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First Look: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5

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First Look: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5

4:53 /

Despite its shortcomings, notably its weak JPEG processing, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 delivers an excellent all-around shooting experience--fastest in its class, full featured, and capable of shooting some very nice photos.

Hi, I'm Lori Grunin, senior editor with CNET, and this is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5. A long awaited update to its relatively old enthusiast compact, the LX3, Panasonic's LX5 includes a new sensor, larger zoom range, improved noise reduction, and a better video codec. Like the rest of its large-sensor compact competition, Panasonic sticks with a CCD rather than moving to a CMOS. Though the 10-megapixel resolution hasn't changed, Panasonic's latest sensor has slightly larger microlenses arranged to better converge the light and prevent reflections and leakages, plus it's got a larger volume photo diode and all of that's designed to provide a better dynamic range. Panasonic also improved its autofocus and startup performance by running more operations in parallel. And while the LX5 offers 720p video like the LX3, it's now 30 frames per second compared to 24 and it uses a real video codec, AVCHD, rather than motion JPEG. You can also now zoom in movie mode and you can use manual exposures as well. Finally, the LX5 can take the same optional electronic viewfinder as the GF1. Physically, it's slightly bigger than the LX3 but it's still a good size. While it's not as tiny as the really popular Canon PowerShot S90 and S95, it's still pocketable. The LX5 has a compact but comfortable-to-grip body that feels solid and well-built. In addition to the standard manual exposure and scene modes, the LX5 includes two slots on the mode dial for custom settings. New on the dial is My Color Mode which provides quick access to various color-based special effects presets, different from the camera's film modes. I'm not sure that it's really necessary to have those but the direct movie recording button is definitely a welcome addition to the top of the camera. Though there are only two slots for custom settings, the camera can actually store four groups of them. One gets slotted into C1 while the other three go into C2. This is an interesting approach, the same one used by the LX3 that leaves one preset instantly accessible while switching amore the others requires a trip into the menus. You can manually select the different aspect ratios via a switch atop the lens while the switch for the autofocus, macro autofocus, and manual focus modes lives on the left side of the lens. Unless you have a specific target aspect ratio for your final photo and don't plan on using the photo for anything else, I'd stay away from using the switch and crop the photos in software. The native aspect ratio of the sensor is 4:3 and anything else is simply a lower resolution crop. The rest of the controls sit adjacent to the bright saturated 3-inch LCD on the camera back. They're easy to feel and comfortable to use, but as with the LX3, the etched labels on the navigation buttons are hard to discern in low light but also got rid of the record review switch. Now it uses a standard button to toggle between them which is a much better solution. Overall, the LX5's image quality is quite good, but frustratingly, it seems to exhibit the same weaknesses as most of Panasonic's cameras. Its in-camera processing and JPEG compression still leaves something to be desired. They combine to produce yellow splotches at sensitivities as low ISO 80 under indoor living room-level lighting or lower. Interesting, it looks like the system might be optimized for ISO 200 as that sensitivity seems to deliver the best results. However, processing the RAW files of the same images allows for really clean usable images up to ISO 800 which is kind of high for a camera in this class, and I was also really happy with the camera's RAW quality. There's improved white balance over the LX3 and the color accuracy, even in the default standard color mode is very good. The saturation is pushed a tad farther than I like. Still, the images are quite pleasing. The new 24-90 mm lens seems sharper than the old 24-60 version as well. There's some asymmetrical distortion at the camera's widest but not a lot given the 24-mm focal length. At its best, which means macro distances, the lens delivers nicely sharp photos and there's practically no fringing at any focal length. The video quality looks decent, not notably better or worse than the competition, but the sound wasn't quite as good as the S95 which uses stereo audio. Performance, though, is unquestionably better than the LX3. Despite its shortcomings, notably the weak JPEG processing, the LX5 delivers an excellent all-around shooting experience. It's fastest in its class, full featured, and capable of shooting some very nice photos. I'm Lori Grunin and this is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5.

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