Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5
Panasonic's Lumix DMC-LX5 delivers a long-awaited update to its relatively old enthusiast compact camera, the LX3. Though it looks much the same and has similar specs, the changes are a definite improvement. They include a new sensor, larger zoom range, improved noise reduction, and a better video codec. 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. Plus Panasonic definitely improved its autofocus and start-up performance--branded "Sonic Speed AF"--derived from running more operations in parallel (fixing aperture and checking focus). While the LX5 offers 720p video like the LX3, it's now 30 frames per second (fps) compared with 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.
Overall, the image quality is quite good, but frustratingly, the LX5 seems to exhibit the same weaknesses as most of Panasonic's cameras: the in-camera processing and JPEG compression still leave something to be desired. They combine to produce yellow splotches at sensitivities as low as ISO 80 under indoor, living-room level lighting or lower, and there seems to be some oversharpening going on for that undelightfully crunchy look. Interestingly, it looks like the system might be optimized for ISO 200, as that delivers the best results. But processing raw files of the same images, however, allowed for relatively clean and usable images up to ISO 800--I was really happy with the camera's raw quality. There's also improved white balance over the LX3, but oddly, CNET Labs testing showed that the LX5's noise profile improved over the LX3 for ISO 400 and above, but below that it was a tiny bit worse.
The color accuracy, even in the default Standard color mode, is very good, though the saturation is pushed a tad farther than I like. Still, the images are quite pleasing. With the exception of Vibrant, which is bad in all cameras, Panasonic's color presets deliver subtly different results without wholesale hue shifts. Exposures look good, and the dynamic range is there to recover a reasonable amount of detail in highlight areas.
The new lens seems sharper than the old as well. There's some asymmetrical distortion at the camera's widest 24mm-equivalent, but not a lot given the focal length. If the camera is performing automatic distortion control, then it's built into the raw processing, too; the distortion in the raw and JPEG versions of my test shots, processed using Adobe Camera Raw, were identical. At its best, which means macro distances, the lens delivers nicely sharp photos and there's practically no fringing at any focal length.
Video quality looked decent--not notably better or worse than anyone else's--and the sound wasn't quite as good as the S95's.
Performance, though, is unquestionably better than the LX3, and fairly good compared with its competitors. It starts up in a fairly zippy 1.6 seconds. Focusing and shooting in good light takes about 0.4 second, upping to 0.8 second in dim light. Nonflash shot-to-shot time is much better than the other cameras we've tested so far: 1.4 and 1.6 seconds for raw and JPEG, respectively, jumping to a not-so-good 4.6 seconds with flash. Continuous-shooting frame rate outpaces its class, but at 2.6fps it's still hit or miss. It delivers better battery life than the others as well.
Physically, it's slightly bigger than the LX3 but still a good size. While it's not as tiny as the exceptionally popular Canon PowerShot S90/S95, it's still pocketable, and some complain that those models are too small. The LX5 has a compact--but comfortable to grip--body that feels solid and well-built. Beneath the hot-shoe cover is another addition, the connector for an optional electronic viewfinder. On top of the camera sits a hot shoe, power switch, pop-up flash, zoom switch, mode dial, and video record button. In addition to the standard PASM and scene modes, the LX5 includes two slots on the mode dial for custom settings. The camera also provides Panasonic's Intelligent Auto mode, which performs automatic scene recognition and optimizes stabilization, ISO sensitivity, AF mode, exposure, and red-eye settings. New to the dial is My Color mode, which provides quick access to various color-based special effects presets. Not sure that's really necessary, but the direct movie recording button is definitely a welcome addition. Though there are only two slots, the camera can store four groups of settings; one set gets slotted in C1, while C2 stores three. This is an interesting approach that leaves one preset instantly accessible, while switching among the others requires a trip into the menus.
|Canon PowerShot G12||Canon PowerShot S95||Samsung TL500||Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3||Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5|
|Sensor (effective resolution)||10-megapixel CCD||10-megapixel CCD||10-megapixel CCD||10-megapixel CCD||10-megapixel CCD|
|Sensitivity range||ISO 80 - ISO 3200||ISO 80 - ISO 3200||ISO 80 - ISO 3200||ISO 80 - ISO 3,200||ISO 80 - ISO 3200|
|Closest focus (inches)||0.4||2.0||2.0||0.4||0.4|
|Continuous shooting||1.1fps |
4 JPEG/3 raw
|Viewfinder||Optical||None||Optical||Optional OVF||Optional OVF or EVF|
|Shutter||15-1/4000 sec||15-1/1600 sec||16-1/5000 sec||60-1/2000 sec||60-1/4000 sec|
|LCD||2.8-inch articulated |
|3-inch fixed |
|3-inch fixed AMOLED |
|3-inch fixed |
|Video (best quality)||720/24p |
H.264 QuickTime MOV
H.264 QuickTime MOV
|30fps VGA H.264 MP4 |
|720/30p MJPEG QuickTime |
|720/30p AVCHD Lite|
|Manual iris and shutter in video||No||No||No||Yes||Yes|
|Optical zoom while recording||Yes||No||Yes||No||Yes|
|Battery life (CIPA rating)||390 shots||220 shots||350 shots||380 shots||400 shots|
|Dimensions (WHD, inches)||4.4 x 3.0 x 2.0||3.9 x 2.3 x 1.2||4.5 x 2.5 x 1.2||4.3 x 2.3 x 1.1||4.3 x 2.6 x 1.7|
|Weight (ounces)||14.5 (est)||7 (est)||14 (est)||9.1||9.2|
|Availability||September 2010||August 2010||July 2010||August 2008||August 2010|
You can manually toggle among aspect ratios via a switch atop the lens, while the switch for the AF, AF macro, and MF 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. At least Panasonic fixed the annoying conflict between the aspect ratio and movie settings.
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. (They're Fn, ISO, self-timer and focus. Burst has moved off the delete button into the Quick Menu.) With the LX5, Panasonic has ditched the joystick in favor of a more traditional dial and regular navigation buttons. It has also gotten rid of the record/review switch; a now-standard toggle button is a much better solution.
The user-programmable function button can be set to one of many options, including film mode, quality, ISO sensitivity, white balance, metering, AF mode, intelligent exposure, and aspect bracketing. Film mode provides a variety of preset combinations of contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction settings, and you can save two custom sets. There's also a Multi Film mode, which saves three variations of a single photo with the three user-selected film settings. One notable capability the LX5 carried over from the LX3 is Pre AF, which locks focus when it senses the camera's at its steadiest. It looks as if the selectable grouped AF points has been dropped, though. The camera offers all the essentials, including optical image stabilization, as well. For a complete accounting of the LX5's features and operation, you can download the PDF manual.
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.