The Panasonic Lumic LX5 is about as high-end as compacts can get, but in an expanding and competitive market how does it fare?
Panasonic Lumix LX5 Review
Panasonic’s previous model, the Panasonic LX3, has been very successful in carving its own niche – balancing a small size with excellent quality to make it more pocketfriendly than many competitors. The latest model in the range, the brand new Panasonic Lumix LX5, looks to grow this legacy even further…
Panasonic Lumix LX5 overview of main highlights:
720p HD video, using Panasonic’s AVCHD Lite for top quality
A 3.8x optical zoom means 24-90mm equivalent with wide f/2.0-3.3 aperture
The LX5’s small design means it’s pocketable and ready to carry anywhere
Panasonic Lumix LX5 Features
The Panasonic Lumix LX5 is a 10-megapixel compact with a 1/1.63in size CCD sensor – although this is the same size and resolution as the previous LX3, Panasonic states that the sensor has been reworked. The new Venus FHD Engine conforms to this update, capable of capturing images to ISO 3200 (or a new high-end ISO 12,800 with a lower 3.1MP resolution, pixel mixed readout) and AVCHD Lite 720p HD movie is also possible.
Although at first glance the Panasonic LX5 looks near identical to the LX3, the body is actually slightly larger than before, and for good reason: the new 3.8x optical zoom Leica lens has a 24-90mm f/2.0-3.3 equivalent zoom, making it the most notable progression that the Lumix LX-series has seen thus far – above and beyond the LX3’s 24-60mm lens.
Borrowing staple modes from other existing Panasonic ranges also sees My Color Modes, migrate over, coupled with Film Mode to allow a combination of in-camera effects – such as Retro, Silhouette, Vibrant and others.
The rear screen is a 3in, 460k-dot LCD, which doesn’t see a resolution increase from before, though is still of fi ne quality. There is no viewfinder built into the camera itself, but since it has the same accessory shoe as is found on Panasonic’s Micro Four Thirds GF1 this means that an optional electronic or optical viewfinder can be purchased separately.
Panasonic Lumix LX5 design
As the new lens has a greater reach than previous models had, the Panasonic Lumix LX5 is ever so slightly largerthan its predecessors – though the difference is hardly noticeable. The lens barrel protrudes from the body and there’s even an aspect ratio switch (to select 1:1, 4:3, 3:2 and 16:9) and second switch for focus (AF, Macro, MF) on the top and side respectively.
The design ethos is nice and simple, with a d-pad, Q.Menu, AF/AE Lock, Display and Playback buttons on the rear. Rather than the joystick-type control of older models, the LX5 introduces a
more standard thumbwheel control that is much better positioned to the top right of the rear.
The same user-definable pop-up flash, standard hotshoe, mode dial and on/off switch still feature on the camera’s top, though with a greater onus on movie capture a new one-touch movie button is also present.
The in-camera menus are comprehensive, yet the Q.Menu button doesn’t deal with lesser used modes and makes for easy and quick selection of all the required major settings. It’s hard to fault
the camera’s layout, menus and overall construction – those new to the camera will find it easy to pick up, while those already familiar will have no issues in transition.
Panasonic Lumix LX5 performance
First and foremost is a nippy autofocus system that is generally very accurate and can be easily witched from auto to macro or manual focus using the switch on the side of the lens. Manual focusing isn’t particularly easy to use with the rear thumbwheel (there’s no lens focus ring) as the screen magnifi cation can be diffi cult to decipher focus, plus the LCD refresh rate can be low in poorer light which lends to a noise-ridden and rather jerky frame rate preview on screen. On the upside the macro mode is especially good, with the wideangle setting allowing for extreme close-up scenarios. Extend the zoom, however, and the camera can occasionally pertain to find focus despite everything being far from it – though usually this was not the case.
The lens itself is excellent quality, not too obtrusive, and the only major qualm is that it’s somewhat slow to travel between focal lengths. The LCD screen itself is good, though its 460k-dot resolution was top-end when the LX3 was released – the Panasonic LX5 should have upped the ante here for a truly stunning, class-leading result, but has left that game to the Samsung EX1’s AMOLED screen. The 1:1, 3:2, 4:3 or 16:9 stills modes can be quickly chopped between using the switch on the top of the lens and this adjusts the crop on the LCD screen accordingly.
The lack of a viewfinder isn’t entirely without foresight. Rather than cram the cost of an expensive yet ineffi cient electronic viewfi nder into the camera body (which would also increase the physical size), the Panasonic Lumix LX5 makes use of an accessory port – the very same as found on the GF1 Micro Four Thirds model – for an external optical or electronic viewfi nder (sold separately). The cost implication is, at around £160, rather high, but having the option there is a very sensible solution.
Shooting movies sees alignment with Panasonic’s AVCHD Lite format, capturing 720p resolution at 50 frames per second (25fps output from sensor), or there’s a Motion-JPEG capture format too. The one-touch movie button also means it’s easier than ever to jump into capturing motion and then quickly reverting back to stills.
The Panasonic LX5 has a new, larger battery that cross-compatibility with previous models isn’t possible, but extended shooting is a bonus. The continuous shooting mode allows for three frames per second up to seven Raw files in total to be captured before the buffer becomes full.
Lower-quality JPEG fi les can be continually captured until the card fi lls. This isn’t a huge selling point compared to some lower-spec yet faster compacts, though the LX5 is more about discerning shooting than high speed.
Panasonic Lumix LX5 image quality
It’s sharpness where the Panasonic LX5 is a winner, thanks to the excellent quality lens. However the 24mm wide end of the zoom does show some barrel distortion.
Image quality is generally good overall, if not a little bit flat at times. Purple fringing can also be an issue in some scenarios. A film grain-like quality can be seen running throughout the entire ISO range, which begins to exaggerate and become noticeably noisy from around the ISO 400 mark. The new ISO 12,800 capability at 3.1MP is of little use given the low resolution, excess noise and limited quality.
Auto White Balance can err to a yellowish colour cast depending on the lighting situation, though was generally good, with colours maintaining clarity.
Image: Although detail is high, the LX5’s shots can suffer from notable purple fringing in some scenarios
Panasonic Lumix LX5 value
The Panasonic Lumix LX5 certainly isn’t cheap, at about £400 to £480, and this may be its biggest hurdle. With a clear high-end target audience the Panasonic is more expensive than the Canon G11 or Samsung EX1. Also, for around £100 extra, a Micro Four Thirds GF1 could be purchased at a fairly similar price point – something worth considering.
With its new high quality 24-90mm f/2.0-3.3 Leica lens, the Panasonic Lumix LX5 has something new and exciting to shout about that separates it from previous-generation models. Image quality is good, though not exceptional, and it's the lens that particularly excels in achieving sharp, fine detail. However, for some, even this new 90mm equivalent longest focal length may still not be quite enough.The construction, layout and menus leave little to be desired and the small, sensible size just feels right.For all its winning points, it's only really the price that will limit some prospective purchasers. But if money's no object then the Panasonic LX5 should be considered a champion high-end compact in what's becoming a very competitive market area.