Is 4MP Enough In 2018? Part 3 – Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ1 Review

This is part three of my 4MP digital classics experiment.

With 36MP digital cameras widely available, and even smartphones offering 19MP plus, the manufacturers try to tell us the more MP, the better your photography will be.

But after coming to love a small collection of classic digital cameras in the last year or so, mostly around 10MP, I’m starting to wonder how many MP we really need to make pleasing images.

Previously I’ve tried out the Olympus Camedia C4040 Zoom and Sony DSC-L1, and both have performed far better than I expected and endeared my greatly with their very different personalities and sizes.

So the answer to the question at the top of this post has already been answered. Yes a 4MP 10 year old plus camera can still deliver in 2018, and be great fun to use along the way.

The third in this series then is a different brand again.

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The Panasonic Lumix range are cameras I’ve admired from afar, not least of all the LX3, which I’ll talk about in a future post.

My perception of them is a classy, quality range of cameras, with very capable lenses (due in part to their Leica connection).

This is the LZ1 is from 2005, with a 4MP 1/2.5″ CCD sensor.

That’s all I really want to say about the spec.

In use the camera is compact, yet satisfying in the hand, and can easily be used one handed. The curved grips front and rear are very well contoured, and there’s plenty of room for your thumb to rest without feeling like you’ll drop the camera, or inadvertently press buttons. Very well designed.

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This is helped too by the 2″ screen being big enough to compose and focus, yet small enough to not dominate the entire camera back, and also gives adequate space for the simple controls within thumb’s reach.

The shutter button is exactly where your trigger finger expects it to be, and the mode dial can easily be changed with the tip of your thumb.

Here, I’ve found no need so far to stray from the macro mode, which allows shots down to 0.05m, but still up to infinity.

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In the simple menus I set the ISO to 100 (after some experimentation to find the look I liked best) and “Colour Effect” to b/w.

You can adjust exposure compensation direct from the main cross pads, and as always pleases me, one of the display modes you can cycle through hides all icons so you can focus purely on composition. When you do settle and squeeze the shutter button to lock focus, the focus confirm light is displayed, along with aperture and shutter speed. Again, simple, intelligent design.

You can also set the minimum shutter speed which is handy to avoid camera shake, if you don’t want to rely on flash (which I never use), and it tells you when you lock focus you’re below the min shutter speed you’ve chosen with a SLOW icon.

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To review photos taken you can either press the down button on the main cross pads for a quick view, or switch the mode dial to play mode to see them fully.

There are various scene modes which you can set under SCN1 and SCN2 on the mode dial, and it remembers which you set. I haven’t really explored these.

Or, as I’ve been doing, just set up the camera how you want it and when you power it back up, everything is remembered. This makes me very happy.

The lens zooms from 37mm at the widest to a rather ridiculous 222mm. So I left mine at the default start position of 37mm and never touched the zoom control. The maximum aperture of f/2.8 is wide enough, when combined with that close focus, to get some soft background blurring going on, even with its tiny sensor.

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Other pluses include the fact the Lumix is powered by a couple of AA batteries, and takes SD cards. All very mainstream, and because you likely already have these it means you won’t need to buy or maintain any new batteries, chargers, leads or memory cards/sticks.

The 1GB SD card mine came with is good for over 500 photos, about 5-10 times what I’m likely to need on a single shoot.

This 4MP experiment has allowed my to further refine what I look for and like in a camera these days, and what can be a deal-breaker. 

The Lumix has tons going for it in this regard – compact size, very good handling, simple and logical controls, good sized screen, remembers your settings, fast enough and wide enough lens without needing to zoom (in or out), easy to support with the mainstream AA batteries and SD card compatibility. It ticks nearly all of my boxes.

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It’s also helped me realise that features like a large screen (over 2.5″), high MP sensor, wide zoom and abundance of features can actually count against me enjoying a camera.

Too big a screen can encroach on handling if your thumb has no room to rest.

Too many MegaPixels means larger files, which take up more memory and are slower to process.

Too wide a zoom without any zoom step or memory function and you’re nearly always having to zoom in to get the focal length you want (say, 28 or 35mm on a camera with a zoom lens that starts at 24mm).

Too many features means the menus can be overwhelming and simple functions like changing the ISO or exposure compensation become too fiddly.

In fact this little Lumix is an absolute and elegant epitome of “enough”.

It does all I need in all departments, doesn’t ever get in my way through awkward handling or controls, over complexity, slow response speeds, bloated files or anything else. It’s enough.

The only potential downside I can think of is it doesn’t give me images I like straight out of camera, I still need a little tweak in Snapseed. But it’s in good company here, alongside the Olympus and Sony also in this 4MP experiment, and my beloved two Ricohs.

Oh and it cost me £6.50 plus postage. About 20% the cost of my GX100, and 7% of the GRD III. Further food for thought to take from this 4MP experiment.

I have no real reason to keep this Lumix LZ1, having my holy trinity of digital classics – the Ricoh GX100, GRD III and Pentax Q.

As well as the 4MP Olympus and Sony cameras, both of which have their own abundance of charm and both deliver images that make me smile.

But it seems a shame to let it go yet, when it does so much, so right. So it stays for now.

Have you used a similar Lumix camera, or indeed any other 4MP digital camera lately? How did you find it? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and remember to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what my photography life looks like right now.

24 thoughts on “Is 4MP Enough In 2018? Part 3 – Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ1 Review”

  1. I have an also about ten years old lumix it is the zs 7 (tz10 ) . I love the colorurs of jpg it provides in good light . Last year I went to machu pichu and took it along with my film cameras and left my m4/3 digital at home. Very satisfied with the results.

  2. Hi Dan, I found a similar Panasonic in a thrift store recently for a ten-spot. I agree, it seems to take good pictures. I have not had time to really get to know it yet. I’m not sure I can tell the difference between pictures taken with my Panasonic LX-7, which I bought new. Your pictures are very nice.

    1. Thanks Jon. I expect for most shots there wouldn’t be much difference, especially on screen and for smaller prints. It’s only when you enlarge and start to pixel peep you’d notice a difference (based on the LZ1 shots compared with those taken with an LX3). Do you still use the LX7 much?

  3. I think 4mp is enough to print up to a4 without loosing detail. So it depends how large you want to print.

    1. Absolutely. So far I’ve printed only at 8″ x 8″ and pics from 4MP have been perfectly fine. If I was going for big posters regularly I’d likely favour a more capable camera.

  4. The lumix compacts are arguably amongst some of the best digital you can buy (i’d encourage you to look at some of the early TZ models Dan as they are soem of the best digi compacts ever made – a TZ7 was our main camera for many years before i got back into film)

    1. Thanks Alan. Always a surprise to hear you talk about digital cameras! I know you love film, and mostly shooting lo-fi compacts. There must be tens of thousands of the equivalent “lo-fi” digital compacts lurking in people’s drawers and cupboards across the land!

      1. That’s true Dan. I’m a fan of 50% is less what the tech is more what you do with it (the other 50% being down to being in right place at right time)

        Take this

        //embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

        In no way do I claim this to be perfect and yup had I had a decent film or dSLR in hand it may have been better but given what I had in hand at the time was a 2MP early fixed focus digital Camera it’s not bad.

      2. Alan, can you try the link again, it just seems to go to a page with some random machine code? I think if you just paste the URL of the Flickr photo page it will display automatically in the replies here.

  5. Hi Dan — 4MP gives you an image of 2464 x 1632, so max Print Size @ 300ppi 8.21″ x 5.44″

    So, 4MP is enough for good 7×5 prints and on screen viewing – but only if you get it “right first time” and don’t crop your pictures much. I had one of these first Lumix LZ-series with 5MP in 2005, and having just transferred from shooting 35mm transparency film the discipline needed for composition was natural.

    I still get this vintage Lumix camera out for trips once in a while, just to force me to slow down and think. With high sensor noise at >200asa, it really pays to lock down the ASA sensitivity to 100 or 200asa and carry a pocket tripod if you want to shoot colour photos; fortunately my LX2 will auto-expose down to 8 seconds. Vintage Lumix small sensor compact cameras tend to fill dark areas with horrible “green-flecked noise” at anything higher than 1 stop over base ISO, and even new small sensor models struggle at >400asa today.

    For me, one key specification for using vintage digital today as a “daily camera” is auto-exposure bracketing, AEB, which this model lacks. With 3 shots taken over +/- 1 stop you get 2 extra stops of dynamic range, which can rescue small sensor compacts where 1 stop over-exposed blows the sky out. AURORA HDR 2018 can be had as a free download, and if you shoot wide-angle and keep the camera steady, this will align and fuse 3 shots before doing the HDR magic.

    For static images, where you keep to 200ASA or lower and view on screen or with 7×5 prints, compact cameras haven’t moved on much in the 15 years that followed…..so Dan, I like your approach!

    My checklist for useable vintage compact digital now goes:
    ≥4MP sensor CCD (>8MP if CMOS sensor)
    Good tripod bush in sensible place !
    Self Timer
    Speeds down to ≥6 seconds
    Histogram visible in live view
    Auto Exposure Bracket
    Focus Lock
    Exposure lock
    Exposure correction +/- 2 stops
    ≤ 35mm to ≤80mm equivalent lens range
    Close focus to <10cm at 35mm equivalent (this is the only route to bokeh with a mini sensor camera)
    SD card

    The last thing I do for vintage digital is to glue a cheap mini "spirit level" on the camera body (or put one in the hot shoe if thre is one) to help line up wideangle architectural / cityscape photos with the correct horizon. This makes vertical correction with the inexpensive program "DXO perspective" straightforward and, with HDR, can stun those seeing your pictures when you reveal this was a £5, 15 year old camera image !

    Finally, since you often shoot B&W – check this out: some of the old lumix compacts had a wonderful "grainy B&W" scene selection mode with sensitivity set at 1600ASA. This is great for gritty high contrast "grain-filled" photos "straight out of camera" as JPEGs and is worth trying out if you can hunt down a Panasonic model with it. The FZ35/38 is one example with this scene mode, as well as meeting all my checklist wants (and more), which makes for a great "Vintage Digital" lightweight superzoom camera for travel photography (though too big for a pocket, it is so lightweight at <400g that I can forgive it and it often goes on business trips with me when I leave my main camera bag and lenses behind). Yes, you can do B&W in post-process, but seeing the B&W image on the EVF as you take a photo helps decide composition based around patterns, contrast and shades rather than seeing the colour contrasts and being seduced by that!

    Most in-camera monochrome is poor quality – so when you see a good B&W scene mode it can be a deciding moment in chosing which camera to take out today – especially if I know the weather is bad or if lighting conditions will be poor (for example, no digital camera really manages flourescent light well, nor manages mixed light sources with any degree of confidence).

    This isn't just a Lumix thing – Olympus also has a good "grainy high contrast" scene mode on many models as well as Panasonic, while on my small sensor Fuji's, monochrome in-camera can be a let-down.

    Keep the posts coming Dan !!!

    1. Paul, thanks for your comments and encouragement!

      I was looking into the Lumix bridge cameras earlier in the year, partly because I’ve really liked the Lumix cameras I’ve used before, and partly to explore again that elusive sweet spot between DLSR handling and and viewfinder immersion, and compact camera size and convenience. A number of the FZ series came to my attention, I just never quite pull the trigger on buying one.

      And I’m not afraid of a bit of grain and high contrast!

  6. “I was looking into the Lumix bridge cameras earlier in the year”
    ++++++++
    Now thats a good idea Dan – reviews showed the Lumix FZ35/38 model (same camera but different number in different regions of the world) had a resolution (in terms of lines per mm in the >1800 range) equal to most mid range APS DSLRs and good kit lenses and easily sufficient for even 20×30 prints. It had a fantastic fast Leica lens with very low distortion; it could shoot RAW and has that magic Auto Exposure Bracketing function as well as some great pre-set scenes for great out of camera JPEGs. Size is 118 x 76 x 89 mm and it weighs 400ASA. Back-wired CMOS sensors such as in the Canon HS (“High Sensitivity”) series are good to 800ASA and 1600 ASA if you don’t print large or pixel peep on the computer screen.
    [4] creates less noise at same ISO = true; but bigger area sensors often mean more pixels added = back to square 1
    [5] increases useable dynamic range by about 2 to 4 stops over the small “bridge camera sensors” = true. Small sensor digitals get about 10EV range, while APS and Full Frame cameras can get 12-14EV range. The human eye sees 20EV range – so even with a £2000 full frame 2020 model camera, all exposure is a compromise.

    For issues 3,4 and 5 you need some basic inexpensive kit and skills to compensate – just as Dan has shown in countless of his blog reports. – so carry a travel tripod and keep ISO to 400ASA or less, and learn to shoot either Auto Exposure Bracketing and use HDR to recover the 2 stops of dynamic range needed in shots with a lot of sky and tonal range, or – carry a neutral density filter to check the highlights in the sky in landscapes. I always carry a 2 stop ND grad “Cokin style” square plastic filter and have set up one of the custom modes for 3xAEB shots for HDR.

    All of a sudden, free HDR software for my obsolete FZ35/38 has created a new lease of life – at a weight of only 400g and 12x9x8cm size all in with its lens it lives in my rucksack when travelling (alongside a pocket size Lumix FX or a Fuji-Z). All it needs is the bigger viewfinder of the Lumix G series to be perfect. I also have collected as many “mini-tripods” as I have cheap obsolete compact cameras in search of the elusive “perfect travel companion”. For >90% of the photos taken, my family cannot tell you if the shot was taken on a decade old Lumix bridge camera or a new M4/3 Lumix G or Olympus pen. ….And – the High Contrast Dramatic B&W scene JPEG mode looks like the finest Ilford film developed with a stop of push processing for added grain and printed on high contrast paper – magic indeed!

    Learning to get the best out of “obsolete” and inexpensive old tech democratises photography and passes it on to the next generation of youngsters. Nikon’s latest “so-called-affordable” low spec full frame DSLR is near £2000 with the standard “kit lens”. At the same time, Dan has been delivering the photos in this blog with a target of ≤£20 per camera! So you get a 100 of Dan’s cameras for one Nikon Z! So, is the new Z6 really 100x better?

    In line with the “worthlessness” of all tech products after a decade or more – the prices of the FZ28 to FZ38 Lumix range (and equivalent Canons, Fujis etc) on secondhand auction sites are very low today…perhaps even low enough to tempt Dan to try one for a month !!!

  7. “I was looking into the Lumix bridge cameras earlier in the year” – now hopefully without text being cut out on posting!
    ++++++++
    Now thats a good idea Dan – reviews showed the Lumix FZ35/38 model (same camera but different number in different regions of the world) had a resolution (in terms of lines per mm in the >1800 range) equal to most mid range APS DSLRs and good kit lenses and easily sufficient for even 20×30 prints. It had a fantastic fast Leica lens with very low distortion; it could shoot RAW and has that magic Auto Exposure Bracketing function as well as some great pre-set scenes for great out of camera JPEGs. Size is 118 x 76 x 89 mm and it weighs 400ASA. Back-wired CMOS sensors such as in the Canon HS (“High Sensitivity”) series are good to 800ASA and 1600 ASA if you don’t print large or pixel peep on the computer screen.
    [4] creates less noise at same ISO = true; but bigger area sensors often mean more pixels added = back to square 1
    [5] increases useable dynamic range by about 2 to 4 stops over the small “bridge camera sensors” = true. Small sensor digitals get about 10EV range, while APS and Full Frame cameras can get 12-14EV range. The human eye sees 20EV range – so even with a £2000 full frame 2020 model camera, all exposure is a compromise.

    For issues 3,4 and 5 you need some basic inexpensive kit and skills to compensate – just as Dan has shown in countless of his blog reports. – so carry a travel tripod and keep ISO to 400ASA or less, and learn to shoot either Auto Exposure Bracketing and use HDR to recover the 2 stops of dynamic range needed in shots with a lot of sky and tonal range, or – carry a neutral density filter to check the highlights in the sky in landscapes. I always carry a 2 stop ND grad “Cokin style” square plastic filter and have set up one of the custom modes for 3xAEB shots for HDR.

    All of a sudden, free HDR software for my obsolete FZ35/38 has created a new lease of life – at a weight of only 400g and 12x9x8cm size all in with its lens it lives in my rucksack when travelling (alongside a pocket size Lumix FX or a Fuji-Z). All it needs is the bigger viewfinder of the Lumix G series to be perfect. I also have collected as many “mini-tripods” as I have cheap obsolete compact cameras in search of the elusive “perfect travel companion”. For >90% of the photos taken, my family cannot tell you if the shot was taken on a decade old Lumix bridge camera or a new M4/3 Lumix G or Olympus pen. ….And – the High Contrast Dramatic B&W scene JPEG mode looks like the finest Ilford film developed with a stop of push processing for added grain and printed on high contrast paper – magic indeed!

    Learning to get the best out of “obsolete” and inexpensive old tech democratises photography and passes it on to the next generation of youngsters. Nikon’s latest “so-called-affordable” low spec full frame DSLR is near £2000 with the standard “kit lens”. At the same time, Dan has been delivering the photos in this blog with a target of ≤£20 per camera! So you get a 100 of Dan’s cameras for one Nikon Z! So, is the new Z6 really 100x better?

    In line with the “worthlessness” of all tech products after a decade or more – the prices of the FZ28 to FZ38 Lumix range (and equivalent Canons, Fujis etc) on secondhand auction sites are very low today…perhaps even low enough to tempt Dan to try one for a month !!!

    1. Paul, I was tempted enough to land a new (to me!) Lumix, the FZ38 you mention above.

      First impressions are very good, great handling, feels smaller in terms of width and height than my GF1, and I can’t believe how light it is.

      The menus are familiar to me from previous Lumix bodies, and I like that it has Zoom Resume, Custom/favourite setting on the mode dial, close focus, and a range of options in b/w…

      Looking forward to exploring it more in the coming days and weeks.

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