Panasonic Lumix DMC-LS2 Review

 
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Panasonic DMC-LS2 Exposure


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Excellent average color accuracy for a consumer camera, less oversaturation than with most. Also a general slight warm cast, either yellowish or reddish depending on the white balance setting.

In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located towards the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center.

Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life. The DMC-LS2 does oversaturate bright reds and deep greens somewhat, but its overall color is more subdued than that of many consumer digital cameras. We never felt that the LS2's color was dull, it's just that strong reds and blues didn't look quite as overdone as we've often found them to be on many other cameras. The DMC-LS2 slightly on the warm side, but well within acceptable limits.

The other important part of color rendition is hue accuracy. Hue is "what color" the color is. Here, I noticed a tendency toward a slightly warm color balance, either with a yellow or red tint, depending on the white balance setting. Again though, this was a very minor effect, and the color accuracy reported by Imatest was actually among the highest we've seen to date from any camera. All in all, very good color.

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Better than average color with the Auto white balance setting, best color with the Manual setting. Average exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance +1.0 EV Incandescent WB +1.0 EV
 
Manual White Balance +1.0 EV  

While the color was slightly warm and reddish the Panasonic LS2's Auto white balance system did better than average indoors under incandescent lighting. The Incandescent setting resulted in a stronger yellow color balance, while the Manual option produced the best overall results, though slightly yellow in tone. The DMC-LS2 required a +1.0 EV exposure compensation boost, about average for this shot. Overall color is slightly dark and yellow here, making the blue flowers very dark and purplish. (A very common outcome for this shot.) Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulb, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the US. All in all, the Panasonic LS2 did better than average with this difficult light source.

Outdoors, daylight
Slightly warm, reddish overall color. About average exposure accuracy.

Auto White Balance, +1.0 EV Auto White Balance, Auto Exposure

Outdoor shots generally showed a nearly accurate exposure, though with slightly blown out highlights and dark shadows, especially under harsh lighting. Overall color was slightly reddish with the Auto white balance setting.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
High resolution, 1,300 lines of strong detail.

Strong detail to 1,300 lines horizontal Strong detail to 1,300 lines vertical

Our laboratory resolution chart revealed sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 1,300 lines per picture height, with extinction at around 1,600. (The camera did produce slight color artifacts at lower line frequencies though, visible in the full-sized res target shots.) Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail. Beware that while you might be able to make out what looks like distinct lines at numbers higher than those we've mentioned here, the camera is just doing its best to continue interpreting the lines. If you zoom in and follow them from the wider portions, you'll see the lines converge and reappear several times, so the lines you see at 1,500 and higher are really only artifacts generated by the camera's imaging system.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Slightly soft images overall, with only minor blurring of detail from noise suppression.

Pretty good definition of high-contrast elements, though details are slightly soft overall. (No sharpening artifacts though.) Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur detail in areas of subtle contrast, as in the darkest parts of Marti's hair here.

The DMC-LS2's images look just slightly soft overall, but definition is very good in the fine details. The apparent softness is due to the conservative approach Panasonic's engineers took with the in-camera image sharpening. While its unprocessed images look slightly soft, there are essentially no sharpening artifacts in them, and they take unsharp masking after the fact in Photoshop or other image-processsing applications very well. (Try Photoshop's unsharp masking at 150% and 0.3 pixel radius to really see the details pop.)

Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears. The crop above right shows this slightly, with the darkest areas of Marti's hair showing slightly limited detail, but the LS2 seems to exhibit this tendency less than most consumer cameras we evaluate. Though image noise is visible even in this relatively low-ISO (ISO 100) image, many individual strands of hair are visible and distinct, and the noise itself isn't visible in even fairly large prints.

ISO & Noise Performance
Moderate noise at normal sensitivity settings, very high noise that blurs detail at the higher settings.

ISO 80 ISO 100
ISO 200 ISO 400

The DMC-LS2's lower ISO settings produced moderate noise, but do result in excellent preservation of fine detail. As the ISO setting increases, so does the noise level and the amount of blurring that results, and its images at ISO 400 are quite soft with a very strong noise pattern. (ISO 400 shots from the LS2 are really only usable as 4x6 inch prints.)

Extremes: Sunlit and low light tests
High resolution with good overall detail, though high contrast and limited shadow detail with visible noise even at low ISO. Pretty good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images under average city street lighting and slightly darker conditions.

+0.3 EV +0.7 EV +1.0 EV

Sunlight:
Now, we will be the first to tell you to not take a picture in this kind of lighting, because it's extremely unflattering, but we know that this shot is taken in back yards and at amusement parks probably every second of every day as the noonday sun travels around the world, so we've developed this test to show you how much information your camera will retain in the highlights and shadows if you do take a shot like this and want to fix it. The truth is, we haven't seen a camera that makes this shot look good, but we have seen a few that can leave enough detail in shadows and highlights for some kind of after-capture rescue. This is a very tough challenge for most digital cameras, so we suggest that all readers either learn about their camera's Fill Flash setting, or move your subjects into the shade for far better shots. (You can read details of this test here.)

The DMC-LS2 produced very high contrast under the deliberately harsh lighting above, with limited shadow detail and overly bright highlights. Some noise suppression is visible in the shadows, but there's also a strong noise pattern there that gives shadow details a pixilated look. Exposure is probably best at +0.7 EV, but most consumers would be more likely to choose the +1.0 EV example, as Marti's skin tones are closer to the right brightness.

  1 fc
11 lux
1/2 fc
5.5 lux
1/4 fc
2.7 lux
1/8 fc
1.3 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
ISO
80
Click to see LS2LL03.JPG
2 sec
f2.8
Click to see LS2LL04.JPG
4 sec
f2.8
Click to see LS2LL05.JPG
8 sec
f2.8
Click to see LS2LL06.JPG
8 sec
f2.8
Click to see LS2LL07.JPG
8 sec
f2.8

Low light:
The DMC-LS2 captured bright images with good color all the way to about 1/4 foot-candle, which is about 1/4 as bright as average city street lighting at night. The shots above were captured in the cameras night scene mode, which forces the ISO to 80, but allows exposure times as long as 8 seconds. This seems to give the best combination of low-light exposure and surprisingly low image noise. The camera's autofocus system worked effectively to just a little above the 1/8 foot-candle light level, which is sufficient for the camera's exposure capabilities.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) For such applications, you may have better luck with a digital SLR camera, but even there, you'll likely need to set the focus manually. For information and reviews on digital SLRs, refer to our SLR review index page.

Flash

Coverage and Range
The DMC-LS2's small flash has a limited range. Our standard shots required more exposure compensation than average.

35mm equivalent 105mm equivalent
Normal Flash +1.3 EV Slow-Sync Flash +1.0 EV

Flash coverage was uneven at wide angle, and very limited at telephoto. In the Indoor test, the flash on the DMC-LS2 underexposed our subject at its default setting, requiring a +1.3 EV exposure compensation adjustment to get bright results. In the camera's Slow-Sync flash mode, coverage was a little more even, but with a stronger orange cast from the incandescent background lighting. Here, the camera required only a +1.0 EV exposure boost.

8 ft 9 ft 10 ft 11 ft 12 ft 13 ft 14 ft
Click to see LS2FL08.JPG
1/30 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
Click to see LS2FL09.JPG
1/30 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
Click to see LS2FL10.JPG
1/30 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
Click to see LS2FL11.JPG
1/30 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
Click to see LS2FL12.JPG
1/30 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
Click to see LS2FL13.JPG
1/30 sec
f5.0
ISO 100
Click to see LS2FL14.JPG
1/30 sec
f5.0
ISO 100

Even at eight feet, our closest test range, the flash did not quite illuminate the DaveBox target adequately.

Output Quality

Print Quality
Good print quality, usable 11x14 inch prints. ISO 400 images are very soft and noisy at 8x10, marginal at 5x7, OK at 4x6. Good color, bright without being overdone.

Testing hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell just so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we now routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon i9900 studio printer, and on the Canon iP5000 here in the office. (See the Canon i9900 review for details on that model.)

As noted earlier, the LS2's understated in-camera image sharpening led it to produce slightly soft prints right out of the camera. With a little post-processing in Adobe Photoshop or other imaging application though, the LS2's images delivered excellent fine detail, better than we'd normally expect from a 5-megapixel camera. Low-ISO shots made very crisp 8x10 prints and surprisingly good 13x19 ones. (At 13x19, they're clearly on the soft side even after sharpening, but look fine at normal viewing distances of a foot or so.)

As usual though, the real print-size challenge came at high ISOs, and here the LS2 struggled quite a bit. While it's low-ISO shots (with a little tweaking in Photoshop) made very crisp enlargements, at ISO 400 it was a different story - Image shot at that ISO were marginal even at 5x7 inches, really only being acceptable for use as 4x6 snapshots. ISO 200 shots were better, but still not really up to snuff for 8x10 inch prints. (Figure on a maximum print size of 5x7 for ISO 200 images.)

Color-wise, the Panasonic LS2 did very well. Its photos looked bright and appealing, without the extreme oversaturation in reds and blues that we've seen in many consumer cameras. The LS2 would be a good camera to consider if you find the very right color of many consumer digicams a bit too much of a good thing.

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Panasonic Lumix DMC-LS2 Photo Gallery.

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LS2 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

Panasonic DMC-LS2

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