By Mike Flacy
Timing Test Results
|Panasonic has created a worthy competitor in a tough category that has several great cameras competing in it. With excellent image quality, speedy performance, awesome High ISO capabilities (for a compact), and all of the Panasonic bells and whistles we've come to love, the Lumix DMC-LX5 is an awesome prosumer camera. |
Pick This Up If...
|You want an extremely capable compact digital camera that will perform better in low light than approx. 90% of the cameras on the market of the same size, that offers a broad range of exposure modes to suit novice and professional users alike. |
While the camera is aimed at more experienced photo enthusiasts that demand manual controls, fast glass, and great High ISO capabilities, the LX5 still has a softer, easier to use side thanks to iAuto. Panasonic was one of the first manufactures to offer this functionality, which takes your standard Auto exposure mode to the next level. By combining accurate exposure control with intelligent scene selection, the LX5 will allow the most novice of users to capture great snapshots with a bit of added "pop" thanks to the Scene mode settings chosen by the camera. If you want to choose the Scene mode yourself, there are about 22 different available settings. Panasonic has also added some creative My Color modes to choose from, which allow you to add a unique look to your photos. Lastly, for those who do have some photography experience or knowledge, the LX5 offers as little or as much control as you would like with settings for Program AE, Aperture priority, Shutter speed priority, and full Manual. No matter how you look at it, the LX5 can appeal to just about anyone, regardless of their actual photographic knowledge or abilities.
The build quality of the LX5 is right in line with just about every single Lumix model we've come into contact with; excellent. When holding and admiring the camera, it looks like a shrunk down version of their DMC-GF1 and DMC-GF2 m43 (micro Four Thirds) models. While this is a compact camera that can fit into a pocket comfortably, thanks to the enlarged handgrip on the right hand side, it also fits comfortably in your hands. All of the controls are within reach of your finger tips, and during out tests none of them stood out to me as causing an issues. The control dial on the back of the camera is a handy feature, which has been borrowed from their G-series of EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) cameras. This allows you to make quick changes to settings like Aperture or Shutter speed, depending on which mode you are in. The Movie mode record button or shutter release is mounted in a nice recessed position, which makes it very easy to start recording video no matter what exposure mode you are in, however you won't find yourself accidentally hitting the button either. All in all, handling and operating the LX5 was a pleasure thanks to its easy to use control layout and logically organized menu system.
Viewing stored files, browsing the menu system, and framing your photos and videos is handled by a nice and bright 3.0-inch LCD screen with 460k dots of resolution. This is a very nice display that is usable in most all lighting conditions. Outdoors you will have no problems seeing your subject(s) thanks to a strong backlight, and glare is cut down significantly thanks to Panasonic using an anti-reflective (AR) coating. While this coating works well, you can't expect it to take away all glare; at some angles you may still see some glare, however it shouldn't block your view of the subject. When shooting in marginal lighting, whether in a dimly lit restaurant or outdoors during the evening, the LCD will gain up its brightness to ensure you can see your subject. The live image may get a little grainy depending on how dark it is, however the ability to actually see your subject in these conditions outweighs any little noise you may see in the monitor.
Image quality from the LX5's 10-megapixel image sensor is, as we expected, excellent for a compact camera of this size. Comparable to its competition, the LX5 is able to produce excellent exposures in a variety of lighting conditions, with pleasing sharpness and contrast. Like with most cameras that feature some sort of intelligent or smart Auto mode, the LX5's iAuto option produces more vibrant colors. This increased saturation will appeal to many, as colors are more rich and will likely make prints stand our a bit more. However, some will want more natural colors, which can be had when using any of the P/A/S/M modes with the "Film Mode" set to natural. Like past models the LX5 sports a small built-in, manual pop-up flash unit for times when additional illumination is required. While the flash works rather well when using either iAuto mode or any of the other exposure programs with the ISO set to Auto or Intelligent ISO, it lacks the power to illuminate subjects that are beyond 10 feet or so, especially when you stop down the lens or manually set the ISO to a lower setting. This is typical however, and thanks to the camera's fast lens and great high ISO performance (read more about that in the paragraph below), you'll likely not find yourself in a lighting situation where you can't get a decent shot; other than total darkness obviously. If you do however need better lighting, the LX5 does have a built-in flash hot shoe for connecting external flashes like Panasonic's compact DMW-FL220 or FL360.
The LX5 controls image noise rather well, and is right in line with models like the Canon PowerShot S95 up until about ISO 1600. When comparing images of our M&M man setup from both models side by side on my PC with dual monitors, I saw that both models retain excellent fine details up to ISO 1600. At ISO 3200, you will start to see some heavy luminous noise as well as a change in color balance, however there are still some fine details retained. At this level, I feel the S95 and LX5 are very close in terms of quality, with my personal preference being the image from the S95. Unlike its competitor, the LX5 boasts some extremely high sensitivity options, with addition settings of 6400 and 12,800. These are settings you normally see on high-end dSLRs, and when using these options on the LX5 resolution is dropped to approx. 3-megapixels. The 6400 settings looks "OK" at best, however there is virtually no fine detail left. It's possible that images taken using this setting could be used for smaller prints, but obviously the print would not have near the quality of a print from a higher-resolution image from the camera. The 12,800 setting looks really bad, and I recommend not using it unless absolutely necessary. Honestly, I think some of these extreme ISO capabilities are more of a marketing gimmick when it comes to consumer cameras. While the LX5 performs better than the majority of compact cameras out there, I doubt many will even attempt to use ISO 6400 or 12,800.
Panasonic equipped the LX5 with a nice Leica DC-Vario-Summicron 3.8x optical zoom lens that provides a wide zoom range covering a 35mm equivalent of 24 - 90mm. While you won't be bringing distant subjects much closer, this lens is excellent for close-up shooting, portraits, and other indoor shooting needs. Thanks to the versatile wide open aperture of f/2.0 at wide angle, this lens is quite fast and bright, further enhancing the LX5's low-light capabilities. While reviewing the photos we captured, we noticed that this lens helps produce sharp results throughout the zoom and aperture ranges, with little to no edge softness. We did see some typical barrel distortion at the wide angle extremes, however other aberrations or distortions were controlled very well. Overall, this is an excellent piece of glass that compliments the LX5's larger image sensor nicely.
When a picture just isn't enough, the LX5 can record AVCHD Lite video at 720p (1280x720), or Motion JPEG video at WVGA (848x480), VGA (640x480) and QVGA (320x240) resolutions. The frame rate is fixed at 30fps, which makes for smooth playback in-camera, on your PC, or a HDTV with the optional HDMI cable. Our sample videos show the LX5 can capture nice sharp video, even them shooting indoors thanks to the fast F2.0 lens. You have full use of the optical zoom while recording, and the camera did a good job of keeping things in focus while zooming; the camera zooms rather slowly to ensure you don't hear the zoom motor and to help the camera stay in focus. Like most all digicams, the sound of your video will be decent, but you will hear a great deal of background noise that you may not have noticed while shooting the movie.
The LX5's battery life is excellent for a camera of this size, further adding to its appeal. Typically we see cameras of this size offer about 200-250 shots per charge. Panasonic claims you can get up to 400 pictures from the LX5 on a single charge using CIPA standard testing methods (flash used 50% of the time). I was able to capture over 200 photos and several short video clips as well as complete all of our other tests with plenty of power to spare (which included extensive use of the menu and playback functions). While this is excellent battery life, you can still pick up a spare pack and keep it charged and ready at all times thanks to the external AC charger.
Bottom Line - the Panasonic Lumix DMX-LX5 continues the traditions laid by its predecessors by offering excellent image quality, speedy shooting performance, robust low-light abilities, and loads of useful automatic and manual control options. The LX5 performs right in line with cameras like the Canon PowerShot S95, and like its competitor the LX5 is one of the smallest in this category. With a street price of $399.99 or less, the LX5 is competitively priced. Some may feel $400 is a lot of money for a compact point-n-shoot, but one look at what the camera can produce and you'll change your tune. That said, we have no problem giving the Lumix DMC-LX5 a high recommendation.
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