Fieldwork: Small digital point and shoots -- Lumix DMC-LX2

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DMC-LX2.jpgOne of the doctoral students asked me in May which digital camera he should get for his summer predissertation fieldwork. He was leaning towards getting a digital SLR but I suggested he instead look at high-end compact digital point-and-shoots -- specifically the ones in the 8-10 megapixel and $400-600 range. He ended up getting the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2.

Just as I believe that film rangefinders are superior to film SLRs for ethnographic work because of their portability and inconspiciousness, I think the high-end compact digital camera has now come of age. They now have just as many megapixels as their dSLR brethren and if the engineers can work on the noise reduction of high-ISO images just a little bit more (and put back in optical viewfinders), they'll be perfect.

Fast forward a month later and I'm in Japan looking at the various options for my own fieldwork this summer and fall. After a couple of hours playing with the various cameras at Yodobashi Camera in Umeda (Osaka Station), I ended up choosing the same camera -- the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2. Here are the things that I particularly like about it:

  • 16:9 frame format (4:3 and 3:2 selectable)
  • 24mm equivalent on the widest angle, about 100 mm on the tele
  • 10 megapixels
  • SDHC compatible -- I bought an 8 gigabyte SDHC card for it
  • Movie format (MJPEG)

There's some shutter lag, but if you prefocus you can take sports photographs with a little practice (see photograph of one of my informants playing ball). I'm also playing with the movie mode and finding it isn't nearly as unusable as I thought it'd be.

Now the big news is that the new Mac OS 10.4.10 update now supports the Lumix RAW format of the LX2. I'm storing all my fieldwork photographs in Apple Aperture and using its powerful organizing indexing functions.

Things that I don't like:

  • Lens cap isn't built in
  • No optical viewfinder
  • Lens is rather dark on the tele side

This is the third Panasonic digital camera I've bought so far and I've been very happy with all of them. Any comments or thoughts on this post?


It's my carry-everywhere camera too. I do wish the image noise at anything above 100 were a bit lower, and that the flash were less weedy, but it's a great camera.

There are 2 more things I always look for in a fieldwork camera. First, the power source. What kind of batteries does it take? Can I charge them in my field location? Can I replace them in the field if necessary? In this respect, the Canon Powershot A series cameras (and a few others) are nice because they take the almost ubiquitous AA batteries. Second, durability. Once I have a short list of cameras I do a Google search for (name of camera) + broken / problem / cracked screen / etc. and see what pops up. I learned this one the hard way after I ended up with a broken screen on a camera and found I was far from being alone when doing a web search to resolve the problem.

Also, if you want to compare image quality you can compare actual pictures taken by various cameras at

I'm testing whether I can comment, since K.F. seems to be having problems.

Here's a comment posted without logging in using TypeKey, seeing if this works too.

This is a test comment by Kerim.

DP Review had a good article about high ISO on compact digital cameras and recommended the Fujifilm FinePix F30. Unfortunately I cannot share the link because it triggers the spam filter.

>> But Karen can override the filter and so here it is:

Great writeup. A good way to get small camera, no flash, low ISO noise is to find cameras with decent image stabilization. I think optical image stabilization tends to work better. You can shoot at up to several stops more, given the same light and ISO conditions.

I think your camera has the MEGA OIS so you know about it but I thought other people might not know since you didn't mention it.

I'm still shopping for a new camera so I have some more thoughts:

1. While image stabilization is OK, it doesn't help with moving subjects. So its good for scenery, but bad for humans.

2. Flickr lets you search for photos by camera so it is a great way to compare real-life photos.

3. Its useful to think about whether or not you want a wide angle lens. Several Lumix models have them, while the Fujifilm camera doesn't.

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This page contains a single entry by Karen Nakamura published on June 29, 2007 5:00 AM.

Meta: In Japan was the previous entry in this blog.

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