Panasonic LX3 vs Canon S90IS – Grand battle for the best compact camera title

by Enche Tjin on September 14, 2009

Panasonic Lumix LX3 is hailed as the best compact cameras for low light condition. LX3/Leica lens has a bright aperture, f/2-2.8. The camera has a hot shoe for flash or viewfinder. It is very hard to find bad review of LX3. [Read my LX3 review]

However, because of the supply and demand issue, many stores run out of supply or selling LX3 at more expensive price than its MSRP (Manufacturer’s suggested retail price). LX3 practically does not have any competition from 2008 until now.

But this fall 2009, Canon announces new compact camera (will be available around 11th October ‘09) that will potentially beat Panasonic Lumix LX3. Canon S90 IS is definitely inspired from LX3 and designed to compete directly with LX3.

Canon S90 IS design is similar to LX3, but it is a bit smaller

Canon S90 IS design is similar to LX3, but it is a bit smaller. image from lx3-photography.com

Here is the main specs for comparison

Canon S90 IS has 28-105mm f/2-4.9 lens — Panasonic Lx3 has 24-60mm f/2-2.8 lens
Canon S90 has longer lens, but it is not as wide as LX3. S90 has f/2 maximum aperture at 28mm and LX3 has 24mm. But as the focal length progressed, S90 IS aperture become bigger than LX3. For example, at 60mm, LX3 has f/2.8 max aperture while S90 has smaller f/3.5.

In practice, 28-105mm is more versatile than 24-60mm especially for travel, but I also need to mention that the different in the wide end 24mm compare to 28mm is quite significant. 24mm (equivalent to full frame) zoom lens is quite rare even in the DSLR cameras zoom lens. 24mm lens is great for landscape to create illusion of depth. Right now, there are two compact cameras that has 24mm wide angle lens. There are Samsung TL320/WB1000 and Sony WX1.

Back of camera comparison - image from lx3-photography.com

Back of camera comparison - image from lx3-photography.com

Body and Handling

At a glance, Canon S90 IS has almost the same concept as LX3. It has simple and clean design, but LX3 has better construction quality. Canon S90 is a bit smaller than LX3 mainly because it does not have hot shoe in the top of the camera.

Hot shoe is usually for external flash or viewfinder. With this feature, you can attach external flash and light up the entire room easily. You can also do creative lighting by killing the ambient light because LX3 has 1/2000 flash sync.

LX3 also has a bigger protruding lens and lens cap. As a result, LX3 is not as pocket-able as Canon S90 IS. In practice, it is faster to draw Canon S90 IS because you don’t have to deal with LX3 lens cap.

LX3 user relies on small joystick in the back to change setting, while Canon S90 will use round dial (like Canon G series and Canon 40D/50D dSLR camera). Canon S90 has customizable rotating dial around the lens. You can customize it for various purpose such as changing ISO or zoom. While in LX3 there is aspect ratios and Auto focus mode (Macro/regular AF) switches.

Image quality and Low light shooting

Canon S90 IS has slightly smaller sensor size (1/1.7″ vs 1/1.63″) but Canon claims that they have improved the sensor and processing technique. As the result, the image quality will be cleaner in high ISO by two stops based on the Canon G10 camera.

According to DXO mark test, Canon G10 is doing a bit better than LX3. (157 vs 96 which means that the ideal maximum ISO before the noise starts to creep in). If this claim is true, it would put Canon S90 IS in the upper hand in high ISO war.

But many skeptics don’t think that this claim is true. They said that Canon will probably use noise reduction processing to smear out the noise at the expense of image sharpness and detail. Until there is a comprehensive test of the sensor, we can’t decide on this matter. [View Canon S90 IS sample images at Canon USA]

UPDATE: After reviewing Panasonic LX3 and Canon S90 IS test shots, I found both companies using different approach when handling noise in high ISO (800 and above). Panasonic LX3 retains more detail, but noise are more prevalent, while Canon is more aggressive in noise reduction. As a result, the images has significantly less noise but lose some details and edge acuity. [Check the comparison at dc.watch website]

There is also a rumor circulating that the quality of Canon lens especially at the wide end at maximum aperture of f/2 is not as great as the Leica built in LX3.

Conclusion

There is no absolute conclusion on who will win this grand battle, because there is no perfect compact camera. I personally salute Canon S90 IS because it addresses some annoying issues that LX3 has such as camera size and lens zoom range. It is also more practical to use, for example, you don’t have to deal with the annoying LX3 lens cap.

On the other hand, LX3 is still a great camera especially if you like to play with creative lighting using flash, and you shoot primarily with wide angle lens and/or close up photography.

Here are the recaps of the camera strengths:

Panasonic LX3

  • 24 mm wide angle lens
  • Hot shoe for flash for external viewfinder or other accessories
  • HD video recording vs standard video recording
  • Max 2 cm focusing for macro photography compare to 5 cm
  • Better build quality and casing

Canon S90 IS

  • Pocket-able size
  • Versatile zoom lens 28-105mm f/2-4.9
  • Cleaner image in high ISO setting
  • Two round dials, one is customizable
  • Fast performance, solid interface design
  • $70 Cheaper (based on MSRP)
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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Thuan Nguyen September 15, 2009 at 1:34 am

Sony with 24-120mm f2.4 exmor sensor also should be considered to challenge both LX3 and canon S 90 IS

Thuan Nguyen September 15, 2009 at 1:35 am

Sony WX1 .

admin September 15, 2009 at 11:51 am

Interesting, WX1 is a very small.

Kirk Merritt September 17, 2009 at 6:23 pm

I’ve seen low light photos from the LX3, some look quite good as are some of the S90 shots from Japan. All in all, I’m so far still in the F30-F31 as the best low light camera.

walker October 20, 2009 at 5:05 pm

something funny going on with retail pricing here- the Lx3 currently sells for about £320 in the UK- with the S90 selling for £360- to a rather larger £450 Rarity value? or just a rip off?

admin October 20, 2009 at 5:34 pm

I suggest you to look at MSRP (manufacturer suggested price) in their respective website.

Peter Harris October 23, 2009 at 4:38 pm

Let the battle of the sensor midgets begin. At this price you should have a micro 4/3 or something. These tiny sensors are done – stick a fork in them already.

admin October 23, 2009 at 9:45 pm

compact m43 is quite expensive right now. It is $899 something.

Mark November 12, 2009 at 4:26 pm

The [Read my LX3 review] link gives me a 404.

admin November 12, 2009 at 8:36 pm

thanks, fixed

Leo December 29, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Tiny sensors will never be done, for the simple reason that how smaller the sensor is the smaller the camera can be. You can use very small zoom lenses, witch is impossible on a bigger sensor. Personally I rather have a bigger sensor and a good fixed focus lens, but even the smallest camera with a big sensor (bigger then m43), the Sigma DP series, is still bigger then the S90. And that is for most people of more importance then real quality pictures. I miss the times of a Rollei 35…:)

WKSOH January 23, 2010 at 9:08 am

The S90 is a bit smaller in dimension… but it’s hell a lot smaller and a lot lighter in the hands. I was down in the camera shop wanting to get a Panasonic LX3 for my wife (as I already have a Canon G10 – and really dream of having an LX3 since I have put aside the budget). Wife went straight for the S90 without even considering the Panasonic LX3. Now I have both Canon G10 and S90. That leaves me curious still about the acclaimed Panasonic LX3.. oh well…

Enche Tjin January 23, 2010 at 9:19 am

you might want to get lx4 (successor to lx3) which will be released this year.

WKSOH January 29, 2010 at 1:01 am

I have been eyeing the GF1 20mm/f1.7 for a while, but I’ll hold my horses since you mentioned the LX4… I’d be excited….hehe :) Thanks!

Josh February 20, 2010 at 11:58 pm

If that is what you want, look at the Sony Cybershot DSC-WX1. Everyone always over look Sony, but if you open any Nikon or Canon you will find Sony all over the internal components. In six years of camera sales, after 15 years of real professional photography, I have always found a better sony for the price than any other brand.

Tim March 9, 2010 at 8:38 pm

@Josh

Manual controls seem to be a common factor here. I thought the WX1 is auto only?

Enche Tjin March 9, 2010 at 8:47 pm

yes, WX1 has auto and P mode only, no manual (aperture/shutter) control.

bard May 31, 2010 at 8:44 am

Why I always look away from Sony is this;

Stupid memory stick which is more expensive and less usable (try to pop it into a SD slot in a laptop) crash a memory stick away from most places and you won’t find one, you will manage to dig up a SD card in really small places.

Then also the WX1 is not a manual capable camera, I would rather let it be a Fuji F200EXR competitor than against the S90 or the LX3, probably people who is looking for a S90 or a LX3 will find the lack of manual control inhibiting. People looking for an awesome P/S who don’t need all the manual controls will find it or the Fuji probably amongst the best cameras you can get for the money.

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