Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ5

Because of its delightfully designed shell, we really wanted to love the Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ5. Unfortunately, its outward beauty meant that compromises had to be made elsewhere, such as the low-res screen and poor video resolution.


6.9
CNET Rating

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About The Author

CNET Editor

Derek loves nothing more than punching a remote location into a GPS, queuing up some music and heading out on a long drive, so it's a good thing he's in charge of CNET Australia's Car Tech channel.


Design and features

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ5 lives within a suitably thin (21mm) body, albeit one that's wider than most of its direct competitors. Thanks to the combination of a black machined metal body and a lovely satin chrome strip along the top and sides, there's a smartly upmarket feel to the SZ5 that goes well beyond the retail price of AU$249.

Within the belly of the classy body, there's a Leica 10x optical zoom lens that funnels the world into a 14.1-megapixel CCD sensor. At its widest, the SZ5's lens is rated as a 25mm lens in 35mm equivalence. Given the scarcity of mini-HDMI cables and adapters, we're almost glad that the SZ5 does without. Under a flap on the right there's a proprietary connector for both power and USB connectivity, while on the bottom edge there's a door hiding the compartments for the battery and SD/SDHC/SDXC card slot. Also on the underside is a tripod mounting point, which (joy of joys) is actually aligned with the centre of the lens — an important consideration if you're a fan of panorama shots. 55MB of internal storage is available (that's roughly nine full-resolution images) if you've contrived to leave your SD card behind.

As you'd expect, a 3-inch LCD screen dominates the rear of the camera. Perhaps as a quid pro quo for the stylish body, the pixels on the LCD are clearly visible. That's because the total pixel count comes in at an underwhelming 230,000, while most of the DMC-SZ5's competitors have at least 460,000 pixels at their disposal. An array of buttons, including a five-way controller, lie to the right of screen and allows you to access the camera's settings, functions and menus.

Four recording modes are available: Intelligent Auto, Normal, Miniature and Scene (portrait, landscape, night scenery, sunset, pet and so forth). Most of the manual controls are restricted to Normal mode, where users can choose their ISO setting, white balance style (including manual white balance), auto focus mode (options include face detection, tracking, and single or multiple spot focussing), burst speed and video recording resolution. Exposure compensation of up to two stops, self timer (2- or 10-second delay), flash (on, off, auto, auto with red-eye reduction) and macro (off, on, with zoom) are all accessed via the five-way controller.

While many of its rivals offer 1080i video, the DMC-SZ5 can only record video at a maximum resolution of 1280x720p. Another impairment is the record button, which is slightly recessed in a spot right next to the shutter button along the top edge of of the camera. This can be difficult to find if you're an infrequent video shooter and in a desperate hurry to film, say, your child's first steps or words.

Wi-Fi is part of the SZ5's roll call of features, but its usefulness is debatable. Via the camera's interface you can upload photos to either a shared network drive or Panasonic's Lumix Club web sharing service, but popular social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, aren't on the cards. Alternatively, you can connect the Lumix to your TV wirelessly via DLNA, or remotely control the camera via an ad-hoc wireless network and the Lumix Link smartphone (iOS/Android) app. Some of these features, though, require the camera to be plugged into a power source.

Performance

General shooting metrics (in seconds)

  • Start-up to first shot
  • JPEG shot-to-shot time
  • Shutter lag

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Continuous shooting speed (in frames per second)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Unlike some other point-and-shoot cameras, the SZ5 doesn't buffer images in its internal memory if you've enabled its normal continuous shot mode, preferring instead to write each photo to the SD card before the next shot is taken. We achieved 1.17fps (as seen above) using a 30MB/s-rated SanDisk Ultra SDHC card. There's also a high-speed burst mode that does buffer images before committing them to the card, although resolution in this mode is reduced to just three megapixels. The SZ5 managed 62 shots at 7.56fps in this high-speed mode, before needing a breath to dump everything to the SD card.

The SZ5 comes with a lithium-ion battery that's rated at around 250 images. We fell around 25 images short of this mark, but we did record around three minutes of footage as well, and played extensively with its Wi-Fi capabilities.

Image quality

Shrunk down to the 2- to 5-megapixel resolution of most of the devices that we use, or a 6x4-inch print, and the SZ5's image output is perfectly satisfactory; colours are suitably vibrant, without being oversaturated. In scenes where there's a large contrast between bright and dark portions, the SZ5 usually tends to err on the side of caution, choosing to underexpose the photo slightly. This leaves shadow areas looking a little dark, and it's often difficult to discern details, but this conservatism also preserves highlights in brighter areas.

A 100 per cent crop (inset) from the SZ5.
(Credit: CBSi)

When viewed at 100 per cent, photos taken with the Lumix SZ5 exhibit an element of noisiness in the details. This might have to do with the amount of compression being applied to image files; unfortunately, there are no picture quality settings available to the user. Optical image stabilisation does a decent job of removing annoying shakes, especially in low light conditions. It also helps if you're keen on exploiting the 10x optical zoom lens, although a steady hand is still required.

An ISO comparison from the SZ5. Click for the full-sized version.
(Credit: CBSi)

The SZ5 is capable of taking photos between ISO 100 and 1600. Although there's a noticeable drop off in clarity and colour at ISO 800, photos taken at this sensitivity are usually perfectly fine for viewing on most devices and social media sites. ISO 1600, on the other hand, is so muddy and dull that we'd recommend avoiding it, unless the cost of not taking the photo is roughly the equivalent to being waterboarded whilst being Rick-rolled.

Video recordings from the DMC-SZ5 feature smooth motion, but resolution, as we've mentioned before, is limited to 1280x720. The end result generally means soft and pixellated videos that are okay for YouTube, but will be disappointing when viewed on a laptop, tablet or TV.

Image samples

Exposure: 1/60, f/3.1, ISO 250

Exposure: 1/640, f/3.1, ISO 100

Exposure: 1/500, f/5.9, ISO 100

Exposure: 1/500, f/3.1, ISO 100

(Credit: CBSi)

Conclusion

Because of its delightfully designed shell, we really wanted to love the Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ5. Unfortunately, its outward beauty meant that compromises had to be made elsewhere, such as the low-res screen and poor video resolution. These drawbacks mean that we're unable to fully open our hearts to it.



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