DigitalCameraReview.com
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 Review
by Jim Keenan -  10/10/2010

With the Panasonic LX3 on the market for well over a year, rumors began circulating among Panasonic fans of a successor (assumed to be the LX4) as far back as early 2010. Panasonic kept everyone in the dark until the new camera was finally unveiled on July 21 - and turned out to be the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5. While some folks were hoping for a major transformation (DSLR-sized sensor being an oft-quoted item on the wish list), the new camera is a measured update to the existing LX3 platform.

Panasonic LX5 Sample Image


Panasonic says that in comparison to the LX3, the LX5 has been "...fully re-designed in the lens, the CCD and the image processing engine together with other improvements and upgrades." The 10 megapixel resolution on a 1/1.6" sensor has been retained, but the redesign resulted in"....further expansion of dynamic range by increasing the sensitivity by approximately 31% and the saturation by approximately 38%." The camera retains the fast f/2 maximum aperture at the 24mm wide angle end of the zoom lens, but the lens redesign has resulted in an increase in zoom ratio to 3.8x, resulting in a 24 to 90mm focal range in 35mm equivalents. Here's what that range looks like:

Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
Wide angle

Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
Telephoto

The new processing engine is the Venus Engine FHD instead of the Venus Engine IV of the LX3 and is said to provide "...higher-speed, higher-performance while compiling the Intelligent Resolution technology."

The LX5 has picked up an AVCHD Lite HD video format to go with the Motion JPEG capability carried over from the LX3, along with a Creative Movie mode which allows the user to set aperture and recording speed during video capture. For still images, the camera offers the usual compact digital automatic and scene modes along with full manual exposure controls.

The camera is equipped with Panasonic's Power O.I.S. (optical image stabilization) system, has a flash hot shoe and accepts SD/SDHC/SDXC memory media in addition to about 40 megabytes of internal memory. Still images may be captured in JPEG or RAW formats. Panasonic includes a battery charger, battery pack, AV and USB cables, shoulder strap, CD-ROM software, hot shoe cover, lens cap and lens cap string with each camera.

When I did a First Look article on the LX5 I posed the question "what happened to the LX4?" and answered with "don't know." Our review camera is a pre-production unit but Panasonic assures us it has final production quality. Let's put the LX5 through its paces and see if that answer gets changed to "don't care."

BUILD AND DESIGN
The LX5 fits the mold for most compact digitals in the under 5x zoom class - a rounded rectangular body with smoothed edges and large deck of cards size, although with a lens protruding from the front of the body in a more pronounced fashion than most others. As befits a compact digital sporting a $500 MSRP that abuts on entry-level DSLR country, body construction is metal and seems well built in addition to providing a hot shoe that most compacts only dream about.

Ergonomics and Controls
The LX5 is relatively unremarkable in its feel - there is a slight built-up ridge on the camera's right front that provides just enough grip for one-handed holding, and the AF/AE lock and playback buttons that sit in the thumb rest area on the camera back are recessed to avoid inadvertent activation. The flash is manually deployed from the top left of the body and should clear the fingers of most two handed grips.

Panasonic LX5 Sample Image

Control layout is what we've come to expect from most compacts these days - the top of the body is filled with the flash, hot shoe, shooting mode dial, on/off, video capture and shutter button/zoom lever. The camera back is dominated by the 3.0-inch LCD monitor with the balance of the external controls arrayed vertically down the right side.

Panasonic LX5 Sample Image

Menus and Modes
Menus in the LX5 are straightforward and intuitive. A "quick menu" button displays shooting-oriented, user-adjustable settings depending on the particular shooting mode selected at the time. There are record and setup menus of up to seven pages each, a single page video menu, single page playback mode menu and a three page playback menu.

Shooting modes consist of:

Display
The fixed 3.0-inch LCD monitor has a 460,000 dot composition and is adjustable for only automatic or "power" brightness levels - the monitor can be difficult to use in bright outdoor conditions. Area of coverage is about 100% and there is no viewfinder.

PERFORMANCE
When this site reviewed the LX3 back in October 2008, there were concerns about color fidelity and multipoint autofocus acquisition and shutter lag times that were positioned toward the slower end of the spectrum. A brief shoot conducted to provide material for the "First Look" article on the LX5 suggested that Panasonic may have improved performance in these areas. Has our first impression been borne out by subsequent events?

Shooting Performance
The answer to the above question is "pretty much." The LX5 sets no speed records powering up - it takes about 2.25 to 2.5 seconds for a focus point to appear after flipping the "on/off" switch, with a first shot coming at about 2.8 seconds. Single shot-to-shot times ran about 1.4 seconds with a class 10 SDHC card. AF acquisition time was 0.40 seconds and shutter lag came in at 0.01 seconds, eclipsing the figures for the LX3 quite handily.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Fujifilm FinePix Z800EXR 0.01
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 0.01
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 0.01
Canon PowerShot S95 0.02


AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Fujifilm FinePix Z800EXR 0.19
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 0.28
Canon PowerShot S95 0.36
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 0.40

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate*
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 3 3.3 fps
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H55 4 1.9 fps
Fujifilm FinePix Z800EXR 4 1.6 fps
Canon PowerShot S95 0.9 fps

*Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera's fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.). "Frames" notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

Continuous shooting rates are advertised at 2.5 frames per second (fps) at full resolution and fine quality, but our review model bettered that with a 3.3 fps rate. The catch is you only get three shots at fine quality before the buffer cries uncle - that number jumps to five shots with standard quality. There is a high-speed burst mode in the scene menu that offers 6 fps with image quality priority and 10 fps with speed priority, but at 3 megapixel or less resolution depending on image aspect ratio.

Flash range is given as up to about 23.5 feet at wide angle, and 14.4 feet at telephoto, both at auto ISO. Shooting at the best quality 80 or 100 ISO settings will lower these distances. Here's a shot of Garfunkel from about 8 feet at ISO 100 - the LX5 just didn't quite have the power to achieve a good exposure from that distance. However, a quick post process of the shot utilizing a curve adjustment produced a more pleasing result.

Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
Original
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
After curve adjustment

While range may be limited shooting at low ISO sensitivities, the flash did an admirable job of not overpowering the subject when used in close proximity. Here are backlit roses from about a foot away, and again with flash on.

Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
No flash
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
Fill flash

Flash recycle times with a fresh battery ran as low as about 2 seconds in auto shooting modes in moderate light, and still came in under 5 seconds with full discharges in aperture priority and dark conditions.

Panasonic LX5 Sample Image

Battery life is listed as 400 shots using a CIPA standard that is generally reliable.

Lens Performance
The LX5's Leica DC Vario-Summicron zoom lens is built by Panasonic to Leica standards and while it retains the fast f/2 maximum aperture at the 24mm wide angle end of the focal range, it has slowed to f/3.3 at the telephoto end (versus f/2.8 in the LX3). The trade off is the LX5 expands the focal range from 24 to 90mm compared to 24 to 60mm in the LX3.

Panasonic LX5 Sample Image

Slower or not, Leica lenses generally acquit themselves fairly well, and the LX5 didn't disappoint in this regard. There is a bit of barrel distortion at the wide end of the zoom and edges and corners are slightly soft. There was some chromic aberration (purple fringing) in some high contrast boundary areas at wide angle, but the effect really became objectionable with enlargement to the 200-300% range. The telephoto end of the zoom was quite good - no geometric distortion was noted and edges and corners were fairly sharp. Purple fringing was very slight when it existed at all.

The lens can focus as close as about 0.4 inches in macro mode.

Video Quality
Video quality was generally good in the LX5, and zoom is available during video capture.

Generally good? Video seems to have a chink in its image quality armor - our LX5 did not like bright scenes where the brightness came directly into the lens. Reflections off a car, bright sunlight on water, brighter portions of clouds on an overcast day all caused colored banding, and this effect was present in both AVCHD Lite and Motion JPEG shooting formats. On a pan of the ocean on a broken overcast day, the dark portion of the pan was fine, but as we got to a brighter area due to broken/thinner cloud cover, a fuchsia tint and vertical streaks were captured. The problem was limited to video - the LX5 did fine with still images under the same conditions. Here's a shot of the first frame of a Motion JPEG video illustrating the banding, and a still under the type of lighting conditions that impacted the video.

Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
Motion JPEG Frame

Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
Still image

On the video clip below I began the shot at wide angle on the kite boarder and with bright sky in the frame the banding was present. As I zoomed in on the rider and the bright sky went out of the frame, the banding disappeared. Panasonic was gracious enough to overnight a second LX5 to me, but unfortunately the problem persisted with this camera as well.

Panasonic also reviewed the film clips we provided and their analysis was that the banding was "typical vertical flair that occurs when you aim a camera at a very bright light." I did have another review camera (Canon G12) shooting both stills and video under the same conditions that did not have the problem I experienced with the LX5. The G12 displayed some minor lens flare when panned across the brighter portions of scenes, but nothing like the LX5's problem. Now the G12 has a 28mm wide angle versus 24mm in the LX5, so perhaps the wider lens on the LX5 had something to do with the vertical flare - but my pans with both cameras took in about the same amount of bright sky so I can't definitively point to lens width as a contributing factor.

Suffice it to say the LX5 video has been the most flare-prone I've encountered in a compact digital and potential buyers would be well advised to examine this aspect of the camera's performance should video capture figure into their shooting plans.

Audio is recorded in monaural and the microphone is susceptible to wind noise. There is a "wind cut" setting.

Image Quality
OK, on to happier subjects. Still image quality in the LX5 is very good at default settings and there are contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction settings available in manual exposure modes if the defaults don't meet your expectations.

The "standard" setting on the film mode color palette produced accurate colors, but there are dynamic, nature, soft, vibrant, nostalgic, standard B&W, dynamic B&W, smooth B&W, my film 1 and 2 and multi film options. Here are the standard, dynamic, nature, smooth, vibrant and standard B&W film modes:

Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
Standard
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
Dynamic
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
Nature
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
Smooth
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
Vibrant
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
Standard Black & White

Auto white balance did a good job under a variety of conditions including our studio 5500K fluorescents, but shot warm under incandescent light. There are daylight, cloudy, shade, flash and incandescent presets, plus 2 custom settings and a color temperature option.

Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
Auto White Balance, 5500k fluorescent light

Multiple metering was used for exposure purposes and worked well in most cases. The LX5 could lose highlights in some high contrast situations, but such a performance is not uncommon in compacts. There are center-weighted and spot metering options available, and in case you're wondering, neither solved the LX5 video banding problem.

ISO noise performance, as expected, was a bit better than compacts with smaller physically-sized sensors. The LX5 has a nominal ISO range of 80 to 3200; 6400 and 12800 are available at drastically reduced resolutions.

ISO 80 and 100 are essentially identical and clean; 200 shows a tiny bit of noise and some fine detail loss, but is really quite close to 100. ISO 400 is a bit noisier than 200 with some more fine detail loss, but is certainly usable for large prints.

Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
ISO 80
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
ISO 80, 100% crop
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
ISO 100
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
ISO 100, 100% crop
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
ISO 200
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
ISO 200, 100% crop
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
ISO 400
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
ISO 400, 100% crop
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
ISO 800
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
ISO 800, 100% crop
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
ISO 1600, 100% crop
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
ISO 3200
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
ISO 3200, 100% crop

ISO 800 shows the greatest change so far, in both noise and loss of detail, though it would be very usable for smaller images. Bumping up to ISO 1600 shows an even bigger drop off than the 400-800 jump, with fine details becoming smudged. ISO 3200 is dramatically worse; noise jumps markedly and fine details are a distant memory.

We didn't shoot the low resolution, high ISO sensitivities in the studio, but here's 1600 through 12800 on an admittedly noise friendly light-colored subject.

Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
ISO 1600
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
ISO 3200
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
ISO 6400
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
ISO 12800

Overall, use anything over 400 ISO on a large print at your own peril.

Additional Sample Images

Panasonic LX5 Sample Image Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image Panasonic LX5 Sample Image
Panasonic LX5 Sample Image Panasonic LX5 Sample Image

CONCLUSIONS
The LX5 is the latest Panasonic iteration of the big sensor, modest resolution compact that offers better than typical compact ISO noise performance, albeit at a nearly entry-level DSLR MSRP. Still image quality on our LX5 was very good in compact digital terms, and the slower-than-most AF and shutter lag times of the LX3 have been laid to rest. The camera can shoot RAW, has full manual controls and a wide range of automatic and scene shooting options to please folks who don't wish to be overly involved with image capture. The LX5 is feather light and miniscule when compared to even the smallest DSLR, and this combined with that noise performance and still image quality are the main points in support of the lofty price tag.


Our LX5 had problems in the video department with bright scenes where the light enters the lens directly, resulting in significant vertical bands of color appearing on movie clips. The problem persisted in a second LX5 test unit and so seems to be generic to the model rather than a case of our review unit being at fault. Panasonic identified the problem as typical vertical flare that occurs when a camera is pointed at a very bright light, but even so, the effect was far more pronounced with the LX5 than any other compact I've reviewed. That's the major gripe with the LX5's performance, so if video is in your shooting plans this may not be the camera for you.

If not for the video, the answer to the "what happened to the LX4?" question would have been "don't care." For the record, the answer will have to remain "don't know (but I wonder if the video was less sensitive than on the LX5?)."

Pros:

Cons: