Panasonic LX5 compact addresses LX3 issues

A new sensor, larger zoom range, improved noise reduction, and a better video codec are among the changes Panasonic brings to the Lumix DMC-LX5 over the LX3.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5

Leaked by Panasonic on its own Web site a week earlier than planned--man, is that getting old--the Lumix DMC-LX5 provides a long-awaited update to its relatively old enthusiast compact camera, the LX3. Because the LX5's specs are so similar to the LX3, a justifiable first response would be "meh."

But Panasonic's made some important changes to the camera that I think will make it a lot stronger and more competitive than its predecessor. These include a new sensor, larger zoom range, improved noise reduction and a better video codec.

Here's a rundown of those specs and how they compare with a few competitors.

Canon PowerShot G11Canon PowerShot S90Nikon Coolpix P6000Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5
Sensor (effective resolution)10-megapixel CCD10-megapixel CCD13.5-megapixel CCD10-megapixel CCD10-megapixel CCD
Sensitivity rangeISO 80 - ISO 3,200ISO 80 - ISO 3,200ISO 64 - ISO 6,400ISO 80 - ISO 3,200ISO 80 - ISO 3,200

28-105mm f2-4.9
Closest focus (inches)
Continuous shooting1.1fps
frames n/a
frames n/a
frames n/a
4 JPEG/3 raw
2.5 fps
JPEG/n/a raw
ViewfinderOpticalNoneOpticalOptional OVFOptional OVF or EVF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Meteringn/an/a256-segment matrixn/an/a
Shutter15-1/4,000 sec15-1/1,600 sec30-1/2,000 sec60-1/2,000 sec60-1/4,000 sec
Hot shoeYesNoYesYesYes
LCD2.8-inch articulated
461,000 dots
3-inch fixed
461,000 dots
2.7-inch fixed
230,000 dots
3-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed
460,000 dots
Image stabilizationOpticalOpticalOpticalOpticalOptical
Video (best quality)30fps VGA H.264 QuickTime MOV30fps VGA
H.264 QuickTime MOV
30fps VGA
n/a AVI
720/30p MJPEG QuickTime720/30p AVCHD Lite
Battery life (CIPA rating)390 shots220 shots260 shots380 shots400 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches)4.4 x 3.0 x 2.04.0 x 2.3 x 1.24.2 x 2.6 x 1.74.3 x 2.3 x 1.14.3 x 2.6 x 1.7
Weight (ounces)14.578.5 (est)9.19.8 (est)
Mfr. Price$499.99 $399.99 $499.95$450$440
AvailabilityOctober 2009 October 2009September 2008August 2008August 2010

Like the rest of the large-sensor compacts, Panasonic sticks with a CCD rather than a CMOS. Though the resolution hasn't changed, Panasonic's latest sensor has slightly larger microlenses arranged to better converge the light and prevent reflections and leakages, plus a larger-volume photodiode which should (theoretically) improve highlight capture and allow for better response in low light. (See the illustration on the left.)

More important, though, the new image-processing chip, the Venus Engine FHD, supposedly improves the noise reduction, which I've always though was one of Panasonic's weakest areas vis-à-vis photo quality. As far as I can tell, Panasonic has finally figured out it's necessary to do luminance and chrominance noise reduction separately. (There may be some subtlety I'm missing here about the way Panasonic traditionally does it, however.)

Panasonic's new high-sensitivity CCD
Panasonic's new high-sensitivity CCD (click to enlarge). Panasonic

When it moved from the LX2 to the LX3, Panasonic cut the range of the lens, and now it's starting to grow back. The company claims improved resolvability and less chromatic aberration in the new lens as well.

Pansonic says the camera will have improved autofocus and start-up performance--branded "Sonic Speed AF"--derived from running more operations in parallel (fixing aperture and checking focus). The LX series has always lagged in this area as well, so I hope it helps.

While the LX5 offers 720p video like the LX3, it's now 30fps compared to 24fps, and uses a real video codec rather than Motion JPEG. You can also zoom in movie mode now, and use manual exposure modes.

Finally, the LX5 can take the same optional electronic viewfinder as the GF1.

All of these changes are essential to staying relevant in an admittedly niche market of enthusiasts who aren't so enthusiastic about the new camera darlings, the more expensive interchangeable-lens models. While its not as tiny as the exceptionally popular Canon PowerShot S90, some complain that the S90 is too small, and the LX5 promises advantages like closer macro shooting and (perhaps) better performance.

The Lumix DMC-LX5 will be available in black or white--I guess silver's fallen out of favor--in August.

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