The gap between digital compact and system cameras are ever decreasing and there have already been a few very interesting small cameras with large sensors on the market, but nothing really for underwater use yet. The Panasonic LX100 II camera could be this incipient model that brings the two together with Nauticam now making a housing for it. The LX100 II seemingly offers all the good aspects of a compact camera with a large four-thirds sensor of a mirrorless system camera.
Panasonic LX100 II features:
The Panasonic LX100 II’s most interesting feature is, of course, its large four-thirds sensor. It is essentially the same sensor that you get with the Panasonic mirrorless GX range (like the GX9), however, due to a special multi-aspect ratio setting you don’t get to use the full 20mp of this sensor at one go. This small crop means that the NA-LX100 II outputs at 17mp instead of the full 20mp.
In comparison with the closest rivals like the Sony RX100 VA, the image quality improvement is immediately noticeable, especially when increasing the ISO. On the other hand, when compared to the plethora of micro four-thirds cameras like Olympus EM5 MKII and EM10 MKIII or Panasonic GX85 and GX9 the difference is barely visible. You really have to drill down to the smallest details before you can see any differences. In practice is it just not worth worrying about that 15% sensor crop loss.
The LX100 II is also paired with an excellent super-fast zoom lens. The 24-75mm f1.7-2.8 is stupendously fast for the size of the sensor and looks like to be the perfect lens for underwater use.
Not that it necessarily makes a huge difference when inside a housing but the LX100 II comes with very pleasing old-school controls for main exposure dials. For an old camera geek like me, these are a nice blast from the past. I can see it might take a few moments for the younger generation to figure out how to put the camera into the P mode: Both lens aperture and shutter-speed needs to be put in A position 😊
You can record 4K video with the LX but due to its processor, that is not as powerful as with cameras like the Panasonic GH5, the camera uses a smaller crop of the sensor. This means that the video is shot with a sensor slightly smaller than the 1”. So, for high-quality micro four-thirds video, you will still have to pay extra.
Nauticam NA-LX100II features:
Nauticam’s N50 port system doesn’t get mentioned as often as it should as in many ways it is quite a unique system in the field of UW photography. It is currently the only interchangeable port system for compact cameras available. The NA-LX100II housing also features this port system and it offers some interesting options when it comes to the lens choices. Without the N50 system, the LX100 II camera would have very limited use in water.
Compact digital cameras today have physically larger (and not only longer) lenses than ever before. This often means that to allow for the full zoom capability the housing lens port will also need to be large. Due to these oversized ports, standard wet-interchangeable lenses do not work well optically. The only way to use these cameras with a wet lens is to shorten the port and allow the camera lens to sit closer to the port glass. This is exactly what the N50 port system does. The standard port, supplied with the NA-LX100II housing, covers the full zoom range of the LX100 II camera. It works well with close-up lenses once you add the Nauticam’s flip holder, but with wide-angle lenses, it will never work. Swap the port to the N50 short port and you can use, Not only the Nauticam’s own WWL-1 super wide-angle lens but also various 3rd party lenses, like the Fantasea UWL-09 and even the Inon UWL-H100 M67. The downside is that the short port limits the camera’s zoom range to about 43mm, which is a tad short for close-up photography. All M67 close-up lenses are useable with this port but for super-macro, it’s better to swap back to the “long port”. Also available is the N50 3.5” full-zoom minidome that corrects for aberration and keeps the angle of view as it would be on land. For a movie maker, this port makes perfect sense but for a still photographer, I would recommend the short port and an external wide-angle lens.
Apart from this slightly complicated feature the rest of the housing comes everything we have learned to expect from Nauticam: The vacuum leak check circuitry, ergonomic dials and controls for all camera functions, which is not a small feat as the LX100 camera dials and knobs are housing designer’s nightmare. Due to this, there are 3 camera buttons that need to line up with housing controls before the camera can be inserted or removed.
Another nice feature is that Nauticam has extended the back window to include the small but sharp viewfinder. This will especially benefit photographers on the surface and in bright sunlight. All standard Nauticam accessories can be utilised with the NA-LX100II. The housing ships with the stainless-steel angle brackets and the shutter extension that can be used with the Nauticam Flexitray system.
The Panasonic LX100 II + Nauticam housing kit sits on a unique place on the high-end compact underwater camera range. It’s a fixed lens compact with a four-thirds sensor and has virtually the image quality of the Olympus OM-D range. It benefits from the possibility to use wet lenses, although you don’t have the same freedom that you would get with cameras like the RX100 V. Price-wise the LX100 package costs about the same than the Sony RX100VA pro package, although with the NA-LX100II you don’t get the extra handle and valve parts. On the other hand, you could purchase the Olympus EM10III with a kit lens, port and housing for about £2200, which is only about £250 more than the LX100 set-up. However, to get a super-fast lens similar to what comes with the LX100II you would have to spend almost £1000 extra to get anywhere near.
All in all, the LX100 II package is an excellent high-end compact system for enthusiast underwater photographer who wants the maximum quality with the smallest possible size and weight. It’s stunning image quality trumps all 1” compact cameras and stands up to the mirrorless Olympus and Panasonic range. Recommended!