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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 Review

Look and Feel

The Lumix DMC-LX5 is a midsize camera made mostly of metal. It's well constructed for the most part, save for the flimsy door that covers the battery and memory card compartment. The camera is easy to hold and operate with one hand thanks to a nice, rubberized grip, though I found that my right thumb rested on a number of the rear controls (though I never pressed anything accidentally). While the camera has its share of buttons and dials, I didn't find them to be overwhelming, especially since they usually handle just one function. I did, however, find the buttons on the back of the camera to be on the small side.

From the front, you'd be hard-pressed to spot the differences between the LX3 and LX5. Look at the top and back, however, and you'll see some changes:

 
The LX3 versus the LX5, top and back views
Images courtesy of Panasonic

In the top view comparison, you can see that Panasonic has replaced the focus button on the LX3 with a dedicated movie recording button on the LX5. The mode dial and aspect ratio switch items have changed slightly, as well. On the back, the LX5 now sports a control dial instead of a joystick, a playback button instead of a switch, and an accessory port for the optional electronic viewfinder. The items on the four-way controller are also different.

Images courtesy of Panasonic

The LX5 is available in two colors: black (DMC-LX5K) and white (DMC-LX5W).

Now, let's see how the LX5 compares to the other "fast lens" cameras in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot S95 3.9 x 2.3 x 1.2 in. 10.8 cu in. 170 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 4.3 x 2.6 x 1.7 in. 19 cu in. 233 g
Samsung TL500 4.5 x 2.5 x 1.2 in. 13.5 cu in. 356 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX5 3.6 x 2.1 x 0.9 in. 6.8 cu in. 130 g

While it's not the heaviest camera in the group, the LX5 is the bulkiest. It's not going to fit in your jeans pocket, but it travels well in a jacket pocket, over your shoulder, or in a small camera bag.

Ready to tour the LX5 now? I know I am, so let's begin.

Front of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5

One of the major changes on the DMC-LX5 is in the lens department. One complaint I had about the LX3 was that it was a big short on telephoto power (no pun intended). That camera had a 2.5X, 24 - 60 mm lens. The new F2.0-3.3, 3.8X optical zoom Leica lens has a 24 - 90 mm range, which I think everyone will find more useful. The lens still starts at F2.0, which is almost as fast as you'll find, topping out at F3.3 at the telephoto end of things. What this means in the real world is that the LX5's lens lets in more light than those found on traditional digital cameras, which means that you'll be able to take sharp photos in low light conditions than you could otherwise. While the lens itself is not threaded, you can attach 52 mm filters and a wide-angle conversion lens by picking up the adapter I mentioned in the previous section.

The image stabilization system on the LX5 has also been enhanced -- it now has "Power" OIS, instead of just "Mega". Translated from marketing-speak, Power OIS is more effective at stopping the low-frequency vibration caused by pressing the shutter release button or shooting in low light. They say that it's twice as effective at stopping shake as the old system. I don't have a way to test for that, so I'll have to take their word for it!

Whatever the name, the image stabilization system detects the movements of the camera that can blur your photos, and then moves a lens element to compensate for it. It won't freeze a moving subject or all for a 3 second handheld exposure, but it's way better than nothing at all. Have a look at this example to see what I mean:


Image stabilization off


Image stabilization on (mode 2)

I took both of the above photos at a shutter speed of 1/8 second. As you can see, the Power OIS system did its job! As you'd expect, you can also use the image stabilizer in movie mode, and you can see how well it works in this brief sample movie.

To the upper-right of the lens is the camera's popup flash, which is released manually. You do have to watch your fingers when it's popped up, as it's pretty easy to push it right back down. The flash remains nearly as powerful as it was on the LX3, with a working range of 0.8 - 7.2 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 4.4 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). Should you want more flash power and a reduced chance of redeye, you can attach an external flash to the hot shoe that you'll see in a moment.

The last thing to see on the front of the LX5 is the AF-assist lamp, located immediately to the right of the Lumix logo. The camera uses this lamp as a focusing aid in low light situations, and it also doubles as a visual countdown for the self-timer.

Back of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5

While both the DMC-LX3 and LX5 have 3-inch, high resolution LCDs, there have been some improvements made on the new model. Panasonic says that the LX5's LCD uses a "High CRI (color rendering index) LED backlight", which promises improved color rendition. Well, it looks pretty good to me! Since the screen has 460,000 pixels, everything is nice and sharp. Outdoor visibility is very good, though the Canon PowerShot S95 is noticeably better. The LCD brightens up nicely in low light, so you can see what you're trying to take a photo of.

While the LX5 does not come with an optical or electronic viewfinder, you have the option to add both. The optical viewfinder is large and shows 82% of the frame, but it's designed to be used at the wide end of the lens. The electronic viewfinder is the same one that's been available for the DMC-GF1 Micro Four Thirds camera for a while, offering a very average 202k pixel resolution. It does, however, cover 100% of the frame, and is capable of showing the same things as the main LCD. The EVF connects to the camera via that connector located just above the LCD. Normally, this port is protected by the hot shoe cover.

Now let's talk about the controls located on the back of the LX5. At the top right you'll find its new control dial, which can be turned and pushed inward. The dial has a nice "notchy" feel to it, and its placement is nearly perfect. You can use this dial to adjust the exposure compensation (-3EV to +3EV) as well as the shutter speed, aperture, and focus if you're in the manual modes.

Below the dial are buttons for AF/AE lock and entering playback mode. Continuing downward, we find the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation, reviewing photos, and also:

  • Up - Focus (activates AF tracking or selects an area in the frame on which to focus)
  • Down - Function (custom button)
  • Left - Self-timer (Off, 2 or 10 secs)
  • Right - ISO (Auto, Intelligent Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, 12800)
  • Center - Menu/Set

I'll provide more details about those items when we get to the menu discussion later in the review. Panasonic reworked the four-way controller a bit on the LX5, making it easier to adjust the ISO sensitivity (and more cumbersome to change the flash setting).

Continuing downward, we find two last buttons: one for toggling the information shown on the LCD, and another for opening the "quick menu", or deleting a photo. The Quick Menu generally contains these items:

  • Film mode
  • Flash setting
  • Burst mode
  • Metering mode
  • AF mode
  • White balance
  • Image size
  • Movie quality
  • LCD mode

Again, I'll get to those later in the review. And hey, look at that -- we're done with the back of the LX5!

Top of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5

Over on the far left end of the photo is the release for the pop-up flash. As you can see, there's not much room left for your fingers when the flash is raised.

Moving toward the center, you can see the camera's hot shoe. Here you can attach one of the three Panasonic flashes that I mentioned earlier, which will work with the LX5's TTL metering system. The two high-end models also allow for high speed flash sync. If you're using a third party flash, you will likely have to set its exposure manually.

Above the hot shoe is the camera's aspect ratio switch, which has been expanded to support four ratios: 1:1 (new), 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9. The LX5, like its predecessor, is somewhat unique in that the field-of-view remains the same regardless of the aspect ratio you're using, except for 1:1, where the focal range starts at 28 mm. The camera has the ability to bracket for aspect ratios, creating four photos with a single exposure (see above).

Update 10/1/10: Added note about 1:1 aspect ratio focal range

Next up is the mode dial, which has the camera's microphone located to its upper-left. The mode dial has changed slightly since the LX3 -- here's what you'll find on it:

Option Function
Intelligent Auto mode Point-and-shoot, with tons of automatic features and limited menu access.
Program mode Still automatic, but with full menu access; a Program Shift feature lets you use the control dial to select from various shutter speed/aperture combinations.
Aperture priority mode You select the aperture, and the camera picks the appropriate shutter speed. Aperture range is F2.0 - F8.0.
Shutter priority mode You select the shutter speed, and the camera picks the proper aperture; shutter speed range is 8 - 1/4000 sec.
Full manual (M) mode You select both the aperture and the shutter speed. Aperture range is same as above, while shutter speed range expands to 60 - 1/2000 sec.
Creative Motion Picture mode A dedicated movie mode, with available manual controls. Plenty more on this later.
Custom 1/2 Your favorite camera settings can be saved to these two spots on the mode dial. The first spot holds one set, and the second holds three!
Scene mode You choose the situation and the camera uses the proper settings. Choose from portrait, soft skin, self portrait, scenery, panorama assist, sports, night portrait, night scenery, food, party, candlelight, baby 1/2, pet, sunset, high sensitivity, hi-speed burst, flash burst, starry sky, fireworks, beach, snow, aerial photo.
My Color mode Similar to Art Filters on Olympus cameras, these give you instant special color effects. Choices here include expressive (pop art), retro, pure, elegant, monochrome, high dynamic, dynamic art, dynamic black & white, silhouette, pin hole, film grain, custom. The custom option allows you to manually adjust the color, brightness, and saturation.

If you want a purely point-and-shoot experience, then you'll want to set the mode dial to the iA (Intelligent Auto) position. This feature does virtually everything for you, including select the right scene mode (for both stills and movies), reduce camera shake (through image stabilization and ISO boost), detect and recognize faces, track moving subjects, brighten shadows, and more. There's even a "happy mode" that's automatically turned on, which optimizes color and brightness to make photos more vivid.

Scene Menu A help screen is available for each scene

If you want to select a scene mode yourself, there are plenty to choose from. Some of the notable scenes include:

  • Self-portrait: point the camera at yourself and the AF-assist lamp will stop blinking when you're in focus
  • Panorama assist: helps you line up photos side-by-side (in any direction) for later stitching on your computer
  • Baby: Enter the birthday and name of up to two children and the camera will save that info in the metadata of photos taken in this mode
  • Pet: same as baby mode, but for one pet; uses tracking autofocus
  • High sensitivity: drops the resolution to 3 Megapixel or lower and boosts the ISO to somewhere between 1600 and 12,800; results can be very low on detail, so I'd avoid this one
  • Hi-speed burst: allows for continuous shooting at 6.5 or 10 frames/second; resolution is lowered to 3 Megapixel or below, and the ISO is boosted
  • Flash burst: takes five flash photos in rapid succession; resolution is lowered to 3 Megapixel or below and ISO is boosted
  • Starry sky: allows for long exposures of 15, 30, or 60 seconds; tripod required

The problem with many of those unique scene modes is that they require a compromise of some sort. The resolution is low, the sensitivity is high, or both, which will undoubtedly reduce image quality. You can see what I mean by looking at this photo taken in high sensitivity mode at ISO 3200 -- not good.

New to the LX5 is the My Color mode, which is essentially a copy of the Art Filter feature on Olympus' Micro Four Thirds cameras. You can use these various special effects, such as expressive (pop art), pin hole, or film grain, for both stills and movies.

Naturally, the DMC-LX5 also has a full set of manual exposure controls. You can adjust the aperture, shutter speed, or both. About the only thing I should point out about those is that the fastest shutter speeds are only available at apertures above F4.0.

Getting back to our tour now, the next item on the top of the DMC-LX5 is the shutter release button, which has the mode dial wrapped around it. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about 2.6 seconds. I counted eighteen steps in the LX5's 3.8X zoom range.

Next up we have the dedicated movie recording button -- new to the LX5 -- which allows for instant video recording in any shooting mode. Below that is the camera's power switch.

Side of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5

On this side of the LX5 you'll find the focus mode switch. The choices here are autofocus (50 cm minimum focus distance), autofocus w/auto macro (1 cm min distance), and manual focus.


Manual focus, with movable frame enlargement

When you're in manual focus mode, you will use the control dial or the left/right button on the four-way controller to set the focus distance. The image is enlarged so you can verify focus, and the area that's blown up can be moved around. A guide showing the current focus distance is displayed at the bottom of the LCD.

The lens is at the full wide-angle position here.

Side of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5

On the opposite side of the LX5 are its I/O ports, which are protected by a plastic cover of average quality. The ports here include HDMI and USB + A/V output. In case you're wondering where the optional AC adapter plugs in, it's via a DC coupler that fits into the battery compartment.

The lens is at the telephoto position in this shot.

Bottom of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5

Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the LX5. Here you'll find a metal tripod mount as well as the battery/memory card compartment. The plastic door that covers this compartment is quite flimsy, especially given the camera's $500 price tag. You will be able to access what's inside the compartment while the camera is on a tripod.

The new DMW-BCJ13 lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.

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