Product Reviews: Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5

November 22, 2010

By Dan Havlik

Panasonic didn’t try to mess too much with a good thing with the LX5, keeping some features from its popular predecessor while adding a longer zoom and HD video.

Yes, as evidenced by the other two reviews in this section and at least one (Canon PowerShot G12) coming next month, there are a lot of high-quality advanced compact cameras on the market right now. So which one’s my favorite? So far, it’s the 10.1-megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5, a small camera that hits all the sweet spots for me.

For starters, there’s the sparkling f/2.0, Leica-branded DC Summicron lens which is capable of capturing images as wide as 24mm equivalent. Though the 3.8x (24-90mm) zoom might not go as long on the telephoto as some of its rivals, its 24mm setting is the widest in class which makes it great for street photography. Furthermore, where some competing models severely dim the aperture down at the telephoto end, the LX5 has an impressive f/2.0-f/3.3 range. Panasonic’s Power O.I.S. optical image stabilizer also did a fantastic job steadying shaky shots.

I like that while Panasonic didn’t ramp up the LX5’s resolution, it completely redesigned the imaging sensor which has improved its low noise/low-light shooting capabilities. The 1/1.63-inch CCD is a notch larger than its rivals and it shows in the output: ISO 400 images were crystal clear while shots all the way to ISO 3200 had relatively low noise. (The maximum ISO is 12,800 but that’s at 3 megapixels.)
Panasonic’s new processor for the LX5 may have a silly name—the Venus Engine FHD—but I found it to be effective in tamping down chroma noise without altering the color of my images. And thanks to the f/2.0 lens, you probably won’t need to go much higher than ISO 800 anyways and still maintain fast shutter speeds even in cruddy light.

The camera’s also blazingly fast overall and downright fun to use: Autofocus locks in at 0.3-second while start-up speed is about a second. The LX5 is also a pretty solid high-def video camera, recording 720p clips with the press of the red video button on top of the camera. (Why Canon and Nikon make it so hard to get into video mode on their compacts still baffles me.) You can also optically zoom while shooting video.
The LX5’s 3-inch, 460,000-dot LCD is on par with the Canon S95’s gorgeous screen and, at least for me, an essential luxury for a camera in this price range.
Though the LX5 is slightly thicker than its predecessor, the popular LX3, I actually like the new design better because the chunkier handgrip makes it easier to hold. The new battery in the handgrip extends its life to 400 shots. And along with still shooting RAW, the camera comes in a choice of black or white colors.

So what don’t I like about the LX5? There’s very limited exterior control and most of the buttons are too small for my fingers. Yes, those are pretty minor quibbles and definitely not deal breakers.

The advanced compact camera category has gotten increasingly competitive in the last year and while there are many excellent models out there my favorite is the 10.1-megapixel Panasonic Lumix LX5. Why? This small camera takes great pictures in a variety of shooting conditions and is a blast to use. No, it won’t outduel your DSLR but it makes a damn fine sidekick.

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX5
Pros: The best compact advanced camera on the market right now.
Cons: Limited external control and small buttons and knobs.
Price: $499