Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 Review
Review Date: February 23rd 2006
Ease of Use
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 is a good-looking, understated kind of camera, with a smart silver plastic body. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 is a fairly compact camera, although it quite deep at 45mm (without the lens extended), which means that whilst it is still pocketable, it is something of a tight squeeze. It is similar in size to the Canon Powershot A620, which only offers a 4x zoom lens. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 is more at home in a small camera bag than in a pocket. It's a quite well-built camera, with a high quality plastic body and controls. The camera's design is dominated by the large 6x lens on the front and the 2.5 inch LCD screen on the rear. There is no optical viewfinder, which follows a recent trend in digital cameras.
As this is purely a point and shoot camera with no manual controls, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 is not overly complex in terms of the number of external controls that it has. I counted 12 in total. This allows the camera to be relatively compact whilst still offering a 6x zoom lens and that large 2.5 inch LCD screen. The majority of the controls are clearly labeled and common to most cameras. There's a traditional dial on the top of the camera that lets you select the various shooting and scene modes, plus image playback. This dial is a typical feature of SLR cameras, and enables you to quickly change between the various modes. Interestingly there are two Scene modes on the dial, both of which offer exactly the same options, but which can be set independently of each other, allowing a little customization of the camera setup. Also found on the top of the camera are the on/off switch, zoom lever, shutter button and the optical image stabilisation button.
|Zoom Lever / Shutter Button / Optical Image Stabilizer Button / On/Off Button||Lens|
If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the easy-to-follow manual before you start is a good idea. Thankfully Panasonic have chosen to supply it in printed format, rather than as a PDF on a CD, so you can also carry it with you. The large 2.5 inch LCD screen is the only way of framing your shots, so if you have to have an optical viewfinder, look elsewhere now. Unfortunately Panasonic have cut costs by limiting the number of pixels - the LCD screen only has 85,000 pixels, resulting in a grainy image. On the plus side, there's a clever new mode called High Angle, which essentially brightens the LCD screen when the camera is held over your head so that it is perfectly viewable, which is great for shooting over the heads of a crowd. The various icons used to represent the camera settings are clear and legible, although I was annoyed by the High Angle message along the bottom of the screen, which is displayed whenever you press the Display button.
The main menu system on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 is straight-forward to use and is accessed by pressing the Menu/Set button in the middle of the navigation pad. There are two main menus, Record and Setup. Quite a lot of the camera's main options, such as white balance, image quality, auto-focus mode and ISO speed, are accessed here, so the Record menu has 12 options spread over 3 screens. It would have been good to see the more commonly used options, such as ISO speed, available via the press of a button, rather than having to go into the menu system. Due to the large LCD screen and restricting the number of on-screen choices to five, the various options and icons are very clear and legible.
|Navigation Pad||Mode Dial|
There is one innovative feature on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 that aims to make life easier for you. As with current Panasonic models, this camera has an anti-shake system, dubbed Mega O.I.S - turn it on and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 automatically compensates for camera shake, which is a slight blurring of the image that typically occurs at slow shutter speeds. There are two different modes, Mode 1 is on all the time including image composition, and Mode 2 is only on when you press the shutter button. In practice I found that it does make a noticeable difference, as shown in the examples on the Image Quality page. You don't notice that the camera is actually doing anything different when anti-shake is turned on, just that you can use slower shutter speeds than normal and still take sharp photos. However, what Panasonic gives you in the form of an effective anti-shake system, it takes away by only providing a limited true ISO range of 80-400. This essentially means that you really need to leave the anti-shake system turned on all the time to compensate for the slow shutter speeds (especially as ISOs 200 and 400 exhibit high levels of noise - see the Image Quality page), which kind of negates any real advantages that the anti-shake system offers. Thankfully leaving the anti-shake system on didn't negatively affect the battery-life, with the camera managing over 200 shots using the supplied AA Oxyride batteries (non-rechargeable).
Panasonic have attempted to alleviate the limited ISO range problem by providing a new High Sensitivity Mode. When this scene mode is selected, the camera automatically raises the ISO speed up to a maximum of 1600 and therefore allows for a faster shutter speed. This mode allows you to handhold the camera without using the flash and get more natural results, whilst at the same time freezing subject movement more successfully. There are some obvious drawbacks with this special scene mode, principally a significant reduction in resolution - Panasonic state that "The picture quality is good enough for printing at the ordinary 4" x 6" (10 x 15 cm) size". You also need to select the scene mode and therefore have some idea about when it is applicable to your subject. You can see sample images using the High Sensitivity Mode on the the Image Quality page.
|Battery Compartment||Memory Card Slot|
The start-up time from turning the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 on to being ready to take a photo is fairly quick at around 1 second, although zooming from the widest focal length to the longest takes a pedestrian 3 seconds. Focusing is very quick in good light and the camera happily achieves focus most of the time indoors or in low-light situations, helped by the focus-assist lamp. Note that the camera does struggle to lock onto the subject sometimes at the tele-photo end of the lens. The camera is very quick to find focus if you use the new 1-point high-speed AF option. The visibility and refresh rate of the 2.5 inch LCD screen are perfectly acceptable, although as mentioned above there are not enough pixels given the large size. It takes about 0.5 second to store an image, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card - there is no LCD blackout between each image. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 has an impressive Continuous mode which enables you to take 3 frames per second at the highest JPEG image quality, up to a maximum of 8 images (Standard mode) or 6 images (Fine mode). Overall the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 is above average in terms of operational speed.
Once you have captured a photo, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 has a good range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view thumbnails, zoom in and out up to 16x magnification, view slideshows with audio, delete, protect, trim, resize and rotate an image. You can also select favourite images, add a sound clip to an image and set the print order. The Display button toggles detailed settings information about each picture on and off, such as the ISO rating and aperture / shutter speed, and there is a small histogram available during both shooting and playback. When taking a photo, pressing the Info button toggles between the detailed information, the histogram and gridlines to aid composition.
In summary the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 is a simple-to-use, responsive, fairly compact camera with a versatile 6x image stabilized Leica lens.
PhotographyBLOG is a member of the DIWA organisation. Our test results for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 have been submitted to DIWA for comparison with test results for different samples of the same camera model supplied by other DIWA member sites.