DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC5
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Saturday, May 18, 2002
Last Updated: Saturday, August 10, 2002

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Panasonic digital cameras have never been a favorite of mine. They've always been an "also ran" in digital imaging, with their SuperDisk and Secure Digital cameras being very mediocre.

When I saw that Panasonic and Leica Camera (of Germany) had teamed up, I was excited. Had Panasonic finally gotten their act together? At first glance, the Lumix DMC-LC5 (the Leica Digilux 1 is very similar if not identical) looks great (not to mention like a PowerShot G2). Priced at $799, it's a full featured 4 Megapixel camera with lots of bells and whistles, and a Leica Vario-Summicron lens.

But is the LC5 competitive with the best cameras in its class, like the G2? Well, you'll have to read the review, I'm not going to tell you here!

What's in the Box?

The Lumix LC5 has an excellent bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 3.9 (effective) Mpixel Panasonic DMC-LC5 camera
  • 32MB Secure Digital card
  • CGR-S602A rechargeable Li-ion battery
  • AC adapter / battery charger
  • Shoulder strap
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • Monitor hood
  • "Metal plate"
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Arcsoft PhotoSuite and USB drivers
  • 103 page manual (printed)

You're probably wondering what the metal plate is, so I'll get it out of the way first. It's a small quarter-sized metal piece which is used for attaching the shoulder strap to the camera, as well as screwing in the monitor hood.


Monitor hood

What's the monitor hood? This is a handy hood (similar to what you see on television cameras at sporting events) to help you see the LCD when you're outdoors. I can't think of any other manufacturers that include, let alone offer such an accessory!

Continuing with the good news: Panasonic includes a 32MB Secure Digital (SD) memory card with the LC5, which is much larger than the cards usually included with cameras. SD cards are interchangeable with MultiMediaCards (MMC), as well.

The LC5 includes a battery pack that looks an awful lot like the one included with the Canon PowerShot G1/G2. I don't think it's the same one, though. The battery has a ton of power -- it's 7.2V, 1400 mAh, which works out to 10.1 Watt/hours. Panasonic estimates that the battery will last 150 minutes with mixed LCD use, which is pretty good.

The LC5 also includes an AC adapter, which can power the camera, and recharge the battery inside it. The battery takes two hours to recharge.

The bad part about a proprietary battery like the one included with the LC5 is that they are expensive, and you cannot get out of a bind by using alkalines, like you can with a AA-base camera.

The Lumix LC5 has a number of accessories available, ranging from conversion lenses to an external flash.

The Lumix cameras include Arcsoft PhotoImpression, which is good software for fixing up your photos. The camera is compatible with Mac OS X, iPhoto, and Windows XP.

The manual is typical of that from big consumer electronics companies: confusing.

Look and Feel

The Lumix LC5 is a good-sized camera, about as big as a PowerShot G2. You can see that Leica had a hand in the design when you look at it. The metal body is sturdy and attractive. The camera is fairly easy to hold, though I wish the rubber grip was larger.

The official dimensions of the camera are 5.0 x 3.2 x 2.5 inches (WxHxD), and it weighs 360 grams empty. For those of you playing along at home, the PowerShot G2 is 4.8 x 3.0 x 2.5 and 425 grams.

Just like Sony labels their high-end lens a "Carl Zeiss" lens, Panasonic uses a Leica "DC Vario-Summicron" lens. There has been speculation about whether these are really Zeiss and Leica lenses, but I won't get into that here.

Anyhow, the LC5's lens is a fast F2.0, 7 - 21 mm one. That's equivalent to 33 - 100 mm. The lens is threaded for add-on lenses, though you'll need the conversion lens adapter to use one.

Though you can't see it here, there's a manual focus ring around the lens barrel. This isn't a true mechanical focus -- rather, it's a "fly-by-wire" system that electronically tells the lens to focus.

The switch just to the right of the lens controls the focus mode. You can choose from macro, autofocus, or manual focus.

Above that switch is the built-in flash. The flash has a working range of 0.1 - 4.5 m (wide-angle) and 0.2 - 3.5 m (telephoto). You can also add an external flash to this camera -- more on that in a bit.

The DMC-LC5 uses an infrared (I assume) sensor to help out with focusing. there is no AF illuminator lamp for low-light focusing, though. (The Steves Digicams review notes focus problems with portrait photography that I did not encounter.)

When I first saw the back of this camera, I was amazed at that huge LCD! The 2.5" LCD is gigantic compared to the 1.8" LCD's found on most digicams. Also like most LCDs, it's hard to see outdoors, but Panasonic includes that hood to help out. The LCD is bright and fluid otherwise.

Just above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, which covers 82% of the field. There is a diopter correction knob, for those with less than perfect vision. There are also cross hairs to help you compose your picture.

There are four buttons to the right of the LCD, most of which you should already be familiar with:

  • Display (toggles LCD and info on it on/off)
  • Menu
  • Four-way switch - for menus
  • Review (Shows last picture taken) / Set (for menus)

Just above those buttons, you'll find the metering button. Pressing that cycles through the three metering modes: multiple (matrix), center-weighted, and spot.

To the left of that, there's a button that covers many functions. As you press it, it cycles through them. The functions include:

  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV in 1/4EV increments)
  • AE bracketing - choose an interval (1/4, 1/2, 3/4, 1 EV) and the number of shots (3/5) and the camera will take the shots sequentially, each with a different exposure compensation value
  • Focus bracketing - this is similar to the above, except that the camera uses a different depth of focus setting each time
  • Flash output (-2EV to +2EV, 1/4EV increments)

The final two items of note on the back of the LC5 include the power switch (top right) and speaker (lower right).

Continuing our tour now with the top of the camera.

Over on the left, you'll see the LCD info display. It shows all kinds of things, like resolution, ISO, metering mode, flash setting, battery status, and shots remaining. My only wish is that it was backlit.

At the center of the screen is the hot shoe. Panasonic sells a flash (DMW-FL28), but it doesn't say anywhere that third-party flashes won't work.

Just northeast of the hot shoe is the microphone.

To the right of that is the mode wheel, which has another dial below that. The mode wheel has the following choices:

  • Auto record - camera controls just about everything
  • Program mode - camera controls shutter speed/aperture, you can control everything else
  • Aperture priority mode - you set aperture, camera chooses shutter speed
  • Shutter priority mode - you set shutter speed, camera chooses aperture
  • Manual mode - you choose both shutter speed and aperture
  • Movie mode

The aperture values available fall between F2.0 and F8.0. The shutter speed range is 8 - 1/1000 sec.

The choices on that subdial are single-shot, continuous shooting, and playback mode. Why they didn't put these on the mode wheel is beyond me.

The LC5 has an impressive continuous shooting mode, known as MegaBurst. You can record up to 8 frames at 4 frames/second at the standard quality setting. At the fine quality setting, you can record 4 frames at that speed.

To the right of the mode wheel, there are two more buttons: flash and self-timer. Above that is the shutter release button, with the zoom control around it. The zoom mechanism is smooth, quiet, and precise.

Here's one side of the Lumix DMC-LC5, with the sturdy plastic door opened. Here you'll find ports for USB, A/V, and DC in (for the included AC adapter). You can also get a better look at that manual focus ring here.

Here's the other side of the camera, with the included 32MB SD card shown.

Finally, here's the bottom of the camera. The battery compartment at left can be locked. There's also a metal tripod mount.

Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC5

Record Mode

The DMC-LC5 is very quick to start up, especially for a camera with a zoom lens. After 2 seconds have gone by, the LCD is already on and you can shoot just moments later. The LC5 generally locks focus in a second (when the shutter release is pressed halfway), but it can take longer in tough focusing situations. Shutter lag is minimal.

Shot-to-shot speed is pretty good, with about a 3 second delay between shots. The exception, of course, is when you're using TIFF mode. The LC5 will be locked up for 20 seconds while this large file is written to the memory card. Compared to other digital cameras, that's actually not a long time to wait.

There aren't too many choices for resolution and quality on the LC5. Here they are:

Resolution Quality # photos on 32MB card (included)
2240 x 1680 TIFF 2
Fine 15
Standard 31
1600 x 1200 TIFF 4
Fine 31
Standard 61
1120 x 840 TIFF 10
Fine 61
Standard 118
640 x 480 TIFF 29
Fine 145
Standard 236

Let's talk menus! The Lumix's menus aren't going to win any design awards, but they work just fine. Here's what you'll find in them:

  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, halogen, fluorescent, flash, white set [manual])
  • ISO sensitivity (Auto, 100, 200, 400)
  • Spot AF (on/off) - smaller focus area that normal
  • Audio recording (on/off) - add 5 second audio clips to photos
  • Pict Size (see chart)
  • Quality (see chart)
  • Digital zoom (on/off) - remember, digital zoom reduces image quality
  • Flash slow sync (1st, 2nd-curtain) - these decide when the flash fires in low light situations
  • External flash (preset, manual) - for using an external flash
  • Conversion lens (on/off)
  • Picture adjustment
    • Contrast (Low, standard, high)
    • Sharpness (Low, standard, high)
    • Saturation (Low, standard, high)

There is, of course, the usual setup menu with basics like date/time, power saving, beep, etc.

Well that's enough of that! Let's talk about photo quality now.

The DMC-LC5's undoing is its photo quality. It's a real shame, because the camera is very nice otherwise. I'm sort of at a loss for exactly why the photo quality is bad, but my guess is some overaggressive processing algorithms in the camera. Images end up looking like they were run through the "impressionist" or "pointillism" filter in Photoshop. I prefer to let Photoshop do that, and not the camera. If you look at the various samples below, you can see what I mean.

Before you say "Jeff, you must have a bad camera", let me point you to another photo gallery over at Steves Digicams. Both of our cameras were new and fresh out of the box. If this problem is due to the camera overprocessing the images, there is a chance that Panasonic can do a firmware update at some point... but we can only wait and see.


Brochure, cat, denim


Look at his hat, the rock, his hand

Both of those are crops of images in the gallery.

I think these night shots speak for themselves. They're so over-processed that they look blurry (or like watercolors?). Why is the sky different colors? That I can explain -- I used different white balance settings in each photo.

Would be a nice shot without this problem. The macro range on the LC5 is 6 - 50 cm.

The red-eye test serves two purposes in this review. The first is to show you that the red-eye on this camera is not that bad, when you turn on the reduction feature (it was more noticeable without it). The second reason I'm showing you this is to illustrate the photo quality problem that I described. Do note that I blew this crop up 200% so you can see the detail.

Take a look at the full gallery to see more samples.

Movie Mode

The Lumix DMC-LC5 can record QuickTime movies, with sound. Movies are recorded at 320 x 240, like on most cameras.

Also like most cameras, you cannot use the optical zoom during filming. You must get it where you want it before you begin.

One nice thing about the movie feature is that clips can be recorded until the memory card fills up. In the case of the 32MB card that is included, that's 160 seconds.


Click to play movie (QuickTime format, 2.1 MB)

Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The Lumix also has a very nice playback mode. The usual basic features like slide shows, image protection, DPOF print marking, and thumbnail mode are all here.

The bonus features include the ability to resize photos, add audio clips, and delete a group of photos.

There is also the "zoom & scroll" feature, which lets you zoom either 4X or 8X into your photo, and then zoom around in it. The scrolling portion was too slow for my taste, though.

If you press the Display button, the LC5 will give you some additional information about your photo. No histogram, though. The camera moves through photos fairly quickly -- about a second between high res images.

How Does it Compare?

I really wanted to like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LC5. It has a nice design, lots of manual features, robust performance, and good movie and playback modes. But ultimately, none of this matters if the camera takes bad pictures, and unfortunately, the LC5 has some of the worst photo quality I've seen on a higher-end camera. My guess is that the camera is over-processing the images, which gives them that "impressionist" look that I've shown above. As you might image, the image quality problem prevents me from recommending this camera.

My hope is that Panasonic either provides some kind of firmware upgrade to fix this, but I'm not optimistic. If they don't, let's hope the next version of the LC5 is better -- they've got the basics down, but the photos need a lot of work!

(Updated 8/10/02: Some people have pointed out that the photos look fine when downsized or printed. I am of the belief that you should have acceptable photo quality right out of the camera. The LC5's photos do look decent at 4 x 6 inches, but the flaws are noticeable are larger print sizes.)

What I liked:

  • Well designed body, nice fast lens
  • Lots of manuals controls
  • Robust performance
  • Good movie, playback modes
  • Included LCD hood a nice touch
  • Interesting focus bracketing feature
  • Supports for lens, flash accessories

What I didn't care for:

  • Hideous photo quality (this is the deal breaker for me)
  • "Scrolling" in playback zoom & scroll feature is too slow

Other 4 and 5 Megapixel cameras worth looking at include the Canon PowerShot G2 and S40, Casio QV-4000, Fuji FinePix S602 Zoom, Minolta DiMAGE 7i and S404, Nikon Coolpix 5000, Olympus C-4040Z and E-10, and the Sony DSC-S85 and DSC-F707.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the Lumix LC5 and it's competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

Check out the photo gallery to see the LC5's photo quality.

Want a second opinion?

In case you don't believe me, read Steves Digicams review to get another viewpoint.

Feedback

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com. Due to my limited resources, please do not send me requests for personal camera recommendations.

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