This compact, full-featured camera boasts a stabilized 24-90mm Leica D lens, targeting photo enthusiasts who love wide-angle photography. The maximum apertures are quite wide (f/2-3.3), providing faster shutter speeds at lower ISO levels where image quality is the best. Although the lens barrel protrudes by 2cm when the camera is off, the LX5 fits into a large shirt pocket or a moderately small purse. The tradeoff is that there's no viewfinder. The LX5 does accept an optical viewfinder (useful at 24mm) and an electronic finder. These optional accessories are a bit bulky, but can be removed when not needed.
In spite of the small size, the LX5 is convenient to use with one hand, thanks to the rubberized handgrip. It's equipped with plenty of external controls, though fewer than Canon's PowerShot G12 or Nikon's Coolpix P7000, two competing enthusiast cameras. Panasonic provides a mechanical switch for aspect-ratio selection, not available with the G12 or P7000; it's quicker to use than an electronic function. There's a four-way controller but only a single input dial. The latter has two distinct purposes; press the dial to switch from one to the other. A [Q.MENU] button provides access to many frequently used functions; this is a useful amenity since the full menu is long and tedious to navigate.
The wide end of the zoom lens in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 starts at 24mm (equivalent), making the camera very suitable for wide-angle image-making. Photo by Peter Burian
Because the zoom lens does not retract fully into the body, there's a snap-on lens cap with a short lanyard. Some LX5 users love this feature, while others (like me) find it "fiddly." The three-inch LCD is not articulated but provides high (460,000-dot) resolution and a sharp, colourful display. In bright sun, the electronic viewfinder is preferable. It can be tilted upward to any desired angle, provides 100% scene coverage (and no parallax error); the display quality is highly acceptable with 202,000-dot resolution.
The Lumix DMC-LX5 is remarkably well specified with the modes, functions and overrides you'll find in a larger camera like Panasonic's interchangeable-lens DMC-G series. These include convenient manual focus, many AF options, 11 My Colour modes for special effects, 10 picture styles ("Film" modes) with levels control for saturation, sharpness and contrast, numerous operating modes including Panorama Assist and multiple exposure, plus many overrides. Surprisingly, there are no image-enhancement or special-effect features in playback mode.
Panasonic's Lumix DMC-LX5 delivers excellent image quality at ISO 100,
especially when you select an appropriate Film mode and apply overrides
for contrast, saturation, sharpness and white balance. Photo by Peter Burian
High-tech features include Intelligent ISO: the ISO is boosted automatically when subject motion is detected, for a faster shutter speed. Intelligent Auto mode is even more impressive; it activates Intelligent ISO, Intelligent Exposure, automatic scene mode selection with continuous AF or face-recognition AF when appropriate, providing nice photos when you must shoot quickly. Intelligent Exposure (for shadow lightening) and Intelligent Resolution (for enhanced sharpness) options are also available in creative modes.
Movies can be made in either AVCHD Lite or Motion JPEG (.MOV) format; only the latter format is available with the Canon G12 and Nikon P7000. An AVCHD video can be burned directly to Blu-ray or DVD discs or played from the SD card using AVCHD-compatible Blu-ray players and HDTVs. But the .MOV files are supported by more media-player and editing programs than the more complex AVCHD files. It's also a better choice (in spite of the larger file size) if you have an older computer, because of its lower demands for processing power.
Of the current crop of enthusiast compact cameras, the LX5 is the most versatile in video capture. Video recording is available in Intelligent Auto but also in P, A, S and M mode using a pre-set exposure and aperture or shutter speed; any desired My Colours and Film mode can also be set, and continuous AF is available. The built-in mic records in Dolby stereo for better-than-average audio, but there's no jack for an external mic. Optical zoom is fully functional during video capture; but it functions more slowly in video mode so as to minimize the motor noise that's recorded. Especially when connected to an HDTV with an HDMI cable, video quality (especially in AVCHD) is amazing.
Speed and Quality
Remove the lens cap, turn the camera on and it will fire the first shot in two seconds. The LX5 can then shoot at a fast 2.5fps but will only take three large/fine JPEG or RAW photos before pausing for a few seconds. (Burst depth for large/standard JPEGs is five shots.) Autofocus is fast outdoors when Pre-AF set to on, taking 1/3 second at wide angle and about 1/2 second at telephoto. Even in dark locations, focusing rarely took more than a second. The tracking AF feature worked well for people walking toward the camera, but was not able to keep up with fast action.
As with other cameras in its class, the tracking autofocus system on the
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 has trouble keeping up with fast motion,
but can hold focus on subjects that are not moving quickly or erratically.
Photo by Peter Burian.
The standard "Film" style mode produces moderate contrast and sharpness. Intelligent Exposure can be activated to automatically lighten shadow areas and Intelligent Resolution can sharpen fine details. Colours are accurate, but a bit dull except for some blues, purples and greens. Auto WB produces a very cool overall effect even in warm afternoon light; that also affects skin tones. More striking effects are possible in other Film modes or by using one of the many overrides. The camera tends to underexpose light-toned scenes; better results are possible with a +1/3 or +2/3 compensation.
Images made at ISO levels up to 200 are smooth, though slightly soft at default settings; still they produce very nice 13x19-inch prints. By ISO 400, the photos are softer, but they're fine for nice 11x15-inch prints. (The Intelligent Resolution function, or sharpening with software, is definitely useful with JPEGs if you plan to make large prints.) At ISO 800, the images are smooth; fine details are well maintained, so letter-size prints are quite nice. Sharpness and colour saturation decline noticeably by ISO 1600, but the JPEGs made very good 5x7-inch prints.
This is my favourite camera of the current range of "serious" compact cameras in terms of styling, movie-mode versatility, customization options and speed (except for the shallow burst depth). Granted, the many menu items can create confusion at first. A study of the owner's manual will definitely pay off for those who want to maximize the value of the many high-tech options. The "fast" lens was ideal in low light, but I did miss longer telephoto focal lengths. Photographers who prefer wide-angle image-making should be perfectly happy with the 24-90mm Leica zoom with its three aspherical elements.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5
Fast wide-angle Leica zoom
Many useful high-tech features
Very portable, but no optical viewfinder
Some functions are not intuitive
Shoots fewer frames in a burst
Only 90mm at full telephoto
NUTS & BOLTS
Sensor: 10MP CCD (3,648 x 2,736 pixels); four aspect ratios including 16:9
Capture modes: JPEG, RAW; AVCHD Lite or M-JPEG to 720p
Lens: Leica DC 24-90mm f/2-3.3 (135 equivalent) aspherical with optical stabilizer; Intelligent and digital zoom
LCD/viewfinder: 3" 460,000-dot screen; optional EVF and optical (24mm) optical finder
Feature set: 32 shooting modes including Panorama Assist and Soft Skin; many overrides; 2.5fps drive speed; ISO 80-3200; versatile 23-point AF system with face-detect and face-recognition AF, continuous and tracking AF; manual focus; Dolby stereo mic
High-tech amenities: Intelligent AUTO, ISO, Exposure and Resolution; multiple-exposure mode; resize, crop, level and text print options in playback mode; HDMI output
Power: Rechargeable lithium-ion battery for 400 shots
Storage: SD, SDHC, SDXC
Size: 110 x 66 x 43mm (w/h/d, plus protruding lens barrel)
Weight: 271g (with battery)