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DCRP Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: March 12, 2006
Last Updated: February 13, 2008
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 ($279) is a midsize point-and-shoot camera with two standout features. The first is its lens; where most cameras in this class have 3X or 4X lenses, the LZ5's is 6X. The second feature is one found on all of Panasonic's cameras, and that's image stabilization. This very handy feature lets you take sharp photos at shutter speeds that would be blurry on other cameras.
Other features on the LZ5 include a 6 Megapixel CCD, 2.5" LCD display, VGA movie mode, and a "high sensitivity mode" that seems to be all the rage these days.
The LZ5 has a little brother as well, known as the DMC-LZ3. This camera shares many of the features of the LZ5, except that it has a 5.0 Megapixel CCD, 2.0" LCD display, and no microphone.
Is the DMC-LZ5 worthy of your attention? Find out now in our review!
Since they have many features in common, I'll be reusing portions of my DMC-FZ7 review here.
What's in the Box?
The DMC-LZ5 has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
A year ago, Panasonic would've probably included a memory card with the LZ5. This year, however, they went with internal memory, which has become increasingly popular on low and midrange cameras. Unfortunately they only give you 14MB, which holds a grand total of four photos at the highest image quality setting. That means that you'll need to buy a memory card along with the camera itself, and I think that a 256MB or 512MB card is a good place to start. While the LZ5 can use Secure Digital or MultiMedia cards, you should stick with the former. High speed SD cards are supported, and picking one up is a good idea (60X or higher).
The DMC-LZ5 uses two AA batteries, and Panasonic includes two of their Oxyride batteries in the box. While those batteries do last a while, they will ultimately end up in the trash. So, make it your mission to get a set or two of NiMH rechargeable batteries (2500 mAh recommended) and a fast charger along with the camera.
Here's how the LZ5 compares to some other midsize cameras in terms of battery life:
Let me first state that I don't buy that number for the Optio M10 at all. But that's what Pentax puts on their website and in the product manual for the camera, so who knows? I should also mention that there are several cameras not on the list because their manufacturer doesn't release battery life numbers. That means you HP, Olympus, and Samsung!
If you've been visiting this site for long enough then you already know that I like cameras that use AA batteries instead of expensive, proprietary ones. Thankfully most of the cameras in this class uses AAs.
There's a built-in lens cover on the LZ5, so there's no clunky lens cap to worry about.
The LZ5 is very light on accessories. In fact, there's just one -- an AC adapter.
PhotoImpression 5 for Mac OS X
Panasonic includes ArcSoft's camera suite with the LZ-series cameras. This includes PhotoImpression 5, PhotoBase, and Panorama Maker for Mac and Windows. PhotoImpression (shown above) lets you view, enhance, and share images. The interface is unique and easy-to-use, and the whole product is well designed. PhotoBase is a less impressive product that you can use for organizing and performing basic edits on your photos. Panorama Maker will stitch together several shots into one big photo.
Lumix Simple Viewer for Windows
Windows users get two additional products on the software CD. Lumix Simple Viewer (shown above) does just what it sounds like: it imports and views photos. You can't do any editing -- just rotation, printing, and e-mailing.
PhotoFunStudio for Windows
For slightly more complex tasks there's PhotoFunStudio (which is, again, for Windows only). This can do all the things Simple Viewer can do, with a few more bells and whistles like batch processing.
I've never been a fan of Panasonic's product manuals, whether they're for a camera, television, or DVD player. They're just not user friendly. Expect the same here.
Look and Feel
The DMC-LZ5 looks a lot like its predecessors, the DMC-LZ1 and LZ2. The camera is midsize -- too big for your small pockets, but it'll still go into a your jacket with ease. The body is made of a nice mix of metal and plastic, and it feels very solid in the hand. The controls are well-placed, and "button clutter" is kept to a minimum.
|Images courtesy of Panasonic|
The LZ5 comes in both silver and black, while the "lesser" LZ3 is only available in silver.
Now let's take a look at how the LZ5 compares to other cameras in its class:
The LZ5 is roughly the same size of the FZ5 which it replaces, though it's put on some weight. It's right in the middle of the pack in terms of size. If you're looking for a really small ultra zoom, Panasonic just released the new DMC-TZ1, which I'll hopefully review in the near future.
Okay, let's begin our tour of the LZ5 now!
The DMC-LZ5 has the same F2.8-4.5, 6X optical zoom lens as the LZ1 and LZ2 before it. Unlike most of the cameras in Panasonic's lineup, the lens has Panasonic rather than Leica branding. The focal length of the lens is 6.1 - 36.6 mm, which is equivalent to 37 - 222 mm. The lens is not threaded.
The LZ5 has the same optical image stabilizer as the other cameras in the series. Here are two examples of why you want this feature. Ever taken a indoor photo without flash, only to be disappointed when its blurry? Or what about when you're taking a picture near the telephoto end of the lens and the photo is blurry, despite a fast shutter speed? The OIS system can help.
Sensors in the camera detect this motion and an element in the lens is shifted to compensate for the shake. This lets you use shutter speeds 3-4 stops slower than what you can use on an unstabilized camera. For example, a 1/30 sec shutter speed will result in a blurry photos for most people (unless you have hands of stone), but with image stabilization you'll most likely get a nice, sharp photo. In actuality you can shoot even slower, as this sample illustrates:
OIS on (mode 2), 1/10 sec
OIS off, 1/10 sec
As you can see, the OIS system is very effective, but there are two things to remember. One, it won't work miracles: you can't take a night shot like the one seen later in this review without a tripod. Two, the OIS system cannot compensate for blur caused by a moving subject -- it's only for camera shake.
To the immediate upper-right of the lens is the AF-assist lamp, which is also the self-timer lamp. The AF-assist lamp is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light situations.
Above that is the built-in flash. Despite being on the small side, the flash strength was about average, with a working range of 0.3 - 4.2 m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 2.6 m at telephoto. You cannot attach an external flash to the LZ5.
One of the major changes on the LZ5 versus the LZ1 and LZ2 is in the LCD size department. The screen is now 2.5 inches, though the resolution is lacking. The screen has just 85,000 pixels, and it shows. Outdoor visibility was average, and the LZ5 lacks the "Power LCD" feature (found on some other Panasonic cameras) which makes it easier to see in those situations. Low light visibility, on the other hand, was very good.
As you can see, there is no optical viewfinder on the LZ5 (nor was there on the LZ1/LZ2). Whether that's a bad thing is sort of up to you. Some people (like me) require them, others could care less.
To the right of the LCD is the four-way controller, which is used for menu navigation, plus:
I want to talk about those options that appear when you press the "up" button on the four-way controller. Backlight compensation is something you can toggle on and off while in "simple mode" -- use it if your subject has a bright light source behind them. Exposure compensation is the usual -2EV to +2EV in 1/3EV increments like on every camera. Auto bracketing takes three shots in a row with each shot having a different exposure. You can choose from ±0.3EV, ±0.6EV or ±1.0EV increments. White balance fine-tuning lets you adjust the preset or custom WB that you've selected in the red or blue direction, with a total range of ±10 (in 1-step increments).
Below the controller are two more buttons. The Display button toggles what is shown on the LCD, and it also turns on the new "high angle" feature, which improves LCD visibility for when the camera is held above your head. Sounds silly, but the darn thing really works.
The other button turns on the LZ5's burst mode in record mode, and deletes photos in playback mode. The burst mode on the LZ5 is very good -- way better than most of the competition. In the low speed burst mode, you can take up to 6 photos (at the highest quality setting) at 2.1 frames/second. In high speed mode, you can still take 6 photos, but this time the frame rate rises to 2.7 frames/second. A third mode, known as infinity burst, will keep taking pictures at 1.2 frames/second until the memory card is full. The infinity mode requires a high speed memory card for best performance. While shooting in any of those modes, I found that the LCD keeps up with the action.
There's plenty more to see on the top of the LZ5. At the center of the photo is the microphone (which the LZ3 lacks), with the mode dial below that. The mode dial has the following options:
As you can see, the LZ5 is a point-and-shoot camera. The only manual control to be found is white balance, which I'll touch on later.
There are plenty of scene modes on the LZ5, including several new ones. The Starry Sky scene lets you take ultra long exposures (15, 30, 60 secs) to capture things like the night sky. The baby mode remembers the birthdays of up to two children, and it saves their age in the EXIF headers of photos taken in this mode.
The high sensitivity mode is new to Panasonic's 2006 lineup. In this mode, the camera can boost the ISO as high as 1600, which lets it use faster shutter speeds, which result in less blurring. Unfortunately the results are not good, with the results looking more like watercolor paintings than photographs (example). I should also mention that the high ISO sensitivities cannot be manually selected on the LZ5 like they can on the DMC-FZ7 -- it's automatic.
Why are there two scene mode spots on the mode dial? The LZ5 allows you to save a favorite scene to each of those spots, so you can get to it easily.
The next thing to see on the top of the camera is the zoom controller, which is wrapped around the shutter release button. The zoom controller moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in about two seconds. I counted twenty steps throughout the 6X zoom range.
Next we have the power switch and the OIS mode button. The OIS mode button is what turns the image stabilizer on or off, plus you can select when it's activated. In Mode 1, it's activated when the shutter release is halfway pressed, which helps you compose the shot. In Mode 2 the stabilizer isn't activated until the picture is actually taken. In this mode the OIS system is more effective. You can turn the whole OIS system off if you want, which is something you'll want to do when the camera is on a tripod.
On this side of the LZ5 you'll find the I/O ports for USB + A/V out (one port for both) as well as DC-in (for the optional AC adapter). The ports are covered by a plastic door of average quality. The LZ5 supports USB 2.0 Full Speed, which is the "slow" (and undesirable) version of USB 2.0.
On the other side of the camera we find the SD/MMC memory card slot, which is also protected by a plastic door.
The 6X zoom lens is at the full telephoto position here.
The last stop on our tour shows the bottom of the camera. Here you'll find a plastic tripod mount and the battery compartment. The door covering the battery compartment is of average quality.
Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5
The DMC-LZ5 starts up quickly, taking just 1.4 seconds to extend its lens and "warm up" before you can start taking pictures.
There's a live histogram in record mode
As with Panasonic's other recent cameras, the LZ5 focuses very quickly. In the regular AF modes, focus times range from 0.2 - 0.4 seconds in most situations. If you use either of the high speed AF modes those times are halved. Low light focusing was very good thanks to the LZ5's AF-assist lamp.
Shutter lag was not a problem at most shutter speeds, though I did notice a tiny bit of it at slower shutter speeds (e.g. 1/8 second).
Shot-to-shot delays were very good, with a delay of about two seconds between photos.
There is no easy way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you must use the Review feature first.
Now, here's a look at the resolution and quality choices on the LZ5:
See why I said that you should buy a larger memory card?
I should add that there are some additional resolutions not listed in that chart. They include two 3:2 ratio sizes (2816 x 1880 and 2048 x 1360) and two 16:9 sizes (2816 x 1584, 1920 x 1080). The LZ5 does not support the RAW or TIFF image formats.
The camera saves images with a name of PXXXYYYY.JPG, where X = 100-999 and Y = 0001 = 9999. The camera will maintain the file numbering, even as you erase and switch memory cards.
There are two menu systems on the LZ5. One is used only in "simple mode" and it's quite stripped down. The other is a more traditional (but still fairly easy-to-use) menu that you'll see in a moment. First, the simple menu options:
Doesn't get any more simple than that!
Here's the regular menu, which is found in all of the shooting modes except for simple:
When you change the picture size you activate a feature called extended optical zoom. This boosts the total zoom range (to as high as 8.3X) by using a smaller area of the CCD sensor. The lower the resolution, the higher the zoom can go. For a technical explanation of how this feature works, check out my review of the DMC-FZ30. It's also worth mentioning that you can achieve the same result by using Photoshop or another image editor.
I also told you about the high speed AF modes, but now I want to mention the "catch" that comes with them. In the two high speed modes, the LCD freezes very briefly while the camera is focusing. If you don't like the freeze, you'll have to use the regular AF modes, which are still pretty snappy themselves.
There's also a setup menu, which is accessed from the record or playback menu. The items here include:
Well that's enough menus for one day, so let's move on now to our photo tests!
The DMC-LZ5 did a fine job with our macro test subject, with my only complaint being that the cloak is a little too orange. Otherwise you'll find a very sharp subject and saturated colors.
The minimum focus distance in macro mode is 5 cm at wide-angle and 50 cm at telephoto. This range is also available in the Simple shooting mode that I described earlier.
The night scene turned out fairly nicely, as well. The camera took in plenty of light, though since there's no way to set the shutter speed manually, you'll have to use the night scenery mode for shots like this. The buildings are nice and sharp, though they look a bit noisy to me. Purple fringing was nonexistent.
Redeye was a problem on the old DMC-LZ1/LZ2 twins, and it remains an issue on the LZ5. While your results may vary, odds are that you'll be dealing with this annoyance at least part of the time.
Our distortion test shows fairly mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the LZ5's lens. It also shows some vignetting (dark corners), which appeared in some of my real world photos as well. I also saw some corner blurriness in a few of my sample pictures.
Photo quality was a mixed bag on the DMC-LZ5. On the positive side, photos were well-exposed, with vibrant colors, good sharpness, and minimal purple fringing. The biggest downside is noise, in addition to the vignetting and soft corner issues that I just mentioned. Noise is noticeable in most of my sample photos (most of which were taken at ISO 80), especially on flat surfaces, details like grass and leaves, or in the sky (which looks mottled). Now, this noise isn't going to be a problem if you're making smaller prints (4 x 6 or 5 x 7), but if you're doing larger prints (or just like to view your photos at 100% on your PC) then it may bother you.
As always, I strongly recommend having a look at our photo gallery -- printing the photos if possible -- so you can decide if the LZ5's photo quality meets your expectations.
The DMC-LZ5 has a nice movie mode. You can record video (with sound) at 640 x 480 (30 frames/second) until the memory card is full. And, you'll need a memory card, since you can't record at the highest quality setting to the built-in memory. You can fit about eleven minutes of video on a 1GB SD card. Remember, a high speed card is recommended!
For longer movies you can either cut the resolution (to 320 x 240) or the frame rate (to a choppy 10 frames/second). It's also worth mentioning that you can record movies at the 320 x 240 setting to the built-in memory.
As is usually the case, you cannot use the zoom lens during filming. The image stabilizer functions in movie mode, though.
Movies are saved in QuickTime format, using the M-JPEG codec. A capture of the first frame of the movie is saved as JPEG along with the video clip.
Here's a sample movie for you:
Click to play movie (12.3 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't play it? Download QuickTime.
The DMC-LZ5 has a pretty standard playback mode. Basic playback options include slide shows, DPOF print marking, image protection, thumbnail mode (with up to 25 photos per screen!), audio captions (10 seconds), and zoom and scroll. As you'd expect, the camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.
The zoom and scroll feature (my term) allows you to zoom in as much as 16X (in 2X increments) into your photo, and then scroll around.
You can also rotate, resize, and crop your photos in playback mode. You can also tag photos as favorites, and the slideshow and photo deletion feature take advantage of that.
One feature that I always appreciate is the LZ5's ability to delete a group of photos, instead of just one or all.
By default, the camera doesn't give you a lot of information about your photos. But press the display button and you'll get a little more info, including a histogram.
The LZ5 moves through photos at a decent clip, with a delay a little over a second between images.
How Does it Compare?
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 is a very good point-and-shoot camera that, with a little work, could be a great one. It offers two things not found on any other cameras in its class: a 6X zoom lens and an optical image stabilizer. Unfortunately, it offers a few annoyances as well, that may or may not bother you.
The LZ5 is a midsize camera made of a mix of metal and plastic. It feels solid for the most part, and it's easy to hold and operate. The camera's 6X optical zoom lens covers a much larger range than on your typical midsize camera (37 - 222 mm). Inside that lens is Panasonic's optical image stabilizer, which helps reduce the effects at camera shake at both the wide-angle and telephoto ends of the focal range. The LZ5 features a large 2.5" LCD display, though its resolution is disappointing. It was viewable in low light, though, and the High Angle feature is neat. There's no optical viewfinder on the camera, which may be an issue for some people.
The DMC-LZ5 is a point-and-shoot camera, with the only manual control being for white balance (which is a handy one to have, for sure). It does have quite a few scene modes, including some useful ones (like night landscape) and some not-so-useful ones (like baby mode). While the normal modes are easy-to-use, if you really don't know what you're doing there's a "simple mode" as well. The LZ5 features a nice movie mode, which can fill up your memory card with VGA quality video.
Camera performance is very good. The LZ5 starts up quickly, focuses very quickly, and can take another shot with a minimal delay. I did notice a tiny bit of shutter lag at slow shutter speeds, but you should really be using a tripod then anyway. The LZ5's burst mode is excellent, especially with a high speed memory card. Battery life was above average.
Photo quality was hit and miss. The hits include good exposure, sharpness, and color, while the misses include noise, vignetting, and occasional blurry corners. The biggest negative was the noise -- there's too much of it at ISO 80, and it goes downhill from there. The high sensitivity modes border on uselessness, as they look more like paintings than photographs. As I said earlier, the noise issue won't really matter if you're only making small prints, but if you like large prints or inspecting the photos on your computer, then you may be disappointed. Redeye was also a problem on the camera, though your results may differ from mine.
The other negatives that I wanted to point out sound more like wishes than complaints. First, the 14MB of built-in memory is just way too little for a 6 Megapixel camera. Even a 16MB SD card would've been better! Second, the camera could really use some more manual controls, since the main competitor (the Canon PowerShot A700) has a full suite. And finally, support for the USB 2.0 High Speed standard would've been very nice.
Although it has some annoying flaws, the 6X zoom lens and image stabilization make the DMC-LZ5 a camera that I can recommend. Those of you who want manual controls, or who make larger-sized prints may want to take a look at some other cameras, but for point-and-shoot users making small prints, the LZ5 is worth a look.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other cameras to consider include the Canon PowerShot A540 and A700, Fuji FinePix A600, HP Photosmart R817, Kodak EasyShare C663, Nikon Coolpix P4, Olympus FE-140, Pentax Optio E10 and M10, Samsung Digimax S600, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W50.
Also available is the LZ5's little brother, the DMC-LZ3. This camera features a 5 Megapixel CCD, a smaller LCD, and it does not record sound in movie mode.
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try out the DMC-LZ5 and its competitors before you buy!
Want to see how the photo quality turned on? Check out our photo gallery!
Want a second opinion?
Read another review at Steve's Digicams.
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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