Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC5 Review
By Movable Type Admin
The Lumix DMC-LC5 and the Lumix DMC-LC40 are Panasonic's first entries into the 4-Megapixel digicam arena, both cameras use the same CCD imager and Leica DC Vario-Sumicron 3X zoom lens. You've heard us say time and time again that a great digicam starts with a great lens and this is a very good one.
The LC40 is designed more like a digital point and shoot camera whereas the LC5 has the look and feel of a 35mm rangefinder camera. The large 2.5" color LCD (205,000 pixels) is easy to see in normal room light but out in bright sun or in high ambient light conditions it suffers because of a highly reflective plastic covering, it could benefit from a non-glare coating. To make up for this Panasonic includes a detachable hood that mounts on the tripod socket. With the hood attached, the LCD becomes very useable outdoors. The hood folds over the LCD and protects it when the camera is not in use. The refresh rate is real-time so there's no "herky-jerky" motion which is common on less expensive digicams. The LC5 has ergonomically located controls and the menus are well organized and easy to understand. The control buttons have industry standard symbols and functions, if you've used other digicams then you'll already be familiar with them. The optical viewfinder is bright and clear with a coverage of about 90% of the captured frame, this is a little above average. Next to the viewfinder is a diopter adjustment for those of us with less than perfect eyesight.
One of our major concerns is the LC5's auto focus system. The wide area AF mode is less than reliable and often focuses on high-contrast background objects. The wide AF mode is the default setting in the "AUTO" shooting mode and cannot be changed. The solution is to select spot AF but this can only be selected in Program, Aperture or Shutter priority modes, not "AUTO" which many first-time users would select. The disadvantage of spot AF is that the subject must be in the center of the frame when you half-press the shutter release for focus lock before recomposing. If you are photographing two people who are not in each other's arms, spot focus makes the camera focus between them and possibly on the wall behind which makes the main subjects out of focus. The wide AF mode on other cameras in this price range handle this and most other AF situations properly, unfortunately the LC5 doesn't. The only reliable focus mode after considerable attempts at people photography was the spot AF focus mode. The LC5 requires careful pre-focusing in all AF modes as it allows the shutter to fire regardless of whether the focus is locked or not.
Image processing is another area of concern, it takes approx. 6 seconds between shots in single frame mode, this is slow compared to its peers. Hair detail and skin tone reproduction in a head and shoulders flash portrait is less than satisfactory. We judge a camera's resolution by its ability to record the fine detail (or the lack of) of human hair. And everyone wants a camera that faithfully reproduces proper skin tone colors. The LC5 consistently captures average Caucasian skin color with too much magenta, reminiscent of the problem seen with the Nikon D1 (not D1X or D1H.) Outdoors in "fine" weather the colors of most subjects are very close to natural but people still look a little too magenta. We saw more than the usual amount of "noise" in clear blue sky areas and there was noticeable shadow noise in the low contrast areas of the image. We also noticed that people's skin often appeared "blotchy" or even semi- solarized, something that is normally attributed to a lack of dynamic tonal range. See samples photos. Other people that have seen LC5 sample photos posted on the net have made the comment that they appear to be posterized or badly post-processed. After seeing the LC5 sample images posted at DC Resource I feel confident that our camera was not defective, it seems that they all operate similarly.
06/24/02 update: The LC5 (and LC40) images seem to be interpreted in one of two ways, either examined on the monitor screen or the printed results. Those of us that were basing our image quality remarks on the images alone seemed to come to the same conclusion that the images just didn't "look" right. And then there were those that were looking at the printed results and most of them said that they thought the image quality was as good or better than other cameras of similar resolution. I've said it myself many times, since the advent of three, four and five megapixel cameras we are "seeing" smaller and smaller portions of the image at 100% on our 800x600 or 1024x768 sized screens. We are now being a lot more critical of these images on a pixel level whereas we used to judge an entire one megapixel image on the screen without the need for it being scaled down to fit. We post 640x480 (or smaller) images on web sites and most people don't use images larger than 800x600 for on-screen viewing. Two, three, four, five and six megapixel images are for making prints and maybe we should change our mindset to reflect this new reality. The same images that I said looked "blotchy" or solarized make perfectly good prints on my Canon S9000 printer. Panasonic says that the camera has been optimized for printing and they may just be right about this.
The choice of Secure Digital / MultiMedia Card storage for a four megapixel camera is questionable at best. These flash memory cards are not presently available in sizes larger than 128MB (as of 05/2002), cost more than competing flash memory formats and suffer from less than robust transfer speeds. The LC5 in 4 megapixel mode consumes about 1.9MB per image so a 16MB or 32MB size card isn't going to go very far, especially if capturing movies, they consume ~3MB for a 10-second clip. The more widely accepted CompactFlash cards are available now in capacities up to 512MB and cost around $0.50/MB. On a positive note the LC5 (and LC40) are powered by a very hefty 7.2v 1400mAh Lithium Ion battery pack (that looks very similar to Canon's BP-511.) Panasonic claims the battery will last for about 300 shots (half using flash with the LCD on) or about two and a half hours. We used it off and on for several days with the LCD on at all times and the battery was never a problem. The battery charges in-camera using the supplied charger in two hours or less.
Consumers shopping in this price range (above $700) and resolution class are those who want to capture large, high-quality images and world class memories of their family. If the camera fails to focus on the intended subject or the image processing fails to render a clear and properly colored image - they're going to be disappointed. Panasonic seems to have dropped the ball on the image processing and focus system, the LC5 is just not the contender it should be in the highly competitive arena of today's 4-megapixel cameras. The Lumix DMC- LC5 has an excellent Leica zoom lens, its design is unique for a digital camera and we very much like the larger sized body. Tiny cameras are "handy" but they're difficult to hold steady and often yield less than optimal images. The LC5's control layout and overall ergonomics are very good, the lithium rechargeable battery pack is top notch, but the competitiveness of this camera seems to wain from there. We hope that the LC5's successor will fix these obvious problems and if it does, it could be a real contender.
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Want a second opinion?
Extreme Tech's Leica Digilux I review
(The Lumix LC5 and Leica Digilux I are the same)
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