Panasonic DMC-LS2 Overview
By: Dan Havlik
Review Date: 05/06/2006
Digital cameras have seen plenty of advances in recent years and while most of the attention has been focused on high-end models with all their bells and whistles, the category that's actually reaped most of the rewards has been the low-end. Who could imagine five years ago that you could get a pretty decent 5 or 6-megapixel digital camera with substantial features for a suggested retail of under $200? Panasonic's solid new Lumix DMC-LS2 is certainly a camera that falls into the new high-low-end category, a space shared by such recent models as the 5 megapixel Canon A530 and 6 megapixel Sony Cybershot DSC-S600.
With a five-megapixel CCD, a 3x zoom and a new 1-point high speed Autofocus option, the LS2 has plenty of functionality while still listing for less than $200. Where it sets itself apart from cameras like the Canon A530 and Sony S600 is that the LS2 offers Panasonic's mega-helpful MEGA Optical Image Stabilization (O.I.S.), which is great for reducing blur from handshake. The LS2 is the only camera in its price range to offer optical image stabilization, which is certainly a strong selling point. Though it doesn't dazzle with its design--the camera is basically a slightly rounded silver brick--it's not unattractive to look at either. And although image quality on the LS2 is not going to blow you away, printing daylight shots of up to even 8x10 sizes will still produce solid results. What more could you really ask for in a digital camera that only sets you back two bills?
Panasonic DMC-LS2 User Report
Budget digital cameras have come a long way from the days when they were basically a computer with a lens encased in a hard plastic shell. Along with boasting better sensors (with the Panasonic LS2 it's a 5MP CCD) they now come packed with great features that can actually help you take better pictures. Most notable on the LS2 is Panasonic's pioneering MEGA O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilization), a generally well-reviewed technology that cuts down on blur in images due to movement.
While most users might associate Optical Image Stabilization as something used to steady long zooms, it can be extremely beneficial to shooting close-ups, especially in low-light when you don't want to blow out your subject with a flash. On the LS2, MEGA O.I.S. comes in two flavors: Mode 1, which is a continuous mode that helps with framing pictures; and Mode 2, which is only engaged when the shutter button is pressed. While Panasonic says the stabilizing effect is greater in Mode 2, I couldn't really tell much of a difference in the results. The one benefit I could see to Mode 2 is that since it is only engaged when you press the shutter, the battery seemed to take less of a hit. Once you start using MEGA O.I.S., you'll never want to turn it off, so Mode 2 is probably the more efficient setting.
Other Key Features
While there isn't anything else on the LS2 as exciting as MEGA O.I.S., the camera does have a couple of cool features that are worth highlighting. For one, the LS2 features a new 1-point high speed Autofocus function that does seem to speed up pre-focusing to help you quickly get the shot. The camera also uses Panasonic's Venus Engine Plus LSI image processor which helps its Burst Mode capture three pictures per second in High Speed mode, and two frames per second in Low Speed mode with a buffer of three full-resolution images. While that's not particularly impressive (most cameras in this class have similar burst modes) the LS2 has an Unlimited Consecutive Shooting mode which can capture approximately 1.5 images per second until the memory card is full. This feature is great when you know you want to record a whole sequence but don't want the camera to lock up too soon.
The one other feature to note is the camera's support for Panasonic Oxyride AA batteries in the form of a special setting. While obviously a way to cross-promote its own products, Oxyride batteries do have a significant battery-life advantage to regular AAs. According to CIPA standards, two AA Oxyride batteries in the LS2 can capture up to 250 pictures--a big plus if you aren't near any place where you can easily replenish batteries, such as when camping.
The Panasonic LS2 isn't exactly going to win any beauty contests, but it's certainly more slender and stylish than its predecessor, the LS1. Though it's basically a small silver brick with rounded edges, there are a few nice touches on the LS2, including the metal finger grip on the front of the camera, a snazzy steel ring around the lens, and a solid construction overall. With dimensions of 4.35 x 2.11 x 1.22 inches, the LS2 is small enough to just about squeeze into the pocket of a pair of jeans, though it would be a tight fit. With the battery and SD card, the camera weighs 6.7 ounces (189 grams).
A positive aspect of the LS2 being slightly longer than ultraslim models is that there's more room to place buttons on the back. While still small for most fingers, giving the buttons a little more breathing room makes them easier to access, and leaves the thumb a place to grip. Though the LS2 doesn't break any new design ground in the budget category, it has a nice solid feel to it, and a serious look; unlike some of its rivals which can resemble cheap plastic toys.
After reviewing a lot of digital cameras with huge 2.5 inch and 3 inch screens lately, I thought the LS2's average 2 inch screen would be a letdown, especially because it only has 86,000 pixels of resolution, but the LCD on the LS2 seemed perfectly adequate to me. It does a pretty decent job of rendering images in the live view and is more than adequate for judging the quality of your shots during playback. The camera's High Angle LCD function was also better than I thought it would be for shooting overhead shots, giving you a good angle of view even when stretched above the head at arms-length. Obviously, having a screen that tilts would be worlds better but this, again, is a low-end camera. I like that Panasonic didn't skimp on the details here.
Some people don't like that optical viewfinders are disappearing on digital cameras but, to tell you the truth, I'm getting less nostalgic for them. Until I started writing this review I didn't even realize the LS2 does not have an optical viewfinder. We've definitely come a long way.
Overall, the LS2 performs on a level of some of its higher-priced rivals. The camera powers on and is ready to shoot in about 3 seconds. Shutter lag in general is just under a second without pre-focusing, according to our tests, and 0.13 seconds if you pre-focus. These are good numbers for this class. Shot-to-shot, the LS2 is surprisingly fast at just 1.5 seconds. While it's obviously not the camera you want to take to the Indy 500, the LS2 is pretty nimble and should handle pictures of family and friends with no problem.
Image quality in daylight situations at low ISOs was surprisingly good. Shots outdoors, particularly with the Macro mode, had nice crisp color, though they were a little soft around the edges. As is noted in our test results, Panasonic tends to engineer its cameras toward the soft side to allow for sharpening in Photoshop. While this is great for the Photoshop user who can really bring out detail in LS2 images with Unsharp Mask, most entry-level consumers either don't have the skills or the time to do that. While as a photographer I like that Panasonic gives me this kind of leeway, I have to question this reasoning on a model like the LS2, which is obviously geared toward beginners.
I do, however, like that the LS2 doesn't produce the typically oversaturated colors like some competing models. The thinking by most manufacturers is that consumers love oversaturated colors and, for the most part, they're right. There is a tendency these days to take that to the extreme, though. It's nice to see the LS2 offering more subdued, realistic colors. If you want punched up in-camera images, the LS2 has a Vivid setting in Picture Adjustments in the recording menu.
Where the LS2 really struggled was at ISO 400, its highest sensitivity setting. This is a shame, particularly because the MEGA O.I.S should make this the perfect camera for low-light shooting. I took a couple of what I thought were good, moody candlelight shots at a Turkish restaurant only to find later that they were riddled with noise. Pretty disappointing.
Switching to the various modes on the camera was easy. Navigation on the menus was also pretty easy and adjusting things like White Balance, Exposure Compensation, and ISO was not difficult. Buttons on the button-driven controls were too small for me--which is a common complaint of mine in compact cameras.
In addition to getting pretty good results with the Optical Image Stabilization, the 1-point high speed AF option was fairly effective in further reducing shutter lag. The camera's continuous modes, particularly its Unlimited Continuous mode, which lets you shoot 1.5fps until the card is full, were also effective thanks to the speedy Venus Engine image processor.
Battery life with a pair of fully-charged AA NiMH rechargeable batteries was great with this camera. After about four days of consistent shooting and reviewing images I still hadn't even gone through half of the charge. CIPA ratings for the LS2 with AA NiMH Rechargeable Batteries is 400 shots. For regular AA batteries, CIPA rates the LS2 at 155 shots, and at 250 shots for Oxyride AA batteries. If you're really a stickler about saving battery life, the LS2 has an Economy mode in which the brightness of the screen is reduced and the camera quickly goes into power save mode when not in use.
Shooting with the LS2 was a lot more fun than I expected. In indoor settings with adequate to low light the camera performed well, mostly because of the help of the MEGA O.I.S., which noticeably reduced blur from camera shake. In bright daylight shots, the camera did even better, particularly with a surprisingly effective Macro mode. I took one of the best close-ups I've taken in a long time with the LS2: a group of tulips. Though the image was slightly soft, after running it through Unsharp Mask in Photoshop, the detail snapped into focus. Color was crisp but not oversaturated, making the flowers look all the more vibrant. Though sports and general fast action are not the camera's forte, it's pretty speedy nonetheless. If you're photographing young children or want candids at a party, the LS2 will come through for you.
In really dark indoor settings though, such as only with candlelight, the camera really struggled, especially in shots at ISO 400, which had heavy noise. At ISO 80 and 100 in decent light, though, noise was not an issue.
If you're looking for a decent snapshooter with some very helpful features such as MEGA O.I.S. but don't have more than $200 to spend, you could do a lot worse than the LS2. Come to think of it, you can't do much better either.
- 5.0 megapixel CCD delivering images with resolution as large as 2560 x 1920
- Lumix DC Vario lens with adjustable aperture of f/2.8 to f/5.6 (wide) and f/5.0 to f/10 telephoto
- 3x optical zoom, 35-105mm equivalent in 35mm format
- 4x digital zoom
- Mega O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilizer) with two modes
- 2-inch color TFT LCD screen, 86,000 pixels of resolution
- Venus Engine Plus LSI image processor
- 30fps and 10fps QVGA (320x240) movie clips without audio
- Adjustable manual exposure at 1/3-step increments
- Auto exposure bracketing
- SD Memory Card slot
- 14MB built-in memory
- Playback of 1, 9, 16, or 25 images on multi-split screen
- Takes 2 NiMH or alkaline AA batteries with support for longer lasting Oxyride AA batteries
- ISO sensitivity at 80, 100, 200, and 400
- Built-in flash with five pre-set modes
- 13 scene modes, including five new modes such as Baby which records the baby's age according to a preset birthday
- Three continuous shooting modes--High speed, Low speed, and Unlimited
- Five White Balance pre-sets
- Five Autofocus settings including new 1-point high speed Autofocus option
- High Angle LCD function
In the Box
Packaged in the box are the following items:
- Lumix DMC-LS2
- 16MB SD memory card
- AA Oxyride Batteries
- USB cable
- Video cable
- Software CD-ROM
- Wrist strap
- Large capacity SD/MMC memory card. (These days, 256MB to 512MB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity.)
- High-capacity rechargeable NiMH batteries and charger.
- Small camera case
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LS2 is just a simple point and shoot digital camera at first blush, with a 3x zoom in a small, simple body. Panasonic's MegaOIS Optical Image Stabilization technology makes it all the more exciting, though. Image stabilization is becoming a hot feature, capturing sharper images in lower light at low shutter speeds without raising ISO, and Panasonic has incorporated it across their lineup. Unfortunately, the LS2 needs the optical image stabilization to make up for its shortcomings in terms of low light and flash performance. Auto white balance performs well, nonetheless, and we appreciated its tame approach to sharpening and color saturation. The Panasonic LS2 also offers 5 megapixel resolution good macro focusing, and excellent battery life. The Panasonic Lumix LS2 is a good little camera, and clearly one of the best bargains on the market for an optically stabilized digital camera. It just missed being named a "Dave's Pick," but it deserves your serious consideration if you're looking for a unique camera at a great price. You really can't match its combination of 5 megapixels, optical image stabilization, and easy battery compatibility, making for a excellent and inexpensive travel digital camera.