Panasonic has had a niche for many years with the Lumix DMC-LX3, a versatile compact camera that could easily serve as a weekend replacement for any photographer's digital SLR.
Since then, Canon has entered the market with the PowerShot S95 which has earned high praise from us and consumers.
The LX5 is the new version of the LX3 that refines the formula and adds a few new features, but does it still have what it takes to be the top of the class?
Design and features
There is little difference between the exterior design of the LX5 and the LX3. The LX5 is still a black box with indentations and protrusions in all the right places, looking more like a "proper" old-school camera than any of its direct competitors.
Up top is a mode dial with all the common PASM shooting controls, a pop-up flash plus hotshoe, power switch and dedicated video record button. The hotshoe also comes with a small accessories port beneath it, covered by a removable plastic cover, which can house an optional electronic viewfinder. Controls are similar to the LX3, though there is now a click wheel on the back that can be used to flick through settings and change exposure values. Press it in once to switch between values.
The controls at the rear of the LX5. The click wheel (top right) changes between shooting options, and is carried over from Panasonic's G-series of cameras. (Credit: Panasonic)
The lens, which extends to 3.8x optical zoom, opens up to a maximum aperture of f/2-3.3, slightly wider at the telephoto end than the Canon S95, which is f/2-4.9. On the lens itself, Panasonic has carried across the aspect ratio selector that was also found on the LX3, allowing the camera to shoot in either 1:1, 4:3, 3:2 or 16:9 format. The sensor size (1/1.63-inch) and resolution (10.1-megapixels) remains the same as the LX3. Panasonic does claim, however, that the LX5's sensor features improved technology that increases its sensitivity by 31 per cent.
One of the shifts from the LX3 is this camera's use of the AVCHD Lite format, used to encode its 720p HD videos. Pleasingly, this camera allows video recording in all manual modes and the zoom works during filming. By contrast, the S95 doesn't have any of these provisions in video mode.
Click through for a complete gallery of images taken with the LX5. (Credit: CBSi)
The screen remains the same size and resolution as its predecessors, at 3-inches and 460,000-dots respectively. Side by side with the Canon S95, it does appear less bright and contrasty, even though their basic specifications are much the same.
Here's how the LX5 stacks up against these other do-it-all cameras:
|Canon PowerShot S95||Samsung WB2000||Panasonic Lumix LX5|
|10 megapixels||10 megapixels||10 megapixels|
|3-inch, 461,000-dot LCD||3-inch, 641,000-dot AMOLED||3-inch, 460,000-dot fixed LCD|
|3.8x optical zoom, 28mm wide-angle||5x optical zoom, 24mm wide-angle||3.8x optical zoom, 24mm wide-angle|
|HD video (H.264, 720p, 24fps)||HD video (1080p, 30fps)||HD video (AVCHD Lite, 720p, 30fps)|
|Pop-up flash||Built-in flash||Pop-up flash|
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Time to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- RAW shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
- Panasonic Lumix LX126.96.36.199.3
- Canon PowerShot S9188.8.131.52.4
- Canon PowerShot S902.31.83.40.5
Continuous shooting speed (longer bars indicate better performance)
- Panasonic Lumix LX52.6
- Canon PowerShot S951.9
- Canon PowerShot S901
Note: the LX5 only takes three shots in continuous shooting mode before stopping to process them. Panasonic rates the battery for the LX5 at 400 shots.
The LX5 has a pretty good colour profile, with default settings producing some very true-to-life tones without oversaturation. Photographers will get the best results when shooting RAW images, though, as the LX5 has a tendency to produce inconsistent JPEG results. These inconsistencies appear as unwanted blotches on JPEG images at low ISO levels when shooting in dim light, and how the camera deals with overall JPEG processing.
As you can see in the image above, the LX5 tends to over-process JPEG images (top, note the compression artefacts and over-zealous sharpness). (Credit: CBSi)
Given the widest focal length of the lens (24mm), there is a small amount of barrel distortion visible on images. Fortunately for the most part this is where any issues with the lens itself end. There is very little chromatic aberration, and the lens is able to resolve a good amount of detail from its images, particularly in RAW format. White balance is mostly accurate, with a small amount of yellow colour casting on indoor scenes. The Power OIS image stabiliser is very effective too; we were able to get down to a shutter speed of around 1/20 second without excessive camera shake.
The LX5 controls noise well at its low native ISO levels; at ISO 800 is where things start to come undone, as they do on most compact cameras of this class. See below for further examples of images taken at higher ISO levels.
A shot taken at ISO 3200 showing JPEG and RAW processing. (Credit: CBSi)
Video quality is decent enough but not spectacular; the LX5 records at 30 rather than 24fps. The S95 does tend to edge the LX5 out on this count, particularly thanks to its stereo microphone. The LX5 only has a mono microphone built-in unfortunately, but given the accessory port under the hotshoe, an external microphone may be a possibility in the future.
Image samplesClick each image below for JPEGs straight from the LX5. No post-processing has been done to alter these photos.
Exposure: 1/25, f/2.9, ISO 800
Exposure: 1/30, f/2, ISO 800
Exposure: 1/40, f/2, ISO 400
Exposure: 1/80, f/2, ISO 80
Exposure: 1/200, f/2.8, ISO 200
Exposure: 1/400, f/2.8, ISO 200
The LX5 offers many tools and controls for a photographer wanting a small, do-it-all camera. It does have some inconsistencies that to most users probably won't affect everyday photos — but they still deserve mentioning.
While the S95 delivers some excellent results on its JPEG images straight from the box, the LX5 is more for tweakers and those who want to eke the most out of the camera by shooting in RAW. It also offers more control in video recording, and has double the battery life of the other camera.