Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 Review
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The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 is the much-anticipated successor to the LX3, a compact digital camera that proved especially popular with experienced photographers due to its fast lens, full range of manual shooting modes and RAW file support. The new LX5 aims to build on the success of its predecessor with a new 3.8x, 24-90mm zoom lens, large 1/1.63-inch 10 megapixel CCD sensor and HD movie recording with Creative Movie Mode for adjusting both the shutter speed and aperture. Other key improvements to the LX5 include a re-designed user interface, Power OIS anti-shake system, Intelligent Resolution technology and an optional electronic viewfinder. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 is available now in black or white for £449.99 / $499.95.
Ease of Use
Successor to the LX3, the metal construction 10.1 megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 arrives with various outer and inner tweaks at a rather steep manufacturer's suggested price just shy of £450 in the UK. Nevertheless, as folk from the Midlands would say, it feels 'quality', and is certainly the most intriguing Lumix model among the five compacts and superzooms announced back in July. Its closest rival is to be found in Canon's G-series PowerShot range, or at least that's Panasonic's stated intention.
Aimed at both high end amateur photo enthusiasts plus existing snapshot owners looking for a step up, but presumably not wanting the comparative bulk of a Micro Four Thirds hybrid model nor DSLR for a similar price, the LX5 provides both full iAuto and manual shooting options. It however gives a nod to Panasonic's G-series hybrids, in particular the GF1, by including an accessory port for an optional Live View finder just below its vacant hotshoe.
So, in the absence of built-in optical or electronic viewfinder, the LCD is naturally used for shot composition and review. The screen itself is a bright, class leading 3-inches with 460k dot resolution that provides a naturalistic translation of the scene before the lens. However you will still find yourself squinting and cupping a hand around it in bright sunlight.
As expected at this price, both Raw and JPEG files can be committed to SD/SDHC/SDXC or Eye-Fi card, and conveniently both can be shot in tandem, with write speeds impressive at just two to three seconds. It further boasts a 3.8x wide optical zoom, up from 2.5x, offering a focal range equivalent to 24-90mm in 35mm terms and optically stabilized to help prevent image blur from camera shake. Quite effective this is too.
OK, so that focal range is still modest compared to the delights of Panasonic's TZ series or even its recent FZ100 super zoom, but in practice it does the job. And, being forced to take a step forward or back to frame the shot how you want can actually have a positive effect; you spend more time considering it and weighing up the options. The result? Hopefully you capture a better photograph.
That said, if photographers really want, they can take advantage of the fact that the DMC-LX5 also provides an Extra Optical Zoom option - albeit with incremental resolution decreases. There's a choice of 4.5x equivalent zoom at seven megapixels, 5.4x at five megapixels or 6.7x at just less than three megapixels.
Rest the LX5 in your palm, a manageable 271g even with battery and card inserted, and you'll be tempted to make exploratory prods, twists and presses almost immediately. The sliding switch that releases the pop-up flash with a satisfying 'clunk' being particularly enticing, as is, just as obviously, the slider switch sitting atop the lens barrel for adjusting picture ratios. The LX5 is, for those looking to tentatively get more hands on with their images, a veritable box of goodies. There's the option of selecting the standard 4:3 digital ratio dead centre of the 'dial', with 3:2, 16:9 and, more unusually, 1:1, being the alternatives. Slide your left hand down and to the left of the lens surround and there's a further tactile switch for swapping between auto focus, macro focus and manual focus.
Panasonic suggests the LX5's grip is an improvement over the LX3. It may not be large but its leather-effect rubber padding further prevents the camera from feeling like it will slip from your grasp in a strong wind. Overall it comes across as a more compact and elegant solution than Canon or Nikon alternatives, with body proportions measuring a manageable 109.7x65.5x43mm. This therefore is a camera that will slip readily into a pair of jeans, not just a safari jacket. So, as we did, you'll find yourself taking it out more often.
The 'tweaks' referred to at the outset govern the LX5's CCD sensor, which has been re-designed over the LX3, claims Panasonic, as has its image processor. Here the latter is the grandly named Venus Engine FHD. In tandem they are claimed to offer boosted dynamic range and improved low light performance (from ISO80 to an incredible ISO12800 manually selectable), which we'll come to in the image quality section of our write-up.
Under the bonnet adjustments apart, with the LX5 we have other Lumix family regulars making a re-appearance. Selected via a twist of the ridged top plate mode dial there's the subject recognising and performance optimising intelligent Auto (iA) mode for point and shoot simplicity, plus My Colour modes in-camera effects. Users also get access to film simulation modes via the on-screen menu when the shooting dial is turned to a creative mode, such as program, aperture priority, shutter priority or manual. Although this doesn't feature on the top plate dial, users can jump straight to film modes with a press of the slightly more hidden 'Func' (function) button on the LX5's backplate.
Here there's a choice of auto and intelligent auto ISO settings, with a range that extends from ISO 80 up to ISO 3200 at full resolution. Choose the further ISO 6400 or ISO 12800 equivalent options and JPEG-only resolution drops to a compensatory three megapixels - an on-screen prompt warning you of the fact that settings have changed should these two be selected. In any event, this is a nod to the sort of spec to be found on a semi pro DSLR, so to be welcomed at point and shoot level.
Also present and correct is the time saving 'Q.Menu' (Quick Menu) button on the backplate. Press this and a toolbar of essential shooting functions appears on screen that the user can tab through and make selections from courtesy of the cross keys and central 'set' button on the camera back.
It's undoubtedly these familiar elements that will appeal to anyone trading up from say a FS series Lumix compact, and soften any perceived learning curve from what otherwise outwardly appears a more sophisticated proposition. A flick of the top-mounted on/off switch and the LX5 powers up in two seconds. The LCD fades into life and the lens extends from within its protective housing to maximum 24mm-equivalent wideangle setting. Generally the camera is a fast and responsive as one would wish.
It's probably from the front and top that the LX5 most shows its enthusiast targeting mettle, large (for a compact) 24mm wide angle Leica-branded lens staring you in the face as you tease the camera from its packaging. Unlike cheaper Panasonic compacts there's no automatic sliding lens cover to protect the glass when not in use, just a separate lens cap of the clip on variety that may quickly get lost in a pocket. Thus we found ourselves inadvertently getting fingerprints on the glass when placing the LX5 into or retrieving it from said pocket; the location of the lens dead centre meaning that it's fair game.
With the aspect ratio adjustment and focus mode sliders encircling the lens surround as previously mentioned, above the lens and to its left is an AF assist/self timer lamp.
Up top we get that vacant hotshoe protected out of the box by a piece of plastic that also envelops the accessory port nestling just left of centre of the LCD.
The rest of the top plate features are also what prompts the LX5 to appear from this angle at least to be a GF1 'lite'. Nestling next to the hotshoe we have a narrow profile and on our review sample slightly loose shooting mode dial with 10 options squeezed around it. As well as iAuto we get the P,A,S,M quartet plus, not just a movie mode, but a 'creative movie mode'.
Then there is a separate setting for the My Colour modes, another for the 23 scene modes (the usual family-friendly array of portrait, landscape, baby and pet settings), and not one but two user customisable settings.
The creative movie mode is where technologies converge and the LX5 becomes an intriguing prospect for would-be videographers, providing access as it does to the same creative exposure P,A,S,M modes selectable when shooting stills. You also get access to all the film simulation modes when shooting video. So should you want to recreate Woody Allen's black and white Manhattan in downtown Dalston you can. ISO settings, white balance and AF tracking are also all accessible when shooting movies. So this is a digital stills camera where video seems more than just an afterthought, or an exercise in box ticking. The normal bugbear of exterior location shoots is also dealt with thanks to a wind cut option among the four screen's worth of menu settings in motion picture mode. Happily, the full extent of the smooth and steady optical zoom can be accessed when shooting video, its mechanical operation quiet and minimally intrusive.
Back to stills for a moment though and, if results straight out of the camera are too naturalistic for the photogragher's liking, the My Colour modes also give vent to the interior auteur. It's here one can choose the vibrant, saturation boosting 'Expressive' setting from an expansive range of options also including film grain, pin hole, silhouette, dynamic black and white, dynamic art, high dynamic, monochrome, elegant, pure, or retro colour effects. This therefore is a camera one can delight in spending some time getting to know better.
Next to the shooting mode dial is the raised shutter release button ergonomically encircled by rocker switch for operating the zoom. As indicated the zoom glides fairly leisurely through its range, taking just over three seconds to get from maximum wideangle to extreme telephoto. Tabbing back and forth it's possible to be reasonably accurate with your framing.
Just right of this we have the recessed 'one touch' video record button that very usefully allows the user to be up and shooting video in a thrice no matter what other (non video) mode they might have selected on the adjacent dial. Just behind this we find the aforementioned on/off button.
If the front and top resemble one of Panasonic's hybrid Four Thirds models, the LX5's backplate is an altogether humbler, or as we've indicated more approachable affair. It's here we have echoes of one of its £199 point and shoots; apart, that is, from the enthusiast enticing giveaways of an AF/AE lock button and DSLR-like command/jog dial top right, which we found we rarely used, except for controlling the size of the AF area, and so comes across as slightly superfluous for day to day operation.
The other near microscopic backplate controls include the familiar playback button, and, just below this, a quartet of cross keys for tabbing through and selecting menu options, or scrolling through captured images, with a central menu/set button falling under the thumb in their midst.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
The top key of the quartet is marked 'focus'. Press this and, in tandem with the command dial, users can adjust the expansiveness of AF area, or alter its default position of dead centre of the frame to off-centre instead, with a subsequent press of the surrounding cross keys. To the right, at three o'clock, the next key is given over as a shortcut to accessing ISO settings on the fly. At six o'clock we get a 'Func' (function) button as another short cut - providing instant access for example to the film simulation modes instead of having to wade through the menu to get at them.
The fourth and final key is for the LX5's self-timer options: here either the standard two or ten seconds.
Beneath this again we get the final two buttons on the camera back, for self explanatory display - a press of which turns of the operational icons or brings up a nine-zone compositional grid - and, secondly the Q.Menu or 'Quick Menu' button bringing up the toolbar of key shooting settings. Again, choose one of the creative shooting modes and the user has access to film simulation mode setting, flash setting, burst shooting on/off, metering mode, AF area, white balance, picture size and even a three option video recording quality.
While that's it for the LX5's backplate, the right hand side of the camera - when viewed from the back - features a terminal door covering both HDMI (cable optional) and AV/USB out ports. There are also vacant lugs on the left and right hand flanks of the camera for attaching the provided shoulder strap.
The base of the camera meanwhile features a slightly off-centre screw thread for attaching a tripod, the other under-side feature being the compartment housing the battery, good for 400 shots from a single charge, and SD/SDHCSDXC or Eye-Fi media cards.
The LX5 comes across as slightly more than the average well-built fully featured snapshot camera, but, again, we're not sure there's enough here to justify a price similar to, and in some cases more expensive than, an entry level DSLR and standard 18-55mm lens set up. If you're into your photography then you're more likely then to be interested in the LX5 if you've already got a DSLR.
But how does the LX5 perform 'in the field' and measure up as regards image quality? Read on for more…