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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 Gordon Laing, October 2010

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 verdict

Panasonic's Lumix DMC-LX5 is the long-awaited successor to one of the most popular enthusiast compacts in recent years. The earlier Lumix LX3 delivered a winning combination of a bright and wide lens, sensible image resolution and high degree of manual control in a relatively pocketable package. Now two years on the Lumix LX5 builds on the success of its predecessor with a longer lens range, an accessory port and a number of discreet but worthy improvements; note there wasn't an LX4, so the LX5 is the direct successor to the LX3.

At first glance the new Lumix LX5 looks a great deal like its predecessor, with essentially the same body, although a wider grip really does make the camera more comfortable to hold. We're also pleased to see the LX3's fiddly joystick replaced by a new thumb dial on the rear, with a push-click action which allows you to quickly switch between adjusting, say, the aperture then the shutter. We also prefer the use of a play button on the LX5 rather than the record / play switch of the LX3.

There's still a hotshoe for mounting an external flashgun – a fairly unique capability on a compact camera – but the LX5 mow raises this to accommodate the same accessory port as the Lumix GF1 before it. This means the LX5 can exploit the same optional Live View electronic viewfinder, allowing you to avoid glare on the screen and compose with the camera held against your face for greater stability. The finder accessory also tilts for easier composition at lower angles, so while it's not as convenient as the camera having an articulated screen (like the Canon PowerShot G12), it's a nice option to have.


While these tweaks to the body and controls make a surprising difference in day-to-day use, the most important upgrade on the LX5 over its predecessor is the new lens. The earlier LX3 boasted a zoom which started at a wider than average 24mm, while featuring a bright f2.0 focal ratio. Great stuff, but the zoom range ended just 2.5 times later at an equivalent of 60mm. The focal ratio may still have been a bright f2.8 at this point, but the range was just too short to satisfy many photographers.

Panasonic's addressed this with the new LX5, equipping it with the same 24mm f2.0 specification at the wide end, but crucially extending the range from 2.5 to 3.8x with a maximum equivalent focal length of 90mm; the f3.3 focal ratio at this point is still also very respectable. The longer range means the LX5's optics are now equally suited to portraits as they are for expansive landscape or architectural work, and we're glad to find you can now optically zoom while recording video.


The bright f2.0-3.3 focal ratio is a delight, and while the LX5 can't match the shallow depth-of-field effects possible on a DSLR or EVIL compact, it can still throw backgrounds out of focus when used carefully – macro shots proved most effective both for stills and video, the latter with the camera's new and very welcome Creative Movie mode. More importantly the bright focal ratio gathers more light than most compacts, allowing the LX5 to either select quicker shutter speeds to avoid camera shake or slower sensitivities for better quality; this is a very important capability when the jump from 200 to 400 ISO, or especially 400 to 800 ISO on a compact can result in significant reductions in quality. Many compacts with bright focal ratios when zoomed-out also become slow once zoomed-in, but the LX5 maintains a bright ratio throughout its range. The optical quality is also very good, with the optimum results between f2.8 and f4.0 in our tests.

Panasonic's also made bold claims over an AF system which is up to 40% faster, and we're pleased to report the Lumix LX5 certainly focuses very quickly and confidently in use. Kids running around present a challenge for any AF system, and while other compacts tested side-by-side struggled at times to keep-up, the LX5 enjoyed a higher than average success rate.

Indeed the camera felt very responsive in general use, snapping-onto subjects without fuss and grabbing shots with minimal delay. The well thought-out controls and user interface never got in the way and allowed us to make the desired changes quickly and easily. It's a really nice camera to pick up and use, with the reassurance of decent results.

Which brings us onto the image quality. Panasonic's stuck with the same 10 Megapixel resolution as its predecessor, but claims to have improved the dynamic range on the new model. We didn't have an LX3 to compare side-by-side, but we can confirm the LX5's images enjoyed a higher dynamic range than most compacts we were testing at the time. Bright skies in particular contained more tonal detail at times when others were completely saturated. This range was even greater on the LX5's RAW files which allowed us to retrieve highlight detail that was forever lost on other models. Don't get us wrong, the LX5 won't match the dynamic range of a DSLR or EVIL compact, but it is a step-up from typical compacts.

The images themselves were also very respectable, especially at lower sensitivities. Shoot between 80 and 200 ISO and you'll find the LX5 images are packed with finely resolved detail that's a pleasure to examine. Beyond 400 ISO though, we found the LX5 suffered from more electronic-looking artefacts than rivals using the default settings, although you can adjust the noise reduction or of course shoot in RAW and process more carefully later.

So far so good, but the LX5 wasn't without issues, with a few minor annoyances concerning general use and handling. First, we're pleased to see Panasonic dumping the old record / play switch for a play button as it was easy to leave earlier models set to play and wonder why the camera wasn't ready to take a photo on power-up. But unfortunately by keeping the power switch of its predecessor, the LX5 still can't power-up directly into playback with a press and hold of the play button alone. You can configure the camera to power-into play, but that delays shooting. Alternatively the default setting means you'll need to power-into record (and probably be told to remove the lens cap) before you can press play to review images.

Speaking of which, the lens cap can prove frustrating when you're shooting side-by-side with another compact. The simple fact is the cap slows you down when you're getting the camera ready to take a shot, and putting it away again afterwards. This may seem like a petty complaint – and it has to be said the cap is sturdy and can also dangle from a cord to avoid loss – but the sliding lens covers on most compacts including the LX5's main rivals are much quicker and more convenient. If you're used to a DSLR, you won't notice any difference at all, but if you're used to a compact you may find it slower, not to mention annoying to be told off when it's left clipped-on during power-up, even if only to access playback. And while we perfectly understand the LX5's cap is stronger, we've never once punctured or damaged the sliding cover on a compact in two decades of testing.

Moving on, the various physical switches and dials are nice to have, but we frequently found the aspect ratio control on the lens barrel could become nudged into a different position when removing the camera from a pocket or bag. Two years may have passed between the LX3 and LX5, but the continuous shooting at full resolution remains effectively useless for most action situations and the movie mode hasn't been upgraded to 1080p (while the use of a CCD sensor also means there can be some vertical streaking on saturated areas). Finally, the 3in 460k screen may be large and fairly detailed, but becomes hard to view in direct sunlight.

To be fair, most of these are minor annoyances and there are some workarounds. The camera can be configured to power-up into play. Screen glare can be avoided with the optional finder, and who knows, there may even be a microphone accessory in the future. The movies may also remain 720p, but the new AVCHD option allows much longer recording times than the LX3, while the manual exposure controls and ability to optically zoom while filming are welcome updates.

So ultimately a great camera has become even better, but the biggest problem facing the Lumix LX5 is the availability of compacts boasting considerably larger sensors and the flexibility of interchangeable lenses. These 'EVIL' models represent a major rival for any compact aimed at enthusiasts, and while they're currently all more expensive, many enthusiasts are willing to pay for their improved image quality. So before wrapping-up, how does the Lumix LX5 compare against some key rivals?


Compared to Canon PowerShot S95


Canon's PowerShot S95 is arguably the Lumix LX5's main rival, as both pack sensible resolutions and bright lenses into small bodies with plenty of controls for enthusiasts. While both share similar-sized 10 Megapixel sensors, 3in / 460k screens and bright f2.0 focal ratios when zoomed-out though, there are considerable differences to weigh-up between them.

Most obviously the PowerShot S95 is smaller. By employing a body that's shorter in every dimension with fewer protrusions and a lighter weight, the S95 looks and feels noticeably smaller in use – and crucially it'll squeeze into smaller pockets than the LX5. The absence of a lens cap also makes it thinner, not to mention quicker to power-up and down again. The lens may not zoom quite as wide (28mm vs 24mm), but it does zoom a little longer (105mm vs 90mm).

The PowerShot S95 also features two control wheels, with one thumb wheel on the back and one programmable ring around the lens barrel, along with twin microphones for stereo sound. The S95's motorised flash can also raise and (neatly) lower itself automatically, and some may prefer the screen being the same 4:3 shape as the best quality photo setting. In terms of image quality we additionally preferred the S95 above 400 ISO which avoided many of the LX5's undesirable artefacts. The S95 also features an HDR mode which combines three exposures automatically, and the option to view RGB in addition to brightness histograms.

In its favour, the Lumix LX5 features a more comfortable grip, a hotshoe for external flashguns, an accessory port for an optional electronic viewfinder (and maybe other accessories in the future), a wider lens, a brighter focal ratio when zoomed-in, finer zoom increments, the choice of aspect ratios without compromising the field-of-view, optical zooming and manual control over exposures for video, adjustable spot focusing options, fast flash-sync speeds, double the battery life and quicker focusing in our tests. You can also mount filters with an optional tube accessory.

While there are some feature advantages to the S95, most would agree the LX5 ultimately has more for the enthusiast, but crucially there's still that difference in size. The LX5 is actually quite close to some EVIL compacts when fitted with their smallest pancake lenses, and while it features a bright and wide built-in zoom, it may not be sufficiently small to carry as an alternative to a large-sensor camera. In contrast, the PowerShot S95 remains sufficiently smaller than any EVIL camera or DSLR to make it a truly pocketable companion. This coupled with its lower price will ensure many happy owners.

See our Canon PowerShot S95 review for more details.


Compared to Sony Alpha NEX-3


There are a number of compacts featuring DSLR-sized sensors and removeable lenses on the market today, but for comparison here we've chosen the Sony Alpha NEX-3 as one of the most compelling alternatives to the Lumix LX5 at the time of writing.

In its favour, the NEX-3 features a considerably bigger sensor, indeed one that's the same size as in most DSLRs. This means much lower noise at higher sensitivities, higher dynamic range and the potential for shallower depth-of-field effects – it also has 40% more pixels in total. The NEX-3 also features a removeable lens mount, and while it doesn't have a 24-90mm f2.0-3.3 zoom, there's simply the potential for many more lens options. Both the NEX-3 and Lumix LX3 feature 3in screens, but the Sony's is more detailed with a 920k panel. The NEX-3 additionally boasts a number of innovative options which combine multiple exposures in-camera to reduce noise, minimise motion blur or even generate panoramas, including 3D options. The continuous shooting is also quick at up to 7fps, and if you opt for the pricier NEX-5 version, you'll enjoy 1080p movies. And while neither NEX has a flash hotshoe, Sony has previewed an optional flashgun, not to mention a high quality stereo microphone.

In its favour, the Lumix LX5 is smaller and lighter, especially when compared against the NEX with a kit zoom. While the smallest NEX lens has a fixed focal length and its kit zoom is average in specification, the Lumix LX5 boasts a built-in 24-90mm f2.0-3.3 zoom and few if any concerns over dust getting onto the sensor. Focusing on the LX5 felt quicker and its larger inherent depth-of-field will also minimise focusing errors on general snaps. The movie mode has full manual control and the motorised zoom more suitable for adjustment while filming. Enthusiasts will also prefer the controls and user interface on the LX5, and there's already an EVF accessory available. Importantly, the LX5 costs approximately one quarter less than the NEX-3 and squeezes one third more shots per charge. Unlike all the EVIL (and DSLR) cameras to date, it can also fire its shutter in virtual silence.

Ultimately the Lumix LX5 is smaller, lighter and cheaper than the NEX-3 and other EVIL compacts, while also featuring a bright and wide 24-90mm f2.0-3.3 zoom, but it's no longer significantly more pocketable than a camera with a DSLR-sized sensor. If you're willing to increase your budget and carry a camera that's only a little bigger and heavier, you can enjoy a much larger sensor and removeable lenses, not to mention the other benefits listed above. It's a compelling proposition for enthusiasts.

For more details see our Sony Alpha NEX-3 / 5 review.


Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 final verdict

Panasonic's Lumix DMC-LX5 is certainly a very nice camera to use. It feels good in your hands, sports decent controls with a well thought-out layout, features a bright and wide lens with quick and confident focusing, enjoys the choice of full manual exposures or one of the best auto modes on the market, and delivers decent quality results. What's not to like?

Well if you're only comparing it against traditional compacts, the Lumix LX5 more than fulfils its brief, and provides a very satisfying experience for enthusiasts. The body may look similar to its predecessor, but a better grip, improvements in controls and a much more usable lens range along with a number of key enhancements under the hood make for a worthy successor to one of the best high-end compacts around. Sure there's a few minor annoyances which we described earlier, but nothing major.

The biggest problem facing the LX5 is in the two years since the LX3, the high-end compact market has been transformed by the release of 'EVIL' models sporting DSLR-sized sensors and the flexibility of removeable lenses. These may be larger, heavier and more expensive than the LX5, but not by a significant margin for many enthusiasts. Demanding photographers may be more than willing to spend the extra for this leap in image quality and flexibility, and while all EVIL cameras to date are bigger and heavier than the LX5, it's not like you're sacrificing a pocket camera for one which needs a bag. The type of pocket needed to accommodate an LX5 will almost certainly take, say, a Sony NEX-5 with a pancake lens.


To be fair, the EVIL cameras are only comparable in size when fitted with their smallest lens options, which are fixed in focal length; swap them for a zoom and they become much bigger. In contrast, the Lumix LX5 features not just a flexible 24-90mm range, but also one with a brighter f2.0-3.3 focal ratio than any kit zoom.

But again the presence of EVIL cameras undoubtedly puts high-end compacts like the Lumix LX5 in an uncomfortable position. Previously a DSLR-sized sensor demanded a DSLR-sized body, so a model like the LX5 was an ideal carry-everywhere companion for enthusiasts. But now the space and weight saving over an EVIL alternative is minimal. Canon's chunkier PowerShot G12 faces this problem to an even greater extent.

Interestingly in today's market, Canon's PowerShot S95 arguably feels the most relevant in its peer group. It may not ultimately offer the same degree of control and features as the LX5, but with smaller dimensions, it crucially delivers a more portable proposition to models with bigger sensors. In contrast the LX5, while no giant, is just physically too close to models which pack-in DSLR sensors, and that's difficult for enthusiasts to ignore.

Of course none of this matters if the LX5's feature-set, and especially its lens specifications are exactly what you're looking for. Nothing else is available at this size or price with a 24-90mm f2.0-3.3 lens, and there's no denying the camera performs very well in use. As such it's an easy model to recommend, but misses out on our top rating in an increasing market of alternatives with big sensors. The Lumix LX5 may be one of the best 'small-sensor' compacts for enthusiasts, but as the market for EVIL cameras steadily grows, we wonder how many more generations we can expect.

Good points
Bright 24-90mm f2.0-3.3 lens with quick AF.
Full manual, RAW and flash hotshoe.
3in / 460k screen and optional EVF.
720p movies with manual exposure control and zooming.

Bad points
Small continuous burst at full resolution.
Play button alone can't power-up camera into playback.
Lens cap can prove inconvenient.
No longer much smaller than a camera with a DSLR sensor.


(relative to 2010 enthusiast (non-EVIL) compacts)

Build quality:
Image quality:


18 / 20
18 / 20
18 / 20
18 / 20
16 / 20


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