DIY Creative Camera Mods And The Unlikely Rise Of The Lumix LX3

So I spoke the other day about my Panasonic Lumix LX3 and how it was amazing in so many ways, but for three flaws, in my eyes.

First, the handling.

The front grip is too narrow and the wrong shape and the rear thumb rest is tiny, virtually gripless and too close to nearby buttons/switches.

Second the zoom lens is magnificent in performance, but the camera doesn’t tell you which focal length you’re at.

There’s no logical step zoom between common focal lengths (the LX3 has 26, 41, 44 and 57mm amongst others) and it defaults to 24mm (generally too wide for me) when you turn it off.

Third, a strange distracting high pitched sound akin to what old CRT TVs used to emit, even when muted, that I’ve never heard from any other camera. 

Aside from this, the camera is to be celebrated in abundance, not least of all because it delivers delicious b/w photographs straight out of camera with its customisable Dynamic B&W mode. Even my Ricohs can’t do that.

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So, not one to be easily defeated – especially following my recent experiments with the 2001 4MP Olympus C4040 – I looked at each of the problems and considered how I could overcome them. 

First, the handling. I know what a great grip looks like – every Ricoh GR since the mid 90s has had one. So with a combination of double sided foam tape, insulating tape and grip tape (like on skateboards) I’ve fashioned a new front grip.

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It now fits my hand about 90% as well as my Ricohs, and in all honesty is possibly fractionally more comfortable than my Pentax Q.

The rear grip was more difficult as there’s so little space to work with. Here I’ve just added a square of grip tape which makes it far more, well, grippy.

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I have the option to sacrifice the switch that goes between camera and playback modes – I’d just leave it on camera mode and tape over it with more grip tape, then set the Fn button to be the “Review” button to see shots afterwards, instead of the ISO button it is now.

I’m pretty set on ISO400 so this is no big deal, and if I did need to change ISO I could still do so in the menu settings.

I could also add tape to the right hand side of the camera to give my thumb more space in that direction. The only flap on this side is for ports I don’t use. I remove the battery to charge it and the SD card to upload to my MacBook via a card reader. Both of these are accessed via the bottom of the camera.

Anyway, these further options aside for the time being, I now pick up the camera and it makes me smile, rather than gnash my teeth and tut.

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Second, the lack of step zoom and knowing which focal length you’re at. As I said in my main first impressions review, once I discovered that my favoured 35mm was the only focal length that had a max aperture of f/2.3, I could reverse engineer the zoom until I was at 35mm.

Combined with the zoom memory function that a firmware upgrade gave me, now I can just leave the zoom alone and it’s in effect a 35mm prime lens.

If I do want other focal lengths in the future, it’s only really likely to be 28mm, or perhaps 24mm.

The latter is the widest zoom so easy to get to. 28mm I know has a max aperture of f/2.1 and min focus of 0.03m, both of which are displayed as you zoom. So I have ways of figuring out 24, 28 and 35mm fairly easily, and it’s unlikely I’ll ever use any other focal length, especially 26, 41, 44 or 57mm!

Finally, the ultrasonic high pitched dog whistle.

All sounds are off and all volumes at zero, so the only other thing I could think to do was put some tape over the tiny three hole speaker on top of the camera. The sounds is still there when you’re up close, but certainly less than before. I’ll just to have to learn to tune out of certain frequencies, which shouldn’t be too challenging based on my wife’s beliefs about the superbly selective hearing I seem to summon at will.

So… These three major gripes almost overcome, the Lumix LX3 suddenly does seem like a contender for for my top three.

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I wouldn’t say it’s better overall than any of them, and top spot probably still remains with the GX100 as it’s the only one of these other three (which also includes the Ricoh GRD III and Pentax Q) that I can use at my favoured 35mm, and it still delivers on all other fronts.

The GRD III is an utter masterpiece, and when I’m in the mood for 28mm, it’s simply my favourite camera I’ve ever used. The handling, the interface, the compact size, that stunning 28/.19 lens with a close focus of 0.01m…

The Pentax Q is super small and cute, a DSLR destroyer with the 01 Prime 47/1.9 lens I have, and a lo-fi legend with the 07 Mount Shield lens. If there was a 28 or 35mm prime available, it might even send the two Ricohs packing.

Anyway, this experience just reminds me that with a bit of persistence and ingenuity – and a fair bit of various varieties of tape – we can help some cameras become even greater and more personalised than they are already.

The LX3 now has me thinking about what other Lumix cameras exist that could well and truly despatch my two already quivering in their cases Pentax DSLRs.

I’ve come a long way from owning 50+ cameras, but can’t see currently how I can become just a one camera guy.

But with my holy trinity of the two Ricohs and Pentax Q, my fondness for the LX3 growing by the hour, and the potential of another Lumix that I could use my beloved M42 lenses with and get great results straight out of camera, the future promises a very exciting five camera arsenal.

What mods have you made to cameras in the past to overcome their shortcomings?

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

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25 thoughts on “DIY Creative Camera Mods And The Unlikely Rise Of The Lumix LX3”

    1. The LX3 (as with many Lumix cameras that followed I understand) has a series of “Film Modes” you can use to adjust the final image (it can also shoot RAW but I use JPEGs).

      For example Standard, Vivid, Smooth B&W, Dynamic B&W etc.

      You can choose any one of these, and then tweak them further – contrast, saturation, sharpness and noise reduction, each can go +/- 2.

      I use the Dynamic B&W with the contrast increased +2, and the noise reduction -1.

      This gives me b/w images I like straight out of camera, with zero post processing.

      I don’t know what it actually does, I just like the look. I plan to experiment with the colour settings too when I’m in a more colourful mood again. I’ve yet to find a camera that can produce pleasing colour images straight out of camera.

      Hope that helps Victor, thanks for asking!

  1. It’s not so much a shortcoming of the camera but more a shortcoming of the photographer: I find it easier to hold the Leica IIIf steady at low shutter speeds if I attach the CTOOM flash bracket (without the flash unit). It makes a comfortable handle for my left hand. In contrast, the accessory grip for the M Leicas also fits the LTM Leicas but I find it of no help at all.

    1. I really think the LX3 grip is poor in its standard form. Especially when the are cameras like the Ricohs. When anyone starts to close their grip, there’s a natural curve that forms. The Ricoh grips are the same shape as this curve. The LX3 just has a very narrow bar that makes you try to close your fist almost fully and grip it with the very tips of your fingers only.

      But yeh sometimes we need to make our own customisations to make it work. I know I’ve read about loads of SLR/DSLR users who add a battery pack grip just so it gives them a more comfortable and balanced grip not because they need the extra batteries.

      1. I meant that holding the IIIf steady for slow shutter speeds is a shortcoming on my part as the photographer, not anyone else’s. And yes, I agree that some cameras are ergonomically challenged. An example is the borrowed Fuji X-T20 I have been using to digitize my 35mm negatives. It’s a wonderfully capable camera once you get past the multi-level menus to do the simplest things, but it’s so tiny compared to many of the Fuji X lenses that I am not alone in finding it difficult to find a way to hold it.

        1. Yes Doug, overall size is important and not just “the smaller the better”. I have a tiny Sony L1 which manages to be super compact and handle very well. I’ve handled “compact” cameras four times the size with awful ergonomics.

          Plus of course this is the fatal flaw of all phone cameras these days (or at least all I’ve tried), they’re too slick, slim and slippery to offer good grip as a phone let alone a camera!

  2. Double-sided foam tape – love it! Probably going to give you just the right amount of ‘squish’ for security, and will have a bit of shape-memory. When/if it gets tired & flat, just replace.

    Beats my wad of gaffers…

    1. Yes, exactly, the grip tape gives the grip, and the foam tape gives a comfortable squish.

      The insulating tape soon fell off though so I’ve gone with just foam tape with a piece of grip tape the same size “floating” on top of it. Working very well so far.

  3. Well I’m glad to see you’re starting to get along with the LX3 since I recommended it so highly! It is quite funny how we respond to cameras as individuals. None of the issues that were frustrating you ever bothered me! I thought, too, that your comment about the LX3 feeling like a German car in your previous post was interesting, becuase this is exactly how I felt about the RX100 I bought when I sold the LX3 and the more ’emotional’ attachment I had to the LX3 was what drove me (along with the crazy price of the RX100) to ditch the Sony and pick up an LX5.

    I’ve just arrived in Bulgaria and I’ve been hitting the streets of Sofia with just my LX5 and I’m loving it.

    1. Olli, don’t you find the tiny grip awkward? Mine is way better now I’ve added some foam tape and grip tape.

      Does your LX5 emit the high pitched tone?

      I can well understand feeling the RX100 was an efficient machine and nothing more, many Sony devices are like that. Fantastically capable, but a little personality.

      I do really like Lumix as a brand, and after bonding more with the LX3 (and enjoying the 4MP LZ1 I reviewed the other day) I’ve just got another Lumix… Very positive so far, I like it more than I did the LX3 when I got that!

      1. No the grip doesn’t bother me. I’m not saying it’s great, just that its inadequacies aren’t an issue for me. Maybe I have lower expectations! Or maybe my hands are a different shape or size.

        I don’t have any high-pitched tone from the LX5 and I don’t recall anything like that from the LX3 either. The zoom mechanism makes a very faint low buzz, the autofocus is silent as is everything else. I think that must be something specific to your camera.

        1. I think I’m at the point where I’ve tried so many cameras (film and digital) that I know what I like and what I don’t. In other words I’ve become very fussy! If there’s a camera out there that ticks all the right boxes, then there’s no point muddling along with one that doesn’t and getting frustrated with it.

          In the end my mods have made the LX3 very appealing. The grip mod alone makes it feel like a different camera to pick up and hold.

  4. f2.3 @ 35 mm is something for such small camera! Feeling a bit proud on predicting the grip mod hehe, though I believe you’ve done the mod and whole post before the comment on grip mod. IMHO there’s only one con to this camera- the lcd is fixed, as the pictures it produces are splendid.

  5. Don’t buy a Leica M9 based camera if you don’t like the high pitched squeal, they all do that. However I find it a useful tool in quiet places. When the crap slow buffer of the M9s (which can only hold 7 shots) is transferring to the memory card the camera is silent. Once the transfer is done if you press the shutter half way to get the frame lines and the shutter speed, the cameras emit the high pitched squeal. So it is useful to know when your buffer is empty. BTW; I believe it’s a resistor in the camera that is making that sound. Nothing to do with the speaker in my case.

    Also the ONLY good thing about Leica cameras are the finger loop grips. The most versatile one is the Q grip. It’s the only way I shoot the Sony RX1R Mk 2. It is also very nice on the Fujifilm X Pro 2. It’s great when showing the customer the camera back and still having it attached to you. The swivel of the loop is just great. Also I find it much less awkward than using a camera wrist strap and insisting that the customer has to use it. They seem to like it better too. The other big bonus is the finger loop will never appear in any photos accidentally unlike camera wrist straps.

    I also put grip tape on all my cameras the one that has the most is the RX100.

    1. Corvus, it’d be interesting to hear an M9 to see if it’s a similar sound!

      I’ve been playing a little with my new (to me) Lumix GF1 and when I went back to the LX3 the sound was immediately obvious. The GF1 is virtually silent, aside from the shutter.

      Glad to hear you tape prolifically! When I’ve looked at the RX100 (and picked one up occasionally in a store), the very flat front and rear has concerned me.

  6. P.S. The Leica Q finger loop grip also works on the M9s. Leica in their enormous wisdom decided not to offer a native M9 grip that accepts the all important finger loop.

    I have no grip issues with the RX100 now that it is virtually covered in grip tape. Only problem is, it gets stuck in some of my pockets because it is too grippy.

    A bit of a dream camera for me would be a fixed non-zoom lens RX100. I’d prefer a 21mm but I’d take whatever Sony would make. 24mm or 35mm or even a 50mm. I don’t think Sony would make them, but if they did I’d buy at least one. Using the Nikon N1v3 with primes (same size sensor) shows how the quality of the RX100 zoom (good when viewed without comparison) is soft and less interesting than a prime fixed (and matched to sensor) would be. A baby RX1 would be great.

    I bet that one day you will buy a Nikon N1 of some type.

    The M9 resistor noise can only be heard by me when it is extremely quiet.

    1. I really like that you make any mods you need to make cameras work for you like the b/w conversion on your Sony, and the grip tape on the RX100. I don’t care much on cheap cameras but anything say over £50 I start to think I shouldn’t tamper with it too much. But that’s going by the wayside now, the grip taped LX3 is rising in my estimation every time I pick it up now because I’m not thinking how inadequate the handling is!

      I’m probably being fussy about the noise and if I’m out and the wind is blowing or there’s background noise I don’t notice it. It’s just when I’m up close in quiet places. But I can live with it. There’s very much to like about the camera otherwise.

      I’m really going to try to hunker down with what I have now, so whereas a few weeks ago I would have started googling the Nikon N1, for now I’ll resist!

      The one thing that does still tempt me currently is a prime for my Lumix GF1. The 20/1.7 has very good reviews, and it potentially could be the only compact (ish) prime I need. But not this week!

  7. I not suggesting you buy anything now or in the future. I am just betting that eventually one day you will buy a Nikon N1 of some type. The lenses for it are impressive to me. Also it’s the only camera I directly print jpegs straight from it.

    Yes the Leica Q grip can be used with any camera with a 1/4 20 tripod mount. Which is most cameras. It even works on the Pentax Q. (useful when doing a photoshoot near water)

    1. Google isn’t being cooperative when I search Nikon N1, it’s giving me Nikon 1, Nikon V1, Nikon J1… Which one do you have?

      I’ve also been looking at the Leica finger grip and will probably have a go and making my own from a couple of old straps I have that aren’t being used.

  8. […] The downside… Unless you’re trying radically different cameras, it’s not likely that the appeal will last very long, and you’ll realise this is 95% similar to other cameras you have or have had, and ultimately prefer. The time you spend trying to learn everything about a new camera could have been invested in getting out and taking even better photographs with the camera you already know and love. Or modifying it to improve it further still. […]

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