Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 Review
Originally Posted: September 19, 2010
Last Updated: September 30, 2010
Few cameras in the last two years had a big a following as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3. That midsize camera featured a high sensitivity, 10 Megapixel sensor, a fast / wide 2.5X zoom with image stabilization, a large and sharp 3-inch LCD, a hot shoe, support for an optical viewfinder, tons of manual controls, and HD movie recording -- to name just a few things.
The LX3 became so popular that Panasonic literally could not make them fast enough. I would get e-mails asking me why you couldn't find one in stock. "Are they discontinued?", people would ask. Each time I'd check with my contacts at Panasonic, the answer was "no, they're just back-ordered".
More recently, the buzz started to build about a replacement for the LX3. Everyone knew it was coming, but nobody know what Panasonic would do to top what was already a very capable camera. Well, the Lumix DMC-LX5 ($499) is here, and Panasonic has made improvements that will have LX3 owners grabbing their wallets. Here's a comparison:
I don't think anyone will argue that those aren't big improvements! There are two things that would've looked the same in the table that have also changed.
The first is the CCD. While both cameras have 10.1 Megapixel, 1/1.63" sensors, changes have been made to the design of the LX5's sensor that improved sensitivity by 31% and saturation by 38% (technical details can be found about 2/3 down on this page).
The second "same, but different" item is the LCD. Both the LX3 and LX5 have 3-inch screens with 460,000 pixels and auto brightness adjustment. The LX5's LCD uses a High CRI (color rendering index) LED backlight that promises improved color reproduction. Since I don't have an LX3 sitting around, I'll have to take Panasonic's word for it.
There are plenty of other differences between the two cameras that I'll point out as the review progresses. And speaking of which, let's get started!
What's in the Box?
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
- The 10.1 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-LX5 camera
- DMW-BCJ13 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
- Battery charger
- Lens cap w/retaining strap
- Hot shoe / accessory port cover (installed)
- Shoulder strap
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring PhotoFunStudio 5.0 HD and SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.1 SE
- 43 page basic manual (printed) + full manual on CD-ROM
While most everything on the LX5 is bigger and better than on its predecessor, that's not the case in the built-in memory department. Where the LX3 had 50MB of memory, the LX5 has 40MB -- a 20% drop. Either way, it's still not very much, so you'll want to buy a memory card right away, unless you have one already. The LX5 supports SD, SDHC, and the new high capacity SDXC cards, and I'd recommend a 2GB or 4GB card as a good starting point. It's worth spending a little extra on a "high speed" model, especially if you plan on recording lots of HD movies.
The DMC-LX5 uses a new battery, known as the DMW-BCJ13. This battery packs 4.5 Wh of energy, up from 4.1 Wh on the LX3's battery. How does that translate into battery life? Here's how the LX5 compares to the other cameras in its class:
As you can see, there is very little competition in this category! The LX5 comes out on top, and by quite a bit. And, as you saw at the beginning of this review, its battery life is also a bit better than it was on the LX3.
I do want to mention the usual issues about the proprietary batteries used by the LX5 and all of the other cameras on the above list. They're expensive (I don't know what a spare will cost, but it will probably be around $50), and you can't use an off-the-shelf battery when the proprietary one runs out of juice.
Something else to mention is that the LX5 has software that detects when a non-Panasonic battery is used. While the company says that generic batteries will still work, at the very least the camera will throw up a warning message when you use one.
In case you were wondering, this charger is a sample
When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the included charger. It takes approximately 155 minutes for a full charge. This is my favorite type of charger -- it plugs directly into the wall, with no power cable needed (at least in the U.S.).
Panasonic includes a stylish lens cap (with retaining strap) with the LX5, to help protect your fancy Leica lens.
LX5 shown with optional electronic viewfinder; image courtesy of Panasonic
The LX5, like its predecessor, has one of the best collections of accessories of any fixed lens camera on the market. You name it, and Panasonic probably sells it. Here's the full list:
Unfortunately I'm missing some of those prices, since the camera is so new. With the exception of the carrying case (which may not be sold in the U.S. at all), all of those should be readily available shortly.
PhotoFunStudio 5.0 HD
Panasonic includes version 5.0 of their PhotoFunStudio HD software with the Lumix DMC-LX5. This software, for Windows only, is fairly basic, and the various "wizards" it uses make things take longer than they should, in my opinion. PhotoFunStudio can be used to transfer photos and videos from the camera to your PC, and once that's done, you'll end up at the thumbnail screen you see above. Photos can be browsed by folder or in a calender view, and you can filter things down further by things like shooting mode or recognized faces. You can e-mail or print photos, upload them to online sharing sites, or copy photos to a DVD or memory card.
Editing photos in PhotoFunStudio
Above you can see the still photo editing screen. Here you can adjust things like brightness, contrast, color, and sharpness. Images can be changed to sepia, black and white, or "negative color", and redeye can be removed with the click of your mouse. There's also an auto enhancement feature, for those who want to keep things simple.
While PhotoFunStudio can view RAW images, it cannot edit them. For that, you'll need to load up SilkyPix.
SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.1 SE
SilkyPix Developer Studio SE 3.1 may be familiar to you, as it's used by several camera manufacturers, in one form or another. This product is for Mac OS X and Windows, and while it has a rather clunky interface, it's quite powerful. You can adjust exposure, white balance, the tone curve, color, sharpness, noise reduction, and lots more.
If you want to use something other than SilkyPix to do your RAW editing, then you'll be pleased to hear that version 6.2 of Adobe's Camera Raw plug-in for Photoshop CS5 and Lightroom 3 supports the RAW files created by the LX5.
So what is RAW, anyway, and why should you care? RAW images contain unprocessed image data from the LX5's sensor. This allows you to change things like exposure, white balance, color, and more, without degrading the quality of the image. The bad news is that you'll need to convert those RAW images to JPEGs for easy sharing, which can be time-consuming. RAW files are also considerably larger than JPEGs, and can slow down camera performance. Despite that, it's a very handy feature to have, especially when it allows you to extract the best possible image quality out of the LX5 (more on that later).
That brings us to movie editing. The Lumix DMC-LX5 records 720p video in two formats: AVCHD Lite and Motion JPEG (M-JPEG). The former looks great when you plug your camera into your HDTV, but it's a pain to edit on your PC. Heck, just finding the MTS files on your memory card isn't easy (here's a hint: /PRIVATE/AVCHD/BDMV/STREAM/). AVCHD Lite also allows for unlimited recording time (outside of Europe) and higher frame rates (sort of) than M-JPEG. Motion JPEG files have limited recording times and huge file sizes, but they're easier to edit and share on your PC.
PhotoFunStudio can play the AVCHD files on your PC without any problem. It can remove unwanted footage from a clip (though the interface is confusing), and can save a movie as an MPEG-2 file. Videos can also be burned to a DVD or saved on a memory card. Other options for video conversions in Windows include Handbrake, CoreAVC, or AVS Video Converter. For editing, Windows users will want to use something like Adobe Premiere, Pinnacle Studio, or Sony Vegas (view the full list here).
Mac users don't get any video viewing/editing software with the camera. If you just want to view the AVCHD Lite movies, try downloading VLC. If you want to convert them to other formats, I've had decent luck with both Handbrake as well as Toast Titanium 10 (which can also burn the movies to DVD or Blu-ray). You can edit the AVCHD Lite videos using iMovie or Final Cut, though do note that your not natively working with the MTS files -- the software converts them to another codec first.
It seems like all the camera manufacturers seem to be jumping on the "let's put the full manual on a CD" bandwagon this year. The LX5 comes with a thin "basic manual" to get you up and running. For more details, you'd need to load up the PDF file on an included CD-ROM disc. While the manuals are quite detailed, they're anything but user-friendly -- good thing I wrote this helpful review for you, eh? As for the software, the documentation for it will be installed onto your computer.