Panasonic Lumix LX5 Review

 
Camera Reviews > Panasonic Lumix Cameras > Lumix Point & Shoot i Review
Basic Specifications
Full model name: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5
Resolution: 10.10 Megapixels
Sensor size: 1/1.63"
Lens: 3.80x zoom
(24-90mm eq.)
Viewfinder: LCD
ISO: 80-12800
Shutter: 60-1/4000
Max Aperture: 2.0
Dimensions: 4.3 x 2.6 x 1.7 in.
(110 x 66 x 43 mm)
Weight: 9.6 oz (271 g)
includes batteries
MSRP: $500
Availability: 08/2010
Manufacturer: Panasonic
Manufacturer's page: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5
10.10
Megapixels
3.80x zoom
1/1.63"
size sensor
image of Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5
Front side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 digital camera Back side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 digital camera Top side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 digital camera Left side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 digital camera Right side of Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 digital camera

LX5 Review Summary: With its somewhat retro looks, solid build, and excellent, wide and relatively fast lens, the Lumix LX5 is an enticing camera for photography and camera lovers alike. As one who cares more for what a camera can do for me, I can't help but appreciate the design aesthetic to the Panasonic LX5.

Imaging Resource rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5
Overview

Preview by Dave Etchells and Mike Tomkins
Review by Shawn Barnett and Zig Weidelich
Preview Posted: 07/21/2010
Review Posted: 09/27/2010

The predecessor to the Panasonic LX5 -- the 2008 model year Lumix LX3 -- was a huge success both in the enthusiast camera market in general, and with Imaging Resource readers in particular. The reasons weren't hard to understand: The LX3 combined a sleek, compact form factor with a well-executed wide-aperture lens, excellent image quality (thanks to both a larger-than-average sensor chip and a significant advancement in Panasonic's image processing prowess), and exposure control options ranging from intelligent Auto to full Manual. In short, it was a nearly ideal pocket camera for the enthusiast.

In the nearly two years since the LX3 was announced, though, the rest of the high-end pocket camera field managed to catch up and in some areas surpass it. The time had clearly come for Panasonic to step up their game, and that's what they've emphatically done with the new Lumix LX5. The new Panasonic LX5 sports enhancements in almost every specification (resolution stays the same, at 10.1 megapixels), and the improvements promise to make the Panasonic LX5 even more popular than its predecessor.

The Panasonic Lumix LX5 began shipping in the US market from late August 2010, with suggested retail pricing of around US$500, the same pricepoint at which the LX3 shipped two years earlier. Two body color choices are available -- either black or white.

 

Panasonic LX5 User Report

by Shawn Barnett and Dave Etchells

With its somewhat retro looks, solid build, and excellent, wide and relatively fast lens, the Lumix LX5 is an enticing camera for photography and camera lovers alike. As one who cares more for what a camera can do for me, I can't help but appreciate the design aesthetic to the Panasonic LX5. Old cameras had levers and sliders and many things that went click when you turned them. Modern cameras more frequently have buttons and the occasional dial, but the LX5 has a little more, with sliding selector switches for autofocus mode and aspect ratio wrapping around the lens barrel.

Another element of the design is tough to define, but comes from the careful combination of necessary elements in a small space. The Panasonic LX5 reminds us of a rangefinder, but one built to modern standards--and without an optical viewfinder. It has a hot shoe, though the Panasonic LX5 is unlikely to carry any but a small flash; still, it can support the electronic viewfinder accessory originally designed for the larger Panasonic GF1, and it can certainly fire a Panasonic or Olympus flash directly or via a hot shoe adapter.

From the top you can see the Aspect mode selector, which is a slider with four click stops. The 1:1 position captures a square image; 4:3 captures the full resolution of this 10-megapixel sensor; 3:2 is what most digital SLRs capture; and 16:9 is the same aspect ratio as HD movies.

The Panasonic LX5's grip is better shaped for a slightly better hold, with a rubber pad to improve traction.

The Panasonic LX5's Flash-open lever moves to the right to release the pop-up flash. The hot shoe is covered by a plastic protector, which wraps around to protect the accessory jack on the back of the LX5. The cover has a clever locking mechanism that only releases with a press on the ribbed button. Two microphone holes appear just upper left of the Mode dial. The Mode dial has the standard PASM positions for full creative control, plus an Intelligent Auto mode. Two custom modes are also on the dial for quickly switching to your favorite settings.

The Zoom ring surrounds the Panasonic LX5's Shutter button, and the Movie Record button is just to the right, a fairly natural position for starting and stopping movies. A straightforward power switch is just behind that.

Jutting out left and right are two strap loops. When it comes to movie recording, these are preferable to cameras that use D-rings. The small size of the loops does limit the type of straps you can use, but one very slim strap is included with the Panasonic LX5.

With a 3.0-inch diagonal and 460,000-dot resolution, the Panasonic LX5's 3:2 aspect ratio LCD panel is similar to that of the LX3, but it can now display a wider color gamut, and also includes an anti-reflective coating. On the rear panel, an easier-to-use jog dial replaces the LX3's joystick, and a more practical Playback button replaces the Record / Playback mode slider. A standard four-way control cluster serves to navigate menus and inside zoomed images, and the four outer buttons also serve as Focus, ISO, Function, and Self-timer buttons. Pressing the center button brings up the Menu. Pressing the Q.Menu button brings up the Quick Menu, with icons that line the top of the screen, that reveal a pulldown of options when they're highlighted.

Panasonic LX5 Technology

by Dave Etchells

Panasonic LX5 Sensor

The Panasonic LX5's sensor is an area of significant improvement from the prior generation. The new sensor has the same physical size (1/1.63 inch), resolution (10.1 megapixels), and cell size (2.05 µm) but the chip and microlens design are both somewhat improved.

The illustration above shows a cross-section view of a Panasonic LX5 sensor pixel and associated vertical readout structure. Engineers made three essential improvements over the LX3's design. The feature that most stands out in the image above, though, is one which is actually carried over from the LX3: There are actually two layers of microlenses. Panasonic isn't alone in this practice -- we recently reported on another dual-layer microlens from Sony -- but to our knowledge it's still a relatively uncommon design, and the diagram above is the first illustration we've seen from Panasonic showing its double-element structure for microlenses. Relative to its predecessor, the Panasonic LX5's sensor increases the size of both layers of microlenses, decreasing the gap between lenses for adjacent pixels, and increasing light-gathering area.

Enhancements in the sensor design itself are oriented toward improving the noise levels and dynamic range of the sensor. Specifically, the photo diode has been made deeper, enabling it to store more charge, providing a larger maximum signal, and also reducing the effect of surface leakage. This translates into a greater ability to handle strong highlights without saturating and losing detail. The vertical CCD used to read image data off the array is also expanded, again permitting it to handle a larger signal. The net result, says Panasonic, is noticeably greater dynamic range, and cleaner images at high ISO.

Panasonic LX5 Image Processing

A digicam's image starts at the lens, makes its way through the sensor, but is ultimately made by the camera's image processor. Image processing in the Panasonic LX5 also took advantage of the last two years' worth of advancements in chip technology, this latest version incorporating three processing cores, and bearing the name "Venus Full HD," a nod to its HDTV processing prowess.

The increased power of the Panasonic LX5's Venus Full HD image engine enables more sophisticated image processing, which should bear fruit in the form of better noise suppression, with less loss of underlying subject detail.

Camera noise reduction systems often have trouble with color edges; the boundaries between colored objects with similar brightness. (If you want an example of this, look at the red-on-red fabric swatch in our still-life test image, shot with most any digicam at high ISO.) The problem is that many noise reduction systems have difficulty separating subtle differences in tone and color from image noise. Wrongly mistaking valid subject detail for noise, they flatten it out into an undifferentiated blur: They kill the noise, but take the subject detail along with it.

With the Lumix LX5's processor, though, Panasonic's engineers finally had enough computing horsepower at their disposal to look at luminance (brightness) noise and chrominance (color) noise both separately and together. They found that chroma or luminance variations that corresponded to legitimate subject detail tended to be correlated with each other. (That is, the color and tone changed simultaneously.) Pure noise showed little correlation. By looking for this correlation, they could attack the noise without also killing important subject detail.

In photography, everything starts with the lens, and the Panasonic LX5's optics sport a number of enhancements over those of the earlier LX3, which itself was an excellent piece of engineering. While many enthusiast photographers tend to shoot towards the wide end of the focal length spectrum, the most persistent complaint about the LX3 was its limited zoom range: With equivalent focal lengths ranging from a very wide 24mm to a only slightly telephoto 60mm, many users found the LX3's zoom range a little restrictive. The new 3.8x optical zoom lens extends the tele end of the lens to 90mm (a 50% increase in magnification), while still keeping the previous model's excellent 24mm wide-angle capability, and the f/2.0 maximum aperture.

In our opinion, too little is made of maximum lens aperture these days. Besides offering better ability to blur backgrounds through shallow depth of field, a larger maximum aperture is every bit as important as high ISO capability for low-light photography. The f/2.0 maximum aperture of the Panasonic LX5's lens lets in twice as much light as a lens with an f/2.8 maximum, and four times as much as one limited to f/4.0. Moving from f/2.8 to f/2.0 is the same as stepping from up from ISO 800 to ISO 1,600, minus the increased image noise. As is generally the case, maximum aperture decreases as the lens is zoomed, but in the case of the Panasonic LX5, it drops to only f/3.3 at maximum telephoto. (The LX3's lens managed a maximum aperture of f/2.8 at the telephoto end of its range, but keep in mind that that was a significantly shorter focal length too.)

It's not all just about maximum aperture, or amount of zoom, though: A lens needs to deliver sharp images as well, something that's difficult to do in combination with wider apertures and a longer zoom ratio. The engineers devoted a lot of effort to the Panasonic LX5 lens's design and manufacturing, to insure that met the demands of the discerning photographers the camera is targeted for. Panasonic says they not only increased the zoom range, but also managed to minimize aberration, and increase the corner to corner sharpness of the lens by 30% as well.

The illustration above gives a clue of how they accomplished this feat: Where the LX3 had a total of 8 optical elements arranged in 6 groups, the new Panasonic LX5 has 10 elements in 9 groups, with a total of 5 aspherical surfaces spread over three elements. Two of the lens elements have aspherical surfaces on both sides, while the pair of O.I.S. lenses in the illustration constitute the only multiple element lens group.

Besides its optical design, the Panasonic LX5's lens also implements Panasonic's new "Sonic Speed" autofocus. Autofocus speed has always been a stumbling block for digicams, although recent efforts by a number of manufacturers has finally been bringing relief. Sonic Speed AF in the Panasonic LX5 involves a doubling in sensor readout speed, a faster-acting focus motor in the lens, and overlapping aperture adjustment and focus operation. Panasonic says that the combination should reduce the total AF cycle to a mere 0.3 second; fast by any standard.

Image stabilization has also been improved in the Lumix LX5; Panasonic claiming that the new "Power OIS" is up to twice as effective as the "Mega OIS" in the previous model.

Panasonic LX5 Additional Improvements

Changes to the lens, sensor, and processor are certainly the standout changes in the Panasonic LX5's design, but they're by no means the only ones. Panasonic has made plenty of other tweaks to the design which should make it an even more enjoyable camera to shoot with than its predecessor. Perhaps most notably for fans of viewfinder shooting, the Panasonic LX5 is now compatible with the very same DMW-LVF1 external electronic viewfinder that can be used with the Lumix GF1, Panasonic's interchangeable lens Micro Four Thirds model. We did not have the DMW-LVF1 electronic viewfinder in the office to test it, but when we had it with the GF1, it worked well, though wasn't as amazing as the electronic viewfinder in the GH1. Instead it had 202,000 dots, but with a 60 frame per second refresh, and 1.04x magnification. It also came in a retro leather pouch with a snap cover, and a loop on the back designed to thread onto the camera strap. There was even a plastic socket inside the pouch into which the DMW-LVF1 could securely dock. Price for this accessory was set at $199, but can be found for less if you shop around.

Current technologies seen on other recent Panasonic cameras have been added, including both Face Recognition (which allows specific individuals to be recognized and prioritized when detected in the image frame), and Intelligent Resolution (a form of localized sharpening that separately considers outlines, texture and gradation in images). The Panasonic LX5 now allows ISO sensitivity to be adjusted more finely in 1/3 EV steps. There's also a new Step Zoom function that allows the zoom to be quickly switched between preset focal lengths, and the aspect ratio switch adds a new 1:1 aspect option. Startup time has been improved, and should now be in the region of one second, while the LCD display should now exhibit less lag than was previously the case.

Flash. The built-in pop-up flash opens via a mechanical release, so the Panasonic LX5 shows the flash as "off" until you raise it. A plastic cover conceals both the Hot shoe and rear accessory port, and locks in place, released by a button on the top.

As mentioned earlier, you can add both an accessory flash and the DMW-LVF1 electronic viewfinder, initially introduced for the Panasonic GF1; though if you're using the viewfinder, you can't add an external flash. The Olympus FL-36 and FL-36R flashes that we have here at the office work surprisingly well, with full TTL synchronization. The flash even zooms as you zoom the lens. Naturally it's a large flash for such a small camera, but for limited use, or work on a tripod, the FL-36 works quite well. We presume that the Panasonic DMW-FL360 is roughly the same flash with a different badge.

Movies. High-def movies are now recorded in the more space-efficient AVCHD Lite format by default, rather than the older Motion JPEG format, with a choice of 17Mbps, 13Mbps, or 9Mbps bitrates. It is now possible to use the optical zoom, My Color function, and even full manual exposure during movie recording. Maximum resolution for movie recording is still 1,280 x 720 pixels at 60p / 50p field rates, the former being applicable to NTSC cameras, and the latter to PAL models. (In both cases, the actual sensor framerate is half the interlaced field rate.) Lower resolutions of WVGA, VGA, and QVGA are available, and the Panasonic LX5 records in Motion JPEG format at 30 frames per second for these resolutions; it's also possible to record 30fps HD movies as Motion JPEG format if desired. Low-light movie capture has also been improved, and it should now be possible to record movies in as little as 3 lux.

Connectivity. Gone is the component high definition connectivity from the LX3, replaced with the more common HDMI output. The Panasonic LX5 also retains USB 2.0 High Speed connectivity for data transfer to a computer. Available built-in memory has been reduced just slightly from the LX3's 50MB, to 40MB available in the LX5, but the newer camera also gains compatibility with the latest generation of Secure Digital cards, known as SDXC (Secure Digital eXtended Capacity), in addition to the previously supported standard and SDHC types.

Power. Battery life has been improved from 380 shots in the LX3 to 400 shots in the Panasonic LX5, to CIPA testing standards. The included battery is a 3.6V 1,250mAh 4.5Wh lithium-ion design, model number DMW-BCJ13PP.

Two years ago, the LX3 marked a new level of performance and image quality for Panasonic, and set a new standard for enthusiast pocket cameras. The Panasonic LX5 promises to do the same in 2010.

Panasonic LX5 Shooter's Report

by Shawn Barnett

It used to be that only a few cameras came through our review cycle that really raised our interest as photographers. We tend to like and recommend a reasonable percentage of the digital cameras we choose to review, but only a few stand out enough that we'd like to add them to our own camera bags. No-nonsense designs that focus on premium optical and sensor performance are what most of us prefer, and lately the SLD (Single Lens Direct-view) category has been delivering a steady stream of interesting cameras that answer the need on both counts. Still, no SLD has reached the small size of the Panasonic LX5 and Canon S95. These two compete in the everywhere-camera category, because they're small enough for most pockets or purses, but don't compromise as much on optical or low-light performance.

We've finally begun to see f/2.8 lenses on a good many point & shoot digital cameras, but the Panasonic LX5 and S95 are a full stop faster than just about anything else, opening to f/2.0 at their widest focal lengths. Zoomed to its maximum telephoto, the Panasonic LX5's maximum f/stop is f/3.3. But that's enough to create reasonable bokeh for relatively close subjects. Not bokeh approaching what an SLD or SLR will deliver, but not bad for a small-sensor camera.

The Panasonic Lumix LX5 is noticeably larger than the Canon S95 created to compete with it. In its favor, the LX5 has a grip, a hot shoe, and a 3.8x zoom with a wider maximum setting of 24mm. The Canon S95 has smaller body with fewer snags, an adjustment ring surrounding the lens, and 3.8x zoom that starts at 28mm; it lacks a Record start button that drops you instantly into Movie mode, a strange omission from the company that pioneered this feature. Both have a 10-megapixel sensor designed to be better in low light, 3-inch LCDs (with different aspect ratios), pop-up flashes, and f/2.0 lenses.

With its advanced sensor, the Panasonic LX5 should be able to take better pictures in low light. In my own use, though, I found the most advantage in the Panasonic LX5's outdoor performance, where it turned in excellent detail and pretty deep depth of field even at f/4. Indoors and in low light I had a lot more trouble with white balance and focus, missing too many shots for my taste.

There's no question the Panasonic LX5 is a fine looking camera. It's also very likeable in its personality. The lens extends and zooms quietly, like a whisper, though it is a little slow. The LCD is beautiful, and refreshes quickly. Autofocus is quicker than the LX3, as well, and I really prefer the jog dial on the back over the joystick, which always seemed a bit out of place and clumsy. Popping up the flash makes me wonder what they were thinking, because the flash always hits the finger I'm using to actuate the release slider, so there's one knock; but that's not really a problem: just open it more carefully or learn to like having your finger popped up along with the flash.

Stabilization. One thing the Panasonic LX5 has no deficiency is in its optical image stabilization system. I'm always impressed when using Panasonic's stabilization, but they've outdone themselves with the new Power O.I.S. I got stable images I had no right to get, and often in low light with slow exposures the person in the foreground might be blurry, but it was because they moved, not because of focus or a failure of the IS system. Concentrate on holding the camera still, and the Panasonic LX5 will take your cue. Suddenly the image is perfectly stable. You can see the camera still moving, but that image onscreen is not. It doesn't float. It just sits. A few times I've had to wonder whether I'd pressed the Playback button. It's the best I've seen.

Step zoom. It used to be we criticized cameras whose zooms moved in steps, rather than smoothly following the dictates of our fingers. Suddenly it's a hot option to have the lens zoom in steps, simulating a camera bag full of prime lenses. I turned the feature on. I'm not sure I get it. The list of options includes 24, 28, 35, 50, 70, and 90. It is nice to have repeatability, but I'd like the option to remove a few of the positions, as this seems too many.

Part of what makes the mode annoying is that the Panasonic LX5's otherwise fine lens zooms so slowly. If this mode increased the zoom speed, it would be worthwhile. But it's sluggish. The advantage to sluggish outside of this Step zoom mode is that you have more time to pick whatever focal length you want, but I'd still like it to move faster. That could have been done with a two-speed zoom toggle, but instead it's slow to start, taking what seems like more than half a second, and slow to travel once it's started.

Menus. The Panasonic LX5 uses the same basic Panasonic menu structure that works well on all of their pocket cameras. My only complaint is that there are so many options, which isn't much of a complaint. There are seven pages of items on the Record and Setup pages, five items per page. Operation is straightforward. I like the Quick menu, but I'm not sure I would have chosen all the same items that Panasonic chose, especially the LCD backlight control. But again, all that is incidental on any camera. What they have is well-laid-out and works quickly.

Scene modes too are Panasonic's standard set, so I don't have much to say about them. I don't generally use Scene modes except on cameras that do multi-shot tricks that are useful low-light tools. The Panasonic LX5 relies on its fast lens and sensor to deal with low light, which I prefer over a special mode.

The Playback menu has one interesting option called Leveling. A relatively fine grid is overlaid on the image, and you can tilt the image to straighten buildings or match the horizon line. The image is automatically cropped, of course. You can also add text to your images, including things like location, name, date, and time.

Pocket changes. As I mentioned, the Panasonic LX5's big advantage is its relative pocketability. Even the lens cap is made well enough that it stayed on in my pocket. It has very strong springs behind a two-sided cap that really hold well. Cheap lens caps can come off in a pocket or bag, but this one didn't. I don't say that it won't, but it's a lot less likely than most. But there are basic disadvantages to putting the Panasonic LX5 in a pocket, chiefly that two of the key dials change while they're in there. Nearly every time I pulled the Panasonic LX5 from my pocket, either the Aspect ratio slider had moved or the Mode dial had. Mostly both changes are easy to detect before you commit to your next shot, and the dials make changing the settings back to your preferred ones easy enough, but it would be a lot better if they stayed put a little better.

The good news about dials is that the new Rear dial is better behaved. It's almost difficult to turn by comparison, because it's so well-recessed. I prefer that to the way the Canon S95 handles their rear dial, because Canon again uses a very loose dial that changes Exposure value too easily with an accidental turn--and there's no way to disable it. The Panasonic LX5's rear dial requires a more deliberate effort to turn, which is good, because turning it in Aperture or Shutter priority modes changes those settings. That can make adjustment a little harder, but it's not bad. In Program mode it's even better, because you first have to half-press the shutter button, and then you can turn the dial to perform a program shift, where the camera selects a different combination of aperture and shutter speed, yet maintains proper exposure. If you want to make EV changes, just press the dial in, and you switch to that option. Press it again to switch back.

Straight JPEG, AWB Color somewhat corrected using "Skin" tool in Silkypix, though it's now too magenta.

Low light. Most of the low-light shooting I did was inside buildings that were reasonably well-lit, but I also made some shots at a high school football stadium. The biggest problem I had there was with auto white balance. The stadium lights rendered skintones green, making them difficult to recover. I was able to fix them reasonably well because I'd shot RAW+JPEG, and could fix them in Silkypix, the included RAW processing software. In some of my indoor shots, the white balance is right, but the color is muted, even at the lowest ISOs. Panasonic's color is muted such that I'd prefer to shoot in RAW and develop them all via Silkypix. The only problem with Silkypix is that Panasonic only bundled the Windows version, and the only PC I use regularly is my netbook, which takes about 50 seconds to batch-process each photo--and that's assuming that a batch-process is going to set everything right, which in my experience is unlikely. It's an extra step that enthusiasts would do well to take, but I don't expect many consumers to do so. (Note that after posting the review, we learned that the Mac version of Silkypix Developer SE is available from the Japanese Silkypix website, and we confirmed that it does work to open and convert the LX5's RAW images--which only takes 10 seconds on a 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo iMac.)

Standard Dynamic Nostalgic
Smooth Standard (B&W) Dynamic (B&W)

Saturation trouble. Most of our Gallery shots will appear to be doubled, but that's on purpose. The first file is straight from the camera, the second, marked with an "a" at the end of the filename, is processed through Silkypix with the Memory 1 setting for the film. This increases saturation to a more acceptable level. I experimented with the different film modes on the camera, which appear to be different from the Silkypix modes, to get an idea of what each does, but I find the default settings for each to be a bit dramatic (see samples at right). Since our standard procedure for Gallery shots is to set it to Program and shoot with the defaults, and I'd already flouted one of those standards by shooting most of the shots in Aperture priority mode at f/4, I stuck to the Standard film type for most of the shots.

The good news is that you can create your own custom settings, raising the saturation and contrast if you like, but I still always shoot RAW to make sure I can rescue a good shot from the permanent damage that can be inflicted by noise suppression and JPEG compression.

Straight JPEG From RAW
100% crop from JPEG 100% crop from RAW
While the JPEG shot in Standard mode is a little flat and loses fine detail to noise suppression, even at ISO 80 with this improved sensor, RAW allowed me to regain that detail and bring back the real color. A closer look shows the anti-noise smoothing that removed skin texture and details in the hair and iris. The data's there, but the noise suppression hides it.

Studio. As I sat holding the Panasonic LX5, I considered the hot shoe, a feature found on few cameras of this size. I'd already tried the Olympus FL-35 flash with some success. I supposed my Dynalite IRT-1 infrared transmitter--effectively a two-channel flash with a red cover on it--would work to fire my studio lights. Since the LX5 is thought of as a take-anywhere camera for photographers, I wondered how it would perform as a portrait camera in a pinch, say, in case my SLR stopped working. I attached the transmitter, switched the flash setting to Forced, selected Manual mode, and turned on the Step Zoom function (turns out that is handy after all when you want to be sure at what focal length you're shooting; I stuck with 70 and 90 equivalents).

Once it was all hooked up and working, which took no time at all, I was able to adjust exposure quickly and start shooting like I was using any SLR, albeit without the optical viewfinder. The results are pretty good. I enjoyed how responsive the shutter was, and managed to capture about 125 usable images without thinking about it. Two of the better expressions I captured were out of focus, but only those two. That was disappointing, but otherwise, I'm pretty pleased with the images. Noise suppression is still a little too strong in the JPEGs for my taste, even at ISO 80, but I managed to get some sharp images out of the RAW files. Getting proper color out of the netbook was a greater challenge, though, as its screen is not calibrated.

Ultimately, the Panasonic LX5 proved itself worthy of its high price tag by being able to stand in for an SLR in a simple portrait shoot. Was it easy? Yes. Was it ideal? Probably not, but it served me just fine. The key was shooting RAW; without that, I'd have been disappointed with the results.

Timing. The Panasonic LX5 autofocuses significantly faster than the LX3, taking 0.35 at wide-angle, compared to a glacial 0.77 second on the LX3. At telephoto it's 0.37 second vs 0.76 second on the LX3. The LX5's times are closer to a modern SLR than the average point & shoot. Prefocused, the LX5 and LX3 both take only 0.012 second, which as I just mentioned about the portrait shoot, is quite fast. In low light, the LX5 still focuses a little slower than I'd like, but that's true of an SLR as well.

While AF lag got shorter, shot-to-shot cycle time got longer in the Panasonic LX5. While the LX3 scored 1.17 seconds between shots in JPEG mode, the LX5 takes 1.59 seconds. Both cameras also fail the "early shutter" test, which is where we press the shutter a second time before the camera can reset. Most cameras will quickly reset and trip the shutter again. The Panasonic LX5, though, just stops and waits for you to release and re-press the shutter button before it will fire a second time; not the preferred response.

Shooting wide-open. I ran into an issue I haven't seen in some time, especially in a premium camera. When shooting outdoors in bright light, opening the aperture to f/2.0 overloads the sensor in highlight areas, leaving vertical streaks on the LCD display, which makes it hard to check focus and compose your image. The streaks don't show up in the final image because the mechanical shutter is closed during readout, but they're annoying all the same. They can however show up in movies shot at f/2.

The shot at right was the first I noticed the phenomenon, I'd made the shot at f/4 and 24mm with amazing depth of field, so I thought I'd see if f/2 would blur the background a little, with the sign as the main point of focus. Well, it didn't, because the LX5 has amazing depth of field at wide-angle, even wide-open. But this scene was fraught with white and blue streaks centered on the sign and pillars in the background. Now that you know the LX5's lens has extreme depth of field at wide angle, you probably won't bother trying to shoot at f/2 in bright sunlight, and thus won't run into this phenomenon often.

Movies. I had a few opportunities to shoot movies, most of them in Motion JPEG mode. The movies I shot at a football game came out surprisingly good, even handheld.

720p Motion JPEG, 35MB AVCHD (player required), 18.7MB 720p Motion JPEG, 133MB

You can zoom in and out optically while you shoot, and you can also adjust shutter speed and aperture as you shoot. It worked for me, but the videos I shot don't demonstrate anything in particular, except the sound the Rear dial makes when you turn it; none of those are included here. Just note that it's loud, so making the changes during recording will have to be edited in post. This is one of the few cameras on the market that gives you this much control over video, and yet slips into your pocket afterward.

Manual. Well worth comment is how worthless the Basic Operating Instructions are, both printed and the PDF version. So little information is contained in its 44 pages, it's hard to believe it could be written about this very capable camera. There may be a full PDF manual on the disk, but I could not access it with my Mac.

Relative resolution. In the crops below, the Canon looks like it starts out on top and stays just ahead most of the way. However, what you're not seeing in this first set of crops is the very difficult red swatch in our Still Life target, which on the S95 starts out quite blurry at ISO 80, yet the LX5 handles it quite well. See the two crops below.

ISO
Panasonic LX5 ISO series
Canon S95 ISO series
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8
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2
8
0
0

I need only show the two crops from the red swatch at ISO 80 to give you an idea of how the Panasonic LX5 handles this very difficult test of noise suppression compared to the Canon S95. It only gets worse from there.

ISO
Panasonic LX5
Canon S95
8
0

Overall, the Panasonic LX5 does quite well in low light, and well at high ISO. It's not an SLR or an SLD, and you'd be mistaken to expect it to be so. But it is among the better light gathering and recording devices currently on the market, with a great lens and a competent sensor. Better results can be obtained by shooting in RAW and developing on the computer later.

Panasonic LX5 Print Quality

Printed results from the Panasonic LX5 are where you see the value of the camera's design.

ISO 80 shots look good printed at 13 x 19 inches, with only slightly soft detail.

ISO 100 shots also look good at 13 x 19 inches.

ISO 200 images can do 13 x 19 inches, especially with sharpening, but a reduction to 11 x 14 inches looks better.

ISO 400 images are still good at 11 x 14, with minor noise appearing in some shadowy areas.

ISO 800 images fall off rather quickly, and are good at 5 x 7.

ISO 1,600 look good at 4 x 6.

ISO 3,200 shots are usable at 4 x 6, but are too grainy to be called "good".

ISO 6,400 can make a usable 4 x 6 so long as there's not a lot of detail, but again, don't pass our standard of a good photo.

ISO 12,800 shots are not usable at 4 x 6, the smallest we print. There are too many artificial artifacts, as you can see in the crop from the mosiac bottle above. You can make a small thumbnail for Web publication, but that's about it.

Again, results should be even better printing from RAW, so bear that in mind.

For more on our test results from the Panasonic LX5, please see our test results pages for Optics, Exposure, and Performance.

 

In the Box

The retail package contains the following items:

  • Panasonic Lumix LX5
  • Lithium-ion battery
  • AV cable
  • USB cable
  • Lens cap
  • Lens cap string
  • Shoulder strap
  • Basic Operating Instructions
  • CD-ROM with Silkypix software (Windows only)

 

Recommended Accessories

  • Large capacity SDHC memory card. These days, 4GB is a good tradeoff between cost and capacity, but if you plan to capture many movie clips, 8GB Class 6 should be a minimum
  • Medium camera case

 

Panasonic Lumix LX5 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Solid feel and appearance of quality
  • Longer 24-90mm eq. lens than LX3, yet still as wide
  • Fast lens at f/2.0 - 3.3
  • More effective optical image stabilization with Power O.I.S. 
  • Compact design
  • 3-inch 460K-dot LCD with 11-step auto brightness
  • Four aspect ratios (4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 1:1) with switch on lens
  • Better noise handling at high ISOs
  • Flexible noise reduction options
  • Much faster AF than LX3 (about twice as fast)
  • Up to 10fps burst mode at 3MP or lower (see con about slow full-res bursts)
  • Good low-light performance
  • Good macro mode (without the flash)
  • Only moderate chromatic aberration
  • RAW support
  • 720p AVCHD Lite videos
  • Optical zoom while video recording (25-95mm eq.)
  • Shutter and aperture adjustable while shooting video
  • Turn-and-push rear command dial
  • Variable AF area size
  • Subject tracking AF
  • Multiple exposure support
  • ISO limiter
  • Optional EVF
  • Support for conversion lenses
  • Packed with features
  • Above average battery life; slightly improved over LX3
  • Some soft corners at wide-angle (wide-open)
  • Lots of barrel distortion in RAW files at wide-angle
  • Below average color accuracy/inaccurate Manual WB
  • Yellowish skin tones outdoors with Auto WB
  • Visible demosaicing errors in fine detail such as hair
  • Sluggish full resolution burst mode speeds; slower than LX3
  • Very limited buffer sizes (3 large/fine or 5 large/standard JPEGs)
  • Vertical streaking (smearing) in live display and movies from sensor overload when the lens aperture is wide-open
  • Aspect ratio slider and mode dial too easy to change inadvertently
  • Lens zooms very slowly

There are few cameras that most photo enthusiasts would agree upon. The Panasonic LX5 is one of them. No, not all photo enthusiasts will say that the LX5 is the best but, I think most would agree it's a contender, a heck of a good camera, with a classic design. It can be relied upon for high-quality images in most situations, even standing in reasonably well as a portrait camera. That's the temptation here, to compare the Panasonic LX5 to a digital SLR or SLD (mirrorless) camera. Don't bother. The fact is that SLDs are reaching for this very category: the small, quality camera that you can take anywhere. But the SLD's marriage to a larger sensor to get that higher image quality limits how small they can make a useful zoom, at least in the meantime, so cameras like the Panasonic LX5 and Canon S95 are where we'll need to look for truly pocketable zoom lens cameras with above-par image quality.

I used the Panasonic LX5 and Canon S95 concurrently, and liked a lot about both. The Panasonic LX5 wins over the gadget lover in me. It just feels cool, like a pro camera miniaturized, and captures impressive images. It is a little larger than the competition, and those extra gadgety dials do change without permission, which is a minor nuisance. It's a nuisance that would set me searching for a suitable holster or strap, though, not one that would turn me away from the Panasonic LX5.

My biggest problems with the LX5 are its occasional trouble with Auto White Balance, and its tendency toward muted colors. The latter is the same problem I had with the GF1, Panasonic's SLD offering. The solution I would use is to shoot in RAW and process the images afterward in Silkypix. If you can afford it, Lightroom or Aperture are even better solutions for image management and RAW quality tweaking. I could recommend just turning up the saturation or choosing one of the film modes, but the film modes seem too dramatic, and would lock users into JPEG images that cannot be fixed.

The Panasonic LX5 is fast to focus and extremely fast when you pre-focus. Zoom is a little slow to start and move, which isn't great when you're in a hurry to get the shot, but it's actually nice when you're shooting videos, so consider these two aspects. With a slow shot-to-shot time as well, the LX5 isn't necessarily for those in a hurry.

Ultimately, I don't think the Panasonic LX5 is the camera I would recommend to someone who walked up asking "for the best camera." The confusing part is, I truly think it is one of the best cameras out there--for those who will take the time to learn its abilities and also take time with the images afterward. But usually those who ask "for the best camera" have no intention of taking time; they just want to point and shoot. The Panasonic LX5 can do that, sure, and does a good job, but at times the LX5 expects--even demands--that its user know what the heck he's doing. In that sense, the LX5 is comparable to an SLR. I'm teetering on the edge here, because I've told plenty of people that an SLR's automatic modes make them as easy to use as any pocket camera. That's still true. It's the loose mode dial, loose controls on the lens barrel, and white balance and color troubles that mostly make me want to steer inexperienced, minimally involved users from the LX5. I'd hate for them to stumble into these aspects and blame the camera. It's not the camera, it's just not quite made for them.

If you want to learn, if you want to grow as a photographer or even an advanced snapshooter, the Panasonic LX5 is a great choice. If you already own an SLR and want to have something smaller that does a little more than the average pocket camera, and has a fast, worthy optic, the LX5 is one of the better choices. Travelers, journalists, camera aficionados, businesspeople, hobbyists, anyone with a vision they'd like to record and share should all give the Panasonic LX5 a closer look. I've had my time with it, and though I found a few things to criticize, I enjoyed it immensely. In the end, if you love photography, there's a good chance you'll love the Panasonic LX5.

It's a Dave's Pick.

 

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