Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 Review
By Movable Type Admin
Panasonic's Lumix DMC-LZ5 is the "top of the line" LZ series point-n-shoot they have to offer
as of March 2006, and shares many of its features with its siblings the DMC-LZ1, DMC-LZ2, and DMC-LZ3. It offers users much more versatility than your
typical 5 or 6 megapixel consumer models, with a 6x optical zoom lens (compared to most of the
competition with 3x zoom), 6-megapixel imager, VGA sized high-quality movie mode with sound,
and Panasonic's MEGA O.I.S. image stabilization system. And it can be used by just about anyone
with its Simple and Scene modes, while still giving the novices some more options with the
Normal mode that allows users to adjust settings for white balance, ISO, focusing modes, etc.
The LZ5 is very well designed. While it can't be described as an ultra-compact camera, I found it fits easily in coat or sweatshirt pockets as well as small purses and handbags; thanks in part to its zoom lens neatly retracting into the body. The back of the camera is dominated by its large 2.5-inch LCD monitor, which unfortunately is the only viewfinder. It is however an excellent display and was very effective for menu navigation, image review and as a viewfinder in the bright sun. In marginal lighting conditions the exposure system is very sensitive to light and the LCD also "gains-up" slightly, allowing you to frame in conditions where you would have no such luck with a 35mm film camera. The various controls mounted on the top and back of the body are positioned well within the reach of your finger tips. Its menu system was simple and easy to navigate, making changes to camera settings a snap.
One of its most appealing features has to be the Lumix DC-VARIO 6x optical zoom lens. It offers a great deal of flexibility in composing your shots with its 37-222mm (35mm equivalent) focal length range; especially when compared to the typical 35-105mm range of similar cameras in this class. The 37mm wide-angle provides a field of view sufficient for most indoor group portraits and outdoor landscape shots. While its 222mm telephoto extreme enables you to bring distant subjects much closer than the competition, and lets not forget about the MEGA O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilization) system. It helps reduce the occurrence of camera shake at longer focal lengths and slower shutter speeds as well as when shooting video. Panasonic's O.I.S. has proven to be very effective, allowing me to capture consistently sharp images at relatively slow shutter speeds (the slowest being 1/20 of a second); you'll be more concerned with subject movement than camera shake using this feature. I found that this lens exhibits a bit of barrel distortion at full wide angle, but virtually no pincushioning at the moderate and full telephoto focal lengths. chromatic aberration (purple fringing around subjects with high contrast) was very well controlled at all focal lengths. Unlike other Panasonic digicams, the LZ5's lens does not carry the Leica brand, and sharpness suffered a bit; it produced images that were sharp at the centers, but a bit soft at the edges.
Shooting performance was very good for a camera in this class. From power up to first image captured measured about 2.5 seconds. Shutter lag was almost absent when pre-focused, measuring less than 1/10 of a second and only 4/10 of a second including autofocus time. When shooting a sequence of images in single exposure mode, the shot to shot delay averaged 1.8 seconds between frames without the flash and about 3 - 5 seconds with the flash, depending on subject distance and battery life. One thing that I found annoying was that the LCD goes blank while the flash charges, making it difficult to prepare for the next shot while you wait for the flash to recharge. The LZ5 offers three Burst mode settings to choose from (Low-speed, High-speed, No- limit.) Using the Low-speed setting, I was able to capture 6 frames in about 2.4 seconds. High- speed captured 6 frames in approx. 1.7 seconds. No-limit mode allows you to continuously capture frames at about 1.5fps, limited only by available memory. Our tests were done using a Sandisk Ultra II 256MB SD card, shooting in "Normal" mode, size/quality set at 6M Fine, flash off, and all other settings at default (unless otherwise noted.) Times may vary depending on lighting conditions, camera settings, media, etc.
Like we saw on past models, the FZ5's image quality was average for a 6-megapixel consumer model. We captured all of our samples using the 6M Fine (best) mode, and it produces relatively good results in a variety of situations. Our outdoors test shots showed good exposure and color balance, but there was noticeable edge blurring on a large amount of the shots. Noise levels are average when shooting with an ISO of 100 or lower, becoming much more noticeable at 200 and 400. You can see what I mean by looking at our ISO 200 ambient light shot of the M&M man on the samples page. While this may not be an issue with those who use the "Normal" exposure mode and can select the desired ISO speed, those who use Simple mode will have to hope the camera is using the lowest setting possible. However, on a better note, these signs of noise can only be seen by the untrained eye when viewing images at 100%; something your typical consumer does not do. And it is very unlikely that you'll see much in your 4x6 or 8x10- inch prints, as long as there isn't much cropping.
Although we had some issues with image quality, the LZ5 did well at capturing our portraits. Our outdoors shots were well exposed and showed very natural skin tones. Indoors you'll have to work within its flash range of about 13 feet. I found this flash worked well indoors in mid sized rooms and we had very few occurrences of red eye when using the red eye reduction flash mode; just be sure you warn your subject that it will flash twice. I was glad to see Panasonic equipped these newer models with a focus-assist lamp. Although the autofocus system is very precise and performed reasonably well in many lighting conditions, the addition of the assist-lamp really improved its low-light capabilities.
When wanting to record video, the LZ5 can capture clips at VGA (640x480) or QVGA (320x240) resolutions, with a frame rate of either 10 or 30 frames per second. Sound is also recorded thanks to the built-in microphone, but I was a bit surprised that there wasn't also a speaker for playing back movies in the camera. This means you won't be able to hear any sound from your movies unless plugged into the TV or viewing them on your PC. Overall it captured great movies with very little noise and its AF system did well in many situations. Be sure to check out our movie sample on the next page.
Bottom line - Panasonic's Lumix DMC-LZ5 offers some appealing features like its MEGA O.I.S. stabilized 6x optical zoom lens, 6-megapixel imager and 2.5-inch LCD. Even though we thought image quality could have been a bit better, you can't beat the price of around $279! We feel it will offer a great "bang for your buck" and would please just about any consumer, whether you're a family, business, or tourist user.
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