Is the brand new Panasonic LX100 the perfect high-end compact?

Keen photographers have migrated to digital SLRs and compact system cameras in their droves, chasing big sensors and manual dials and leaving the old high-end compact camera market behind.

Except that the high-end compact camera isn't done yet. If you can put a big sensor in a compact system camera you can put it in a high-end compact, and that's just what Panasonic has done with the LX100.

Bigger sensors are better

Its predecessor, the Panasonic LX7, uses a much smaller 1/1.7-inch sensor. It's still larger than the sensor in the average point and shoot camera, but can't match the quality of the Four Thirds and APS-C size sensors you get in bigger, interchangeable lens cameras.

The traditional wisdom is that you put up with the smaller sensor to get a camera you can fit in a pocket.

But the Panasonic LX100 turns that on its head. Panasonic has fitted a Four Thirds sensor the same size as those in its larger compact system cameras, and five times larger than the one in the old Panasonic LX7. You also get a high-quality 24-75mm equivalent f/1.7-2.8 Leica lens and an integrated electronic Live View viewfinder with 2,764k-dot resolution.

You get big-sensor quality, but the portability of a high-end compact. And it doesn't stop there.

Taking control

Keen photographers want to be able to adjust shutter speeds and apertures with proper knobs and dials, and it's been a long time since you could do that with the average digital camera – most use control dials, buttons and on-screen interfaces instead.

The LX100 goes back to basics, with an aperture ring on the lens, and shutter speed dial on the top and even a manual EV compensation dial. Brilliant.

It's not all old-school retro, though, because the LX100 boasts some state-of-the art tech too. Like 4K video, for example, which captures movies at an amazing 3,840 x 2,160 pixels – though you can also shoot at 'ordinary' 1920 x 1080 full HD too.

Even the autofocus system is new; you can choose from Full Area AF, choosing any part of the scene to focus on, a 49-point Focus Detect Area mode and a Low Light AF mode which will work down to light levels of -3EV. According to Panasonic, it can focus in starlight…

We'll reserve a final opinion until we get the LX100 in for a full test, but this does look like one of the more exciting and important cameras of the year.