shutters and apertures these days. Below water, however, one can't rely on modern cameras' auto settings to produce even the most basic of photos. The LX3 does not provide the full range of controls that a DSLR does, however it does provide enough control to produce good photos that can be shown to dive buddies without drawing snickers.

I have purchased a Pelican case to keep the whole kit in. I keep the housing, the LX3, my Casio EX-S10, spare batteries and chargers for both in the one indestructible case. Having a contains-all kit like this has really simplified traveling with my photographic equipment. Overall cost of the case, cameras, housing and accessories is about $2,000; quite a good deal all considered.

Conclusion

For underwater photographers, I would highly recommend the LX3 and 10Bar housing as they provide a great entry point to the art and give you plenty of control over your shots. That a camera delivering this quality and feature set is as small as the LX3 is is unbelievable. Given that underwater photography is far more difficult than photography above water, the LX3 provides a gentle introduction into the more advanced skills while also doubling as an outstanding above water camera. For those who are not into scuba diving, the LX3 provides the absolute best camera possible short of a DSLR. The only other camera that comes close is the Canon G10, and that is significantly larger and heavier. It is also more complex, and if you are going to sacrifice portability and simplicity then you may as well just buy an entry-level DSLR and get all the benefits that it provides. For beginners looking for a point and shoot camera or pros looking for a good backup, the LX3 is the camera of choice.

Posted by The O. on 2010-01-14 02:47:27.616724+00
haha, i just realised your 'acceptable shot' link, the bridge of the River Kwai, they filmed a movie about that in Sri Lanka ages ago. Then after they made the movie, they destroyed the bridge, thus damaging the river in that area and leaving the people to suffer... *tragic* btw, whats the dif. b/w resolution and megapixel?

Home, out, and home again.

2:27am 17th May 2008

So, since I came back from the Pai CouchSurfing collective, quite a bit has happened. We installed a fingerprint lock on our front door in response to the total mess that was the Gassiep family key management procedure, and I am pleased to report that it has been a total success. I have enrolled two fingers of each family member into the lock, and nobody has been locked out since. Furthermore, there's no more rummaging for Mum who has a handbag like the Tardis, or trying five different keys for Dad who refuses to cull his keyring which must have at least 50 keys on it. The model we have is the FA6600 and I highly recommend these units. They're easy to use, solidly built compared to standard front door latches and seem to have very good fingerprint reading capabilities.

Since then I've been overseas again, I visited friends and family in South Africa as well as making a stop off in Thailand to do another unit of training in Scuba diving. I've just returned home today. While in South Africa I stayed at my Aunt's place in Johannesburg, which is always a pleasant holiday. I accompanied my mother there, and we took Zayd there to meet my cousin's kids. He had a great time, he doesn't get a whole lot of family contact here in Australia, as there just aren't that many kids here that he can relate to at his own level. It was also great seeing everyone there, I haven't been in about 18 months. I didn't stay there for very long, and didn't get to catch up with as many of the people there that I would have like to, sorry if you're one of them!

On my way back I met Gemmell in Thailand, where we completed the next level of PADI diver training, Emergency First Responder and Rescue Diver. These two units are the last ones we needed to do in order to go into professional diving, and the last one before Master Scuba Diver, which is the highest qualification outside of professional diving. In order to get the Master Diver qualification we need to be supervised for 5 specialties. We've already done the first dive for our chosen ones the last time we were in Thailand, we just need to get them logged, and then ensure that we have 50 logged dives in total. In other words, we just need to get some dives logged, and we're there.

So now I'm back at home. I have a few things that I'm working on, including Twerl. Oh well, back to the grindstone again until I find an excuse to flee the country again. I'm thinking of doing some winter dives here in Melbourne so I have an excuse to try out the dry suit that I bought from my first instructor in Thailand. I've never used it, as I've not done any diving in water cold enough to need it. I'll keep you all updated on how that goes, so watch this space! Naz out.

Phuket, Maya Bay, Tigers and the River Kwai

11:36am 10th June 2007

I've been in Thailand about 10 days now and it's been by far my most hectic stay here yet. Two days after meeting with Rap, we flew to Phuket, where we stayed for 2 nights. We took a day trip to the now famous Maya Bay, the setting for many of the scenes in the movie "The Beach". We went to one of the agents to ask about ticket prices etc, and after having worked out all the details, the agent asked us if we had any questions. I did not. Rap did. I would have thought one would want to know how many other people would be on the tour, or how long we'd spend at the beach or perhaps what was served in the included lunch. Nope, not Rap. Rap asked if there was mobile phone reception at Maya Bay. There were some spectacular views there, and I will be posting some photos to a new album as soon as I get a decent connection to plug my laptop into.

Aside from the Phi Phi island and Maya Bay trip though, Phuket was a disappointment. The locals there are obviously more touristified, and have lost much of their local character, having adopted a watered down culture which feels like it's more for the benefit of the tourists than a desire to retain their heritage. It does not feel authentic at all, especially given that I have spent much effort getting to know the feel and flavour of traditional Thai culture. After about 6pm you cant walk anywhere without being accosted by bar girls asking you to buy them a drink. My airport driver tells me that they get 50/50 splits with the bar on the drinks they manage to squeeze out of tourists. The shoppingthereis pretty poor, the products are all sweatshop trash, and there's STT (Stupid Tourist Tax) on everything. If I go back to Phuket, it will be only as a stop over for a dive trip to Phi Phi island.

A few days after our Phuket excursion, we hired a minivan and hit the road bound for Kanchanaburi, a province in western Thailand on the Myanmar border. We visited the Erawan Dam and falls, which was an incredibly scenic and tranquil place to visit. We also visited the Tiger Temple, which was a huge let down, as we were both expecting to see wild tigers being trained for repatriation to the wild. Instead, we got to stand in line with a bunch of babbling European and American tourists and have our photo taken next to a couple of thoroughly non-wild tigers so bloated with high calorie food they looked like they'd have troubly hauling their fat bellies off the ground. I've seen fiercer poodles. It was a far cry from the images of a majestic apex predator that the word "Tiger" invokes.

Finally, we had a lovely lunch of freshwater fish at a floating restaurant on the River Kwai, very near to the famous Burma Railway and the site where the movie Bridge on the River Kwai is set. All up, the Kanchanaburi expedition was a fascinating exploration into part of South East Asia that I've read much about.

Anyways, this has been a longer than usual entry, I'll post an update to my travels soon. I'm heading out to Europe soon to meet the guys for the CouchSurfing Collective in Rotterdam. More on that as events unfold. Watch this space!

The Waiting Game

2:51am 31st May 2007

So I arrived in Bangkok airport a few hours ago. My flight came in at 7am, and Rap's is due in at mid day, so I have a bit of a wait. Plenty of time to find and internet cafe, check the email, read Slashdot, write this journal entry and lots of other really geeky things.

The flight was pretty good. The guy at the check in counter at Tullamarine was nice enough to move two blocked seats next to me so that I had the whole row to myself, allowing me to sleep. I didn't think I'd be able to, but after watching 20 minutes of the cinematic garbage can that is the movie Aragorn I was out like a light. I woke up 15 minutes before landing, which is fantastic.

I'm going to be here for about 2 weeks until I fly on to Rotterdam for the CouchSurfing collective, which I am really looking forward to. It should be a great opportunity to meet some great people. I will be flying in to Frankfurt, and from there taking a train to Rotterdam, so it'll be a bit of a Eurotrip really. While I'm here, I'm hoping to be able to do the next two units on my PADI course, as that will take me all the way to Divemaster! It'd be great to go home with a Divemaster cert, as then I can do some really nice extra things I am currently not qualified to do, such as wrestle sharks with my bare hands and hunt giant squid with a bowie knife between my teeth. Well, maybe.

So that's about all the waffling I can do from an internet kiosk, so rather than continue rambling on I think I'll go now. Bye.

Toys, Travels and Table dancing

12:00pm 24th May 2007

So it's been an eventful last couple of weeks. I've been unable to really throw myself at the CouchSurfing project due to the many work tasks I have. Sorry about that guys!

So I was up in Sydney the other day, catching up with friends, family and some business colleagues. I was talking to one of my fellow TeleChoice franchisees, and without divulging any confidential information, I can say that I was quite distressed by the things he shared with me. You know who you are, if you need anything at all, consider me available, you know how to contact me.

Other than that though, it was a rather enjoyable trip. I stayed at Lamrock Lodge. It looks good on the web site, but it was the most roach infested dodgy excuse for a lodge I've ever stayed at. When I arrived there, I was greeted with a bunch of 40-something men sitting at the entrance smoking enormous amounts of pot. The guy at the front desk was a scary looking bald guy with an eastern European accent. Had it not been 9pm and had I not been exhausted, I would have packed my stuff back into the rental car and hightailed it out of there.

While visiting a friend who works in one of the shopping centers, I was passed by those card hander outerers who hand out those promo cards. I just took a few and stuffed them into my pocket without looking, where they stayed until I got home. My Mum, when cleaning my jeans, took them out and left them on my bedside table. Only when I saw them there did I realize they were promo cards for the Mardi Gras organizers' table dancing event. Great. Now my Mum thinks I was in Sydney availing myself of the extensive smut on offer in Sydney.

When I got back, I decided to start getting gear together for my upcoming trip to Thailand for the next phase in my career as a SCUBA dive instructor. I am going to be there for about 2 weeks, which should be enough for me to do the Emergency First Response course as well as the Divemaster course. Making it to divemaster would be great! To make this more fun, I've bought myself some new toys. A Fuji E900 along with a heavy duty Ikelite underwater housing rated to 60m depth, as well as a Princeton Tec Miniwave LED dive light. The dive light is amazing, it's a pistol grip light that takes 4 C-cell batteries. It's very compact, yet the beam it throws out is amazing. I also have 2 Underwater Kinetics Q40 eLED lights as backups.

So I think that covers my travails for the last few weeks for those of you who have been interested in what's going on in the world of the Big Bad Naz. Ok, I'm really not a big guy, and I'm not that bad either. I know I've become the most neglectful friend ever, and I ask you all to forgive me. That's assuming you even remember who I am and bother reading this any more! Until next time my dearest of dear people, take care out there and bye for now!

Back in the saddle

6:07am 4th February 2007

OK so it's the first day of the TeleChoice conference. By the way, I'm back from overseas. I'm up north in Port Douglas, QLD for the TeleChoice national conference. But first, I shall tell you about my first salvage on a dive. On the second last day in Thailand I went for a dive at Koh Rin. 45 minutes into the second dive, I found a dive mask on the coral bed. Yes, my very first salvage was a dive mask. Under international maritime law, anything found at sea is the property of the finder. So, with the backing of under international law and a cry of "finders keepers", I am now the proud owner of a second, cheap, bright blue dive mask.

A day after that, I left Thailand for home on a JetStar flight. Please, people, whatever you do, do not fly JetStar for international flights or even long domestic ones. The seats were vinyl bus style seats and the other passengers were smelly hippies who talked loudly about how fantastic it is that you can buy Xanax and Valium over the counter in Thailand.

Anyway, I'm back home now. Well not really, I'm in Port Douglas, and I will be here until Thursday. We just arrived and I've unpacked and now like the true geek that I am I've come online to check my mail send a few of my own and write this blog entry. It's 5pm here, we have free time until 7:30pm when there's a dinner or something somewhere. I'm not sure what I'm going to do until then, but I'll probably just wander around the lush grounds and enjoy the scenery. I don't have my camera with me, but it will arrive tomorrow night hopefully. So, nice to be home people, and I hope to see you all soon!

Diving!

12:32am 22nd January 2007

So I finally got some diving in, and what a day we had. I saw the new wreck here, the HTMS Koot, scuttled by the Thai navy a few months ago. It's so new that few fish have moved in yet and there's not a lot of build up on the hull or superstructure. There's a gap under the keel and the sea bed which I squeezed under. I wrote my name on the underside of the hull there, given that current is unlikely to disturb there, it should stay there for years. I'll check it when I'm here next.

We also saw what I think was an albino stonefish. I thought it was a sick puffer fish and almost grabbed it. Good thing I didn't, as stonefish venom is amongst the most toxic in the world. I also spotted a baby white eyed moral eel, which was a good find. I've always liked the morays, despite the damage they can do to a diver if disturbed. The highlight of the day was riding a tutle. I know you're not supposed to mess with them, but I just slowly swum up behind it and held onto the back tip of its shell while it wandered the coral gardens looking for food. It didn't seem too alarmed by my presence.

I'm hoping to get one more day of diving in tomorrow. I'm planning to get back here in April if that's possible to go on one of the Similan live aboard cruises. Out of PJs and into wetsuit sounds like the kind of life I could get used to! That's about all from this update in the life of Naz, so until next time, peace out peeps.