Panasonic has had a niche for many years with the Lumix DMC-LX3, a versatile compact camera that could easily serve as a weekend replacement for any photographer's digital SLR.
Since then, Canon has entered the market with the PowerShot S95 which has earned high praise from us and consumers.
The LX5 is the new version of the LX3 that refines the formula and adds a few new features, but does it still have what it takes to be the top of the class?
Design and features
There is little difference between the exterior design of the LX5 and the LX3. The LX5 is still a black box with indentations and protrusions in all the right places, looking more like a "proper" old-school camera than any of its direct competitors.
Up top is a mode dial with all the common PASM shooting controls, a pop-up flash plus hotshoe, power switch and dedicated video record button. The hotshoe also comes with a small accessories port beneath it, covered by a removable plastic cover, which can house an optional electronic viewfinder. Controls are similar to the LX3, though there is now a click wheel on the back that can be used to flick through settings and change exposure values. Press it in once to switch between values.
The controls at the rear of the LX5. The click wheel (top right) changes between shooting options, and is carried over from Panasonic's G-series of cameras. (Credit: Panasonic)
The lens, which extends to 3.8x optical zoom, opens up to a maximum aperture of f/2-3.3, slightly wider at the telephoto end than the Canon S95, which is f/2-4.9. On the lens itself, Panasonic has carried across the aspect ratio selector that was also found on the LX3, allowing the camera to shoot in either 1:1, 4:3, 3:2 or 16:9 format. The sensor size (1/1.63-inch) and resolution (10.1-megapixels) remains the same as the LX3. Panasonic does claim, however, that the LX5's sensor features improved technology that increases its sensitivity by 31 per cent.
One of the shifts from the LX3 is this camera's use of the AVCHD Lite format, used to encode its 720p HD videos. Pleasingly, this camera allows video recording in all manual modes and the zoom works during filming. By contrast, the S95 doesn't have any of these provisions in video mode.
The screen remains the same size and resolution as its predecessors, at 3-inches and 460,000-dots respectively. Side by side with the Canon S95, it does appear less bright and contrasty, even though their basic specifications are much the same.
Here's how the LX5 stacks up against these other do-it-all cameras:
|Canon PowerShot S95||Panasonic Lumix LX5|
|10 megapixels||10 megapixels||10 megapixels|
|3-inch, 461,000-dot LCD||3-inch, 641,000-dot AMOLED||3-inch, 460,000-dot fixed LCD|
|3.8x optical zoom, 28mm wide-angle||5x optical zoom, 24mm wide-angle||3.8x optical zoom, 24mm wide-angle|
|HD video (H.264, 720p, 24fps)||HD video (1080p, 30fps)||HD video (AVCHD Lite, 720p, 30fps)|
|Pop-up flash||Built-in flash||Pop-up flash|
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Time to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- RAW shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
- Panasonic Lumix LX18.104.22.168.3
- Canon PowerShot S922.214.171.124.4
- Canon PowerShot S902.31.83.40.5
Continuous shooting speed (longer bars indicate better performance)
- Panasonic Lumix LX52.6
- Canon PowerShot S951.9
- Canon PowerShot S901
Note: the LX5 only takes three shots in continuous shooting mode before stopping to process them. Panasonic rates the battery for the LX5 at 400 shots.
The LX5 has a pretty good colour profile, with default settings producing some very true-to-life tones without oversaturation. Photographers will get the best results when shooting RAW images, though, as the LX5 has a tendency to produce inconsistent JPEG results. These inconsistencies appear as unwanted blotches on JPEG images at low ISO levels when shooting in dim light, and how the camera deals with overall JPEG processing.
As you can see in the image above, the LX5 tends to over-process JPEG images (top, note the compression artefacts and over-zealous sharpness). (Credit: CBSi)