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.

Lori Grunin Senior Editor / Advice
I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.
Expertise Photography | PCs and laptops | Gaming and gaming accessories
Lori Grunin
3 min read
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 (photos)

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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 G11 Canon PowerShot S90 Nikon Coolpix P6000 Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5
Sensor (effective resolution) 10-megapixel CCD 10-megapixel CCD 13.5-megapixel CCD 10-megapixel CCD 10-megapixel CCD
1/1.7-inch 1/1.7-inch 1/1.7-inch 1/1.63-inch 1/1.63-inch
Sensitivity range ISO 80 - ISO 3,200 ISO 80 - ISO 3,200 ISO 64 - ISO 6,400 ISO 80 - ISO 3,200 ISO 80 - ISO 3,200
Lens 28-140mm

28-105mm f2-4.9
Closest focus (inches) 0.4 2.0 0.8 0.4 0.4
Continuous shooting 1.1fps
frames n/a
frames n/a
frames n/a
4 JPEG/3 raw
2.5 fps
JPEG/n/a raw
Viewfinder Optical None Optical Optional OVF Optional OVF or EVF
Autofocus n/a
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Contrast AF
Metering n/a n/a 256-segment matrix n/a n/a
Shutter 15-1/4,000 sec 15-1/1,600 sec 30-1/2,000 sec 60-1/2,000 sec 60-1/4,000 sec
Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hot shoe Yes No Yes Yes Yes
LCD 2.8-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 stabilization Optical Optical Optical Optical Optical
Video (best quality) 30fps VGA H.264 QuickTime MOV 30fps VGA
H.264 QuickTime MOV
30fps VGA
n/a AVI
720/30p MJPEG QuickTime 720/30p AVCHD Lite
Battery life (CIPA rating) 390 shots 220 shots 260 shots 380 shots 400 shots
Dimensions (WHD, inches) 4.4 x 3.0 x 2.0 4.0 x 2.3 x 1.2 4.2 x 2.6 x 1.7 4.3 x 2.3 x 1.1 4.3 x 2.6 x 1.7
Weight (ounces) 14.5 7 8.5 (est) 9.1 9.8 (est)
Mfr. Price $499.99 $399.99 $499.95 $450 $440
Availability October 2009 October 2009 September 2008 August 2008 August 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.