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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5
You'll wait for roughly 1.6 seconds while the LX5 extends its lens and prepares for shooting. That's about average.
A live histogram is available in record mode
Autofocus speeds were very good. At the wide end of the lens, you'll wait about 0.2 - 0.4 seconds for the camera to lock focus. Focus speeds at the telephoto position are about twice as long. You can help reduce these further by using the Pre AF feature that I'll discuss below, and keeping the focus mode switch set to regular AF (instead of AF macro) probably helps, too. Low light focusing was very good, with the LX5 locking focus accurately in around a second.
I didn't find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slow shutter speeds where it sometimes occurs.
Shot-to-shot delays are very brief. For JPEGs, you'll be able to take another picture after about one second without the flash, and three seconds with it. For RAW+JPEG, the delay was three seconds, though the camera can take the second shot a bit faster than that.
There is no quick way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you'll have to enter playback mode to do that.
Now let's take a look at the image size and quality options on the LX5. Since there are three different aspect ratios available, it's a very long list (though I've tried to simplify things a bit).
That's quite a list, and I trimmed it down, too! You can take a RAW image along with a JPEG of any size, not just the largest size, as shown in the table. I explained the benefits of the RAW format earlier in the review. The 1:1 aspect ratio is a new addition to the LX5, allowing for cool "square" photos. I should add that not all of the image sizes listed in the table are available in the automatic shooting modes.
The Lumix DMC-LX5 has two ways of giving you extra zoom power without reducing the quality of your image (or in the case of one of the methods, not by much). The first way you can do it isn't new: it's called Extra Optical Zoom. By lowering the image size, you can get extra zoom power, with no loss in image quality. For example, by dropping down to 3 Megapixel -- which is still more than enough for most situations -- you then have a total of 6.7X zoom at your disposal.
The other method for extra zoom is called Intelligent Zoom, and it's new to the LX5. This is related to the Intelligent Resolution feature that I'll tell you about later, and it gives you a bit more zoom power with "no noticeable deterioration" in image quality, according to Panasonic. When Intelligent Zoom is on, you get a total zoom of 5X, at the full 10 Megapixel resolution. Here's an example:
|Max optical zoom (3.8X)
View Full Size Image
|Max optical zoom + Intelligent Zoom (5X)
View Full Size Image
If you're "pixel peeping" on your computer, it's hard to buy Panasonic's claim that there's no noticeable drop in image quality when using Intelligent Zoom. If you look closely at the trees, you'll see that there's more detail smudging when Intelligent Zoom is used. That said, if you're printing the photos or downsizing them for the Web, I seriously doubt that anyone will notice.
In case you're wondering, you can combine Expanded Optical Zoom and Intelligent Zoom, for a grand total of 26.8X zoom at the 3 Megapixel setting.
The Lumix LX5's menu system has been given a very subtle face lift, but it should still feel instantly familiar to those who have used other Panasonic cameras. It's fairly attractive and easy to navigate, though help screens for the various options would be nice. When you're taking pictures, the menu is divided into three tabs, covering recording, motion picture (movie), and setup options. Keeping in mind that not all of these options will be visible in every shooting mode, here's the full list:
Motion Picture Menu - showing the unique items only
Adjusting a film mode
Lots to talk about here, and I'll start with the Film Mode feature. Film Modes are preset groups of color and sharpness settings, which can be tweaked further, if you wish. Here's what's available on the LX5:
For each of the film modes, you can adjust contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction. The memory option you see above lets you save the current film mode to one of those two My Film spots. The Multi Film option lets you bracket for up to three Film Modes with a single press of the shutter release.
I want to quickly mention the Intelligent ISO feature, which is always on in Intelligent Auto mode, and optional in the other shooting modes. The camera will take a look at what's going on in the frame, and adjust the sensitivity accordingly. If there's nothing happening, it will only boost the ISO enough to produce a sharp photo. However, if the subject is in motion, it'll boost it even higher, in order to "freeze" their motion. You can select the maximum ISO the camera will use (in some shooting modes), and I'd keep it at ISO 400 for best results.
|Setting the color temperature||Fine-tuning and bracketing white balance -- at the same time|
The LX5 has pretty extensive white balance controls. The usual presets are all available, though Panasonic seems to have an aversion to putting a fluorescent option on their cameras. There are two slots for storing a custom WB setting, which is obtained by using a white or gray card. You can also set the color temperature manually, with a range of 2500K to 10000K. Need more control? Each of the WB settings can be fine tuned in the amber/blue and green/magenta direction. If that's still not enough, you can also bracket for white balance, with the camera taking three photos, each with a different WB setting. Want to fine-tune and bracket at the same time? No problem!
|The four focus point sizes (and also notice that I've moved the focus point a little to the left)||The LX5 locked onto five of the six faces here|
Let's talk about autofocus modes now. The LX5 has several to choose from, including 23-point, 1-point, face detection, and AF tracking. In 1-point mode, you can position the focus point anywhere in the frame, and select one of four possible sizes. In face detection mode, the camera will find up to 15 faces in the frame, making sure they're properly focused and exposed. And, using the face recognition feature, the LX5 can "learn" who people are, giving them priority when multiple faces are present. You can attach the name and age of the person to their "profile", which is then saved into the metadata of photos in which they appear. I found that the face detection system worked very well, with the camera detecting five or six (out of six) faces in our test scene. The AF tracking feature allows you to point the camera at a subject, press a button, and then the camera will follow them as they move around the frame.
Two other AF-related items can be found in the Pre-AF menu option. When continuous AF (C-AF) is selected, the camera will be focusing at all times. Quick AF (Q-AF) only starts the focusing when the "jitter" of the camera is reduced, like when you're composing a photo. Both of these modes will reduce focus delays, though they will put an extra strain on your battery.
The Intelligent Exposure feature automatically brightens the shadow areas of your photos. There are three levels to choose from on the LX5, or you can turn it off entirely (which is the default in most shooting modes). In most situations, the IE feature doesn't do a whole lot. However, put it in a "torture test" situation like the one below, and you'll get some results.
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View Full Size Image
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View Full Size Image
There's a very obvious bump in shadow brightness when you go from "off" to "low". There's an additional improvement when you go to "medium", but above that, I don't see a major difference. Do note that noise levels may increase when using this feature. On an unrelated note, there's some pretty strong purple fringing in the upper-left of the photo, regardless of the Intelligent Exposure setting.
Now it's time to talk about the LX5's burst mode. There's just one speed on this camera: regular. Here's what kind of performance you can expect:
The burst mode was nothing to write home about on the LX3, and nothing's changed on the LX5. The burst rate isn't bad, but the buffer fills up very quickly, as you can see. When the buffer is full, the camera doesn't keep shooting at a slower rate -- it just stops. I noticed that it took around 9 seconds before you could take more photos when shooting RAW+JPEG -- the other modes were faster. There are quicker burst modes on the camera (in the scene menu) but, as I mentioned, there are many compromises.
That brings us to Intelligent Resolution, one of the other new features on the LX5. In layman's terms, IR is intelligent image sharpening. The camera looks for three parts of an image: edges, textures, and soft gradation areas, and sharpens each differently. There are three levels of Intelligent Resolution to choose from (plus "off"), and the default setting is "low". Below is an example, but you're going to want to view the full size images to really see what's going on.
|Intelligent Resolution Off
View Full Size Image
|Low Intelligent Resolution
View Full Size Image
|Standard Intelligent Resolution
View Full Size Image
|High Intelligent Resolution
View Full Size Image
The word "subtle" is quite appropriate here. There is a increase in sharpness in the trees and hillside, but you have to look pretty closely to see it. In the full size image, you'll find that the edge sharpening is more obvious (look at the top of the hill).
There are three image stabilization modes to choose from on the DMC-LX5. Mode 1 activates OIS as soon as you halfway-press the shutter release button, so you can compose the shot without any camera shake. For more effective stabilization, you'll want to use mode 2. It doesn't activate OIS until the photo is actually taken, which does a better job at reducing shake. There's also an auto mode, which picks the best mode based on the situation. You can also turn the whole thing off, which is advisable if the camera is on a tripod.
Alright, enough about menus, let's talk about photo quality now, shall we?
The Lumix DMC-LX5 did a nice job with our standard macro test subject. There's a slight "warm" color cast here, and if it's enough to bother you, the camera's numerous white balance tuning tools should correct it. The subject is nice and sharp, with plenty of detail. I don't see any noise here, nor would I expect to.
The minimum focus distance in macro mode is 1 cm at wide-angle and 30 cm at telephoto. Unlike most cameras, there's no dedicated macro button on the camera -- you have to flip the AF mode switch on the side of the lens to turn it on.
Our night test scene turned out fairly well, though it's quite a bit wider than you're probably used to, since even with its more powerful lens, the telephoto end of the focal range is only 90 mm. With manual shutter speed controls, the camera can bring in enough light for a proper exposure. The LX5's night scene mode is smart enough to detect when you're using a tripod, and will use slower shutter speeds when it does so. There's not much to complain about here: highlight clipping is low, there's not much noise, and the only fringing of the cyan variety, and very minor.
Now, let's use the same night scene to see how the LX5 performs at higher ISOs. Unfortunately some of the higher ISO shots came out a bit dark, and was unable to reshoot them (we've had a rather foggy summer). I didn't bother including the ISO 6400 and 12800 shots here because, well, they're awful.
Not surprisingly, there's very little difference between the ISO 80 and 100 photos. At ISO 200, noise becomes more noticeable, though it won't hold you back. The ISO 400 isn't much worse, and is still quite usable for small and midsize prints. Unfortunately my ISO 800 photos came out dark, but you can see that there's quite a bit of detail loss visible, so this is probably a good stopping point -- and definitely shoot RAW for best results. The detail smudging continues to worsen at ISO 1600 and 3200, so I'd pass on these -- even shooting RAW didn't help that much.
Instead of doing a RAW vs JPEG comparison using the above night scene, I'm going to show you another photo I took with the LX5, taken at ISO 400.
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 6.2) + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
This shot, of San Francisco's beautiful City Hall, shows you the pretty substantial advantage of shooting RAW at higher sensitivities. Significant amounts of detail are restored, and colors are much more pleasing (compare the gold adornments for one example). The sky isn't mottled in the RAW conversion, though it shows a bit of noise instead (which I think most people would prefer).
I'll do another ISO comparison in a moment.
Panasonic's cameras have struggled with our redeye test recently, but not the LX5, which passed with flying colors. The camera can use both a pre-flash to shrink your subject's pupils as well as digital removal after the shot is taken to get rid of this annoyance. And that it did!
There are mild-to-moderate levels of barrel distortion at the wide end of the LX5's 24 - 90 mm lens (see the building on the right in this photo for an example). Panasonic uses software correction to reduce distortion in JPEGs, so it will likely be worse in RAW images. The test chart shows no vignetting (dark corners). I did notice some mild corner blurring (see top-left here and bottom-left here), which is a bit surprising to see on a high-end Panasonic camera.
Now let's do our studio ISO test. Since this one is taken under the same conditions every time, you can compare it with other cameras I've reviewed over the years. In fact, I'll do that in just a moment. Remember that the crops below only show a small portion of the test scene, so be sure to give them a click to see the full size versions!
The first three crops are very clean, with just a slight amount of noise at ISO 200. At ISO 400 the image gets a bit softer, and noise reduction artifacting is a bit more noticeable, but still, very nice. Even with additional noise reduction artifacting and a small drop in color saturation at ISO 800, the photo is still usable for midsize and probably even large prints. When you hit ISO 1600, details start to go south, so I'd stop here, and save it for small prints. ISO 3200 has quite a bit of detail loss, so I'd pass on that one, unless you're using RAW (see below). And let's be honest, the two low resolution (3 Megapixel) ISO 6400 and 12800 settings are only there to sound good in the press release. And for the record, I would say that the LX5's JPEGs look a lot better than those taken with the LX3, wouldn't you?
Before I compare the LX5 against the Canon PowerShot S95, I want to see what kind of gains can be had by shooting RAW in this test. Can that ISO 3200 shot be saved? Let's find out:
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 6.2)
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw 6.2)
The photos really illustrate two important points. First, there is much to be gained by shooting RAW -- you gain back a lot of detail, and the color is a lot more pleasing. Heck, even the ISO 3200 photo is now usable for small prints. Second, it shows that LX5's JPEGs don't show the true potential of the camera (which is an issue on most prosumer cameras). Panasonic applies quite a bit of noise reduction at high ISOs, and while you can turn it down, the RAW images will almost certainly look better.
You're probably tired of looking at photos of hot sauce, but I'm going to show you them a few more times. In the examples below, I'm comparing the JPEG quality of the LX5 and its arch rival, the Canon PowerShot S95, at ISO 800, 1600, and 3200. Some of you are probably saying "wait, why aren't you comparing the RAW images?", and the reason is that I don't have one program that can convert the files from both cameras, so the playing field would still be uneven.
I will admit that I did look at the RAW conversions of the ISO 1600 images using Photoshop for the LX5 and Digital Photography Professional for the S95, and it's a real toss-up. Since I'm feeling generous, I've provided the original RAW files for your downloading pleasure, so you can play around with them at your leisure. Here we go:
Canon PowerShot S95
Download RAW file
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5
Download RAW file
Canon PowerShot S95
Download RAW file
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5
Download RAW file
Canon PowerShot S95
Download RAW file
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5
Download RAW file
The thing that jumps out the most to me in in this comparison is the difference in color saturation. To my eyes, the Canon photos are more saturated and pleasing. In terms of noise, it's really a close call. I think the PowerShot S95 retains a tiny bit more detail than the LX5, but I think that by shooting RAW and post-processing you could probably close the gap entirely.
Overall, the LX5's image quality impressed me quite a bit. It definitely produces some of the best photos of any compact camera on the market right now. That's not to say it's perfect, of course. Exposure was generally spot on, though the LX5 will clip highlights at times. Colors look great -- everything is nice and saturated. I should mention that in iAuto mode you can turn on "happy mode", which further saturates things. While image sharpness was generally very nice, I did find that the camera was a bit too aggressive with noise reduction on low contrast subjects (this example really stands out to me). There were a few other occasions where some items in a photo were noticeable softer than everything else (example), for no apparent reason. In general, though, noise levels were very low all the way through ISO 800 and, as I illustrated earlier, shooting RAW and doing some simply post-processing can squeeze more detail and better color (especially in artificial light) out of the LX5's photos. Purple fringing did pop up here and there, but really only in extreme circumstances.
Now, I invite you to hop over to our extensive LX5 photo gallery. View the full size images, print a few if you'd like, and then hopefully you'll be able to decide if the LX5's image quality meets your expectations!
The movie mode has been enhanced considerably on the DMC-LX5. While the old LX3 could record 720p video, the frame rate was 24 fps, and recording stopped after just ten minutes. The LX5 uses the AVCHD Lite codec, which allows for much longer recording times. Well, except in Europe, where recording stops one second before you hit the 30 minute mark. The camera records video at 1280 x 720 at 60 interlaced frames per second (though the sensor is only outputting 30 fps) with Dolby Digital (monaural) sound. You have three bit rates to choose from: 9, 13, and 17 Mbps, which allows you to control the file size and thus, the amount of video you can fit on your memory card. At the highest quality setting, 30 minutes of video will fill up a 4GB memory card. Panasonic recommends using a Class 6 or higher SDHC card when recording HD video.
As I mentioned at the start of this review, AVCHD Lite video is more difficult to edit on your PC than other video codecs. If you want to use something that's easier to edit and share, then you can always switch over to the Motion-JPEG codec. The downside is that the file size is limited to 2GB, which you'll hit in just 8 minutes. You can drop the resolution, however, to 848 x 480, 640 x 480, or 320 x 240, allowing for smaller files and thus longer recording times. The frame rate is 30 fps for all of the available resolutions.
There have been some other big changes compared to the LX3. They include:
- Full use of the optical zoom while recording: the lens moves slowly and quietly.
- Manual controls: when in "creative motion picture mode", you can adjust the aperture (F2.0 - F18, depending on the focal length), shutter speed (1/30 - 1/20000 sec), or both.
- Dedicated recording button: you can be in any shooting mode to take a video -- just press the red button on the top of the camera
- Wind Cut filter: reduces noise when shooting outdoors (I'm pretty sure the LX3 didn't have this).
- Intelligent Auto: the camera can select a scene mode, detect faces, brighten shadows, and more
- My Colors and Film modes available: for creative movie recording.
One thing that hasn't changed is that the optical image stabilizer can be used during movie recording. I showed you an example of its effectiveness way back in the tour section of this review.
I have two sample movies for you in this review. The first was taken with the AVCHD Lite codec and converted with Handbrake. I found that the color is more saturated in the original version of the video (at least in VLC), which you can download below. Movie number two was recorded using the M-JPEG codec and shows some vertical streaking toward the end of the clip. Be warned, these are big downloads!
|Playback mode||Category play|
The DMC-LX5's playback menu is split up into two parts. First up is the playback mode menu, which lets you select from normal, sequential image playback, slideshows (with transitions and music), mode play (stills, AVCHD Lite movies, or M-JPEG movies), and category play. This last option sorts images by the scene mode in which they were taken, or if there were faces recognized. When viewing photos you can zoom in up to 8X, and then scroll around the enlarged image. You can use the control dial to move from photo-to-photo while retaining the same zoom and location setting. Naturally, a thumbnail view of your photos is also available.
|Playback menu||Calendar view|
In the more traditional menu, you'll find a calendar view of your photos (above right), plus old standards like DPOF print marking, "favorite" tagging, and image protection. Editing features include resizing, cropping, and leveling (and boy, do I need that one sometimes). There's no way to remove redeye in playback mode, so make sure you have that feature turned on in the record menu! The LX5 has a rather elaborate text stamp feature, allowing you to print a name, location, travel date, and title, in addition to the date and time that the photo was taken.
Tools for movies include a new video divide feature, which lets you trim unwanted footage from a clip. You can also grab a frame from a video by pausing it during playback, and then pressing the Menu/Set button.
The camera lets you delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all -- a feature I always appreciate. Lastly, as you'd expect, you can copy images between the internal memory and a memory card.
By default, the camera doesn't give you a lot of information about your photos. However, you can press the display button and see a bit more info, including a histogram.
The LX5 moves from photo-to-photo without delay.
How Does it Compare?
With their new Lumix DMC-LX5, Panasonic has taken an already superb camera (the LX3), and made it even better. They've improved the image quality, zoom power, image stabilizer, movie mode, and battery life, while enhancing both the automatic and manual controls. The LX5's price tag is a bit high (just under $500), but it's arguably one of those most capable compact cameras on the market. The DMC-LX5 isn't a perfect camera, by any means. Viewing its RAW images tells me that the camera is capable of producing much better-looking JPEGs, and noise reduction can still be a little heavy in low contrast areas. The camera's burst mode remains disappointing, and the controls are tightly packed. Despite a few issues, the DMC-LX5 is a top pick for those looking for high image quality in a smaller package, and it earns my recommendation.
From most angles, the DMC-LX5 looks exactly like its predecessor, which is both good and bad. The LX5 is a midsize camera made almost entirely of metal, though the plastic door over the memory card/battery compartment is especially flimsy. The camera can be held and operated with one hand, though I found the controls to be small and too close together (though to be fair, there's not a lot of real estate to work with). One of the common complaints about the DMC-LX3 was that it lacked telephoto power (it topped out at 60 mm), and Panasonic has addressed this on the LX5 by providing a fast F2.0-3.3, 24 - 90 mm Leica lens. The LX5 has two different ways to extend the 3.8X zoom range. First, there's the old "extra optical zoom" feature, which gives you more zoom power (up to 6.7X) as you lower the resolution. The new feature is called Intelligent Zoom, and it's related to the Intelligent Resolution feature that I'll mention in a moment. This gives you 5X total zoom power at full resolution, with a barely noticeable drop in image quality.
For those unfamiliar with those aperture numbers (F2.0-3.3), they mean that the lens lets in considerably more light than what you'd find on a typical compact camera. Something else that's better than average is the LX5's CCD sensor which, at 1/1.7" in size, is larger than the 1/2.3" sensors found on most everything else. This sensor also allows the camera to take photos at all four aspect ratios (1:1, 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9) with the same field-of-view. Panasonic has improved the image stabilizer on the LX5, giving it the "Power OIS" designation. They say that it's twice as effective as the old "Mega OIS" system, and I'll have to take their word for it (it never disappointed me in real world use).
On the back of the camera you'll find a 3-inch LCD display with 461,000 pixels. As you'd imagine by that pixel count, everything is very sharp. The LCD has excellent outdoor and low light visibility, making it usable in nearly all shooting situations. If you'd like, you can add an optical or electronic viewfinder to the LX5, both of which attach via the hot shoe. The only things to keep in mind is that the optical viewfinder is designed for wide-angle use, and that the EVF's 202k pixel resolution isn't great. Speaking of accessories, the LX5 can also accept an external flash (it does have a hot shoe, after all), a wide-angle conversion lens, filters, and more.
Few compact cameras are as feature-packed as the LX5. If you just want to let the camera do all the work, then the LX5's Intelligent Auto mode is just what you're looking for. Panasonic has added so many features to iAuto that it's become too long to list them all, but I can tell you that it will automatically select a scene mode (for both stills and movies), detect faces, reduce blur, brighten shadows, and intelligently sharpen your photos. The camera doesn't just detect faces (which it does well), it can also learn who people are, and then give them priority in future photos. The LX5 has tons of scene modes, though the most interesting lower the resolution and raise the sensitivity, thus reducing image quality. Two other new point-and-shoot features include a Panorama Assist mode (which helps you line things up, but leaves the stitching for your PC) and a My Color feature, which is similar to Art Filters on Olympus cameras.
The manual controls have been enhanced as well. In addition to having control over the shutter speed, aperture, and focus, the LX5's white balance options have expanded, with the added ability to bracket (though there's still no fluorescent preset to be found). Speaking of which, you can also bracket for Film Mode (customizable color/contrast/sharpness/noise reduction settings), exposure, and aspect ratio. Naturally, the LX5 supports the RAW image format, and Panasonic includes a capable (but clunky) editing tool for working with these files.
The LX5's performance is top-notch, with really only one notable exception. The camera starts up in about 1.6 seconds, which is about average. Panasonic has advertised faster focusing speeds on the LX5, and I was not disappointed. Wide-angle focus times range from 0.2 - 0.4 seconds, with telephoto times about twice as long. Low light focusing was both accurate and quick, with focus times of one second or less. I didn't find shutter lag to be a problem, and shot-to-shot speeds were very brief, ranging from one second for JPEGs to three seconds for RAW+JPEG (adding the flash into the mix brought the JPEG times up to around three seconds). The LX5's battery life is considerably better than both the LX3 that it replaces, as well as the competition: you can take up to 400 shots per charge. The one performance-related area in which the LX5 disappoints is in the continuous shooting department. The camera can shoot at 2.5 frames/second, but for only 3 to 5 shots, depending on the image quality setting. There's a high speed burst mode in the scene menu, but it's at a low resolution and high sensitivity, so you'll likely be disappointed with the results.
The movie mode on the LX5 has also been nicely improved. While the LX3 could record 720p24 video, you were limited by a 7-8 minute time limit (per clip) and the inability to use the optical zoom. That's all changed on the new model, which now supports the AVCHD Lite codec, in addition to the M-JPEG codec used by the LX3. AVCHD Lite allows for 1280 x 720 videos at 60 interlaced frames per second (though the sensor output is only 30 fps) with unlimited recording time (outside of Europe) and digital sound. You can fit up to 30 minutes of video at the highest quality setting onto a 4GB SDHC card (high speed card recommended). If you want to use M-JPEG instead (which is easier to edit and share on your PC), then you'll still get 720p video (and a bunch of smaller resolutions), but you'll be limited to 8 minutes per clip. The file sizes are considerably larger, as well. What else is new in movie mode? Quite a bit, including full manual controls, use of the optical zoom (and image stabilizer), and a wind cut filter. The LX5 also sports automatic scene selection when in iAuto mode, plus a dedicated movie recording button. Video quality was quite good, aside from the occasional vertical streaks that can appear when bright light sources are in view.
That brings us to photo quality. While it's not going to replace a D-SLR, the LX5 produces photos that are of higher quality than your typical compact camera. Exposure was accurate, though even the large-sensored LX5 was not immune to some highlight clipping at times. I've got no complaints about color -- everything was nice and saturated. The LX5 has a new "Intelligent Resolution" feature which varies the amount of sharpening in an image, depending on the subject matter. For the most part, it works quite well, with "just right" sharpness, though on a few occasions there were some subjects in the frame (usually people) that seemed too soft. In normal lighting, the LX5 produces very clean-looking photos through ISO 400, with ISO 800 remaining usable -- and that's for JPEGs. The camera doesn't smudge details as badly as previous models, though I still notice that low contrast areas appear more mottled than I would've liked. The LX5 is at its best when you shoot RAW and do some post-processing, which tells me that its JPEG engine could be better (though this is typical for most cameras). Spending a few minutes converting the RAW images will allow you to turn soft and muddy ISO 1600 and 3200 photos into something you can actually use for small and perhaps midsize prints. Purple fringing popped up occasionally, as did some mild corner blurriness -- both things that you don't typically see on a Panasonic camera. Redeye performance was the total opposite of how things have been lately -- the LX5 had no redeye problems, thanks to its dual-pronged approach to reducing this annoyance.
The only other thing I wanted to mention is about the LX5's documentation. Despite the $500 price tag, there's only a brief "basic manual" in the box, with the full manual waiting for you in PDF format on an included CD-ROM. The manuals are not what I'd call user-friendly, but they're definitely detailed.
The Panasonic Lumix LX series has earned almost a cult following for its fast, wide-angle lens, manual controls, and expendability. I'm pleased to report that the LX5 continues that tradition, improving in nearly every respect. The only real issues I have with it are its JPEG engine and some design annoyances (small, clutter buttons and the flimsy memory card door). If you can deal (or work around) those issues, then you'll find that the LX5 is a camera that does just about everything -- and very well, to boot. It's a camera that I can recommend without hesitation.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality, low noise though ISO 800 in good light (and things look better if you shoot RAW)
- Fast F2.0-3.3 lens with newly expanded 24 - 90 mm focal range
- New and improved optical image stabilization
- Midsize, well built body (in most respects)
- High resolution 3-inch LCD display with very good outdoor and low light visibility
- Full manual controls, with lots of white balance and bracketing options
- RAW image format supported, powerful (but clunky) editing software included
- Fast autofocus system, even in low light
- Intelligent Auto mode picks a scene for you, detects faces, tracks a moving subject, and brightens shadows, all automatically
- Intelligent Zoom feature gives you 5X zoom with minimal loss in image quality
- Four aspect ratios to choose from, with field-of-view remaining consistent
- Well-implemented face detection feature
- Redeye not a problem
- Records 720p video with digital sound, full manual controls, and use of optical zoom and image stabilizer; two codecs to choose from; wind cut filter handy for outdoor recording
- Excellent battery life
- Lots of optional extras: wide-angle lens, filters, external flash, optical/electronic viewfinders
- HDMI output
What I didn't care for:
- Best photo quality obtained by shooting RAW (translation: JPEG engine needs improvement)
- Noise reduction still a bit heavy on low contrast subjects; some subjects seem noticeable softer than the rest of the image
- Mild corner blurring, highlight clipping, and purple fringing
- Unremarkable burst mode
- Still no fluorescent white balance preset
- Small, cluttered buttons on back of camera; flimsy door over memory card/battery compartment
- Full manual on CD-ROM; manuals are not user-friendly
- A bit pricey
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Lumix DMC-LX5 and its competitors before you buy!
Want to see how the photo quality turned out? Check out the DMC-LX5 photo gallery!