As has been a habit, I'm coming to write up a usage report for a camera only by the time its replacement has been announced: the LX7 is about to make way for LX100 (or for the Leica marque, D-Lux Typ 109), which I'm sure will be a fine camera too. I'll stick to my 7 until circumstances warrant a switch -- which is how I felt about the LX5 for nearly a year after the LX7 first appeared. What finally changed my mind?
The aperture ring. As much as possible I want a camera that I can use without needing to check menus and displays. If I can roll over to the far end of the apertures and then count clicks to know my f/stop, without ever taking my eye off the scene in front of the camera, I'm happy.
Little Things Make a Difference
Looking over the other improvements listed in the brochures: 1080p video, faster aperture, etc, none of them stand out as crucial differentiators for me except this: the LX7 uses the same batteries as the LX5, meaning that I could have two cameras with me using the same battery type. So leapfrogging my LX3 (different battery) with the LX7 meant I could set aside all those old batteries and chargers. This not-very-visible difference can be a huge deal when out running around shooting! One set of batteries to juice them all.
The photos on this post are from a springtime trip where we shared an LX5, LX7, and also brought along a Fuji X100s as the "big" camera (more on that later). One set of Lumix batteries made for more relaxed days.
I was initially excited by the LX7's new 3D shooting feature -- we already have a 3D TV around, and I've shot a lot of stereo over the years. But in practice it's been used only once or twice.
That said, there are three other features of the LX7 that I've come to love: the Outboard clip-on EVF, the ND filter, and (to my surprise) Dynamic Color Mode.
EVF: (External) Electronic View Finder
The similar EVF on the LX5 was already surprisingly great. The LX7's, while oddly chunky-looking, is even better. This became especially useful as I've also become keen on the "dynamic color" mode in both cameras. Yes, it's one of those gawky Instagram-ish filter modes. It has a beautiful ability to get detail out of shadows. It's tremendous on sculpture, on woodwork, it even has an occasional place in portraiture. Seeing it as you shoot: terrific.
Built-In Neutral-Density (ND) Filter
The 3-stop ND filter is usually hyped as a means to use strobe outdoors. And yes, it does this too. But I've found it useful for another purpose: a three-stop drop is just about perfect as the difference between sunny exposures and sky-lit shady ones. Since I shoot a lot in changeable sun, among the skyscrapers of the San Francisco Financial District or in forest, the ND button is a great manual-exposure tool -- I set my manual exposure for shade, then with one press of the ND button, I'm good for sunshine. And vice versa. A very big deal for someone like me who likes to manage the camera by finger without taking my eye off the shot.
Using the LX7 in tandem with the Fuji X100S ended up being a very enjoyable (silent and lightweight) travel/street combo: the LX7 provided wide and short telephoto ability, excellent macro, color fun (Fuji has similar modes, but I'm used to the LX!), and the occasional variance from the 3::2 format, while the Fuji provided amazing low-light performance and faster operation.
Dynamic Color Mode
Compare the "dynamic color" shot above to the standard one taken a few seconds later. It may not be "natural" but the detailed information in the shot, especially around the buildings in the background, is to my mind superior
This isn't to say that the standard color rendition is bad -- here are a couple of samples to show that it's the opposite! You can see the LX5 in this shot -- can you find the other snap of it in this post? And the (blurry) LX7?
Again, the dynamic color made really brings out fine scultural detail, as in this Rodin figure -- without having to resort to using a RAW file and manipulation in Photoshop later on.
Another quick comparison of color modes: Retro, Soft, and the surprisingly snappy Dynamic Monochrome.